This is the first instalment of my new Strange Horizons column. “Kirk Drift” is a long-read essay on Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk, popular memory, gender politics, radical nostalgia and the unicorn dog.
Good parties diverge widely; all bad parties are bad in the same way. I am trapped at a dull dinner following a dull talk: part of a series of dinners and talks that grad students organise, unpaid (though at considerable expense to themselves—experience! exposure!), to provide free content for the dull grad program I will soon leave. The Thai food is good. The man sitting across from me and a little down the way, a bellicose bore of vague continental origin, is execrable. He is somehow attached to a mild woman who is actually supposed to be here: a shy, seemingly blameless new grad student who perpetually smiles apologetically on his behalf, in an attempt to excuse whatever he’s just said. One immediately understands that she spends half her life with that worry in her eyes, that Joker-set to her mouth, and that general air of begging your pardon for offences she hadn’t even had the pleasure of committing. There is always such a woman at bad parties. She has always either found herself entrapped by a clone of this man, or soon will.
We reach the point of no return when the omnijerk (really I suspect there’s just one vast eldritch horror sitting in another dimension that extrudes its thousand tentacles into our own, and that each one of This Guy is merely an insignificant manifestation of the beast: they couldn’t all be so boring in precisely the same way by chance, surely) decides to voice some Dinner Party Opinions on original-series Star Trek. God knows why. It’s not five seconds before he’s on ‘Kirk and the green women’. He’s mocking the retrosexist trope, but smiling a little weirdly while doing it. His own insufficiently private enjoyment is peeking out, like a semi-erection on his face. A sort of Mad Men effect: saying, “isn’t it awful” and going for the low-hanging critical fruit while simultaneously rolling around in that aesthetic and idea of masculinity. Camp, but no homo!
Read the full essay here.
I don’t rec a goddamn thing from mass media franchises this year. I think we collectively need to stop riffling through these properties for hope, for queer representation, for any slightly left idea or any slightly competent storytelling. I want it understood how weird it is for me, long and deep in the media fandom trenches, to think there’s nothing much salvageable there now. The conditions of production have changed such that it is almost impossible to generate a decent script or to express any cogent (let alone subversive, challenging) idea in these fields. I’ve long championed transformative fandom as a vexed but ultimately populist, feminist, queer way of appropriating storytelling mechanisms controlled and interpolated by capital at a massive scale, but as the stratification between audience and maker/capital has grown, fandom has had to shift to using texts as raw materials rather than as the basis for creative and productive readings. The fanwork generated thus is largely uninteresting: how can it be otherwise? Try making a beef wellington out of “re-formed” grade-D chuck. What interest does lie in it comes from the richer collective fandom traditions the work derives from and interacts with. We are wasting our love, our brilliance, our fucking time. Do what you like, but I’m moving the hell on from fannish interaction with any new franchise output. I can’t stand this shit any more.
The Yonderland Christmas special was well good. I read a lot of Dickens and was briefly happy, which is really something in this awful year (which, ironically enough, we may well remember as the last good one). Ayyy.
Read full piece here (multi-authorial).
The Age of Adaline is a time-travel film by any other name. A long, respectably delivered bit of exposition-cum-technobabble near the beginning informs us that for Science Reasons our protagonist (Blake Lively), a woman born in 1904, has not aged since she survived a car accident at 29. As the years pass, her acquaintances become increasingly confused by and suspicious of her fixed appearance. Eventually, during the Red Scare, US government agents attempt to detain and question Adaline. Her eternal youth seems to them like the sort of Soviet weird science that, in another SFnal genre, it would be. (That’s such a Man from U.N.C.L.E. plot.) After this near miss (not to mention the strain of outliving her friends and relations without understanding why), Adaline decides to conceal her identity, to move on at regular intervals and to form no new close attachments. This, of course, cannot withstand filmic logic’s relentless erosion of women’s barriers. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a female character who has decided not to form romantic attachments must be in want of a beau.
Full review here.
A while ago some nice people suggested Boucher, Backbone and Blake – the legacy of Blakes 7 might be Hugo-eligible under a few categories. There’s Best Related Work, there’s Best Fan Writer, etc. THIS IS VERY KIND. THANK YOU.
I really feel Best Related Work needs to go to the report, editorial and companion essays by Brian J. White, Tobias Buckell, Justina Ireland, Mikki Kendall, Nisi Shawl, Troy Wiggins, Cecily Kane and N.K. Jemisin that together comprise “#BlackSpecFic: A Fireside Fiction Company special report”.
This collaborative project calls attention to a foundational issue in SFFnal publishing, representing the best traditions of critical, self-reflective and progressive work this award exists to recognise. Academically and practically, it is a necessary investigative report. The very model of its presentation is exciting and polyvocal, and it’d be great to see the award recognise this digital mixed-media format. Several great writers and thinkers made substantive contributions to the project. Others offered valuable reactions after the fact. The report and associated documents attracted international media attention, gave rise to editorial shifts on major SFF publications’ boards, and hopefully will spur further inclusive developments.
