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2017: A Clarke Odyssey
A Conference Marking the Centenary of Sir Arthur C. Clarke
Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK
Saturday 9 December 2017

Keynote Speakers:
Stephen Baxter
Professor Charlotte Sleigh (University of Kent)

Sir Arthur C. Clarke is one of the most important British sf writers of the twentieth century – novelist, short-story writer, scriptwriter, science populariser, fan, presenter of documentaries on the paranormal, proposer of the uses of the geosynchronous orbit and philanthropist.

We want to celebrate his life, work and influence on science fiction, science and beyond.

Professor Charlotte Sleigh will open proceedings by looking at Clarke as an sf fan in the interwar years in London and how this intersected with his interest in science and its communication. Award-winning author Stephen Baxter will round out the event with an examination of Clarke’s non-fiction and how this positioned him as a significant public figure.

Our international conference speakers will address novels such as Childhood’s End, 2001: A Space Odyssey (book and film) and Imperial Earth, looking as issues such as transhumanism, Buddhism, terraforming and sexual politics. They will make connections to sf writers including Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Olaf Stapledon and Liu Cixin, plus Star Trek. We will also discuss the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Cost: Waged: £65
Unwaged and students £50
(Including lunch and refreshments)

We would like to acknowledge the support of Serendip (https://www.clarkeaward.com/).

This is a set of links to the various useful pages on the blog.

    • The conference is organised by Dr Andrew M. Butler and Dr Paul March-Russell.

Please email us with any queries: Dr Andrew M. Butler and Dr Paul March-Russell

  • The original call for papers is here.
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To register for the conference, please use the following form to do so. Make sure you give us the name that you want on your badge when filling in the name fields (although we will likely email to confirm — feel free to contact us if you wish to check).

http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/event-booking/book.aspx?event=142004

Registration is:
Waged: £65
Unwaged and students £50
(Including lunch and refreshments)

Conference organisers: Dr Andrew M. Butler (andrewmbutler42@gmail.com) and Dr Paul March-Russell (P.A.March-Russell@kent.ac.uk).

3.30-5.00: Clarke’s Legacies — Powell Lecture Theatre/Pg09

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Dr Nick Hubble (Brunel University London) “The Clarke Award, ‘Literary SF’ and the Role of Criticism: Cultural Value in the 21st Century”

According to its website, the Arthur C. Clarke Award “is given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year” but it has come to be identified in particular with the cause of “literary SF”, a category central to the cultural division currently dividing fandom and which has led in recent years to a bitter contestation of the Hugo Awards, which are voted for by the membership of each annual Worldcon. Adam Roberts satirically classifies the division as such:

The Hard, politically conservative “SF is about learning and respecting the inviolable laws of physics”, masculinist, macho kill-and- rape video game, neo-Fascist Hugo ballot-stuffing crowd in one corner; and the Literary SF, “science fiction is about the encounter with otherness”, lovin-the- alien, polymorphous, feminist, queer, coloured, trans and politically liberal crowd in the other. (Roberts 2015: 9)

In contrast to the Hugos decided by popular vote, the jury-judged Clarke, although frequently characterised by mild controversy and bickering, has been less openly divisive. Recent “Literary” winners have included Emily Mandel’s Station Eleven in 2015 and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad in 2017. However, in 2016 the award was won by a more unapologetic example of genre SF in the mould of Clarke himself, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time. The contrast provided by these recent choices provides part of the context for the recent attempt to renew a critical public sphere surrounding the Clarke Award by setting up a shadow jury. On the one hand, the divide between genre and literary SF in the Clarke context does not map onto the one outlined by Roberts above (Tchaikovsky’s novel very much displays the characteristics that Roberts associates with literary SF). On the other hand, the parallax effect generated by these supposed binary oppositions opens up new perspectives on how cultural value is changing in this century and, in particular, following the 2007-8 global financial crash. This paper seeks to set out some of the parameters of this change at a time when “speculative fiction” has become mainstream and when Clarke’s Childhood’s End can be the topic of papers and seminars at the annual Modernist Studies Association Conference.

Nick Hubble is Reader in English at Brunel University London.

Dr Joe Norman (Brunel University London) “‘call me highway call me conduit call me lightning rod’: ‘Big Dumb Objects’ in Selected Works by Arthur C. Clarke and Iain M. Banks”

As a young man Iain M. Banks read Arthur C. Clarke’s work in the Gollancz classics range; and Banks’s Culture series continues Clarke’s Golden Age optimism for humankind’s technoscientific, utopian future. Clarke’s classics “The Sentinel” (1951), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Rendezvous with Rama (1973) feature the trope of the so-called “Big Dumb Object” (BDO), which also appears in Banks”s Excession (1996). Clarke’s Monolith, the Rama spacecraft, and Banks”s Excession, all evidence the existence of “a mysterious, now-disappeared race of Alien intellectual giants”, potentially bringing humans “much closer to a Conceptual Breakthrough into a more transcendent state of intellectual awareness.”

