Shields Library at UC Davis is hosting a steampunk exhibit through the winter quarter of 2013. The physical exhibit features a selection of books and other material. Of even greater interest to fans online is the exhibit’s website, with a rich array of background information about the subgenre and links to many interesting resources. You’ll find the presentation organized under tabs for “Worlds of Steampunk,” “Steampunk Bibliography,” “Steampunk Online – Blogs & Events,” “Steampunk Films,” “Steampunk Art, Gadgets and More –,” and “Steampunk Virtual Worlds.”
Here are some choice links to stories inspired by the imminent release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
(1) If you’re curious about the movie’s score, listen to the closing theme, ”Song of the Lonely Mountain” by Neil Finn.
(2) Christopher Tolkien’s first-ever press interview, published in Le Monde on July 9, is available online. Christopher is not a Peter Jackson enthusiast:
Invited to meet Peter Jackson, the Tolkien family preferred not to. Why? “They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25,” Christopher says regretfully. “And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.”
This divorce has been systematically driven by the logic of Hollywood. “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time,” Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. “The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.”
(3) I’m betting the Tolkien estate wishes it could inflict on Jackson the same fate a court just inflicted on Global Asylum’s faux Hobbit film:
A U.S. District Court in California granted a temporary restraining order on Monday preventing a parody of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” from going on sale three days before Peter Jackson’s movie opens in theaters nationwide.
Global Asylum, a film production company that makes parodies of blockbuster films, such as “Transmorphers” in place of ‘Transformers,” has made a parody of “The Hobbit” titled “Age of the Hobbits.” It was set to go on sale on DVD, Blu-Ray and online platforms December 11.
(4) Scholars interested in The Hobbit know all roads lead to… Milwaukee? Well, if not all roads, surely a superhighway or two. That’s home to Marquette University, where Christopher Tolkien deposited many of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original manuscripts:
Yes, Tolkien fans: the stories belong to the ages, but the manuscripts belong to Marquette University. It has been so since 1957, thanks to a very smart librarian, William Ready, who had been hired the year before to help fill a then-new Memorial Library. He approached the not-yet-famous Professor Tolkien through a British rare-book seller, struck a deal for less than $5,000, and in 1957 and 1958 the boxes from Oxford arrived: “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” in longhand drafts, typewritten manuscripts and page proofs, with revisions and rejected fragments, along with minor and then-unpublished texts and other papers. After the professor died in 1973, his son Christopher sent more papers still, until Marquette came to hold the vast machinery of Middle-earth in all its original parts, along with thousands of pages of articles, commentary and fan fiction — the vast forests and foothills of secondary scholarship now girding Mount Tolkien.
[Thanks for these links goes out to David Klaus, Martin Morse Wooster and Andrew Porter.]
I give thanks to the internet for remedying my want of a good 19th-century education, specifically, to the website that provides translations of all non-English phrases in Patrick O’Brien’s sea tales.
ultima ratio regum
the final argument of Kings (L; from the tag ‘War is the final argument of Kings’.)
One king, Louis XIV of France, so approved the sentiment that he ordered the motto stamped on his cannon.
Upon reading the complete quote from which the phrase was taken, it occurred to me this is a classical inversion of Asimov’s famous maxim (from Foundation), “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” I wondered, is there a connection?
Not necessarily. Wikiquote considers Samuel Johnson to have been Asimov’s inspiration with his maxim “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
Wikiquote actually calls this an “apophthegm.” I hope someone is at work on a website that will explain all the non-English words used there, to remedy my want of a good 21st-century education.
When people get to a certain age they can be seduced into believing that the world (or some symbolic part of it) is coming to an end right along with them. And for some reason that’s a comforting thought.
Paul Kincaid, for example, says in a review of three year’s-best anthologies for the Los Angeles Review of Books that, judging by what the editors presented as the field’s best work, science fiction looks played out:
The overwhelming sense one gets, working through so many stories that are presented as the very best that science fiction and fantasy have to offer, is exhaustion. Not so much physical exhaustion (though it is more tiring than reading a bunch of short stories really has any right to be); it is more as though the genres of the fantastic themselves have reached a state of exhaustion.
