Friday essay: science fiction’s women problem

Image 20160915 4972 gqonsw.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
We need women to participate equally in science fiction’s conversations about humanity’s future.
MsSaraKelly, CC BY-SA

Bronwyn Lovell, Flinders University

Since 1953, the Hugo Awards have been one of science fiction’s most prestigious honours – past winners include Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clark and Ursula Le Guin. The 2016 results were recently announced, and women and diversity were the clear winners.

However, if you saw the list of titles in contention for the awards, you’d have noticed some oddities, such as Chuck Tingle’s Space Raptor Butt Invasion and My Little Pony’s The Cutie Map. That’s because the awards – nominated and voted on by science fiction writers and readers – have been targeted by two major voting blocs: the Sad Puppies, who started their campaign in 2013, and the Rabid Puppies, who appeared the year after and have been growing stronger ever since.

The Sad Puppies wanted more traditional, mainstream popular science fiction on the ballot. The more extreme Rabid Puppies, who have ties with the Gamergate movement, were about creating chaos. So their bloc included ridiculous-sounding works: both to mock the awards and stack the ballot to prevent more diverse books being nominated.

Both groups’ gripe is with contemporary trends in science fiction toward more literary works with progressive themes. Vox Day, leader of the Rabid Puppies, complains that “publishers have been trying to pass off romance in space and left-wing diversity lectures as science fiction”. Last year’s leader of the Sad Puppies, Brad R. Torgersen, likewise complains about “soft science majors (lit and humanities degrees) using SF/F as a tool to critically examine and vivisect 21st century Western society”. The Hugos, he says, are being used as an “affirmative action award”.

A significant number of those “soft science majors” writing “left-wing diversity lectures” are, of course, women. Female authors have dominated science fiction awards of late.

This year, women (and people of colour) did very well at the awards. Ironically, the Puppies’ activities have now galvanised more progressive members of the World Science Fiction Society to use their voting rights. The best novel was The Fifth Season, a tale of a planet experiencing apocalyptic climate change, written by NK Jemisin – a black, female writer. Best novella was Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. The best short story, Cat Pictures Please, was written by Naomi Kritzer and both best editor gongs went to women.

But the ongoing saga of the Puppies and their attempts to derail the Hugos exemplifies broader conflicts within the realm of science fiction – an enormously popular, lucrative and controversial genre that has major issues with women.

Hugo award winner Nnedi Okorafor at a reading of her work.
byronv2, CC BY-NC

A male dominated genre

Continue reading “Friday essay: science fiction’s women problem”

LSFRC event: Brian Stableford–Le Roman Scientifique

sabBrian Stableford will be speaking about the evolution of an important early science fiction form, the French roman scientifique, supported by the London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC).

Monday, February 12th, from 6:30 pm until 8pm, at The Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square, London.

Brian’s lecture will map its way according to several signposts: Beginning with the origins of the roman scientifique in the illicit “philosophical fiction” of the eighteenth century, he will also discuss the after-effects of the French Revolution on utopian thought and the future impact of technological advancement on society; the development of “travelogue fiction” before and after Jules Verne; the preoccupation with future wars after 1870; the development of “scientific marvel fiction”; and the particular influence of WWI on French writers and their speculative fiction.

In addition to critical studies of science fiction, Stableford has authored more than 70 novels and translated even more, most from French to English. His work on the development of the roman scientifique in the long nineteenth century has vital significance for understanding later manifestations of science fiction in France, the Anglo-American setting, and around the globe. We hope you can join us for what is sure to be a fascinating evening with one of the most influential and prolific figures in science fiction.

City Now City Future at the Museum of London

MOL1

#BonusLevels #LawrenceLek #utopia#CityNowCityFuture
Visual artist, Lawrence Lek has created Bonus Levels, a series of playable video games depicting a dreamy, utopian, but recognisable London.

Bonus Levels is on at the Museum of London until January 3rd, 2018. It is part of the museum’s City Now City Future – a year-long theme which is foregrounded by the ‘Imagined Futures’ curated by Dr Caroline Edwards located near the entrance.

