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

Current Study

Recently Completed Study:
Ph.D thesis: "Mapping Planet Auschwitz: The Non-Mimetic in Anglo-American Fiction of the Holocaust"

Current Sub-Studies

Areas of Interest:
> Non-mimetic depictions of trauma
> literature, trauma, and ethics
> Science Fiction and Alternate History
> 20th and 21st century literature
> Comics
> Paratexts

28 November 2011

If Hitler Comes: A Cautionary Tale by Douglas Brown and Christopher Serpell

I've just finished reading If Hitler Comes: A Cautionary Tale by Douglas Brown and Christopher Serpell. It was a surprisingly enjoyable read. I knew little of the book in advance, except that it was originally published in 1940 under the title Loss of Eden, and republished in 1941 with the more direct title If Hitler Comes.

As the subtitle suggests, the novel is a cautionary tale, intended to bolster moral in the UK and encourage people to back the war to its conclusion rather than enter into some sort of Faustian pact with the Nazis. It's not an alternate history in the strict sense (it was, after all, written whilst the war was still ongoing and these events - or something similar - could actually have come to pass), and falls beyond the definition I've set for texts to be entered into my thesis. Nonetheless, it is a novel which forms part of a very interesting body of literature in the pre- and intra-war period which predict events in the future. Of course the propagandistic element of these books cannot be ignored, but that is not to say they are without value to the modern reader. If Hitler Comes for example contains many of the hallmarks that will crop up again and again in alternate history fiction which sees Britain appease or call a ceasefire with Nazi Germany rather than fight it (novels such as Jo Walton's Small Change trilogy, or the recent The Afrika Reich by Guy Saville, for example).

The novel is framed by the spectacle of some distant future archaeologist finding an incomplete manuscript which details the gloomy past of the 1940s in Britain. The rest of the novel forms this manuscript and is the account of a New Zealand press correspondent based in London as he watches the British Government sign a ceasefire, and later a mutual cooperation pact, with Nazi Germany following the capitulation of France. What follows is a nightmarish vision of ever increasing Nazi influence in Britain and the complete deconstruction of everything the nation at that time held to be dear (even the supply of tea and tobacco dries up!).

What could have been a dry and difficult text is in fact very readable and falls close enough to the realms of perceived possibility to be engaging and thought provoking. All in all a worth while discovery and I tip my hat to Faber for reprinting this book which had long been out of print until 2010.

8 November 2011

Penguin Guest Blog

Today a post I authored went online at the Penguin Books blog, "Understanding Maus". It's essentially a short piece on the significance of Art Speigelman's absolutely amazing graphic novel Maus and the new companion volume MetaMaus. I won't re-tread the material here, save to say that MetaMaus is a brilliant volume which is both a tool for understanding and a treat for fans and connoisseurs of comics.

17 October 2011

Technology as Cure – Representations of Disability in Science Fiction (CFP)

This call for papers has nothing to do with me organisationally but I repost it here for your interest and imagination:
CFP: Technology as Cure – Representations of Disability in Science Fiction
Call for Papers
Representations of Disability in Science Fiction (essay collection; abstracts due Nov. 18/11)

Contributions are invited for an essay collection on the representations of disability and the disabled body in science fiction. Technology is often characterized as a cure for the disabled body – one that either elides or exacerbates corporeal difference. From block buster films and televised space operas to cyberpunk and hard SF, disabled bodies are often modified and supported by technological interventions. How are dis/ability, medical “breakthroughs,” (bio) technologies, and the body theorized, materialized, and politicized in science fiction? This collection is particularly interested in the ways dis/abled bodies challenge normative discourses of ability, generate novel spaces of embodiment, and proliferate new understandings of human being.

