Hello again!

After a few years of slumming it with free hosting I’ve ponied up for an actual (shared) server. Welcome to the new and improved* blog.

*Novelty and improvements forthcoming. Potentially.

What is Science Fiction Good For?

An excellent question that I attempt to answer in my debut post as a blogger for the Huffington Post:

The New Yorker just released its first special issue devoted to science fiction, including contributions from genre giants like Ursula K. Le Guin and Ray Bradbury as well as rising “literary fiction” stars like Junot Díaz and Karen Russell. As writers at Wiredand io9 have noted, the issue marks a new level of mainstream interest in science fiction, giving a whole cadre of New-Yorker-obsessed “serious readers” license to take genre fiction, well, seriously. But what about science fiction in universities? In her contribution to the new issue, Ursula K. Le Guin argues that in the past “quite a few science-fiction writers accepted exile from the Republic of Letters to the ghetto of genre, perhaps because ghettos, like all gated communities, give the illusion of safety.”
In fact, science fiction has been sneaking into all sorts of new neighborhoods. The U.K.-based New Scientist has launched Arc, “a new magazine about the future,” while the venerable MITTechnology Review released a special issue of science fiction featuring Cory Doctorow, Joe Haldeman, and others. Ridley Scott’s television series Prophets of Science Fiction explores the power of fiction to both advance and complicate our ideas about the future, and Stephen Hawking is hosting the Science Channel’s Stephen Hawking’s Sci-Fi Masters.

The Legacy of David Foster Wallace

Last week saw the arrival of The Legacy of David Foster Wallace, a wonderful collection of essays by Wallace critics, friends and colleagues. My piece in the collection, “Becoming Yourself: David Foster Wallace and the Afterlife of Reception,” considered Wallace’s legacy through his communities of readership on Amazon and I feel very lucky to be in such august company. For example, my essay is nestled between Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen!

Here’s the full list of contributors:

Samuel Cohen (co-editor)
Don DeLillo
Dave Eggers
Ed Finn
Kathleen Fitzpatrick
Jonathan Franzen
Paul Giles
Heather Houser
Lee Konstantinou (co-editor)
David Lipsky
Rick Moody
Ira B. Nadel
Michael Pietsch
Josh Roiland
George Saunders
Molly Schwartzburg

Thanks very much to Lee and Sam for including me!

Getting Past Dystopian SF

Another post up on Slate last week:

What should we expect from science fiction? In a recent Smithsonian article by IO9’s Annalee Newitz, author Neal Stephenson criticized the dystopian cynicism that currently pervades the genre. Instead he calls a more optimistic, realistic approach—fewer zombies and man’s folly-style catastrophes, more creative inventions and solutions. In the spirit of being constructive, he’s also taking action. The first step is an anthology of optimistic, near-term science fiction, forthcoming from William Morrow in 2014, that will tackle this challenge head-on. Smithsonian describes the project, Hieroglyph, as a plan “to rally writers to infuse science fiction with the kind of optimism that could inspire a new generation to, as he puts it, ‘get big stuff done.’”

Science Fiction as the Conscience of Science

My review of Ridley Scott’s Prophets of Science Fiction ran on Slate’s Future Tense channel today! Here’s a teaser:
Science fiction’s reputation for appealing to the nerdy and anti-social has long suggested that it has more to do with escapism than the real world.

Yet as Ridley Scott’s new Discovery Science show, Prophets of Science Fiction, chronicles, the genre deserves to be taken seriously for its ability to tease out the ethical and moral issues that accompany technological progress. Upon first hearing about Prophets, I expected the director of Alien and Blade Runner to get completely lost in space while discussing Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, and Philip K. Dick and how their work “foreshadowed” current technologies. Despite the name (we’ll get to that later), I am happy to report that Scott delivered this concept just as efficiently as he delivered that alien baby to the screen: The show successfully brings science fiction and fact into conversation with one another. 

Nerd Discourse and the Digital Humanities

In my talk at Emory yesterday I discussed nerds: the literary nerds David Foster Wallace and Junot Díaz, but also the ways in which their particular nerdish styles might tell us something about style and the digital humanities. Natalia Cecire wrote up a fantastic blog post fleshing these ideas out more fully and I think we’re on to something really interesting here. Here’s one really good bit, but I suggest you read the whole thing:
The term “nerdy,” of course, was ripe for questioning. As Ed had remarked in passing (and doubtless explores more deeply elsewhere), Wallace’s and Díaz’s respective nerdy networks were overwhelmingly male. And there’s a way in which DH’s identification with “nerdiness” taps very much into the version of nerd identity—seen also, if differently, in both Wallace and Díaz’s nerdinesses—that manifests as wounded (and defensive) masculinity. I argued in a previous post that the defensive posture at times characterizes discussions of DH, which occasionally even seems to borrow the language of struggle and resistance traditionally used by queer activists, activists of color, disability rights activists, feminists, etc., even while, in many institutional settings, magically turning out to be disproportionately white and male.

 As I’m about to post on Natalia’s blog, I think there’s more fuel to add to the fire here: the question of “serious” literature and gender bias in reviewing and criticism, a question I’ve tackled before.