Imagined_Futures_main_img_

According to the blurb:

Of all cities, London is one of the most widely represented in literature. During the 19th century, when it rose to prominence as the centre of the British Empire, London was considered the peak of civilisation. However, this achievement was matched by the violence of a colonial system that damaged the places and peoples from which the city drew its vast wealth, in India, Africa and the Caribbean.

London therefore made the ideal setting in which to imagine future visions – in books that destroy the metropolis through scenes of devastation, or rebuild it as a fairer society. From Mary Shelley’s disaster novel, The Last Man (1826), to H. G. Wells’s techno-utopian vision in The Sleeper Awakes (1899), London established its reputation as a city in which to enact different visions of the future in literature.

In the 20th century, such imagined futures became increasingly bleak, particularly in the post-World War II period, and by the 1970s writers were experimenting with surreal future London landscapes. More recently, London has become home to the leading characters in influential books for younger readers, such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (1996). In the 21st century, as we come to terms with the environmental impact of climate change, the city has once again found a new role as a literary setting.

This display was curated by Dr Caroline Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck, University of London, and designed by Martin McGrath Studio. Quotes reprinted by kind permission of the authors/publishers.

From our archive: An interview with Saul Williams by Richard Howard

slamSaul Williams is a poet, hip-hop M.C., producer and actor who first came to prominence through his victory at the poetry Grand Slam at the Nuyorican Poets Café in 1996. This event kick-started an acting career for Williams with the lead role in the feature film Slam in 1998, and a music career in which Williams began to blend his poetry with his love of hip-hop. What makes Williams’ work interesting from a science fiction standpoint is the obvious affinity he has with the genre, evident in his lyrics and the soundscapes that he chooses to rhyme over. From the outset, Williams wrote and produced with a speculative bent. In the song ‘Ohm’ from 1998’s Lyricist Lounge compilation, Williams announced ‘I am no Earthling, I drink moonshine on Mars/And mistake meteors for stars ‘cause I can’t hold my liquor/But I can hold my breath and ascend like wind to the black hole/And play galaxaphones on the fire escapes of your soul’. The glimmering production on ‘Ohm’ is no less science fictional, especially as it accelerates at around the three-minute mark.

Continue reading “From our archive: An interview with Saul Williams by Richard Howard”

Science fiction in theatre: Callisto – a queer epic

Callisto – first performed in Edinburgh Fringe 2016, is now playing at London’s Arcola theatre until the 23rd of December.  This brilliant and imaginative play packs in so much humour alongside the tragic, the absurd, and the science-fictional, that it is simply unmissable!

Callisto-10.jpgLondon, 1680. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

The play consists of four love stories set in 1680, 1936, 1978-9, and 2223.  The stories talk to each, the text demanding their simultaneous presence on stage at several crucial moments in the play. These instances are key to some of the thematic threads that span the epic, knitting it together. Each viewer might perceive their own connections, beyond the obvious commonality that is part of the title: each story involves a love affair between people of the same sex. The complexity and the wit of the play are dazzling. There are stories within stories. In 1680s London, Arabella Hunt is an opera star, and we first encounter her rehearsing the lines from Cleopatra:

 

[…] and all the world,

is if it were the business of mankind to part us,

is armed against my love: even you yourself

join with the rest; you, you are armed against me

This sentiment echoes through time, the world is armed against homosexual love even when we are on the moon in 2223, albeit this time through its absence – Cal and Lorn are all that is left of homo sapiens, and only one of them is biologically human. Cal is an android that Lorn built, an android those very conscious existence depends on convincing Lorn that he loves him. With humanity having driven itself to extinction, Lorn is afraid of hope, and hence of love.

Callisto-12Lorn and Cal, Moon, 2223. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

Continue reading “Science fiction in theatre: Callisto – a queer epic”

From the BSFA Review: The Trials of Apollo

trial1The Hidden Oracle, Book One of The Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan (Disney Hyperion, 2016)

The Dark Prophecy, Book Two of The Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan (Disney Hyperion, 2017)

Reviewed by Christopher Owen

Winner of the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards: Middle Grade and Children’s, The Hidden Oracle begins the next adventures in the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles. The Hidden Oracle and The Dark Prophecy are the first two books in The Trials of Apollo pentalogy by New York Times #1 Best-Selling Author, Rick Riordan. The Camp Half-Blood Chronicles is primarily made up of three five-book series. The first two, Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus respectively, follow the adventures of twenty-first century demi-gods, teenage children of mortals and either Greek or Roman gods/goddesses. In this third series, Riordan does something different, focusing instead on the adventures of the god Apollo.