Clarke’s Monolith enables humankind to travel beyond our solar system, providing the potential for utopian colonization of space – exactly the eventuality realized through Banks’s Culture, an interstellar confederation of artificial habitats, overseen by benevolent AIs, comparable to Clarke’s alien Overlords in Childhood’s End (1953). Excession explores different species” reactions to the titular entity, which threatens utopia with war. The Excession itself – named for its capacity to exceed all known levels of power, size, and technoscientific development – surpasses almost all of humankind’s capacity to comprehend it in any meaningful fashion, even amongst the Culture’s elite AIs and posthumans. The continually deferred explanation for its exact nature becomes a mystery of near-Gothic proportions.

Peter Nicholls places the BDO “at the heart” of what attracts many people to SF, arguing for its primary role as conveying “something rather unscientific, be it called the sense of wonder, the sublime, the transcendent or the romantic.” Frequently those who encounter the BDO feel “vulnerable and threatened and lost like “the explorers of Clarke’s spacecraft Rama”. Christopher Palmer also affirms the sublime properties of the BDO, which activates “a complex of opposed qualities or possibilities […] the comic and the domestic, the heroic and the bureaucratic,” which “exhibit features of SF’s dealings with modernity.”

My paper will explore BDOs in both authors’ works through the lens of Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr.’s technologiade, demonstrating the latter’s “two dialectically related forms”: Rendezvous with Rama as quintessential technoRobinsonade and Excession as subversion of space opera. In the hands of SF’s best, the BDO becomes much more than a cheap plot device, and instead a sophisticated tool for political and philosophical explorations.

Dr. Joseph Norman completed his PhD research into Banks’s Culture series at Brunel University London where he teaches English and Creative Writing. His research interests include: genre fiction, The Weird, heavy metal, utopianism, national identity. Recent publications include The Science Fiction of Iain M. Banks (co-editor; Gylphi press, forthcoming 2017), and “Weirdrone Tales: The Weird, Drone Music, Sonic Ecstasy”, in Sustain/Decay Owen Coggins, James Harris, eds (Void Front Press, 2017).

Professor Patrick Parrinder (University of Reading) “Clarkaeology: Arthur C. Clarke’s Time Capsules”

Clarke’s universes are grandly four-dimensional but he is a novelist of space travel, not time travel, and his deepest imaginative visions convey not anticipation so much as a sense of belatedness. Often his protagonists are amateur or professional archaeologists. The principal themes of “Clarkaeology” are all present in his 1953 story “Jupiter Five”, where Professor Forster and his graduate students land on the fifth moon of Jupiter and make “the greatest archaeological find in all history”. Not only is this story the acknowledged precursor of the Rama series, but Forster’s “diffusion theory of extraterrestrial culture” is reflected in the monoliths of 2001 (later to be spoofed by K. S. Robinson in Icehenge) and also in The City and the Stars, where Edward James”s observation that Alvin “uncovers the truth of Earth’s history” is quite literally accurate. But Clarke is also constrained to specify that Alvin and his companion “were trying to contact intelligence, not to carry out archaeological research”.

Clarke’s aliens (unlike, say, Wells’s Martians) are never really alien. Whether reptilians (as in Childhood’s End and “Jupiter Five”) or tripeds, they are, as Prof. Forster says, “Not human – but humane”. And yet Clarke’s universe is genuinely unfathomable and strange, since, as Norton and his crew find in Rendezvous with Rama, “the more they discovered about it, the less they understood”. Childhood’s End, The City and the Stars, and 2001 all end with journeys to an unknown and (by implication) unknowable future, but in Clarke what links the future to archaeology and the recovery of the past is the device of the time capsule. Rama, the 2001 monoliths, and the artificial moon known as Jupiter Five are all time capsules, though their messages remain largely hidden. They are not buildings but machines that remain in perfect working order after millions of years, their mechanisms apparently waiting to be triggered by human explorers. Within Jupiter Five, for example, the archaeologists find a lifelike reptilian statue which they see as carrying the Clarkeian message “Greetings, carbon-based bipeds!” Yet in Clarke the promise of a second coming, of a once and future galactic empire, is repeatedly thwarted.

SF for Clarke, as Brian Aldiss once wrote, is “the literature of the gods”, but these gods have long disappeared from the universe, leaving only their time capsules behind. Far from “discovering the future”, Clarke’s characters tend to live in the future, with a strong and melancholy sense of their own belatedness. At most, they might hope to have left a sufficient impression on the universe for others to one day read the signs they have left behind.

Patrick Parrinder is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Reading and President of the H. G. Wells Society. His most recent book is Utopian Literature and Science (2015); among its many predecessors are Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching (1980) and Shadows of the Future which won the 1995 Eaton Award. He met Arthur C. Clarke at the International H. G. Wells Symposium in London in 1986.

 

1.45-3.15: Parallel Stream B: Religion(s), Transcendence and the Transhuman — Pg06

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Thore Bjørnvig (University of Copenhagen) “Leaving the Cradle: Transcendence and Childhood’s End

Science fiction often deals with themes traditionally found in religion and mythology. Among these themes, the human dream of transcending earthly existence often occurs. One of the clearest and most profound expressions of this urge is found in Clarke’s Childhood’s End. The novel is narrowly connected to Judaic-Christian narratives of apocalypse and ties in with current transhumanistic philosophy of AI and robotics. Though Clarke was a self-professed atheist and often expressed criticisms of religion, in both popular science writings and in fiction he often dealt in ideas that were hardly distinguishable from religion. This throws some interesting light both on Clarke as the “prophet of the Space Age” and on “religion” as a concept.

