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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Academic Goodies: The Science Fiction of My New Year

Well, I said I would post the proposal abstracts for the various academic conferences I will be attending. All three of them deal with science fiction on some level, as indicated here. It should be interesting to present all of these papers and field questions from the audience. I don't get many opportunities to talk about science fiction with fellow academics.

So here goes:

"Habitually Us: Battlestar Galactica, the “Android Personality,” and Human Preservation" (to be presented at the SWTXPCA Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico):
Philip K. Dick, in talking about the rise of consumer culture in the 60s and 70s, suggested that society had fallen prey to what he called the “android personality,” a reflexive, repetitive personality incapable of making exceptions or doing anything other than what it had always done. There are obvious connections between this concept and his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and it is a concept that can readily be found within more modern forms of science fiction.

Ron D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica imagines a future/past that mirrors many of the same concerns Dick imagined were present in the proliferation of the “android personality.” Not only does Battlestar Galactica question the very nature of humanity by juxtaposing it against the humanoid Cylon (literally and metaphorically), but it also imagines the interchangeability of the “android personality,” from human to Cylon, and the reflexive nature of both.

In this paper, I will use Philip K. Dick’s non-fiction “philosophies” to analyze the relationship between the humans and Cylons of Battlestar Galactica and the “android personality.” I will argue that the reflexive nature of the “android personality” is both based on a purely selfish motive and is also a necessary, though not necessarily positive, human reaction to preserve human identity in the face of something human and not-human at the same time.
“Otherism: The Dissection of Humanity and the Negation of the Human in Battlestar Galactica” (to be presented at the PCA/ACA Conference in St. Louis, Missouri):
Science fiction film has had a curious history in relation to the human/other dichotomy. In its early days, science fiction imagined the other as the monstrous alien or robot, a vision that has now largely been adopted by supernatural horror and the less frequent science fiction horror. The re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica, however, has offered a contrary and more complicated view of the other in science fiction film. With the advent of the Cylons as biological “machines,” the human/other dichotomy becomes not only an allegory for our current and past relations to the “other,” but also a force that essentially dissects humanity piece by piece by exposing the human to an “other” so like itself. Humanity’s understanding of what it means to be “human,” thus, is put in jeopardy.

In this paper I will argue that Battlestar Galactica’s presentation of human-like Cylons effectively negates the existence of the category of the human. I will examine the literal deletion of the human as a distinctive entity, and humanity’s responses to the sudden disruption of its identity, from a past-reflective collection of human exceptionalist reactions to the acknowledgement of the emerging death of the human and the hybridization of the human/other dichotomy.
"Shaping the Shapeless: New Weird, Bizarro, and Bending Genres"(to be presented at the "What Happens Now: 21st Century Writing in English--the first decade" conference in Lincoln, England):
The past ten years have changed many things in science fiction and fantasy. The former has had what some have called a golden age in film, while the latter has seen a remarkable explosion of interest in literature with the power of the urban fantasy and young adult markets essentially turning the entire genre into one of the most lucrative and vibrant writing fields around--more so than it ever was. But what of science fiction literature and literature on the margins of speculative fiction?

The new Millenium has resulted in a curious array of changes within speculative fiction. Two movements have been primarily responsible in what one might call the “weirding” of the genre: New Weird and Bizarro. Each places emphasis on an impossible-to-define exceptional weirdness, and the result has been the development of a cult following and a significant, if not unintentional, influence on the wider range of science fiction and fantasy being written today. The 2000s, as a result, have been noticeably experimental in form, style, and content, with new and old authors approaching speculative fiction from a odd, even surreal perspective.

In this paper I will analyze the emergence of the “weird” through New Weird, Bizarro, and other as yet un-named categories and their widespread influence on speculative fiction, from the unique, spatially disconnected short fiction of Jason Sanford to the characteristically nonsensical atmospheres and concepts of writers like Jeff Vandermeer, Brian Francis Slattery, China Mieville, Steve Aylett, and others.
There you go. Any thoughts?

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  1. It's great that you're doing something that's none-too-popular in academia. There needs to be more scholarly dissection of science fiction.

  2. Thanks :). That's what I intend to spend the rest of my life doing (for a career anyway; I still want to be a writer, obviously, but at least this way I get to do something I enjoy that is close to the other thing I enjoy).