At the end of The Heroes of Olympus, Apollo is blamed for the problems the heroes have had to resolve. This third series picks up a few months following the events of the second series with Apollo’s punishment beginning with him falling from the sky and crashing in an alleyway dumpster. At first Apollo’s punishment appears to be one simply designed to humble him: he is transformed from a beautiful, powerful god to an awkward, acne-covered teenaged human. He is then further humbled when a couple thugs beat him up, when he is forced into the servitude of a young girl named Meg, and when he realizes that he is exceptionally less talented at music and archery than when he was a god. His inner-struggles throughout the narrative consist of a conflict between his over-zealous ego and his melodramatic horror at his newfound limitations. But Apollo also faces exterior struggles, and it is in these conflicts that he learns that his punishment is not just to be humbled, but also to right previous wrongs. Apollo must save five missing oracles and stop a secret organization called the Triumvirate. The Triumvirate is made up of three re-born Ancient Roman Emperors who have been pulling the strings in the background all along, causing all of the problems of the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles.

In The Hidden Oracle, children at Camp Half-Blood, a secret camp for demi-gods, are going missing. One by one they head into the forest as if hypnotized and are never seen again. While previous heroes in the Chronicles have travelled far in an American road trip-style adventure, in The Hidden Oracle Apollo does not need to travel farther than the forest neighboring the campgrounds. This changes the structure of the narrative from the previous books. Apollo is able to head back and forth between the forest as site of adventure and the campgrounds as site of respite, healing and communicating with aids. Furthermore, while previous books touch on the other campers only briefly, this book spends a great deal more time getting to know the people who live at camp year-round. This includes three of Apollo’s children, adding another interesting dynamic to this book, a greater focus on the relationships between demigods and their godly parents, something that is only touched on briefly in the first two series.

trial2The sequel, The Dark Prophecy, follows Apollo’s quest to save both his friend and all of Indianapolis from the control of the Triumvirate. This book follows a similar structure as The Hidden Oracle. While the characters travel from Long Island Sound to Indianapolis for this novel, and thus there is the potential for a road trip-style structure that the original two series of the Chronicles use, this book begins at the end of the journey, as the characters are arriving in Indianapolis. Within the first few chapters, the heroes are lead to a magical hideout called the Waystation, which functions in the same way as Camp Half-Blood in The Hidden Oracle. The heroes go back and forth between fighting their enemies in Indianapolis, and re-grouping and healing at the Waystation. During these adventures, Apollo and his friends team up with a variety of different species, adding interesting new group dynamics unexplored in previous novels of the Chronicles.

Both The Hidden Oracle and The Dark Prophecy feature intense final battles that take place in Apollo’s space of respite and safety, Camp Half-Blood and the Waystation respectively. Unable to go home on Mount Olympus, every home that Apollo tries to make for himself on his adventures is attacked, almost completely destroyed and becomes the site from which he must leave to continue his important mission to stop the Triumvirate. It is also from here that he meets and joins forces with previous heroes from the Chronicles, including Leo Valdez and Grover Underwood, suggesting, perhaps, that what is truly valuable is not the place called home, but rather the people we call family.

On the topic of family, one of Apollo’s sons, Will Solace, is dating a boy named Nico Di Angelo, a central character from the previous two series of the Chronicles. There are very few LGBTQ+ characters in middle-grade children’s fiction; three of them are in The Hidden Oracle. In The Dark Prophecy, a lesbian couple runs the Waystation, and the main villain is Apollo’s ex-boyfriend. The book uses frequent flashbacks to focus on the relationship between Apollo and his ex-boyfriend. Apollo is bisexual, making him very much a rarity as a same-sex attracted first-person narrator in a children’s fantasy novel. With six central LGBTQ+ characters, a wide range of ethnicities represented, and explicit feminist ideals, these books work very well to present progressive ideologies and a diverse representation of characters.