Thore Bjørnvig has an MA in the history of religion from the University of Copenhagen. For a decade he has studied connections between space flight and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence on the one hand, and religion and mythology on the other. He has, among other things, published the article “Transcendence of Gravity: Arthur C. Clarke and the Apocalypse of Weightlessness” in the anthology on astroculture edited by Alexander CT Geppert (Imagining Outer Space, Macmillan, 2012) and recently co-edited an special issue of Astropolitics on spaceflight and religion (2013).

Dr Dani Shalet (University of Kent) “The Divine Human: Clarke and the Transhuman”

Transhumanism is a philosophy that was coined by Max More in 1990, an intellectual movement that sees a future where humans are no longer limited by human frailty and weakness. This future is one that envisions the cyberisation of the human body, its enhancement through cybernetic implants, computerisation and robotics. It is also believed by some transhumanists that human technology will reach a level of advancement that will result in the creation of a super computer; effectively a benevolent AI that will enable humans to leave their physical bodies behind and upload themselves into “cyber space”, creating a shared consciousness. This event is known as the Mind Fire and is seen, in many respects, to hold parallels to the Buddhist nirvana. Many of these themes are echoed in science fiction films and anime like the Terminator series, Ghost in the Shell and Ex Machina, to name a few. That said, these ideas and concepts where first imagined and brought to life by science-fiction greats like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Hava Tirosh-Samuelson points out how influential Clarke was to the founding fathers of transhumanism: “…in the 1960s, new optimistic futuristic scenarios about humanity where articulate by science fiction writers such as Arthur C Clarke…who speculated about the new transhumanist future”; interestingly enough academics, like TIrosh-Samuleson and Robert Geraci are currently debating the rather mutable category of this scientific movement, suggesting that this “philosophy”, due to concepts like the Mind Fire and the creation of a post-apocalyptic future, harbours some similarity to Abrahamic Apocalyptic myth. Through Clarke was a professed atheist, one cannot help but notice that many of his works, though scientific in nature, have a basis in the divine. What this paper will illustrate are these religious undertones, and assess to what degree Clarke’s work influenced the “religion” within transhumanism.

Dr Jim Clarke (Coventry University) “A Space Bodhi Tree: The ‘Crypto-Buddhism’ of Arthur C. Clarke”

Arthur C. Clarke was known as a lifelong atheist and rationalist, who claimed to have been a logical futurist from the age of ten, and who was appointed a Humanist Laureate in the International Academy of Humanism. Refutations of organised religion, especially Christianity, as the “most malevolent and persistent of all mind viruses” permeates his work, featuring as a plot device in novels such as The Fountains of Paradise and 3001.

However, Clarke’s repudiation of religion was not totalising. His reputation for incorporating elements of cosmic transcendence into his fiction led to the scientist JBS Haldane suggesting that Clarke “should receive a prize in theology for being one of the few people to write anything new on the subject”. Specifically, Clarke seemed to exempt Buddhism, especially its Theravada branch, from his repudiations.

A self-described crypto-buddhist, Clarke was fascinated by concepts like God, reincarnation, and the paranormal and incorporated components of transcendence into his all of his most significant works of fiction. This paper explores the role Buddhist thinking played in Clarke’s cosmology, examining the reasons he distinguished Buddhist concepts from his general repudiation of religion, and the role such concepts played in his narratives of first contact with sentient extraterrestrials, an event for which, Clarke argued, any true theology must await.

Jim Clarke is senior lecturer and course director of English and Journalism at Coventry University. His book Fire of Words: The Aesthetics of Anthony Burgess is published by Palgrave Macmillan. He is the principal investigator on the ‘Ponying the Slovos’ project exploring the linguistics of invented languages. He has also written about JG Ballard, Iain M. Banks and Doctor Who. He has recently completed a monograph on science fiction and Catholicism.

 

1.45-3.15: Parallel Stream A: NASA, Space and Terraforming — Powell Lecture Theatre/Pg09

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Alexey Dodsworth (Universities of São Paulo and Venice) “’All These Worlds Are Yours – Except Europa’: On Ethics of Terraforming, and the future of space settlements.”

It is in 2001 and 2010 that Clarke foresees the existence of alien life in the ocean of the Jovian moon Europa. It is noteworthy that such works were written in the 60s and 80s, when the astrophysical concept of “circumstellar habitable zone” (CHZ) was still restricted to planetary bodies orbiting within a specific stellar distance in which the existence of liquid water could be made feasible depending on the stellar heat. Therefore by taking into account the CHZ variables of our solar system, Mars was supposed to be its habitable limit.

However, in spite of being in discordance of the scientific knowledge then in force, Clarke’s unusual bets have been proven to be quite right. During the year 2003, NASA was surprised by the discovery of an ocean more massive than the terrestrial one, under a layer of ice in the moon Europa. That is, Europa does indeed have liquid solvents, which makes this Jovian moon (as well as several Saturnine moons) a potentially habitable location. The concept of CHZ has since been reconsidered in order to cover previously unlikely planetary sites i.e. bodies beyond Mars.

