"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" - O.W.

Current Study

Current Study:
Ph.D thesis on the interaction of history and fiction in non-mimetic literature of the Holocaust

Current Sub-Studies

Areas of Interest:
> Non-mimetic fictions of the wider Second World War
> Alternate History
> History and Fiction
> History and Popular Culture
> Comics
> Paratexts

14 November 2014

CfP: Sideways in Time: Alternate Histories and Counterfactual Narratives

CRSF 2015 is still in the planning phase but the call for papers for the other conference I'm organising next year is already available. Click here to get a PDF version, or visit the blog: http://sidewaysintime.wordpress.com/ which has all the same information as I'm about to post right now...

Sideways in Time is an Alternate History Conference to be held at the University of Liverpool - in association with Lancaster University. This interdisciplinary conferences will bring together scholarship in science fiction, fantasy, historical and literary fictions, as well as historians and counterfactual thought-experiments, to discuss those fictional narratives that deals with alternate histories and parallel worlds. We are pleased to announce Karen Hellekson, Adam Roberts, and Stephen Baxter as our keynote speakers. Karen Hellekson is a leading authority on alternate history fiction (The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time, 2001). Professor Adam Roberts is a leading science fiction critic and also an award-winning author who employs alternate history elements into some of his fiction (most notably Swiftly, shortlisted for the 2009 Sidewise Award). Stephen Baxter is currently a judge of the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, as well as being one of the former winners (“Brigantia’s Angels”, Voyage).

Why Alternate History?Alternate history has a long and international pedigree. Whilst most cultures and literary traditions can trace their own heritage of alternate history, alternate history arguments in the Western Canon can be traced into antiquity with Livy’s meditations on Alexander the Great. In their modern form, they emerged in France in the early 19th century before crossing into English at the latter half of the century. The form also become popular with historians and essayists, a notable early history collection being If It Had Happened Otherwise (1931) edited by John Squire which included counterfactual essays by, among others, Hilaire Belloc, Andre Maurois and Winston Churchill. It was not until H.G. Wells's late novel Men Like Gods (1923) that the form crossed into the territory of science fiction, and was not truly popularised until Murray Leinster's crucial story "Sidewise in Time" published in Astounding in 1934. Since 1934, the form has become a staple of science fiction and fantasy story-telling, sometimes including time travel or magic as a means of explaining the cause of the alternate history. However, the form has also been adopted by the literary mainstream with writers who chose not to relate their alternate world to our own, instead taking the lead from conventions of historical fiction. As such, alternate history has attracted such non-genre writers as Nabakov, Kingsley Amis, Robert Harris, Philip Roth, Michael Chabon and many more.

Despite a long and diverse history, alternate history has attracted surprisingly little scholarship. This conference will attempt to establish lines of communication which will rectify this deficit. It is hoped a selection of the essays presented at the conference will be made available as part of a published collection.

We are interested in papers analysing specific alternate history texts from all mediums including novels, cinema, comics and beyond. We also welcome broader papers on the various periods, subgenres, movements and modes of alternate history including steampunk, retro-futurism and more. Papers can be based on, amongst other things, theory, texts, cultural surveys, philosophy, and media studies.

Please submit a 300 word abstract to sidewaysconference@gmail.com along with a 50 word bionote by December 15, 2014.

8 May 2014

Lunchtime Classics 2014

For the third year running I've organised a series of readings and talks by local experts on books which they're passionate about. All talks happen in the Illy cafe of Waterstones Liverpool One (12 College Lane, L1 3DL), they're free and open to anyone.

The schedule is still being finalised but two of the earliest events are confirmed:

Lunchtime Classics: Under Milk Wood, presented by Dr. Chris Williams and Owen Teale
Tuesday 20th May, 1pm.

This year marks a number of anniversaries which Lunchtime Classics will be marking. Amongst those is Dylan Thomas's Centenary. With that in mind, please join us for what will no doubt be a fascinating discussion of Thomas's landmark work Under Milk Wood. Dr. Chris Williams (University of Liverpool) will present the work to us, drawing on his own extensive expertise on Thomas's work to describe what makes the play so special.

Chris will be joined by actor Owen Teale (best known for his roles as Alliser Thorne in Game of Thrones and Fluellen in The Hollow Crown BBC mini-series). Owen is playing the part of "First Voice" in a new adaptation of the play which is showing at Liverpool's Playhouse Theatre from Monday 19th - Saturday 24th May.