While reading the other ten novels in the Chronicles allows for a greater appreciation of The Trials of Apollo, this is not entirely necessary in order to follow the story. These books work well to begin a new, exciting series in Riordan’s universe. The adventure continues in The Burning Maze, which will be released in May 2018.

 

Lavinia, Part 2: Audience

Lavinia is one of the most recent installations in a long history of what is, in effect, Aeneid-related fan fiction. It was a particularly popular topic for authors in the seventeenth and eighteen century, when the well-educated were quite likely to have read it in Latin as part of their education. The ancient Latin work spawned a slew of elaborators and continuations, best know of which is Purcell’s opera, written about Dido and Aeneas.

Indeed, one of my own extremely rare forays into fan art was when a friend at university asked me to draw a series of small images of Aeneas and his escape from Troy. The images were quite tiny and in watercolour pencil, so barely more than stick figures at that scale. Further, I hadn’t read the Aeneid yet, so relied entirely on my friend’s description of each of eight or nine scenes. That’s how I first met Ascanius and Aeneas and their household Lares, the house gods they saved from Troy, and which find their home, ultimately, with Lavinia in Le Guin’s novel. In Lavinia, Aeneas’ first point of personal commitment to the title character is in entrusting her with their care; and one of the few moments proposed as potentially-supernatural intervention occurs when the Lares move themselves back to her custody.

I’m sure other Aeneid-related works are still being produced, if not so many as in their heyday. Certainly Troy-related works have been going strong lately, if more focused on the Trojan War itself than its aftermath. Equally certain is how well known the stories of Troy are, from their related epics to the ongoing archeological investigations into the history of a city long-since defunct. It’s as inspiring as Atlantis.* Just the other day in Paris, I saw a Trojan dog in the window of some upscale mass-market clothing store, big enough for at least three people.

So the stories generally are known. But how well is the Aeneid in particular known these days among those who haven’t studied Latin? I wonder, not in terms of judging whatever count as “reading the classics”, but in term of who the target audience for Lavinia might be. And does knowing the source material even matter?

My copy of the book is printed in a nice, clear, big font, which leaves me wondering if it was marketed – as many of Le Guin’s books have been – as that relatively-recent classification, Young Adult fiction. The story does deal with a young woman coming of age. How accessible would this book be to someone with no background in Aeneid, whether or not they were a teenager? The story itself provides a summary, in effect, of the last three books of the Aeneid, plus quite a big of its contextual background, but equally the book is written in conscious dialogue with the poem and its poet, who himself appears as an influential character in the book. Lavinia herself tells the reader that her very existence is contingent on his having told of her having been.

Le Guin’s books often deal with historically-rich civilizations, burdened from and benefitting from their layers of past. Might that mean her books would intrinsically appeal to readers with a greater historical consciousness and interest? Or perhaps it is largely through partially-derivative works like this that audiences are most familiar with the Aeneid these days, if at all?

I first read Lavinia specifically because it had been nominated for the BSFA Award for best novel of 2009. Le Guin is, of course, one of the most important authors of science fiction and fantasy; but is this book even targeted at readers of those genres? (I’ll consider the degree to which it even is science fiction in my next post.)

It’s a Le Guin book, and a good and well-reviewed book, so of course it sold at least moderately well. It’s been published at least in the US, the UK, and Japan, and had both hardback and paperback editions; but who is the book’s audience?

* I was recently looking through a brochure of things to do while in Dubai. It includes a theme park devoted to how the residents of Atlantis might have lived.

John Martin: Apocalypse – Reviewed by Andrew M Butler

This review will appear in Vector 269. I encourage you, if you’re able, to go see the show before it closes in mid-January!

