Conference Report: Organic Systems
Nov24

Conference Report: Organic Systems

by Sarah Lohmann On September 16, 2017, the London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC) held its first ever conference, Organic Systems: Environments, Bodies and Cultures in Science Fiction, at Birkbeck, University of London. It was an exciting and well-attended event that explored the boundaries, intersections and interactions of systems of various kinds, with a particular focus on those of an organic nature. As Aren Roukema, Francis Gene-Rowe, and Rhodri Davies so aptly put it in their programme introduction, these structures, arrays or networks are ones in which ‘system appears as ecosystem, syntax as biology’ (albeit sometimes in tandem with technology), and which make up our world (and those beyond) while constantly being shaped by ‘culture’ – in itself a ‘myriad of entangled interlocutors’. Accordingly, the event gave fertile ground to a myriad of more or less thematically ‘entangled interlocutors’ of the scholarly variety, who nevertheless managed to present a series of individually distinguished and enlightening papers on a variety of related topics. The day was divided up into four parallel panels and framed by a fascinating and wide-ranging keynote address by Dr Chris Pak in the morning as well as a lively and thought-provoking roundtable discussion in the late afternoon, which featured Paul McAuley, Gwyneth Jones and Professor Adam Roberts and was chaired by Dr Caroline Edwards. In the following report, I will give my impressions of the presentations that I was able to attend while attempting a content summary of those which I was unable to see; I apologise for the lack of detail in the latter. However, I am pleased at the chance to supplement my report with some rather excellent ‘sketch notes’ by the very talented Dr Paul Fisher Davies, who has the wonderful habit of taking conference notes in the form of diagrammatic text and drawings and who has very kindly made the ones he created at ‘Organic Systems’ available to us. (For a better view of the drawings, click on the hyperlinks that appear during this report.) To begin with, Dr Chris Pak’s keynote speech illustrated the embeddedness of the conference topic within the previous activities of the LSFRC, referring to texts that the reading group had previously covered, as well as thematically related works. These sf short stories and novels, which all had a focus on organic systems in the shape of ‘environments, bodies and cultures’ in common, ranged from Mary Shelley’s The Last Man to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora via a variety of other texts exploring biological and environmental themes, such as J. G. Ballard’s “The Burning World”, Octavia E. Butler’s Dawn, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Joan Slonczewski’s A Door Into Ocean....

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Godzilla Resurges
Oct23

Godzilla Resurges

A New Godzilla Rises for a New Japan in Shin Godzilla (2016) By Craig Thomson Released in the UK as part of a limited run, Shin Godzilla (translated as ‘True’ or ‘God’ Godzilla) stands as an oddity in the ever-changing Godzilla franchise. For those unacquainted with its history, the series stereotypically brings forth images of bad dubbing, even worse special effects and a narrative emphasis on giant monster wrestling. Yet, like many pop culture icons of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Godzilla creature has continued to evolve, not least with Gareth Edwards’s recent underrated 2014 US reboot Godzilla, which returned to the social commentary of the original 1954 Godzilla, whilst updating both its effects and message for a modern-day global audience. While Edwards’s Godzilla may have functioned as a Hollywood interpretation of the monster, Shin Godzilla reinvigorates the infamous monster for a modern Japanese audience, providing something its contemporary cohorts have yet to offer. While many of its predecessors may have focused on big-budget effects and large-scale destructive set-pieces, Shin Godzilla acts as a satirical black comedy; one that attempts to address the key political concerns of a twenty-first century Japan, particularly regarding the governmental response to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. At first glance, the film’s structure follows the conventional ‘Kaiju’ or Japanese ‘mysterious monster’ movie template.[1] Reimagined as the physically largest interpretation of the creature to date, the film begins with Godzilla rising from the Pacific, threatening to come ashore. As it does, the Japanese government struggles to respond against the creature, which appears to evolve at an accelerated rate, rapidly transitioning from a larval stage to that of the bipedal, nuclear-damaged, saurian behemoth with which audiences are familiar. After many millions of dollars’ worth of property damage, and a constant to-and-fro between the near-invulnerable monster and the military, the Japanese eventually uncover an ingenious way to defeat Godzilla using an experimental coagulant to freeze the beast’s core, thus saving both Tokyo and the earth from the beast’s continued rampage. Yet, despite such a conventional structure, as noted, the film nevertheless offers a somewhat fresh and intuitive take on the series. While the Godzilla monster’s portrayal might be construed as following its predecessors by being readas an allegorical representation of contemporary Japanese specific environmental terrors, the film also takes a specific swipe at what were widely considered the Japanese Government’s failings following the 2011 triple-disaster. For many within the Japanese public and even the worldwide media, the 2011 disaster only highlighted the inadequacy of the government’s response; with a lack of communication, inadequate disaster preparations and the delay of emergency aid...