For more information on the Playhouse Production of Under Milk Wood please visit their website

* * *
In June, I'll then by doing my own talk on Vonnegut:

Lunchtime Classics: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Wednesday 4th June, 1pm.

* * *

I'll get around to posting a more complete schedule once everything has been confirmed.

4 March 2014

Torque Control: Personal Log

I've not really made a song and dance about it, because on at least one level I was convinced that someone would realise they'd made a mistake and stop me from doing it before I even began, but a while ago I was approached about taking on the position of Features Editor of Vector: The Critical Journal of Science Fiction.

I can't claim that I'm the most qualified person for the job, but I can promise that I'll devote all of my available energies to doing the very best work that I can. I've been a member of the BSFA for a few years and have enjoyed reading Vector and contributing reviews for the journal.

So from now on, for the foreseeable future (or until they realise their mistake...), I'll be editing four issues a year and writing the famous "Torque Control" editorials to open each one. I don't have any sort of grand vision for the journal, in fact for the first few issues I'll just be happy if I don't stuff it up completely and no one notices that the editor has changed. That said, once I'm comfortable enough to feel like I can begin to change things, I do want to move Vector towards being more representative of modern science fiction, and of the BSFA membership.

In my mind this means a more diverse journal. Diverse in terms of the different formats of science fiction itself (not just books, TV and film), but also diverse contributors and topics which reflect more than just the white middle-class, middle-aged male perspective. And yes, I realise that I'm already into negative equity being an editor who fits into at least three of those four old-guard criteria, and who - worse - is replacing a female editor, Shana Worthen, who did sterling work in the post. But Shana has  moved onto pastures new, and new challenges, and I've been asked to take the job so here I am.

I'm going to post the contents page of each of  my issues here once they go to print. If you're interested in seeing the work and being involved in the British Science Fiction scene then why not consider joining the BSFA?

If you're interested in contributing to Vector then get in touch, you don't need to be a member to submit articles and I'm willing to read anything by anyone. I'll be publishing based on merit and whether of not the material is appropriate for the journal, not on discriminatory grounds (either positive or negative), but I will be encouraging more submissions from more diverse sources.

9 December 2013

Call for Papers: CRSF 2014

The Call for Papers for Current Research in Speculative Fiction 2014 is now here!

The conference will be held on Friday 20th June at the University of Liverpool.

We are proud to be able to announce two brilliant keynote speakers with Dr. Mark Bould (University of the West of England) and Prof. Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck University London), both will be giving lectures as part of the conference schedule.

Now in its fourth year, CRSF is a one day postgraduate conference designed to promote the research of speculative fictions, including SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY and HORROR; showcasing some of the latest developments in these dynamic and evolving fields. CRSF attracts an international selection of delegates and provides a platform for postgraduate students to present their current research, encourages discussion with scholars in related subjects and the construction of crucial networks with fellow researchers. The University of Liverpool, a leading centre for the study of speculative fiction and home to the Science Fiction Foundation Collection, will host the conference.

We are seeking abstracts relating to speculative fiction, including, but not limited to, papers on the following topics:

•Alternate History •Alternative Culture •Anime •Apocalypse •Body Horror •Consciousness •Cyber Culture •Drama •Eco-criticism •Fan Culture •Gaming •(Geo)Politics •Genre •Gender •Graphic Novels •The Grotesque •The Heroic Tradition •Liminal Fantasy •Magic •Meta-Franchises •Morality •Monstrosity •Music •Non-Anglo-American SF •Otherness •Pastoral •Poetry •Politics •Post-Colonialism and Empire •Proto-SF •Psychology •Quests •Realism •Sexuality •Slipstream •Spiritualism •Steampunk •Supernatural •Technology •Time •TV and Film •Urban Fantasy •Utopia/Dystopia •(Virtual) Spaces and Environments •Weird Fiction •World Building •Young Adult Fiction.

Please submit an abstract of 300 words for a 20 minute English language paper and a 100 word biography to CRSF.team@gmail.comby Monday 10th March 2014.

For further information email the conference team at CRSF.team@gmail.com or visit the website.