In the main, there is no sense that the writers have any real conviction about what they are doing. Rather, the genre has become a set of tropes to be repeated and repeated until all meaning has been drained from them. For example, “Dolly” by Elizabeth Bear (in the Gardner Dozois collection), is a story of police investigating a murder that may have been committed by a robot. It is not a bad story, in the sense that it is efficiently told, with enough detail of character and setting to reward the reader, but the story itself deliberately harks back to the robot stories that Isaac Asimov was writing in the 1940s. Bear has brought the trope up to date, but she has not extended the idea or found anything radically new in it. Asimov’s stories can still entertain, and Bear’s story is much the same, but to find that one of what we are told are the best stories of 2011 is ploughing a furrow that is more than seventy years old is somehow dispiriting.
Kincaid’s negative prognosis about the genre’s health is getting a wide audience. The main reason is his established track record as someone with exceptional ability to analyze the genre on a grand scale. However, it’s also true that no one can resist seeing science fiction depicted as a slow-motion car wreck.
Is this the end of science fiction or is there a more accurate way of assessing the genre’s condition?
Camille Paglia once said, “I believe in cycles the way Yeats does. Civilizations have a growth cycle and they get to a peak and they decline and there is a destruction, and out of that comes a new one. Everything comes back, everything returns. It’s like this total loss and then recovery and restoration and a new efflorescence and then the whole thing declines again.”
Kincaid himself now says the genre’s exhaustion need not be a permanent or fatal condition. He unpacked his thoughts more fully for interviewer from nerds of a feather, flock together:
Well okay, I feel that science fiction is approaching such a state and needs to find some new purpose or energy in its turn if it is to continue to have any relevance. My essay was also intended as a polemical call to arms, though without trying to espouse any particular form of salvation.
If such exhaustion is not unusual to science fiction, nor is it original. We’ve gone through such states before. Science fiction, particularly in Britain, was moribund in the late-50s, early-60s, and the New Wave that Michael Moorcock propounded through his editorials in New Worlds was one form of revitalization. Similarly, both cyberpunk (particularly as articulated through Bruce Sterling’s polemical writings) and the British Renaissance were revitalizing movements in a genre that was largely running on the spot.
Kincaid’s LA Review of Books essay also complains:
Many years ago, Arthur C. Clarke proclaimed that “any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic.” It is a notion that has clearly taken root with today’s writers since they consistently appropriate the attire of fantasy for what is ostensibly far-future sf, even to the extent of referring unironically to wizards and spells and the like.
When I read that I thought of Gregory Benford who often criticizes writers who fail to observe the boundaries between sf and fantasy. Indeed, Benford analyzed Clarke’s quote on his blog just the other day and what distinguishes sf from fantasy generally:
Science fiction is a form of writing but it’s also a way of looking at things – a mode of thought. It requires mental landscapes more demanding and inventive than modernism.
Benford says much more, but I found that line particularly helpful in articulating my response to the latest pronunciation about the heat death of the sf universe. SF is a way of looking at things – and from time to time another generation of writers comes along with their own ideas about what things they will use this form to look at. While many of us having this discussion have stayed through one or more change already, it’s also conceivable that the transition causes a turnover in readership. The genre moves on, but the players do not remain the same. In which case we might represent the last generation, but only for a certain flavor of sf.
[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]
A detailed look at the George Lucas’ screenwriting and movie effects appears in a compelling excerpt from Camille Paglia’s Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars posted at The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Star Wars “might never have been made,” Lucas acknowledged, without Ralph McQuarrie’s concept paintings, based on Lucas’s instructions: The first picture showed the two robots against a desert landscape on a distant planet. To make Star Wars as he envisioned it, however, Lucas had to invent a whole new technology. In 1975, he founded his own laboratory, as feudal as a medieval guild: Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), a subdivision of Lucasfilm hidden in an old warehouse in an industrial park outside Los Angeles. The young computer whizzes hired by Lucas’s special-effects supervisor, John Dykstra, looked like hippies and brainstormed in the chaotic atmosphere of a commune. Out of ILM, which later moved north to Marin County, would come such wonders as the nimble, stampeding dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and the morphing, liquid-chrome killer robot in Terminator 2. ILM’s Pixar Image Computer facilitated 3-D medical imaging and produced (after sale to Apple’s Steve Jobs) the first digitally animated feature film, Toy Story.