John Martin: Apocalypse

Tate Britain 21 September 2011  –  15 January 2012

Reviewed by Andrew M. Butler

The Deluge, engraving by William Miller after the painting by John Martin

There is a moment in a mid-1820s etching by John Martin when Biblical narrative collides with archaeology, and with market economics — in The Expulsion of Adam and Eve From Paradise the couple are running out of the Garden of Eden through a rocky landscape, a tongue of lightning in the background. Down to their right is some sort of prehistoric creature, almost certainly depicted with the latest theories of what dinosaurs would have looked like, at a time when such palaeontology was in its infancy — the word dinosaur being coined by Richard Owen in 1842. In Martin’s earlier oil painting of the same title, dated about 1813, the image is broadly similar, but lacks the creature. The addition would help him sell the print. This was no one-off — he illustrated for Gideon Mantell’s The Wonders of Geology (1838), in the form of The Country of the Iguanodon, and Thomas Hawkins’s The Book of the Great Sea-Dragons (1840) [PDF], as well producing other images of antediluvian fauna. Such depictions suggest that Martin is one of the first science-fiction artists, and his paintings of Biblical, historical and mythological scenes, often featuring disasters and tumultuous landscapes, reinforce this sense. His uneasy status as a provincial outsider having to earn a living from a metropolitan élite also anticipates the struggles for mainstream respect of genre writers.

Martin was born in 1789 in Haydon Bridge, Hexham, Northumbria, the youngest of four sons. Apprenticed to a coachmaker, he intended to learn heraldic painting, but after a dispute about terms his indenture was cancelled and instead he went to work with Italian artist Boniface Musso. Musso had already given him lessons in drawing and oil techniques in Newcastle; now Martin learnt to paint plates and glass as part of a commercial operation. In 1806, he moved to London, where he supplemented his income by producing watercolours and, in time, became a professional artist. The key place to be exhibited was the annual Royal Academy of Arts summer show, then held at Somerset House, although his first painting was rejected in 1810. The same painting, retitled, hung the following year; the breakthrough came when a member of the board of governors of the Bank of England, William Manning MP, offered fifty guineas to buy Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion (1812). This painting had been inspired by James Ridley’s Oriental fantasy Tales of the Genii (1764), where the hero Sadak crawls across a mountainous landscape toward amnesia-causing waters. Further large canvases followed over the next forty years, with Martin in search of wealthy and influential patrons. But Martin also found popular acclaim, with the Biblical painting Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibeon (1816), and was to both show his work in London exhibitions and to tour them around the world — it is thought that two million people saw his Day of Judgement triptych (1849-53) in the UK, the USA and Australia.

Martin’s paintings typically invoked a sense of the sublime. Longinus, writing about rhetoric in the first century, argued that “the true sublime uplifts our souls; we are filled with a proud exaltation and a sense of vaunting joy”, whereas the eighteenth-century Edmund Burke argued that “delightful horror […] is the truest test of the sublime”. In Martin’s case, the feeling is invoked by vast landscapes containing tiny figures in the fore- to midground to give a sense of scale — and his canvases tend to be portrait in orientation, allowing for the composition to tower above the viewer. The terrain is often bowl-shaped, with cliffs and trees taking up the left and right sides of the frame, and then, further back, rivers, lakes, seas and classical cities in the haze of the background. Sometimes the sky forms an answering semicircle, perhaps with clouds of fire, and in some canvases the patina of the painting is cracked in concentric circles. Frequently, the sky is scarred with lightning, scratches across the canvas. In The Deluge (1826), the sea curves around the bottom of the canvas, sweeping the boat clockwise, with storm clouds completing a circuit around the top of the composition, an oval of fairer weather and a glimpse of cities in the distance between them.

The Deluge is one of several paintings Martin made of the Biblical flood, alongside The Eve of the Deluge (1840) and The Assuaging of the Waters (1840); the painting of The Expulsion of Adam and Eve From Paradise, alongside The Garden of Eden (1821), The Fall of Babylon (1819), Belshazzer’s Feast (1820), Adam and Eve Entertaining the Angel Raphael (1823) and The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (1852), suggests an Old Testament theme running through his work, especially the sense of a powerful, destructive, vengeful God. The success of Belshazzer’s Feast, which was reproduced in several versions, clearly suggested that there was a market for such apocalyptic thrills, in a Britain which in the process of being changed forever by the industrial revolution and a network of railways threading its way between mines and factories and ports, and between London and the provinces. The aristocracy and the upper middle classes could go on Grand Tours across Europe, to the Matterhorn, the Alps, Venice, Sicily and beyond, but Martin had been on no such journey and locates such landscapes within England. It is tempting to see the valley of the Tyne with Newcastle perched above it as one inspiration for his topography.