3 October 2013

What If? .... Africa Hadn't Been Colonised

I'm in the middle of a chocka few months at the moment but the internet is nothing if not adept at finding interesting distractions and methods of procrastination. One of today's offerings came when idly trawling the internet for images relating to alternate history and counterfactuals. This image caught my eye and let me to Rachel Strohm's website where she hosted it and explained the story behind it:

One of the questions I’m often asked by friends who haven’t studied African history is what might have happened to the continent if it hadn’t been colonized.  It’s interesting to look at the following map of African politico-tribal units circa 1844 by Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon in the light of this question:

Make sure you click to embiggen, it's well worth it.

Read the rest of Rachel's article here, including some thought experiments about how this map might have been formed and how it might have developed.

14 June 2013

CRSF 2013

I've just posted up the schedule for this year's Current Research in Speculative Fiction on the conference blog.

Head over yonder and take a look if you're interested:


2 June 2013

Hay Diary 2013

Last year I went to my first Hay Literature Festival, I was stewarding the event for three days and had a great time. There was never any doubt in my mind that, if it was at all possible, I would be back for 2013.

And back I went, for [effectively] six days this time. I did my best to tweet as I went through the festival, but stewarding duties and phone battery drainage frequently conspired to keep my phone out of use. Nonetheless, for the interested, an archive of my Hay twitter experience can be found here: http://storify.com/GR_Morgan/hay-diary-2013.

Home sweet home for six nights
Day 1, Thursday:
Arrived later than planned, having been late leaving Liverpool but also getting stuck behind [seemingly] every tractor, lorry, caravan and overly cautious driver (30 on a straight, good visibility national speed limit road!) between Chester and Welshpool. The sky was threatening rain but held off on the most part, although a brisk wind made putting up my tent all the more difficult. Eventually arrived at the festival site to find that everything had moved around since last year. I have a pretty good memory for maps and places so this completely messed up my orientation, but everyone was in the same boat and a few walks around the site got everything straightened up in my head.

One of the best things about stewarding Hay is eating in the staff canteen tent. A local pub provides the meals and they're always tasty with an unlimited supply of sides, plus drinks. Since I hadn't actually done any work I wasn't expecting to get fed on day one but I was fortunate enough to be given a meal voucher anyway. The whole time I was at the festival I didn't pay for any food (other than an ice cream, but it was worth it), and three large hot meals a day really takes the sting out of the long hours and having to camp.

I was then sent along to the Barclays Pavillion tent, a 1000+ venue to stand by a fire escape and watch Noah and the Whale and their support act Thumpers. Underwhelmed by NotW (!), they were quite stiff and not very exciting. They picked up a bit towards the end, although perhaps that was just because they were playing the older hits which I was familiar with. The crowd seems to agree as they were much more subdued than any of the other gigs I went to over the course of the festival despite being the only sellout event I attended in the Barclays tent. If anything there was a real danger the support act had the better performance.

Just a small slice of the queue to get a signed book from Julia Donaldson

Day 2, Friday:
On site by 9am and the cycle of (at least) 13 hours working days begins. After a full English breakfast I was assigned to the Google Big Tent (capacity c.600) where I would stay for the duration of my time. The people you meet are another great thing about working at Hay and this year proved no exception. Whilst I would meet and chat to many people over the course of my time there (although not in the canteen - I'm terrible at canteens. Head down, eat fast, get out), the team at Google really took me in and were exceptionally friendly and welcoming. Thanks guys!

The Google tent is the third largest of the venues which means we didn't get the biggest of names but nor did we get smaller more cultish figures. Most of the speakers our tent would attract would be academics, journalists, historians, politicians, and the like, with a healthy spread of children's authors.

It was another nearly wet, windy day, and the morning was taken up with Hay Fever events (the Children's festival embedded within Hay festival proper). Seeing Liverpool stalwart Jon Mayhew give a talk to 300 or so kids about Jules Verne, Captain Nemo and his new book was particularly lovely. After that we fell into a more familiar rhythm with some fascinating talks. I'm not going to list everything I saw, if only because my memories of specifics are likely to be hazy, but some highlights included two sessions with Cambridge University professors: the first a great talk by Jonathan Haslam about the history of Russia's Secret Services from the Revolution to the (almost) modern day, and the second a talk on Nanotechnology by Mark Welland who did a great job of explaining and illustrating the complexities of the Nano world as well as its applications.

The Google tent was also right next to the bookshop so I would often catch glimpses of big names I hadn't been able to see as they made their way to their signings, as well as have lovely chats with the bookshop staff (comrades in arms).