Nowadays astrobiologists tend to admit that our universe is probably biophilic, that is conducive to the existence of life. The “rare Earth” hypothesis has been replaced by indications that the cosmos is replete with potentially habitable sites.

In the face of this new and surprising scenario, bioethical issues will play a key role in space settlement projects. Fundamental bioethical questions arise: What has superior intrinsic value? How should we behave in the face of the possibility of colonising other worlds? For anthropocentrists it is the human being who has superior intrinsic value, that is we are ontologically allowed to colonise and terraform whatever we want. For ecocentrists it is not mankind but life that has an intrinsic value, regardless of its contingential form. Zoocentrists tend to attribute intrinsic value to some species to the detriment of others. Cosmocentrists argue that even uninhabited worlds have intrinsic value and therefore humans have no right to terraform them. As the cosmic imperative of preserving potentially biotic sites is expressed through the fictional character Bowman in his transhuman-energetic version: “All these worlds are yours – except Europa. Attempt no landings here”. I intend to advocate in favour of strong ecocentric bioethics, just as Clarke did through his books.

Alexey Dodsworth is an SF writer, and a Brazilian-Italian PhD scholar currently based in Venice, Italy. His research on transhumanism, ethics and space settlements has been under development at both the universities of São Paulo and Venice. Dodsworth was awarded in 2015 with the Argos prize for his sci-fi book “Dezoito de Escorpião”. His book “Extemporâneo” was selected and sponsored by the cultural action program of the State of São Paulo in 2016. Dodsworth was the special adviser in the Ministry of Education in Brazil during 2015, and served as consultant on ethics to UNESCO in Brazil for three years.”

 

 

Dr Robert Poole (Uclan) “A Prophet in His Own Future: Clarke, NASA, and 2001

This paper looks at how Arthur C. Clarke sought to capitalise upon the success of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey to campaign for a post-Apollo program of manned flights to the solar system. It uses material from both the Kubrick and Clarke archives and from NASA papers in the Library of Congress.

Clarke’s collaboration with Kubrick on 2001 boosted his profile as a space advocate. He was invited to NASA in 1965 to advise them on how to adapt the space program to capture the public imagination, and addressed several international space conferences. In late 1966, as it became clear that 2001 would not be the kind of hard-SF pro-space film that Clarke had first envisaged, he founded the Spaceward Corporation with the publicist Thomas Buck. The aim was to capitalise upon the expected success of 2001 and build public support for a further round of the manned space exploration. He wrote a new manifesto for space travel, The Promise of Space, embarking on a lecture tour of the United States to promote it in connection with 2001, and turning it into a 90-minute documentary. He and Buck also approached numerous figures in the world of space technology to support a further film on man”s future in space, but NASA, suspicious of over-visionary advocacy, refused to co-operate and the film was never made. Meanwhile the manned space program was drastically cut as public support subsided.

This story demonstrates both the scale of Clarke’s visionary ambitions for manned space flight and the limited practical influence which he had in the corporate world of space technology despite his status as a figurehead. It also points up the very different views which Kubrick and Clarke had during its making of what kind of film 2001 should be.

Robert Poole is author of:

“The myth of progress: 2001: A Space Odyssey”, in Limiting Outer Space: Astroculture After Apollo ed. Alexander C. T. Geppert (Palgrave Macmillan, Dec. 2017).

2001: A Space Odyssey and the dawn of man”, in Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives ed. P. Kramer, T. Ljujic & R. Daniels (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2015).

“The challenge of the spaceship: Arthur C. Clarke and the history of the future, 1945-75”, History and Technology 28, 3, “European Astroculture” (Autumn 2012).

Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth (Yale University Press, 2008).

Thomas Connolly (Maynooth University) “Asimov and Clarke: Two Visions of Human Society”

Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov make up two of the “Big Three” names that dominated mid-century Anlgophone SF (the third, of course, being Robert Heinlein). Yet, although the two writers shared a warm friendship lasting until Asimov’s death in 1992, their conceptions of human society differed wildly. I will here take a closer look at how each writer envisioned human society, making the argument that Asimov and Clarke each crystallised a certain set of ideas concerning the human that can be correlated to the US and British SF traditions.

Asimov’s view of humanity emerges in part as a response to US technological hegemony in the mid-century period. The SF of the “Golden Age” pulps, particularly Astounding under the editorship of Campbell, abounds with stories of human technological triumph, and Asimov’s stories form part of a lineage of triumphalist technocratic SF extending back to the early space operas of Smith, Campbell, and Hamilton. His works dramatise the conflict between the individual as social actor on the one hand and passive victim of socio-historical forces on the other. The resulting view of the individual that emerges is largely mechanistic: like his famous robots, Asimov’s humans are determined by fixed, calculable behaviours, subject to mass biopolitical control by faceless organisations (as evident in, for example, the Foundation series). In this, Asimov ultimately espouses a variation of US postwar social engineering, in which the individual is sublimated to the needs of mass society.