It was apparently a journey through the industrialised Black Country which pointed him to the New Testament subject of The Great Day of His Wrath, a book of Revelation style destruction of Babylon in which volcanic powers rip open a landscape, and vast boulders — on which ruined cities can be glimpsed — are thrown through the air. A second painting, The Last Judgement (1849-53), has a landscape riven in two, beneath Christ and the Angels sitting in court at the top of the picture against a more heavenly sky. On the left of the canvas are the saved, including a range of politicians, poets and artists from antiquity to the present day, on the right, across a chasm filling with corpses, are the damned. Before the painting was damaged, there was a train being driven towards the abyss. The trilogy is completed by The Plains of Heaven (1851-3), a gentler pastoral of the era after the Second Coming, the green of grass and trees surrounding a rich azure of sky and sea. But Martin also looked to Pompeii and Herculaneum for his subjects, and its destruction by volcano (1822, 1822-6), and a classical story of Marcus Curtius being swallowed up by a chasm in a city street.

From the 1820s onwards he was developing plans for canals across London to provide a water supply for London and Westminster, for a sewage system to improve London’s hygiene (and to provide fertiliser for farms) and for a network of railways circling central London and along the banks of the Thames. In this work he anticipated Joseph Bazalgette’s improvements to the London drains and the Embankment and the piecemeal engineering of the London Underground network and overground lines, then in its infancy. Funds were never quite available to translate Martin’s plans into practice. He was also friends with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Michael Faraday, Charles Babbage and other scientists such as Georges Cuvier, a French palaeontologist. In the painting Arthur and Aegle in the Happy Valley (1841), inspired by a Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton poem, Martin insists that the background constellations are accurate in astronomical terms, even if the topic was fictional. He drew on the latest science and engineering.

Martin also knew Charles Barry, who won the competition to design the neo-gothic yet classical new Houses of Parliament, and it is likely this architecture also fed into his work. One could scale his painting of Balshazzer’s Feast to discover how many miles long his palace interior was — or so Martin argued — and contemporary archaeology was another source of inspiration and publicity. Pamphlets and handbills listed details of the people painted in crowd scenes and drew attention to details. All of this contributes to the showmanship which Martin clearly possessed in spades — but also, perhaps, to the sense of insecurity from being an outsider, a working-class artist with little training. Conspicuous testimony to his sense of pride is a piece of furniture, shown in Apocalypse: a bureau with drawers labelled for Martin’s various projects and honours. At the 1851 Great Exhibition, he presented himself as an engineer rather than as an artist.

Salespitches remained necessary, as the art market ebbed and flowed in the era of J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, the former artist stopping at nothing to gain advantage and positioning in the Royal Academy summer exhibitions. Whilst it was possible to sell similar paintings in several sizes, this undercut their exclusiveness, so Martin made a virtue of copying through the comparatively mass medium of the mezzotint. But the mezzotints enabled Martin to revise his earlier compositions — hence the appearance of a prehistoric creature alongside Adam and Eve. Martin employed other engravers to make plates of his images, although he was not always happy with their work and would sometimes reject it. Other times he would do his own engraving, and for a period set up a state of the art press in his own home where he supervised the production of mezzotints by professional printers.

One series of mezzotints were commissioned in 1824 by Septimus Prowett as illustrations to John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), returning to Old Testament scenes, but also paving the way for scenes from Revelation and the New Testament in general. The most striking of these depict Satan, especially Satan in Council, whose composition seems to anticipate the council chamber in the Star Wars prequel trilogy (and Lucas apparently was inspired by Martin’s work; the empty landscape of Solitude (1843) is echoed in the climax of THX 1138 (1971) or the deserts of Tatooine). Martin went on to work on illustrations of the Bible, a less successful project than he had hoped, as was his attempt to sell direct to customers, bypassing the established English network of print emporia. Worse, he undercut himself by designing cheaper plates to be printed by Edward Churton. Nevertheless Martin still made more money from his mezzotints than his paintings — Michael Campbell, a Martin collector and scholar, suggests up to £25,000 — although the market declined through the 1830s.

