It’s time for a project update! I’m always kind of surprised that I manage to get scholarship and creative stuff done, but apparently it happens.
Last year started off with a research bang with my Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship. I am finally ready to start delving into the 100s of letters I scanned. While it is true that I have been preoccupied with other work, the delay in getting back into this research was more due to the need to have mental distance from it. I was unprepared for how emotionally overwhelming I would find the research—the letters I was reading (from Le Guin, Russ, Tiptree, Delany, and many more amazing SF writers) brim with the lives of the people who wrote them. Given that I am an “emotional sponge,” I soaked up everything I was reading. Apparently, I needed nine months for things to get quietly sorted in my head so that I can now focus on drawing out conversational threads most relevant to my research interests. While I intend to incorporate some of my findings in a chapter on feminist SF in my planned book (more on that at the end of this post), I’m excited to see what other projects will spring from it.
One of those projects, actually, is an upcoming chapter titled, “Becoming Adult, Becoming Other: Anomalous Embodiment in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle.” I’ll post more details about that piece (and the edited collection by Sherryl Vint and Mathieu Donner that it will belong to) as the publishing details become finalized (as it is still in process). You can also read an interview I did with Alice Evans (of the CSWS) about the fellowship and my archival research.
In terms of notable scholarly publications in 2014, my “Disability Studies ‘101’” is in SF 101: A Guide to Teaching and Studying Science Fiction. It’s available as an ebook for a few dollars. [I’m also considering republishing it here on my blog, for free for all to read, if it doesn’t end up in the next issue or two of the SFRA Review—that decision will be discussed in an upcoming blog post]. For 2015, I am eagerly awaiting the April publication of Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media by awesome editors, David S. Roh, Betsy Huang, and Greta A. Niu. I’m honoured to be a contributor with my chapter, “Re-imagining Asian Women in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk” (make sure to check out the super cool cover at the link). And while not a scholarly essay, I’m proud of the blog post I wrote about Misha’s Red Spider White Web for tor.com’s “That was Awesome: Writers on Writing” column last fall.
In just a few weeks, I am off to my favourite conference ICFA. I had originally planned on presenting a paper on disability in feminist SF along with organizing a panel on archival research in the field of the fantastic. Due to scheduling issues, however, I withdrew my paper and will be focusing my energies on the archival research panel. It feels a bit strange to not be delivering a paper this year, but I have good reasons (which are, again, being written up in an upcoming post).
Of course, the biggest news is Accessing the Future! Co-edited with Djibril al-Ayad, our disability-themed speculative fiction short story anthology is in the finishing stages. Accessing the Future will be published this summer (ah!) and it is amazing. While you wait for the summer publishing date to arrive, read one of the many blog posts Djibril and I wrote during our successful crowdfunding campaign. Working on this anthology has been life changing for me (and, yes, there will be posts coming about that too). Check out the awesome Table of Contents over at The Future Fire’s blog and look at the fabulous cover art by Robin Kaplan (below).
My next goal is to start, in earnest, writing a book on disability representation in science fiction once I am back from ICFA. I have set out two timelines for myself—one has me finishing a full draft by this time next year, and the other is accelerated, with a full draft come late fall. I do need to keep working (running Academic Editing Canada, which is work that I really enjoy, especially as I continue to receive more challenging and interesting client projects), so I’m keeping a flexible schedule of deadlines ahead of me. But still, a book! It’s hard to imagine such a huge undertaking coming together but since I also felt the same way about Accessing the Future (and Disability in Science Fiction), I know that it is possible.
I’m going to try to keep Bleeding Chrome blog better updated throughout this year. Writing leads to more writing, and it is helpful for me to keep engaged with other people and work out my thoughts in a more public space. So 2014, all things considered, was a darn good year, and 2015 is looking just as interesting and challenging. I’ll let you all know how it turns out!
I haven't been posting lately due to a combination of steady client work (yay!) and painful health issues (boo!). Now that I've cleared off my schedule of editing and coaching work until the New Year, I'm taking some much needed down time to rest and heal. I have several blog posts on the go--as I still want to share more about my Le Guin Feminist SF Fellowship--but they will have to wait until January. In order to get back to fighting form, I'm limiting my screen time for the rest of December.
I do want to share these two great reviews of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure. I was beginning to worry about the book's reception, but these reviews have totally comforted my mind. Big thanks to the reviewers (and to everyone else who has purchased a copy, requested their local/uni libraries buy it, and/or has given the book much appreciated signal boosts).
"Kathryn Allan, an independent scholar whose work focuses on the connections between technology and the body, has put together a rare beast. Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure is an unusual collection of academic articles: it combines interesting scholarship with an remarkable degree of accessibility to the general reader." Read the rest of the review here.
"It is hard to say enough good about Disability in Science Fiction. It is, quite simply, the single best resource for those interested in the intersection of SF and disability. Not only does it provide seed stock for future research in disability studies, but in the rich example of nexuses between disability and SF that it provides, it makes the case that no course in science fiction literature can afford to ignore a discussion of disability." Read the rest of the review here.
My edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan August 8, 2013. It is available for pre-order from most major North American and European booksellers!
Book description: In science fiction, technology often modifies, supports, and attempts to "make normal" the disabled body. In this groundbreaking collection, twelve international scholars – with backgrounds in disability studies, English and world literature, classics, and history – discuss the representation of dis/ability, medical "cures," technology, and the body in science fiction. Bringing together the fields of disability studies and science fiction, this book explores the ways dis/abled bodies use prosthetics to challenge common ideas about ability and human being, as well as proposes new understandings of what "technology as cure" means for people with disabilities in a (post)human future.
Additional note: I edited this collection for both scholars and serious fans of SF. The analysis is academic, but the language accessible (i.e., we avoid esoteric terms & explain any complex theoretical ideas).
For anyone interested in what's inside, here's a sneak peek:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: Reading Disability in Science Fiction, Kathryn Allan
Theorizing Disability in Science Fiction
1. Tools to Help You Think: Intersections between Disability Studies and the Writings of Samuel R. Delany, Joanne Woiak and Hioni Karamanos
2. Freaks and Extraordinary Bodies: Disability as Generic Marker in John Varley’s “Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo,” Ria Cheyne
3. The Many Voices of Charlie Gordon: On the Representation of Intellectual Disability in Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, Howard Sklar
4. The Metamorphic Body in Science Fiction: From Prosthetic Correction to Utopian Enhancement, António Fernando Cascais
Human Boundaries and Prosthetic Bodies
5. Prosthetic Bodies: The Convergence of Disability, Technology and Capital in Peter Watts’ Blindsight and Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, Netty Mattar
6. The Bionic Woman: Machine or Human?, Donna Binns
7. Star Wars, Limb-loss, and What it Means to be Human, Ralph Covino
8. Animal and Alien Bodies as Prostheses: Reframing Disability in Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon, Leigha McReynolds
Cure Narratives for the (Post)human Future
9. “Great Clumsy Dinosaurs”: The Disabled Body in the Posthuman World, Brent Walter Cline
10. Disabled Hero, Sick Society: Sophocles’ Philoctetes and Robert Silverberg’s The Man in the Maze, Robert W. Cape, Jr.
11. “Everything is always changing”: Autism, Normalcy, and Progress in Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark and Nancy Fulda’s “Movement,” Christy Tidwell
12. Life without Hope? Huntington’s Disease and Genetic Futurity, Gerry Canavan
All in all, 2012 was a great year for me. While I suffered through a string of chronic-pain flares and developed carpal tunnel syndrome in late November, I am learning, slowly, how to better take of myself (so those kind of problems don’t happen with such regularity). Overall, I am far healthier – both physically and mentally – than I ever was in graduate school. Part of this improvement is due to my decision to pursue independent scholarship. While I definitely went through bouts of self-doubt and uncertainty, I kept pushing myself to take risks. I went to cons (both academic and fan), I sent out proposals to journals, and I took on the task of editing a collection of essays.
Since I had no idea how to be an Independent Scholar, I had no expectation of reward. I figured that if I was successful in least one of my attempted academic endeavors, then good on me. I did not expect to land every proposal (except one) that I wrote up. As an Independent Scholar, I found the success –and joy, and intellectual freedom, and peer acceptance – that I never did as a graduate student. Perhaps the only thing that changed has been my attitude to the work, but I do believe I have finally discovered the path of scholarship that best suits me. Since I am honestly researching and writing for the love of it (and not for a tenure-track worthy CV), the parameters of what constitute my success and failure are broad and always flexible. Independent scholarship won’t put money in my back account, but, as clichéd as it sounds, my life feels richer for it.
It is actually quite difficult to write this post without weeping over my keyboard (and not just because my wrist still hurts). How can I properly express the depth of my surprise – and satisfaction – that I am doing well at the very thing I love? I feel incredibly blessed to be in this position. Without the support of my partner, Andrew, I am unsure if I would have taken the risk to start this unusual and uncertain career path. I have an academic coaching and editing business that I thoroughly enjoy each day, and a self-determined work schedule that allows me the space and time to follow my scholarly interests.
Here is what I accomplished as an Independent Scholar in 2012:
- Wrote the Afterword for Outlaw Bodies, Edited by Lori Selke and Djibril al-Ayad
- Presented papers/was a panelist at ICFA, WisCon, WorldCon/ChiCon7, SFContario3, and attended the World Fantasy Convention.
- Confirmation of publication in the forthcoming WisCon Chronicles 7 (paper: “Theorizing Vulnerability in Feminist SF) and a book review in JFA.
- Two articles are in the peer-review process (one for a journal, another for a collected works).