We should not let the memory of this work fade or its sharp, timely conclusions be overlooked. The report needs acted on, in a continuous praxis, and I believe it should also be recognised. This would show that we all feel the horrible inequalities it frankly delineates are a blight on the field, and that we are collectively serious about redressing them in the interests of both fairness and richer art. It would not definitively do so: only continuous work to dismantle systemic racism will accomplish this. But recognising the report as the most important piece of genre-related writing/the Best Related Work this year seems to me simply a just acknowledgement of a fait accompli.
As for me, I’d be happy to be considered for fan writer (though really I also think it’s past time for Abigail Nussbaum and/or Maureen K Speller to be acknowledged in that or some other capacity, but frogtea.gif).
END OF YEAR WRITING REVIEW:
Age of Adeline (in the publishing queue, 2236)
“Control the Computer, Control the Ship”, B7 and tech SFRA paper (promised to Foundation) (4kish atm)
“From ‘Shalom Aleichem’ to ‘Live Long and Prosper’: Engaging with Post-War American Jewish Identity via Star Trek: The Original Series“: forthcoming in “Set Phasers to Teach” (6666 with all notes)
Piece on P&P&Z (still homeless, 2980)
Piece on Love&Friendship (still homeless, 4315)
Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore (1143)
NONFIC TOTAL: 84,265
Rereading (4,600, out with an anthology, waiting to hear back)
281965 words, broken down in the end of year fic meme on my lj
Personal story planning, correspondence, essays and private-lj blogging:
TOTAL (minus the substantial last category): 370,830 words this year, ‘published’ in one form or another
Bit less fiction than last year, and I really suspect less nonfic, but then moving was hideous and drawn out, mental health’s been bad and this year was draining all-’round.
This essay was occasioned by the death, on April 13th of this year, of the actor Gareth Thomas. Thomas was most famous for playing Roj Blake, the eponymous protagonist of the landmark BBC science fiction series Blakes 7. While the essay contains elegiac elements, it’s grown into a longer piece on Thomas in a broader sense, Blakes 7, Blake as a character, television and fandom history, and the status of protagonists and politics in genre television today. I hope that scope doesn’t make the piece feel inadequate in its partial function as a tribute: personally, I think context makes it more of one. I hope, conversely, that an obituary isn’t all the piece is. An obituary, like a funeral, is for people who already care about the person in question and who want or need such a thing, whereas I hope a good deal of this discussion is relevant even if you don’t have that relationship with this actor and this particular text; I hope that it works if you’re simply interested in the mechanics of telling good and ethical stories on television. And of course I hope that if you don’t already love the things I love, you can be convinced of their merit. What is criticism, when embarked on as praise, but a small and understandable piece of selfishness—a little, affectionate tyranny?
Full article here.
BBC Radio 4 recently dramatized William Morris’s 1890s Utopian novel News from Nowhere as part of their Dangerous Visions season, which advertises itself as a series of “dramas that explore contemporary takes on future dystopias.” It’s odd to find the unabashedly sanguine News under this heading, but if the producers wanted to stage it for a change of pace or because they particularly wanted to work with this text, fine. I’m for abandoning an over-arching structure in a case such as this (i.e. a series of loosely-thematically-connected, discrete pieces) when it isn’t doing good work. In fact, if the series’ “contemporary takes” framing is what gave us the topical Boaty McBoatface joke in this play’s introduction, destined to wither faster than the speed of meme, I feel they could even have broken with that structure a bit more dramatically.
I was not expecting great triumphs from the Dangerous Visions series to begin with. Maureen Kincaid Speller, the editor of this section/a local seller of hot takes and pies, pointed out elsewhere that “the BBC’s latest Dangerous Visions season [is] very male, very white, and the big-ticket dramas are mostly adaptations of things that have been done before. I really wouldn’t mind a lengthy chat with the programme planners about all the stuff they’re missing out.” Paul Kincaid, referring to the important 1967 short story collection edited by Harlan Ellison of the same name, observed, “wouldn’t it be interesting if they dramatised some of the stories that were actually in Dangerous Visions? Still 50-odd years out of date, but more up to date than most of what they’re offering. From the BBC you’d never guess that there were actually one or two science fiction writers out there [now], and some of them were actually female. But then, that might actually be dangerous, and despite the title that is clearly not the BBC’s intent.”
Full review here.
You may well have heard about Steven Universe (and if you’re aware of the show, you might also be interested in some criticism about it—fingers crossed!). In certain circles (people active on Tumblr and other major media fandom platforms, USians with young children, etc.), this American Cartoon Network show, technically on the cusp of its third season, has been talked up ad nauseum. But outside of the aforementioned circles, the program is far less Universally known (that’s a truly awful pun, and I’m not particularly sorry). Whether or not you’re saturated with Steven, it still merits discussion by virtue of being simultaneously one of the best children’s programs and one of the best science fiction programs of its generation.
Full review here.