Perhaps such mentions of money are vulgar — but I see in Martin a kindred spirit of today’s science-fiction writers. He might not have quite been competing for the reader’s beer money, but he knew how to exploit a successful image in more than one format, and he knew how to bring showmanship to his exhibitions. In the lack of official recognition from membership of the Royal Academy nor was he knighted — although the Belgians honoured him — we might also think of the anxieties over the injustices of the Booker Prize or snootiness about the Granta Best of Young Novelists lists. But mostly it is in his fusion of science and art, his use of the sublime, and his creation of apocalyptic imagery that never quite feels reducible to allegory or political parable. (His painting The Last Man (1833) is inspired by an 1823 Thomas Campbell poem rather than Mary Shelley’s 1826 novel, but his accommodation of Jane Loudon as a house guest might put him somewhere in the genesis of The Mummy! Or A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (1827).)

His work remains sublimely astounding. If you want to see the inspiration for a hundred ends of the world, or be inspired yourself, immerse yourself in Martin’s art, which is, in the words of curator Martin Myrone, “suspended or caught between mass production and the unique, the popular and the rarefied, the industrialised and the artistic, the sensationalist and the scholastic.” And that, after all, is the place where we often find sf.

Reading List

Adams, Max (2010) The Prometheans: John Martin and the Generation That Stole the Future, London: Quercus.

Aristotle/Horace/Longinus (1965) Classical Literary Criticism, trans. T.S. Dorsch, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Burke, Edmund (2008) A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics.

Feaver, William (1975) The Art of John Martin. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Martin, John (2011) Sketches of My Life, ed. Martin Myrone, London: Tate.

Myrone, Martin (ed.) (2011) John Martin: Apocalypse, London: Tate.

Coming up: Farthing

The next book in our ongoing Future Classics series is Jo Walton’s Farthing.  Niall will be leading discussion, likely starting before the end of September.

Farthing was published two years after Gwyneth Jones’ Life, which means 2005 is the first year of the last decade we have skipped. None of the books published that year made it onto our list of the top-10 science fiction novels by women of the last decade.

2006, however, gave us Farthing, the first of Walton’s Small Change trilogy. It was also the year that Pluto was demoted from being a planet; novels by five male authors were shortlisted for the best novel for the Hugo Award; and Octavia Butler, Stanislaw Lem, Jack Williamson, and Jim Baen died.

Farthing was shortlisted for a slew of awards, including the Nebula, the John W Campbell Memorial Award, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and the Locus award.  It won the Romantic Times 2006 Reviewers’ Choice Award for Science Fiction.

I hope you will be able to join us in reading and discussing Farthing.

Life: Recap

(Isn’t that a fantastic title for a post?)

Over the last few weeks, Nic has posted a series of thought-provoking explorations of Gwyneth Jones’ Life, looking at its relationship with institutions and attitudes towards scientific practice; its self-consciousness as feminist sf, as a commentary on the role of women in a science fictional world; the core of the relationships which define the plot of the book; and the fictional scientific discovery at the heart of the story and how it affects gender.

Life, the seventh book we’ve examined in the Future Classics series here on Torque Control, is our last book from 2004, the end of the first half of the decade this book list covers.  The remaining four books cover the rest of the decade. For planning ahead, those are

  • Jo Walton, Farthing (in late September)
  • Sarah Hall, The Carhullan Army/Daughters of the North (October)
  • Ursula Le Guin, Lavinia (November)
  • Gwyneth Jones, Spirit (December)

My thanks to Nic for joining us for this discussion (and perhaps more in the future?), and to those of you who read along and participated in the discussion. It’s never too late to come back to these posts and do so.

Discussion: Part 1 – Science and Sensibilities; Part 2 – Feminisms; Part 3 – Roles and Relationships; Part 4 – Gender and Conclusion

A recent, related post:

bookgazing asks for insights into what new things cis-gendered women could become “in the middle of a pre-existing world full of pre-conceptions about gender and behaviour?”