Vector #269

This issue of Vector is dedicated, in part, to revisiting the subject of women writers of science fiction. Few female UK-based science fiction authors currently have contracts, but worldwide, there’s a great deal going on, a geographic, cultural, and linguistic diversity which Cheryl Morgan surveys in this issue. I came away from reading it with a massively expanded to-read list, and I hope it inspires you similarly. Tony Keen examines the roles of death and transformation in Justina Robson’s books Natural History (one of the books on last year’s list of the previous decades best science fiction by women) and Living Next Door to the God of Love. In contrast, Niall Harrison examines a very different author, Glasgow-based Julie Bertagna. Her post-apocalyptic trilogy, which begins with Exodus, provides an intriguing comparison with Stephen Baxter’s current series of prehistoric climate change novels which began with Stone Spring.

The second part of Victor Grech’s three-part series on gender in science fiction doesn’t focus on women science fiction authors, but does deal with quite a few of them in the process of discussing the variety of single-gendered world in science fiction. In particular, he examines the in-story reasons, the biological explanations for their existence, and the degrees to which those mechanisms are found in the ecologies of our own world.

Shana Worthen

Vector #268

No, I think it’s more about the way to do it. With Tolkien, as I said in the book, it was “Gosh, you can write a whole three-volume fantasy – this is marvellous, let’s do this thing.” With other influences like C.S. Lewis, the “how to do it” thing that grabbed me was that he was always so completely clear about what was happening. You are never in any doubt who is where, and doing what – and much more complicated things than that.

Diane Wynne Jones

Out of this World: Four Days Left / Frankenstein

Until I started reading up for my short presentation on Lucian and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the “Science Fiction and Religion” panel* at Bradford the other weekend, I had no idea that Shelley had notably revised the text between its first 1818 edition and the better-known 1831 edition.

Small, frequent amendations and revisions** altered the text’s focus towards a much greater concern with Christianity, in particular, giving Victor Frankenstein a greater religious consciousness. Frankenstein, in the later text, refers at various points to a guardian angel, and to an angel of destruction leading him on. Although these need not necessarily have come at the cost of sacrificing descriptions of Frankenstein’s scientific practice, they have, such as a youthful scene in which he experiments with electricity, cut from the later version. Even the references to historical practices of natural magic are revised, in order to cast them in a more negative light.

I was conscious that there were many versions of Frankenstein simply because it has been memorably reworked in film numerous times over the years. I hadn’t realized how much the focus of the story was adjusted in Mary Shelley’s own revisions as well.

Some edition of Frankenstein (offhand, I cannot tell you which one!) is currently on display at the British Library as part of the Out of this World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It exhibition. You have four days left, including today until 18:00, to see it.

*  See also the contents of the talk which Una McCormack gave, on sf and religion in Dr Who and Star Trek, for the same panel.

** I used the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the 1818 text with its list of changes by Marilyn Butler in Appendix B.

Out of this World Countdown

Here in London, it’s been a fantastic summer of science fictional events at the British Library, thanks to the show Out of this World: Science Fiction but Not as You Know It; but it’s not over yet.

After today, there are still six days left in which to go to the British Library and see the (free!) show.

There is still one more scheduled event remaining in conjunction with it, on J.G. Ballard, this Friday.

I’m planning on going back one more time. And just in case you’ve been thinking about it, haven’t gotten around to it, live vaguely in or around London or will be passing through in time…. I’m planning on posting something on science fiction history each day for the remaining six days of the show as a reminder that the show is still on.

Also, conveniently, this takes advantage of recent reading I did in preparation for the British Science Festival’s panel on “Science Fiction and Religion”.

The good news is that major shows in London on inspirations for science fiction and fantasy won’t be stopping when Out of this World closes, since John Martin: Apocalypse at the Tate opens on Wednesday.