- And, saving best for last, I landed a contract with Palgrave Macmillan for my edited book, Technology as Cure? Representations of Disability in Science Fiction! I’m beyond thrilled about this news – the subject matter is important and timely, and my contributors deserve to see their interdisciplinary work in print.
Just writing all of these things out makes me giddy/proud/scared/teary. Seriously. I’m feeling all the emotions. I was so used to getting the “we regret to inform you” rejection letter that I really didn’t fully believe that I had all the skills necessary to make it as a scholar. Even though I would say –and sincerely mean – that I could make it in academia if I wanted to, there was a nagging little voice deep inside that whispered “that’s a lie.” I think defeating that voice, or, perhaps more truthfully, pushing forward despite it, has been my greatest accomplishment this past year. I don’t want to let such (old) shadows of self-doubt and fear keep me from challenging myself and exploring new and unfamiliar ways of working (either paid or unpaid).
I don’t have an exact idea of what 2013 will look like for me, but I know that it is going be an interesting year. I’m going to fulfill my long-held nerd dream of having a room full of people listen to me talk about Star Trek – I will be presenting two (!) papers on disability in the Star Trek universe (one at ICFA in March and the other at Eaton/SFRA in April). I haven’t committed to any non-regional SF cons yet, as finances will only allow for so much travel. Still, now that I have built up a network within the SF community, I don’t feel so isolated and am already looking forward to participating in SFContario 4 (held November in Toronto).
I want to thank everyone who has helped me achieve my goals this past year – my old friends from grad school and my new ones from cons, my diverse editing and coaching clients (whose business keeps me in food and books), and the many wonderful and supportive people I talk to online (I’m looking at you Twitter peeps). It is easy to laugh at Independent Scholarship – to load it up with pejorative labels and preconceived ideas of some sort of intellectual inadequacy – but I have been so heartened to find an open-minded community of people who have taken my work seriously. Thank you all. Your presences in my life, no matter how small or passing, have helped drown out that whispering voice of doubt. I wish a happy, healthy, and brave New Year to you all!
Back in March, I wrote a guest blog entry over at PhD2Published for their series on the pros and cons of publishing your thesis online (read those posts here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). For myself, the central issue in the discussion was accessibility. If you fancy yourself a "public intellectual," (a phrase that irks me - but that's a rant for another time), I think that you should be doing your best to make your work publicly accessible - with no strings (i.e. paid firewall, university membership) attached. My post follows:
When I finished my PhD in English Literature in 2010, I also said good-bye to the ivory tower. Frustrated with the current funding and work environment of academia (in North America), I set out on my own – and I took my dissertation with me. While my committee members encouraged me to consider publishing my thesis the old-fashioned way, I felt like it wasn’t the right option for me. Instead, I decided to publish my dissertation in pdf format and make it freely available on my professional blog to anyone interested in reading it.
At first, I was slightly worried that someone might plagiarize my work, but after a minute of thought, I remembered that nothing stops students who want to plagiarize from doing so, regardless of the medium of the text. With confidence, I made my thesis available on my blog. It shows up in relevant Google searches and I have repeatedly shared the link over email and Twitter with people who share my research and reading interests.
I share my thesis online because: (1) I believe that publicly funded work (like my Canadian graduate education) should be publicly accessible; and, (2) as an independent scholar who studies feminist and cyberpunk science fiction, I want to easily share my work with the science fiction fan community.
When I state that I believe academic work should be accessible, I mean it in all aspects of the word. I put in a good deal of effort into writing my thesis in language that can be followed by non-academic readers, so putting my thesis online is a natural extension of my dedication to open research and communication.
My PhD thesis is available on ProQuest through the university where I studied, but access to that database is still limited to people with university library access or who are willing and able to pay. Since I don’t believe that anyone should have to pay to read my thesis, simply having it available on academic marketed sites like ProQuest is not a good enough solution to accessibility.
My thesis was a labour of love and passion for the subject matter. I want to share the knowledge I gained with as many interested individuals as I can. Admittedly, I also enjoy operating outside of the formal academic system. Science fiction, particularly the feminist science fiction of my interest, has generally been a marginalized field of study, so it felt right to pursue a more marginal and independent approach to publishing my dissertation.
One of my goals as an independent scholar is to connect with fans in the vibrant and diverse science fiction community. If my thesis was only available through one university and a pay-to-read internet platform, then most fans are not going to read it (or even know that it exists). While I could have arguably sought out a publisher to reach this fan audience, I am also aware that “free” and “online” appeal to far more readers. And it has.
It’s All Good
It has almost been a year since I made my thesis available online and the response I have received has been overwhelmingly positive. Many people – some are academics, some are science fiction fans – have emailed or tweeted me about my thesis. Most of the comments I get are “thanks for sharing” or specific nerdy questions about something I’ve written. To date, I can’t think of one drawback from having my thesis online. Not a single one. I don’t intend on applying for an academic position, nor am I pursuing independent scholarship for financial gain. For me, there is simply is no downside to having my thesis online.