Contributions are welcomed from both academic- and arts-based researchers and practitioners from a wide range of critical perspectives: literary studies, disability studies, feminist studies, science and technology studies, critical theory, race studies, queer studies, media studies, film studies, Aboriginal studies, cultural studies, and rhetoric studies. Papers may deal with the representation of disability in any form of popular genre SF: film, television, and print (including all SF subgenres i.e.: feminist SF, post-cyberpunk, hard SF, steampunk, etc.). All possible topics related to the representation of disability and disabled persons in SF are welcome: dis/ability, illness, technology as cure, prosthesis, diseased bodies/contagion, care of the self, alterations to the body, corporeal boundaries, environmental modifications, medical care, and alternative constructions of being.

Send a 300- to 500-word abstract, working title, and a brief bio, by email in a Word attachment, to kathryn@academiceditingcanada.ca before or on November 18, 2011. Inquiries are also welcome. Final papers should range in length from 5000-8000 words About the editor: Kathryn Allan received her PhD in English Literature from McMaster University (2010) studying feminist post-cyberpunk SF and theories of the vulnerable body. She currently is an independent SF scholar, working as a freelance writer and (academic) editor. http://www.academiceditingcanada.ca/blog/item/72-cfp

27 September 2011

Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World. A Science Fiction Foundation Conference (CFP)

I'm proud to be able to say I'm part of the Science Fiction Foundation team putting together a conference in 2013 which will combine science fiction and classics. The call for papers was issued today and here it is:

Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space: 
The Fantastika and the Classical World. 
A Science Fiction Foundation Conference
29 June – 1 July 2013
At The Foresight Centre, University of Liverpool
Guests of Honour: Edith Hall, Nick Lowe, and Catherynne M. Valente

Call for papers
The culture of the Classical world continues to shape that of the modern West. Those studying the Fantastika (science fiction, fantasy and horror) know that it has its roots in the literature of the Graeco-Roman world (Homer’s Odyssey, Lucian’s True History). At the same time, scholars of Classical Reception are increasingly investigating all aspects of popular culture, and have begun looking at science fiction. However, scholars of the one are not often enough in contact with scholars of the other. This conference aims to bridge the divide, and provide a forum in which SF and Classical Reception scholars can meet and exchange ideas.

We invite proposals for papers (20 minutes plus discussion) or themed panels of three or four papers from a wide range of disciplines (including Science Fiction, Classical Reception and Literature), from academics, students, fans, and anyone else interested, on any aspect of the interaction between the Classical world of Greece and Rome and science fiction, fantasy and horror. We are looking for papers on Classical elements in modern (post-1800) examples of the Fantastika, and on science fictional or fantastic elements in Classical literature. We are particularly interested in papers addressing literary science fiction or fantasy, where we feel investigations of the interaction with the ancient world are relatively rare. But we also welcome papers on film, television, radio, comics, games, or fan culture.

Please send proposals to conferences@sf-foundation.org, to arrive by 30 September 2012. Paper proposals should be no more than 300 words. Themed panels should also include an introduction to the panel, of no more than 300 words. Please include the name of the author/panel convener, and contact details.

Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space is organised by the Science Fiction Foundation, with the co- operation of the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool.

It can also be viewed on the Foundation events page.
And here's the official Facebook page.

19 July 2011

Brighton Conference 2011: The Second World War: Popular Culture and Cultural Memory

The eye-catching oddity of Brighton's Royal Pavilion
Last week I gave my third paper in three months at the largest and most intimidating of my three conferences: The Second World War: Popular Culture and Popular Memory at Brighton University.

This was my first trip to Brighton and I was looking forward to the experience. Luckily I was able to get some cheap trains and stay with a cousin when down there else I fear I would  have been priced out of the whole venture. My biggest regret about the whole thing was that I wasn't able to spend a bit more time pottering around the city, what I saw of Brighton was an interesting, quirky place with a lot of character - of course it was also (on the whole) prohibitively expensive for an impoverished student such as myself, used to the cheaper thrills that Liverpool has to offer.