Vector #266

3 • Torque Control • editorial by Shana Worthen
4 • A Year in Review: Looking Back at 2010 • essay by Martin Lewis
5 • 2010: Books in Review • essay by Graham Andrews and Lynne Bispham and Mark Connorton and Gary Dalkin and Alan Fraser and Niall Harrison and David Hebblethwaite and Tony Keen and Paul Kincaid and Jonathan McCalmont and Martin McGrath and Anthony Nanson and Martin Potts and Paul Graham Raven and Ian Sales and Jim Steel and Martyn Taylor and Sandra Unnerman and Anne Wilson
15 • 2010: Television in Review • essay by Alison Page
20 • 2010 in Film: Not My Kind of Genre • essay by Jonathan McCalmont
24 • Strip Club: A Fanciful Flight • essay by Terry Martin
26 • The Promises and Pitfalls of a Christian Agenda in Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle • essay by Anthony Nanson
30 • Scholars and Soldiers • [Foundation Favourites • 12] • essay by Andy Sawyer
32 • Alpha Centauri • [Resonances • 61] • essay by Stephen Baxter
34 • Kincaid in Short • [Kincaid in Short] • essay by Paul Kincaid
37 • Review: Finch by Jeff VanderMeer • review by Paul Graham Raven
38 • Review: Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan • review by Jonathan McCalmont
39 • Review: Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks • review by Marcus Flavin
40 • Review: The Technician by Neal Asher • review by Stuart Carter
40 • Review: Version 43 by Philip Palmer • review by David Hebblethwaite
41 • Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu • review by Martin McGrath
41 • Review: Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson • review by Anthony Nanson
42 • Review: Music for Another World by Mark Harding • review by Dave M. Roberts
42 • Review: The Immersion Book of SF by Carmelo Rafala • review by Maureen Kincaid Speller
43 • Review: Zombie: An Anthology of the Undead by Christopher Golden • review by Colin B. Harvey [as by C. B. Harvey]
43 • Review: The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer • review by Niall Harrison
44 • Review: Feed by Mira Grant • review by Alex Williams
44 • Review: Tomes of the Dead: Anno Mortis by Rebecca Levene • review by Shaun Green
45 • Review: Songs of the Dying Earth by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin • review by L. J. Hurst
46 • Review: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks • review by Donna Scott
46 • Review: The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood • review by Anne F. Wilson
47 • Review: Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal by Sherryl Vint • review by Gwyneth Jones


[Mary] Gentle’s prose is sharp, her powers of invention brilliant, her characters real, especially the greasy, obese Casaubon with his pet rat. They are not necessarily likeable. Casaubon is a Lord, and not on Our Side (there’s a neat scene where he’s confronted with the woman who does his laundry who has to live on far less than the cost of one single garment), and when Valentine re-appears a couple of novels down the line she does a dreadful and unforgivable thing. But, in the best tradition of the malcontents in the Jacobean drama, boy, are they vivid! This was a new thing.

For a time I used the word scholarpunk for this fusion of erudition and bad-ass attitude. Fortunately no-one noticed.

Andy Sawyer

Nowhere was this tiredness more evident than in the lugubriously self-indulgent Iron Man 2. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man (2008) was something of an unexpected hit; its combination of clever casting and pseudo-political posturing caught the public’s imagination while its lighter tone and aspirational Californian setting served as a useful counterpoint to the doom and gloom of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). However, the second Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark steps on stage in the sequel, it is obvious that something is terribly wrong. The film’s onanistic triumphalism and bare-faced declaration that social ills are best confronted by private sector moral entrepreneurs feels astonishingly ugly and politically insensitive at a time when private sector entrepreneurs are having their companies propped-up at the expense of the poor and the hungry. The decision to cast Mickey Rourke as a shambling Russian baddy is laughably pretentious in a film that ultimately boils down to a bunch of computer-generated robots punching each other in the face for about an hour.

Jonathan McCalmont

I found a Darwin site where a respondent asked “who else thinks Beatrix Potter may have developed her stories, about animals with increasingly human characteristics, from acquaintance with Darwin’s theory?” The idea that Beatrix Potter had to wait for The Origin Of Species before she thought of writing about reprobate foxes, trusting piglets, thieving magpies and insolent rats may seem ridiculous but this internetgeneration query is revealing. Our animal folklore is no longer refreshed by experience. In my own lifetime, here in the UK, the estrangement that began as soon as agriculture was established, has accelerated almost to vanishing point. We see animals as pets; as entertainment products we consume through the screen (where their fate, nowadays, holds a tragic fascination). We see them, perhaps, as an increasingly problematic food source. We no longer ‘meet their gaze’ as independent neighbours. The neo-Darwinists have even been doing their damnedest to break the link that Charles Darwin forged, when he transformed our deep intuition of continuity with the animal world into ‘scientific fact’.

Gwyneth Jones

And was Karel Čapek really writing about newts?