[Thanks to Francis Hamit for the story.]
Can you imagine Mary Shelley getting a rejection slip for Frankenstein?
The University of Iowa Special Collections has posted the note Percy Shelley added to one of his wife’s letters saying, “Poor Mary’s book has come back with a refusal which has put me in rather ill spirits.”
Frankenstein was rejected not once but twice – Percy Shelley’s and Lord Byron’s publishers both passed – before being accepted.
View the letter online here.
“Where do you get your ideas?” So goes the clichéd interview question. Once, when Theodore Sturgeon ran dry, he got them from Robert Heinlein. (See Letters of Note.)
Sturgeon wrote and told his friend he was having a terrible time because he had “no ideas that would strike a story.” Heinlein answered by return airmail with over two dozen ideas. Here is one:
Fundamentalist congregation, convinced that faith can move mountains, concentrates onMt.Rushmorein theBlack Hills—and the greatest neo-Egyptian sculpture ever carved disappears, mountain and all. Should the Public Works Administration sue the church? Or is that suing God? Or should they ask them to pray it back? Or should they systematize this into a new form of theo-engineering? If so, civil engineers will have to have divinity degrees as well in the future. What is faith without (public) works?
And suspecting Sturgeon was out of money as well as ideas, Heinlein clipped a $100 check to the letter.
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian and David Klaus for the story.]
The “Fantastic & Strange: Reflections of Self in Science Fiction Literature” exhibit in The Oviatt Library at Cal State Northridge begins September 18 and runs through July 26, 2013:
Science fiction literature, one of the most popular and entertaining genres in modern fiction, has been read and loved by children and adults for decades. From the earliest pulp publications to modern masterpieces, science fiction short stories and novels have often functioned as a lens through which we express our sense of wonder, marvel at the possibilities of new technologies, and engage in our wildest imaginings.
Photos of the exhibit are available online, the items in each case covering a theme such as “Alien Encounters: Defining Ourselves vs. ‘The Other’,” “Invasion: When Aliens Are Among Us,” “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Changing Roles of Women, 1920-1950,” “Liberation and Redefinition: Changing Roles of Women, 1960s-1980s,” “Heroes and Supermen: Masculinity and the Alpha Male,” etc.
David Brin will speak at at the opening event on September 18.
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]
Listening to a fan talk about making steampunk costumes I soon became convinced that the architecture of the Enterprise is like a toddler’s scribbling beside the complexities of the adjustable bustle. It is suddenly easy to understand why James White thought there was a story in tailoring a suit for an alien diplomat (“Custom Fitting,” 1976, a Hugo nominee.)
Ray Bradbury was actively investigated by the FBI during the 1960s after several Hollywood informants reported some of his political statements to the Bureau reports the Huffington Post, which has obtained copies of the files through a FOIA request.
Bradbury aroused the suspicion of the FBI due to his outspoken criticism of the U.S. government and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was investigating real and suspected communists in America. In a full-page ad in Variety, Bradbury had denounced the committee’s probes as “claptrap and nonsense” and several informants in Hollywood also voiced their suspicions about the acclaimed writer to the bureau.
Among the FBI’s findings was that Bradbury had been arrested by the LAPD during World War II for violating the Selective Service and Training act. He would later be ruled ineligible for military service due to bad eyesight. But this makes for an interesting sidebar to Bradbury’s story that he volunteered for Red Cross work during the war because Robert Heinlein was angry that he didn’t try harder to enlist.
[Thanks to Bill Warren for the story.]