The conference itself ran for three days and covered a wide range of topics, mainly concerning the history and literature of the Second World War. I saw some truly fascinating papers and left with a good few sheets of hastily scribbled notes with names, dates and titles to look up now that I'm back in the solitude of Liverpool PG life. I also left having met some great people. I went to the conference not really knowing anyone (although with the slight advantage of having met or e-mailed a couple of people once or twice before) but I was delighted with how everyone opened up to each other and chatted happily not just about the conference but about all the associated small talk you'd expect. I was genuinely worried I'd get through the whole conference without really getting to know anybody and instead ended up as part of a group of people who came from different disciplines, different generations, different universities, and had a really good time sampling Brighton's ale and the conference's wine in their company.

My own paper ("Branching Paths: Nazi Victories in Alternate Second World Wars") went reasonably well, although I was conscious beforehand that it was the weakest of the three papers I've delivered this year. This was probably because although it is the final paper in a series of three, it was the first abstract to be drawn up and when it came to writing it I found myself constrained by that abstract and forced into writing something which didn't really work as a 20 minute paper as well as I'd like. That said, the reception of the paper was wonderful with several people approaching me afterwards to tell me that they'd found it interesting and informative, and that it raised questions they'd not considered before. Most of the questions asked were by historians who were simply interested in the ideas or texts, although I did get a couple of literature questions as well.

On the whole the conference was a resounding success and I'd like to thank all of the conference organisers for their hard work, and particularly thank whichever of them made the decision to accept my paper - I am immensely grateful for the opportunity. I'd also like to thank everyone I met at the conference for making me feel at ease and for listening to me talk about science fiction and alternate history.

1 July 2011

'Civilisation and Virtual History' by Niall Ferguson

Wednesday 29 June 2011, The British Library Conference Centre.

This lecture was part of the programme of events surrounding the British Library's Out of this World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It, a superb exhibit which I'll blog about separately soon. If I could I'd attend every one of the events that were organised, they all looked brilliant, but when I saw that Niall Ferguson was giving a talk on counterfactuals I knew I just had to be there.

Some context perhaps. Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard, but is probably best known for his work on several Channel 4 documentaries such as The Ascent of Money and the recent Civilization: Is the West History? Now in all honesty, I've never caught one of these shows, the reason I wanted to attend the lecture was his 1997 book Virtual History.

Virtual History is a collection of essays by historians imagining counterfactual scenarios, essentially engaging with "what might have been" rather than "what was". Given my study of alternate history fiction these "non-fiction" accounts are immensely interesting and the manner of their executions, their reception, and their relationship with the historical narrative are all of massive relevance to my thesis. Given the seeming rarity of academic discussion into alternate history in the UK (by which I mean conferences and lectures) I couldn't very well let this opportunity slide by, especially since it cost me a humble £5 to attend plus my travel (which luckily I pre-booked far enough ahead to get at a bargain rate).

The talk itself was very interesting and superbly well delivered, a masterclass in expressing what were at times pretty complex ideas to an audience of laymen in an engaging manner. It was essentially a summary of the lengthy introduction that Professor Ferguson includes at the beginning of Virtual History, explaining the arguments surrounding the counterfactual examination of history, the theory behind such examinations, and the benefits of counterfactual thought. Given that the original introduction was written for a book published 14 years ago it was interesting to see which elements Professor Ferguson chose to expand upon, leave out, and alter.

I was looking out for was any reference to the fictional renderings of counterfactual history, not least because they are the versions which I am studying, but also because the comments made in the introduction to Virtual History are quite dismissive: "Of course... science fiction [is] not academically respectable" (p.3) and "one thinks, for example, of Robert Harris's recent novel Fatherland, a detective story set in an imaginary Europe twenty years after a Nazi victory. As such books go, it is well researched. But it is irredeemably fictional..." (p. 7). Professor Ferguson is focusing on the historical merits of counterfactuals, as is his want, and therefore is understandably dismissive of the historical value of alternate history fiction. To put it another way, if any other historian were to dismiss historical novels as "irredeemably fictional" we might understand that the historian is arguing that the historical novel cannot imbue a proper understanding of history upon the reader, that it is a pale representation of the past intended primarily for recreation and enjoyment and only secondly (if at all) for instruction. I understand Professor Ferguson's stance in this respect, however to make such a blanketing statement as "science fiction [is] not academically respectable" is a slap in the face to everything I am trying to achieve with my thesis, not to mention the numerous more distinguished scholars who have preceded me in the field of sf.