Jon Ronson on stage in the Google Big Tent

Days 3-6, Saturday - Tuesday:
Saturday and Sunday we were blessed with glorious sunshine, which contributed to Saturday being the busiest day Hay has ever had. I'm not a hundred percent sure but I think I heard someone say that at peak there were over 10,000 people on site. Looking around at how busy it was even during the slots when most people should have been inside tents at events I could believe that estimate. Hell, there were enough people in the queue to get books signed by Children's Laureate Julia Donaldson to ensure a pretty considerable minimal attendance.

The weather wouldn't hold out though and both Monday and Tuesday it not only rained but as bitterly cold. This does bring the mood down a little and you do get the occasional punter snap at you after you inform them their event has been moved to a different tent (a regular occurrence that most festival goers take in their stride) but generally the public are a friendly and understanding bunch and even some pretty poor environmental conditions don't stop them bantering to you whilst they queue up to enter the venues.

I saw some great events over these days. Jon Ronson was particularly entertaining and Marcus Brigstocke's "Brig Society" gig was a brilliant way to spend an evening. Some of the kids events surprised me, I knew Derek Landy would be an entertaining hour having seen him do a signing at Liverpool, but was pleasantly surprised to find the Beast Quest / Adam Blade (in character as wizard Aduro) event quite amusing, although as Adam Blade is a shared pen name I don't know which author gets to dress up and sign books, or whether the publishers hire an actor, but it was fun nonetheless.

You get the same kind of surprises from adult events too. I had an idea I'd find the debate on "The Future of News" with representatives from Google, the BBC and The Telegraph interesting, but I would have expected a talk about China's economy to be quite dry and jargon based. Instead Linda Yueh gave an entertaining and informative explanation about how China's economy has grown, what this means and what might happen next. She used plenty of jargon but she broke it all down in a clear and easily understood way, showing why she's the BBC Chief Business Correspondent. Similarly, I wouldn't have expected to enjoy Sherard Cowper-Coles talking to Nik Gowing about his time in the Foreign Office but some of the anecdotes he shared about characters like Tony Blair and Robin Cook were both insightful and hilarious. Being in an event you wouldn't have chosen to attend and actually finding it really informative and enjoyable is something I particularly enjoy about stewarding Hay, and that sentiment is common to most stewards I spoke to.

Another thing stewards get their kicks from, other than just attending these events for free, is spotting celebrities in the audience. Given the kinds of events at the Google tent it wasn't uncommon or surprising to see people to vaguely recognise from newspaper editorials and such, as well as the likes of Nick Robinson and George Alagiah sitting in the crowd. But then that's Hay all over, you can be walking back from the loo on a quiet evening to realise the person walking alongside you is Dr. Rowan Williams (he of the crazy eyebrows and former Archbishop of Canterbury), or be standing around trying to organise people into an orderly queue and be asked for directions by Lee Mack, almost knock over Jack Straw, and have a quick word with Carl Bernstein.

Best feel good sensation of the festival has to go to Amadou & Mariam. A blind couple, and their brilliant band, from Mali who had the Wales tent jiving away on Tuesday night. It really warmed my heard to see young kids dancing with their parents, and old people (and I mean really old people) standing up and boogying along. 

Amadou & Mariam bring the Wales Tent to life

Day 7, Wednesday:
I cut my final day a little short in order to head home in good time, and to meet up with my cousin in Hay-on-Wye for an hour, but I was sorry to leave. Despite having been dog tired since day two, I have so much fun at Hay there is no doubt in my mind I'll be trying to head back next year. If I hadn't needed to be back in Liverpool it would have been extremely hard to tear myself away (I missed Jeremy Irons reading Four Quartets!).

When I got back I worked out how much I'd spent on the trip (£30 petrol + £55 camping and parking) - not including the few signed books I bought, versus how much I'd saved if I'd had to pay to see all the events I saw (although without the hindsight I now have, I wouldn't have paid to see all of them, including many which I actually turned out to enjoy) and it turns out I made a net saving of at least £144 and that's not taking into account food and drink (all those free meals vs. the occasional pint in the evening and that gorgeous peanut butter and chocolate ice cream). So, if you've always wanted to go to a festival like Hay, but are intimidated by the price it seems pretty clear that stewarding is the way to go.

But its not just about the money or the events (or, indeed, the food), it's about being part of something big, something special. Something which is genuinely inspirational and which always sends me home wanting to read more, write more, think harder and be better than I am. I'll be there come 2014, will you?