Clarke, conversely, although an avid reader of the US pulps, was also influenced by the tradition of British speculative fiction, particularly Olaf Stapledon, that tempers his hard SF works with a metaphysical bent. Like Asimov, Clarke’s works are concerned with questions of individual agency and the form of human society, and are also committed to a version of post-national technocratic imperialism centred on space travel. But where Asimov advocates a system perhaps best characterised as biopolitical anti-humanism, Clarke’s more sceptical position regarding the potentially destructive impacts of technological rationalisation leads him reject mechanistic interpretations of human nature in favour of a kind of organic humanism, in which the needs of individuals and the needs of society are brought into egalitarian alignment in a process of cosmic transcendence.

As is clear, Asimov and Clarke thus offer usefully contrasting answers to that all-important question in SF: how can we best respond to the—ever more invasive—technological systems that surround us?

Thomas Connolly is a final-year doctoral candidate in Maynooth University, Ireland. My research examines the concept of the “human” in Anglo-American SF, using posthumanist and spatio-temporal theories to examine a range of authors from H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle to Isaac Asimov and Ursula Le Guin. I completed both my B.A. in English and Mathematical Physics and my M.A. in twentieth-century Irish literature and cultural theory in Maynooth University, and was the recipient in 2012 of the John and Pat Hume Doctoral Scholarship.

12.00-1.00 — Parallel Stream B: Clarke’s Influence on Liu Cixin — Pg06

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Lyu Guangzhao (Centre for Multidisciplinary and Intercultural Inquiry, UCL) “The Acceptance of Arthur Clarke in the Trilogy of Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Liu Cixin”

This project will discuss the influence of Arthur Clarke on Liu Cixin, a well-known New Generation science fiction writer in China, based on a close comparative reading of Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rendezvous with Rama, and Liu”s trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past. It would be argued that, by absorbing the elements in Clarke’s stories and developing his own idea on science fiction writing at the same time, Liu Cixin successfully breaks the paradigms of traditional Chinese science fictions that has limited its development, and introduces the New Generation Chinese science fiction to a larger audience across the world.

Chinese science fiction, as an independent literary genre, has witnessed a history of over a hundred years. Unfortunately, however, subject to certain historical discourses, it has suffered from a number of interruptions and served as a medium of enlightenment and science popularisation for Chinese people, developing a set of utilitarian yet rigid paradigms, but also the lack of literariness. Therefore, Chinese sf, even nowadays, is still neglected and marginalised in a large sense by the mainstream literature.

Under such a background, the New Generation Chinese science fiction writers emerging in 1990s began to challenge the conventional paradigms and write on themes and topics seldom engaged before – one of the New Generation writers, and perhaps the most famous and influential one in China, is Liu Cixin. His The Three Body Problem, i.e. the first volume of the trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past, won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015, which makes him the first Hugo-winning writer in China, and the third volume Death’s End has also been nominated for the same title in 2017. However, his remarkable success cannot be credited only to Liu Cixin himself, but also to the profound influence from Arthur Clarke.

Therefore, similarities must exist between Liu and Clarke, which would be discussed in respect of, as termed by Darko Suvin, both “cognition” (illustrated by the clear indication of scientific optimism in their works) and “estrangement” (shown through a dramatic contradiction between “development” and “crisis” termed by Mieke Bal). However, their depiction of the moral system in the universe is diametrically opposed to each other – i.e. the benevolent and enlightening cosmic environment of Clarke versus the dark forest of Liu. In this case, this project would closely look into the similarities and differences between the two great writers through a comparative reading of the three novels, namely 2001, Rendezvous, and Remembrance, and also the contribution of Liu Cixin to the development of the contemporary New Generation Chinese science fiction.

 

Bibliography

Bal, Mieke (1988). Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, trans. by Christine van Boheemen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press).

Clarke, Arthur (1985). 2001, A Space Odyssey; The City and the Stars; The Deep Range; A Fall of Moondust; Rendezvous with Rama (London: Heinemann/Octopus).

Forster, Edward Morgan (1974). Aspects of the Novel and Related Writings (London: Edward Arnold).

Liu Cixin (2014). The Three Problem, trans. by Ken Liu (London: Head of Zeus)

(2015a). The Dark Forest, trans. by Joel Martinsen (London: Head of Zeus).

(2015b). Death’s End, trans. by Ken Liu (London: Head of Zeus)

Luckhurst, Roger. (2005). Science Fiction (Cambridge: Polity Press).

Suvin, Darko (2016). Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: on the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (Bern: Peter Lang).

Wu Dingbo (1989). “Looking Backward: An Introduction to Chinese Science Fiction”, in Science Fiction from China, ed. by Dingbo Wu and Patrick D. Murphy (London: Praeger), xi-xli.

 

Professor Stephen Dougherty (Agder University) “Liu Cixin, Arthur C. Clarke and ‘Repositioning’”

The Chinese sf writer Liu Cixin writes of his first, transformative encounter with Arthur C. Clarke,

“[o]ne winter night in 1980”: I had just read his 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Before reading that book, I had on countless occasions imagined a type of literature that would reveal the vastness and profundity of the universe to me . . . When I first opened that book, however, I discovered that what I had dreamed of had already been written” (“Beyond Narcissism” 23-24).

Liu gestures towards a concept of imitation of that which one already dreams. Imitation in this sense is akin to a self-confirmation. It is an act of self-awareness from the outside, of finding oneself in relation to “foreign messages” that lodge themselves deep inside the psyche. The love of Clarke likewise turns out to be a self-love, a “shocking” and “moving” recognition of Liu’s own deep-seated creative urges (24).