My ears pricked then when he referred to Philip Roth's The Plot Against America and called it "fiction of huge historical merit". I regret that I wasn't selected to give a question in the brief Q+A or I would have requested Professor Ferguson expand upon this comment: what is it about The Plot Against America that gives it "huge historical merit" despite being "irredeemably fictional", is this something unique to Roth's approach on the topic, or does this represent a softening of opinion towards fictional counterfactuals from the standpoint put into print 14 years before, if so I would be interested to learn how and why this softening has occurred (I have since e-mailed my question to Professor Ferguson's Harvard account as the answer to this question could be a massively significant factor in the way in which I think about the relationship between history and fiction).

Overall it was definitely a worthwhile trip, although as ever when I visit London and the sun is shining, I wished I could stay much longer. Even if I receive no reply to my e-mail, the lecture has given me several new leads on historical theory, as well as explained some of the fine points of Virtual History which otherwise I might easily have underestimated or misunderstood.

22 June 2011

It All Makes Sense!

So, going through the delegate lists for the CRSF conference I noticed that we had a very particular number of attendees...
Coincidence? Methinks not.*

*And if you don't get this reference then shame! Shame on you!

21 June 2011

Current Research in Speculative Fiction [CRSF] 2011


That pretty much sums my reaction to the conference. It couldn't really have gone a great deal better. Everyone I spoke to seemed to enjoy themselves whilst also finding the papers informative and thought provoking. Certainly, the papers and discussions I saw were of a very high standard.

My official list of thanks can be seen on the official CRSF blog and whilst I remain immensely grateful to all of those people, I won't duplicate the list here. I shall, however, add a personal thanks for my girlfriend Anna who not only did all the usual stuff of being my editor and practice audience for my paper, but also manned the front desk when none of the other CRSF team members were available, and did the majority of the tidying up that got us out of the building on time, without her the whole process might not have gone quite as smoothly as it did!

The pre-conference and post-conference socials also went well with a strong attendance of both conference delegates and members of the public turning out at Waterstone's to hear Adam Roberts talk about Crime and Science Fiction (with relation to his next-but-one novel) on the Friday night. It was an interesting discussion that ended up resembling a round-table more than anything else, a happy accident as a round-table was something we wanted to include in CRSF but were unable to fit into the schedule. Talking to non-conference attendees (ie. people from my book club) afterwards they seemed to find it just as interesting and engaging as everyone else which is positive. After the conference a large group of us went for a meal in The Quarter and, barring a hiccup with the bill, had a greatly enjoyable and tasty meal.

This is, however, my personal blog and so I must now turn to my personal experience of the conference. My role in the organisation of the conference was relatively simple. I came up with the decision to organise the conference and we got to work putting it together. Most of the hard work of dealing with bookings and bureaucracy was done by Chris Pak whilst I acted as the conference "face" and point of contact for the various delegates, this meant I was perhaps heaped with more praise than I was deserving of - the conference wouldn't have happened without all Chris's hardwork, nor would it have been quite as slick without the advise, experience, and know-how of [Dr.] A.P. Canavan and Clare Parody.

My involvement was pure enjoyment. I got to open and close the conference, as well as introduce Prof. Adam Roberts's keynote lecture (Chris introduced Andy Sawyer's). I chaired a panel on Science in Science Fiction which included a brilliant paper on Kurt Vonnegut and J.G. Ballard by Erica Moore and a thought-provoking paper on Singularity Theory by Hallvard Haug. Chairing the panel was actually the part of the day I was most nervous about, it being my first experience of such a responsibility, and I was relieved to have two great papers and speakers which triggered an extended discussion session which needed little, if any, prompting from me.