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Pics or It Didn’t Happen: Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair
Oct12

Pics or It Didn’t Happen: Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair

by Dickon Edwards This review contains plot spoilers. It seems apt that in the time between the publication of Alan Hollinghurst’s last novel, The Stranger’s Child (2011) and the emergence this month of his latest, The Sparsholt Affair, a lot has happened in Hollinghurst studies. Apt, because both novels concern things happening between the acts, as it were. Key events – deaths, births, world wars, sex scandals – only take place in the large gaps of time separating each novel’s five sections of narration. Similarly, in the real world the gap between the two novels’ publication saw no fewer than three academic books on Hollinghurst emerge; in 2011, there were none. Allan Johnson’s study Alan Hollinghurst and the Vitality of Influence (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) was followed by two essay collections, Alan Hollinghurst: Writing under the Influence, edited by Michèle Mendelssohn and Denis Flannery (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016), and Sex and Sensibility in the Novels of Alan Hollinghurst, edited by Mark Mathuray (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). This last book includes an essay by Bianca Leggett, a recent tutor of contemporary literature at Birkbeck. Whether this recent surge in Hollinghurstian scholarship will continue it remains to be seen. One theme of both The Stranger’s Child and The Sparsholt Affair is, after all, the way literary reputations can wax and wane over time. Just as The Stranger’s Child tracks the life of a 1913 poem by the fictional Cecil Valance down the decades, The Sparsholt Affair begins in 1940s Oxford with the establishing of a similarly invented figure, this time a novelist. A.V. Dax is described as a celebrity on the level of George Orwell and Stephen Spender [i]. But by 1995, in the novel’s fourth section, Dax has become one of those writers dimly heard of and mostly unread. A lecture theatre named in his honour during the 1960s is demolished in the 1990s, leaving Ivan, a biographer, to muse on the way memorials can be as intransigent as their subjects: ‘If the memorial itself was destroyed, then what remained?' (332). In 2017, at least, Hollinghurst’s own profile has never been healthier, critically and commercially. While academia has saluted his work with the aforementioned trio of scholarly books, the British public made the paperback of The Stranger’s Child one of the biggest selling books of 2012 [ii]. Last week the new novel’s publication warranted its own segment on the BBC current affairs programme Newsnight [iii]. Thankfully, the news is good. Admittedly, with its more bohemian settings, The Sparsholt Affair lacks the frisson of 1980s power and politics found in The Line of Beauty (2004). It also cannot eclipse the innovatory...