The kind of inter-cultural and inter-subjective exchange that Liu powerfully describes calls to mind the paradigm for influence-in-translation that the cultural theorist Emily Apter explores in her book The Translation Zone (2006). Below, Apter explains the difference that the notion of the translation zone might make for our understanding of literary influence, especially as conceived within the compass of comparative literary studies:

Cast as an act of love, and as an act of disruption, translation becomes a means of repositioning the subject in the world and in history; a means of rendering self-knowledge foreign to itself; a way of denaturalizing citizens, taking them out of the comfort zone of national space, daily ritual, and pre-given domestic arrangements. (6, emphasis added)

Liu finds himself jolted out of his “comfort zone” by Clarke, reoriented in the world and in history through this engagement. Liu thus finds himself as a young reader with a bent for speculative fiction subjected to an opening up, a reorientation, a repositioning. I find this word very productive in terms of thinking about Liu’s concerns and preoccupations years later in the short stories that make up his The Wandering Earth collection, which treats in myriad and evocative ways themes of departure, deviation, digression, crisis, drift, belonging, and exile.

I want to offer in my presentation a reading of Liu that draws attention to what I shall call, following Apter’s cue, a thematic of global repositioning. Primarily, I want to suggest through the use of this term the manner in which Liu’s sf, born of his own highly cathected, simultaneously disorienting and self-affirming experiences in reading Clarke, registers on another level as a sensitive representation and recalibration of China’s position in the world via the translated/imitated, and ironized, style of Clarke which becomes a hallmark of Liu’s fiction. One can make similar claims about Clarke’s fiction, vis-à-vis his relation to the American pulp sf magazine writers of the 1930s . . . Thus we may speak of one testament of repositioning that calls forth and inspires another.

Stephen Dougherty is Professor of American Literature at Agder University in Kristiansand, Norway. He earned his Ph.D. in English at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. He has published articles and essays on diverse topics: nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. and British literature, psychoanalytic theory, cognitive science, poststructuralism and contemporary French philosophy, science studies, media studies, and science fiction. His work has appeared in Configurations, Diacritics, Science Fiction Studies, and elsewhere.

12.00-1.00 — Parallel Stream A: Sexuality and Gender — Powell Lecture Theatre/Pg09

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Mike Laycock (Birkbeck, University of London) “The Shifting Sexual Politics of Imperial Earth”

Arthur C Clarke’s Imperial Earth (1976) concerns Duncan MacKenzie’s voyage to Earth to represent Titan at the 500th anniversary of America’s declaration of independence and culminates with him cloning his ex-lover Karl Helmer to begin a family. The novel’s matter-of-fact depiction of bisexuality has earned it a place in Garber and Paleo’s Uranian Worlds (1990), a bibliographic work of alternative sexualities in science-fiction. But what is interesting are the novel’s omissions and what is left unsaid. Clarke is still somewhat evasive in an outright depiction of homosexuality. What particular makes this work remarkable, is the era in which it was published: the Stonewall riots in the US and the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the England and Wales had occurred only less than a decade earlier, the gay rights movement say a rapid expansion and politicisation through organisations such as the Gay Liberation Front in the UK. While it is tempting to view Clarke’s reticence in depiction of the relationship between Duncan and Karl as the restraint of an author who came of age of in an era of criminalised homosexuality, through its rather pragmatic portrayal of the their relationship, Clarke foreshadows wider debates of sexuality that are currently ongoing in queer theory: family (cf. Kath Weston, 1997), normativity (Weigman and Wilson, 2015), a questioning of essentialism (Foucault, 1976; Sedgwick, 1990). Thus Clarke’s novel is a paradox, simultaneously conservative and ahead of its time.

 

Mike Laycock is a PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London. His project is provisionally entitled “Queer Who: Doctor Who fandom, gay male culture and transitional space”. He has worked at UCL and currently works at the University of Kent.

Danielle S. Girard (Lancaster University) “Campaigning for a Fluid Future: Clarke’s Influence on Roddenberry’s Star Trek

There should be no debate that Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (which began its run in 1966) is a seminal work of science fiction television. However, getting it on the air – and indeed keeping it on air – was a continuous struggle that was made possible by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. As Roddenberry himself is quoted as saying on the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation webpage, “Arthur literally made my Star Trek idea possible, including the television series, the films, and the association and learning it has made possible for me.” Not only is Clarke perhaps the most influence SF writer, his influence on Roddenberry is why Star Trek has lasted 51 years to date. For the first portion of this paper I will examine the extent of Clarke’s influence on Roddenberry’s text, looking primarily at the scientific and political utopia that Roddenberry was intent on building in his 1966 series.