The only other task of note I had to perform was giving my own paper. Haphazardly written in the week leading up to the conference it was titled "Alternate Histories and the Paratextual Instinct" and essentially used paratexts to examine the positioning of alternate history in the literary canon (is it science fiction, historical fiction, a literary technique or a genre in its own right?) and came to the conclusion that the situation as stands is confusing and requires a lot more attention and research (hence my thesis). Given that I only finished the paper on the Tuesday before the conference, my practice time was significantly truncated and delivering my paper in the first session of the day (a move intended to remove pressure from me for the rest of the day) meant I didn't have time to read it over at the last minute. As a result of these factors my delivery was somewhat more disjointed and generally sloppy than I would have preferred; a fact highlighted by verbal slip of referring historian Niall Ferguson as Niall Harrison, a slip which Adam Roberts promptly tweeted to the tweeterverse... *sigh*

I wasn't 100% happy with my paper, I feel my argument could have been more slick, but as I've already indicated I only had myself to blame for this problem as I didn't manage my time leading up to the conference properly. My next conference paper is Brighton's "The Second World War: Popular Culture and Popular Memory", I don't intend to make the same mistake and so will be cracking on with this paper asap.

So, on the whole CRSF was great. I certainly enjoyed myself and came out of the day feeling really positive about the whole thing (if utterly exhausted). Roll on CRSF 2012 I say....

Official Conference Photo

16 June 2011

CRSF 2011 - This Saturday

It's been a busy time, hence no blog activity.

The organisation of the Current Research in Speculative Fiction [CRSF] conference has gone more smoothly than I had dared to dream it would. One or two last minute hiccups but nothing that ever seriously jeopardised the conference's existence, or its vision to present the best PG research into sf in a friendly environment. That said, there's been a tonne to do: creating the various documents needed for the delegate packs, relaying information backwards and forwards between the key note speakers, the conference team, and the delegates. It has, however, been amazing. In all the hustle and bustle I almost forgot to write my own paper, and the biggest source of stress has been putting something together I won't be ashamed to present to my peers. I think I'm finally there now with a paper titled: "Alternate Histories and the Paratextual Instinct: Categorising the Form", hopefully it won't be too dry...

17 May 2011

The Enemy Within

On Thursday I presented my first conference paper based on my Ph.D research.

The paper was entitled "The Enemy Within: British Fascism in Alternate Histories of the Second World War" and was pretty well received.

I presented it at the annual PG Conference run by the School of English at the University of Liverpool. It's a pretty comfortable affair and a great place to cut your teeth on your first paper. Essentially, all the Ph.D students are supposed to give papers over the course of the day to an audience consisting of other students and some lecturers.

I had a pretty considerable audience for my paper, although I suspect most of them were there to see other other papers in my panel (19th and 20th century literature), the much more experienced Kim Edwards Keates, Katharine Easterby and David Hering.

I was pretty happy with the content of the paper, which forms a chunk of the material from Chapter One of the thesis (as it currently stands) and may add to it with an eye for submitting it for publication to some journals. That said, I'm not entirely comfortable with publishing it in its entirety online, however below is the abstract, and you can see the slide show here.

"The Enemy Within: British Fascism in Alternate Histories of the Second World War"- Abstract
More recent alternate histories have bucked the trend of Britain as a glorious resister of Nazi authority and instead focused on the dirty underbelly of anti-Semitism and fascism in British society in the 1930s. My paper will analyse a series of novels which do just this: the  "Small Change" series by Jo Walton; I will discuss how reading these novels, and others like them, encourage a re-reading of the historical narrative of time whilst at the same time inform our understanding of the present.

17 April 2011

Checking In

I know I've been a bad blogger, but that doesn't mean I've been resting on my laurels.