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Organic Systems
Aug24

Organic Systems

Organic Systems: Environments, Bodies and Cultures in Science Fiction A one day conference organised by the London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC) 16 September 2017 43 Gordon Square, Birkbeck School of Arts, London WC1H 0PD Though often understood in ecological terms, the word ‘environment’ can also be viewed more widely as the surroundings and conditions of a specific system—whether they be mechanical, biological, social or chemical. Culture arises from and then informs these systems, becoming itself a further component of environments. Science fictional texts have explored the interactions between culture, environments and bodies on a wide spectrum of scale: from the level of a planetary biosphere or climate system (e.g. terraforming) to a single body or organ (e.g. genetic engineering). This conference will gather Science Fiction researchers, critics, authors and readers together to discuss intersections between cultural and organic systems in all forms of SF media. Keynote Lecture: Dr Chris Pak Roundtable Discussion: Gwyneth Jones Paul McAuley Professor Adam Roberts Dr Caroline Edwards (chair)   Schedule 08.30 – 9.00 — Registration 09.00 – 10.00 — Welcome and Keynote 10.00 – 11.00 — Parallel Panels (1) 11.00 – 11.15 — Break 11.15 – 12.45 — Parallel Panels (2) 12.45 – 13.30 — Lunch 13.30 – 14.30 — Parallel Panels (3) 14.30 – 14.45 — Break 14.45 – 16.15 — Parallel Panels (4) 16.15 – 16.30 — Break 16.30 – 17.30 — Roundtable Discussion Venues: B03, B04, B06 in 43 Gordon Square. After the conference activities finish, we will move to a nearby pub for some relaxed drinks and socialising, before proceeding to a restaurant for the conference dinner. Meals are not provided, but hot beverages and snacks will be available during breaks. Delegates will receive a digital copy of the conference programme by email, whilst print copies will be available at the conference free of charge. Tickets £7: register here. Conference Organizers: Rhodri Davies, Francis Gene-Rowe, Aren Roukema. Contact: londonsfsymposium@gmail.com   Image: Hermetic Island by Tristram Lansdowne: watercolour on paper, 34 x 43 inches,...

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Call for Applications: Urban Ruins
Jul07

Call for Applications: Urban Ruins

Dr Grace Halden is hosting an exhibition for the Being Human Festival in November 2017. The nature of the exhibition is to showcase student artistic responses to the theme of ‘Lost and Found’ in relation to urban ruination. Applications are now invited for exhibits from School of Arts students. This opportunity is excellent for CVs and for applications for further study; a great way of showing research dissemination and event organization. This event is an exciting opportunity to reflect on what it means to live within urban spaces problematized by constant design, dereliction, and rejuvenation. Read on to learn more about the inspiration behind the event!   Research-led underpinning for the event (the inspiration) Ruins are often monuments to history and the destructive event which rendered them ruined, like Pompeii. But what does it mean to live with ruination that has been created through abandonment? This event engages with the theoretical work of Anthony Vidler, Tim Edensor and Jonathan Veitch on ruination as well as the work on urban and public space by Liam Murphy Bell, Gavin Goodwin, Dikmen Bezmez, Daniel R. Kerr and others. On the theme of ‘Lost and Found’, this event encourages visitors to consider the spaces around them and how sites and buildings have become ‘lost’ due to various political and economic pressures. London is an area ripe with dereliction and restoration and along with contemplating what is means to live amongst ruins, we also think about what it means to live with renovation and rejuvenation. By combining numerous disciplines including art and geography, this event offers something for everyone.   How the event corresponds to the ‘Lost and Found’ theme of the festival Focus on city living and the politics and economics of abandoned spaces gives the exhibition contemporary relevance. The exhibition will help visitors rethink the spaces they inhabit when working, living, and travelling in London. With related issues of homelessness, austerity and so forth, an investigation of ruined and discarded buildings will be of particular interest. The theme of ‘Lost and Found’ is at the heart of the exhibition. When thinking about ruination we are contemplating loss. However, the ruin is also present in some form and thus is both lost and present simultaneously. Often, we see ruined spaces reconceptualised as monuments and memorials; but, we also see these spaces renovated as alternate spaces (for example, a ruined bank into luxury apartments). The exhibition seeks to tease apart what ‘lost’ and ‘found’ means when urban ruins form part of the city but are also divided from contemporary living.   The structure of the event The event will feature the creative works of 5-8 BA, MA, and PhD students on the theme of urban ruination. The artists will be present...

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