Once I have established the relationship between Clarke and Roddenberry as well as the foundation upon which Star Trek originally thrived, I will move to discuss the Gaylaxians’ letter-writing campaign in 1991 for the producers of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) to introduce a canonically gay character to the show. Clarke, who himself was queer, was quick to voice his support and endorsement of the idea. Unfortunately, before any such promise could be fulfilled, Roddenberry passed away and TNG remained starkly heterosexual. Here I will investigate sf’s major failings as a genre that is unpleasantly resistant to queer representation. I will examine Clarke’s 1975 novel Imperial Earth, which projects an idealized future in which fluid sexuality (specifically bisexuality) has become the new normal. I will further examine TNG’s two failed attempts at tackling queer issues (“The Host” and “The Outcast”) and argue that the monolithic portrayal of heterosexuality is antithetical to Clarke’s influence – not just on Roddenberry’s show, but on the broad spectrum of SF as a genre.

Danielle Girard is a United States native reading for her PhD at Lancaster University, UK. Her thesis, tentatively titled: Slashing the Frontier; Queer Representation and the Heteronormative Canon: Examining Star Trek and the Effects of Participatory Culture explores Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek through a lens of Fan Theory and Queer Theory. She is particularly interested in uncovering the relationship that exists between the textual canon and slash fanfiction.

 

10.15-11.45 — Science Fiction Contexts — Powell Lecture Theatre/Pg09

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Dr Boyarkina Iren (University of Rome Tor Vergata) “The Destiny of Life and Mind in the Universe in the Works by Arthur Clarke and Olaf Stapledon”

Arthur Clarke has claimed to be influenced by Stapledon, especially by his Last and First Men and Star Maker. Clarke wrote about the latter that it is “[p]robably the most powerful work of imagination ever written.” He was inspired not only by the Stapledon’s grandeur of visions of the future and of the cosmos , whose “ future scenarios still remain awe-inspiring,” but also by the aim and scope of Star Maker. Stapledon admits that the purpose of the narrator”s voyage in Star Maker was “Not only to explore the depths of the physical universe, but to discover what part life and mind were actually playing among the stars […].” (Stapledon 1999: 13) The narrator, as well as Stapledon himself, was possessed by “A keen hunger… for insight into the significance of men and of any manlike beings in the cosmos.” (Stapledon 1999: 13)

Also the works by Arthur Clarke demonstrate the same Stapledonian keen hunger for the insight into the significance of men and other beings in the cosmos, as well as into the destiny of life and mind in the universe. Clarke’s novels (Childhood’s End, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.), as well as his short stories clearly manifest his deep interest in the predestination of life in general and intelligent life in particular.

This paper studies Clarke’s ideas about the destiny of life and mind in the universe expressed in his Childhood’s End and some selected short stories, as well as confronts them with the ideas of Stapledon in Star Maker and Last and First Men. These works can be viewed as an imaginary dialogue across space and time of these two beautiful outstanding minds about the predestination of life and intelligence, as well as about the ways to affront this ultimate knowledge.

In particular, the paper analyses Clarke’s response to and elaboration of such important issues raised by Stapledon as the nature of evolution and regress of the human species; the possible ways of mental organisation and coexistence of various intelligent life forms in the Universe; the nature and evolution of the Universe(s), the hierarchy of various life forms in the cosmos and possible scenarios of their interaction.

 

Boyarkina Iren got Ph.D in English Literature from the University of Rome Tor Vergata in 2014. Her Ph.D. thesis “Musical Metaphors and Parables in the Narratives by Olaf Stapledon” is dedicated to this great SF writer and philosopher. She’s also done extensive research in the field of English and American science fiction literature, feminist literature, English and American Literature of the XIX-XXth centuries. She published works dedicated to Olaf Stapledon, Doris Lessing, H.G. Wells, Anne Tyler, Henry James, James Joyce, Edith Whorton, etc.

 

 

Andy Sawyer (University of Liverpool) “’It’s just my job five days a week’: ‘Rocket-Men’ of the 1950s”

This paper will ask why heroes of the 1950s space programme are actually thin on the ground in fiction that was designed to bring about reality rather than celebrate a mythology. The last “frontier”, the Arctic/Antarctic, offered scope for hero figures and stories of great tragedy. Adult science fiction in the 50s, especially that of Arthur C. Clarke, was largely trying to avoid this. By looking at Clarke’s fiction and nonfiction of the early 50s against Robert A. Heinlein, Destination Moon (1950), and Russian science fiction such as Pavel Klushantsev’s visionary semi-documentary film Road to the Stars (1957) we see the complexity and contradictions in the visions of the forthcoming space age.

There are no heroes in Clarke and Heinlein. Clarke’s characters are scientists and technocrats with the camaraderie of the shared group, drawing upon his school and service career and the playful anarchy of fandom. Heinlein’s are entrepreneurs and technicians. Their “idealist” fictions are compared with those of E.C. Tubb, one of the most prolific contributors to the British sf paperback imprints and magazines of the 1950s and 60s. Tubb presents space not as a Clarkeian paradigm shift in human evolution or a Heinleinian necessity for economic or military survival, but as a workaday, unromantic, even squalid environment, sometimes driving people to madness. His characters are from a lower social caste – working people and hustlers or, in stories as by “Alice Beecham”, inhabit a more domestic reality.

Despite the idea of space as a leap towards an unknown frontier, there are few explorers (Heinlein’s most mythical character and one of the few actual heroes is Rhysling, a balladeer).