> I've had a paper accepted for a conference in Brighton in June.
> I'm writing a paper for the School of English Postgraduate Conference in Liverpool.
> The conference I'm organising (CRSF) has accepted all its papers and we're now starting to take fees.
> I've had another article published: "The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories ed. by Ian Watson and Ian Whates". Another review, published in Foundation # 109.
> I've been growing Twisted Tales. It's gone from strength to strength and every week suprises me by how popular it is and how seriously everyone is taking it. Which is nice. There's also a review of mine now online.
> I've made in-roads into getting teaching in the new academic year.
> I've started running again, with an aim to getting back into entering fun runs soon.
> I've uploaded my academic CV to this website.
> I attended a writing workshop led by horror author Conrad Williams which well and truly reinvigorated my writing bug and so I intend to write some short stories soon.

Ten items of varying impact and progress, but all of which I'm taking seriously. It's been a very eventful few months and slowly but surely the pieces are starting to fall into place so that I feel that I'm gradually becoming a genuine article academic, and even better, have a stronger sense of where I'm going. Good stuff.

I'll check back in soon, promise.

28 February 2011

First Appearance in a Journal

This month my name made its first appearance in print in an academic journal.

The article is a review of Chris Beckett's novel The Holy Machine and it appears in issue #108 of Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction - you'll have to get hold of a copy to read the review but essentially I thought it was a great book.

I'm especially honoured that my review appears in an issue with a special article by Brian Aldiss, an author who has a special association for me as he was receiving an honorary doctorate at the same graduation ceremony where I received my BA in 2008.

Hopefully the future will see many more such reviews entering print, and eventually critical articles too, but until then I'm just happy to see my name in print (and I'll be even happier when it gets catalogued onto the University Library!).

5 January 2011

Current Research in Speculative Fiction (CRSF) 2011


“A Vampire, a Troll, and a Martian Walk Into a Bar....”
- Call for Papers -
18th June 2011
University of Liverpool
Keynote Lectures from: Professor Adam Roberts (Royal Holloway, University of London), Mr Andy Sawyer (Science Fiction Foundation Collection Librarian; Director of MA in Science Fiction Studies, University of Liverpool)


CRSF is a postgraduate conference designed to promote the research of speculative fictions including, but not limited to, science fiction, fantasy and horror.

 Our aim is to showcase some of the latest developments in this dynamic and evolving field, by providing a platform for the presentation of current research by postgraduates. The conference will also encourage the discussion of this research and the construction of crucial networks with fellow researchers. The University of Liverpool is a leading centre for the study of speculative fiction, being home to the Science Fiction Foundation Collection, and is thus ideally suited to such a cause.

This year we would like to focus on encouraging postgraduates to network with others in their field, and related areas, whilst also demonstrating the depth and breadth of research currently being conducted into speculative fiction. As such we welcome 300 word abstracts on topics as diverse as, but not limited to:

•Alternate History •Apocalypse •Environmental Philosophy •Gaming •Genre Evolution •Genre Language and the Language of Genre •Gender and Sexuality •Graphic Novels •Representations of Psychology and Consciousness •Speculative Fiction across Media – Adaptation, Translation and Franchise •Speculative Spaces, Places and Races •The Supernatural and the Other •Technology and Magic •”Why Has No One Thought of This Before?” •Young Adult Fiction.

Abstracts of 300 words, for papers intended to run for twenty minutes,  should be submitted to CRSF2011@gmail.com by 01/04/11.

For further information, email the conference team at CRSF2011@gmail.com

Note: although we are looking for papers from postgraduates we welcome delegates from across the spectrum of academic and speculative fiction fields. This conference is the first of a planned annual series and cannot succeed without your support so please pass this along to everyone who might be interested.

December Hiatus

One of my photos of snow-bound Liverpool
Dear all,

It's been a long hiatus from this blog over the month of December (though I assure you not from the work which the blog is intended to catalogue). I'm back now though and for the first time in my studies I feel like I'm actually achieving something. Chapter One is now in progress - although the amount of reading I thought I'd done that I now need to scurry back and do is astonishing - and I also have a few other side projects that are progressing nicely. 2010 was a pretty good year for me but here's hoping 2011 gets even better!

I'll be posting up something pretty exciting in the next few hours so check back.

All the best,