Gwyneth Jones

On the whole, however, Vint does a good job of disentangling “the animal” from the mix and Animal Alterity is an impressive achievement. A study of this kind isn’t meant to offer solutions and there are none (beyond a rather vague promise that post-humanism will blur the line between human and animal). Instead there’s a mass of evidence identifying sf as a resource: a treasury for Animal Studies academics; a rich means of bringing those moral arguments to life —drawn from an overlooked genre that has (always, already) developed sophisticated ways of thinking about looming problems that have only just occurred to the mainstream.

To the general reader, Animal Alterity offers food for thought and a quirky compendium of offbeat and classic titles. Could a “related book” on this topic become widely popular? I don’t know. In my day, sf fans tended to be petrol-headed meat-munchers, their concern for our stewardship of the ecosphere constrained by a passion for beer, mayhem and go-faster starships. Times have changed. The younger generation may feel very differently: I hope so.

Gwyneth Jones

An interview with Shana Worthen

As promised, here’s a short interview with Shana Worthen, Vector’s incoming Features Editor, whose first issue, to which I am very much looking forward, should be out shortly after my last. You can find her current online home here. And many thanks to her for taking the time to answer my questions.

How did you get involved with the BSFA?

I started with the London pub meetings. I moved back to London from Toronto in early July of 2005 and my first BSFA pub night was later that month. After a year of attending, I became a member. It was shareware logic: pay for something after I have already had my money’s worth — not that memberships actually subsidize the meetings. How I first heard of the pub nights, I don’t specifically know, but I had been looking for regular fannish meetings here before I moved over. My inbox tells me that I started following Ansible in that May, so that’s a possibility.

What are your interests within sf?

Novels, poetry, and criticism, primarily. i also really like tie-in reference books! I have a small but growing accumulation of science fictionally-related cookbooks, for example. Movies, occasionally. I am very much interested in science fiction-related artwork, especially landscapes and maps, but can’t say I follow it in any systematic way at this point.

I often read through self-imposed projects, whether an award-related list or a friend’s set of recommendations. For the last several years, I’ve been getting to know the subgenre of science fiction romance in particular. I’m currently reading a short list of books recommended by a friend as a way of getting to know some of the more recent American science fiction publications.

Although I have caught at least one episode per season of Doctor Who, I don’t usually remember to watch television series. I grew up without a television and still have poor televisual instincts. iPlayer is useful, but only if I’m reminded in time to catch something. I did have a long spell back in Toronto of watching lots of anime, but most of it had not been broadcast locally in the first place.

And what do you do outside sf?

Professionally, I’m a historian of medieval technology. It still seems improbable that my day job is teaching online for a university on the other side of the ocean, but it’s true.

Food is my major hobby. I love eating good things, and will cook if need be to have them. I love trying new restaurants, and reading food criticism and related essays and blogs. I mostly read cookbooks rather than cook from them. This also explains my science fiction cookbooks, many of which are only partially designed to be cooked with. I’ve been thinking a lot in the last year about why science fiction and fantasy tend to be so conservative in its use of food technologies. I’ve been dabbling in related academic work too: I have an article coming out next year on smoked foods in fantasy literature.

I like seeing new places, whether industrial tourism, museums, or countryside. I like theatrical musicals, drawing with watercolour pencils, and photographing reflections.

What plans do you have for Vector? What can we expect from your first issue?

My plan is to try to live up to the standard set in the last few years! I will be trying for clusters of related articles rather than the entire themed issues, however.

I’m starting off with the usual year-in-review issue, so the majority of the content will be looking back at 2010. I am happy to report that there will also be two new columns appearing in my first issue. Paul Kincaid is writing one which will revisit older short stories. Terry Martin began a column on graphic novels and comics for Matrix which will now be appearing regularly in Vector. Also, Anthony Nanson has an article on an Arthurian trilogy by Stephen Lawhead.

Are you looking for any sort of submission in particular?

Although Vector‘s focus will remain primarily on text, I would love to see interesting and varied submissions which look at science fiction more broadly. For example, I would love to read more critical work on science fiction drama and science fictional art exhibits. I’d be interested in seeing articles on the relationship between original texts and their adaptations, whether to film or graphic novel. I am actively looking for more articles on science fiction poetry.

Any submission I can learn something from is a good one.

How can people contact you?

I’ll be taking over the vector.editors@gmail.com email address soon; sworthen@owlfish.com is my usual email address.