Children’s sf spawned semi-heroes: the Jet Morgans, Dan Dares, Space Kingsleys and Captain Condors of the British comics and radio serials were, as their names suggest, dramatic action figures like Captain Future or Tom Corbett, Space Cadet of the US TV serials. The later space programme, once it involved human individuals, produced personalities – Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn, Valentina Tereshkova and, later, Neil Armstrong – but rarely dramatic heroes. Heroes, as we see in the case of Franklin’s North-West passage expedition of 1845 and Scott’s failed attempt to reach the South Pole, are possibly for when it all goes wrong.

The Russians couldn’t admit that things might go wrong. Clarke’s distrust of Imperial ventures made him suspicious of heroics. Heinlein’s anti-communism made success too important to entertain the possibility of failure. But it is Tubb who gives Space a living economy.

Andy Sawyer is librarian of the Science Fiction Foundation Collection at the University of Liverpool Library. From 2002-2012 he was director of the MA in Science Fiction Studies for the School of English, University of Liverpool, and also taught 3rd-year undergraduate modules on the subject. He is Reviews Editor of Foundation: the International Review of Science Fiction.

He has published numerous essays on aspects of science fiction and fantasy, has contributed to many reference books and edited collections, and is a frequent reviewer in the field.

He most recently co-edited (with Peter Wright) Teaching Science Fiction (2011). He was Guest Curator of the British Library Exhibition “Out of This World: Science Fiction But Not as You Know It” May 20 – Sep 25 2011, and was the 2008 recipient of the Science Fiction Research Association’s Clareson Award for services to science fiction.

History Lesson: Draft Schedule

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Register here

Draft Schedule — Saturday 9 December 2017 (UPDATED 29 November 2017 — note new timing for first session)

Please note we may well be switching a couple of sessions around.

Powell Foyer: 8.45-9.30 Registration

9.30-10.40: Welcome
Keynote — Powell Lecture Theatre/Pg09
(Chair: Dr Paul March-Russell)

Professor Charlotte Sleigh, “Science and the Ancient Geeks: Fiction and Fandom in Interwar Britain”

10.40-11.40: Science Fiction Contexts — Powell Lecture Theatre/Pg09 (Chair: Maureen Kincaid Speller)

  • Dr Boyarkina Iren (University of Rome Tor Vergata) “The Destiny of Life and Mind in the Universe in the Works by Arthur Clarke and Olaf Stapledon”
  • Andy Sawyer (University of Liverpool) “‘It’s just my job five days a week’: ‘Rocket-Men’ of the 1950s”

11.40-12.00: Refreshment Break

12.00-1.00: Parallel Stream A: Sexuality and Gender — Powell Lecture Theatre/Pg09 (Chair: Aren Roukema)

  • Mike Laycock (Birkbeck, University of London) “The Shifting Sexual Politics of Imperial Earth
  • Danielle S. Girard (Lancaster University) “Campaigning for a Fluid Future: Clarke’s Influence on Roddenberry’s Star Trek

12.00-1.00: Parallel Stream B: Clarke’s Influence on Liu Cixin — Pg06 (Chair: Rhodri Davies)

  • Lyu Guangzhao (Centre for Multidisciplinary and Intercultural Inquiry, UCL) “The Acceptance of Arthur Clarke in the Trilogy of Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Liu Cixin”
  • Professor Stephen Dougherty (Agder University) “Liu Cixin, Arthur C. Clarke and ‘Repositioning’”

1.00-1.45: Lunch Break

1.45-3.15: Parallel Stream A: NASA, Space and Terraforming — Powell Lecture Theatre/Pg09 (Chair: Paul Kincaid)

  • Alexey Dodsworth (Universities of São Paulo and Venice) “‘All These Worlds Are Yours – Except Europa’: On Ethics of Terraforming”
  • Dr Robert Poole (Uclan) “A Prophet in his Own Future: Clarke, NASA, and 2001.’”
  • Thomas Connolly (Maynooth University) “Asimov and Clarke: Two Visions of Human Society”

1.45-3.15: Parallel Stream B: Religion(s), Transcendence and the Transhuman — Pg06
(Chair: Francis Gene-Rowe)

  • Thore Bjørnvig (University of Copenhagen) “Leaving the Cradle: Transcendence and Childhood’s End
  • Dr Dani Shalet (University of Kent) “The Divine Human: Clarke and the Transhuman”
  • Dr Jim Clarke (Coventry University) “A Space Bodhi Tree: The ‘Crypto-Buddhism’ of Arthur C. Clarke”

3.15-3.30: Refreshment Break

3.30-5.00: Clarke’s Legacies — Powell Lecture Theatre/Pg09 (Chair: Tom Hunter)

  • Dr Nick Hubble (Brunel University London) “The Clarke Award, ‘Literary SF’ and the Role of Criticism: Cultural Value in the 21st Century”
  • Dr Joe Norman (Brunel University London) “‘call me highway call me conduit call me lightning rod’: ‘Big Dumb Objects’ in Selected Works by Arthur C. Clarke and Iain M. Banks”
  • Professor Patrick Parrinder (University of Reading) “Clarkaeology: Arthur C. Clarke’s Time Capsules”

 

5.00-6.00: Keynote — Powell Lecture Theatre/Pg09 (Chair: Dr Andrew M. Butler)
Stephen Baxter, “A Voice from the Sky”