Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin

A new documentary on the fantasy and science fiction author Usula K. Le Guin explores the evolution of her writing and the ideas that shape and define her work. Source: Bust.

This week, I began working at Cardiff Metropolitan University as an Associate Tutor in English Literature. It’s a short-term post that will span the Spring semester, and it feels good to be teaching again. I’m working with texts by Ursula K. Le Guin, J. R. R. Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Philip K. Dick, Alan Garner, and Umberto Eco, among others.

Having left a career in academic research back in June, I wondered whether I would return to teaching in higher education—it was always the part of the job that I loved the most. So, as you can imagine, I’m delighted with my new role.

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Last night, I put the finishing touches to a lecture I had prepared on the work of American writer Ursula K. Le Guin. It was focussed on her feminist additions to the Earthsea series of popular fantasy novels. I then visited Twitter, and was confused to see  Le Guin’s name at the top my feed. With mounting dread, I saw her name was the number one trending topic worldwide. I scrolled down to see my timeline was flooded with notifications about her death, at the age of 88, among family and friends. It was a surreal moment, and it occurs to me now that her death marks the end of an era in modern and contemporary literature.

Recommended Reads: Hari Kunzru on Ursula K. Le Guin • Ursula K. Le Guin, Whose Novels Plucked Truth From High Fantasy, Dies At 88 (NPR) • Ursula K. Le Guin, Acclaimed for Her Fantasy Fiction, Is Dead at 88 (The New York Times) • The Fantastic Ursula K. Le Guin (The New Yorker) • Ursula K. Le Guin, The Art of Fiction No. 221 (The Paris Review) • 20 Author Photos: Then and Now • Listen to Ursula K. Le Guin on Celebrity Culture and Fiction vs. Fact • Ursula K. Le Guin on Racism, Anarchy & Writing

 

“The TV adaptation of her dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale captured the political moment. Ahead of a new series, Atwood talks bestsellers, bonnets and the backlash against her views on #MeToo” — The Guardian

Carolyn Cocca discusses how women superheroes are changing the we way think about contemporary femininity

What motivated you to write Superwomen?

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Carolyn Cocca, Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation (Bloomsbury, 2016)

As a kid, my three male neighbors and I would play “superheroes.” I was always “the girl,” whether that was Wonder Woman, or Princess Leia, or whoever, while the guys got to choose from among many characters. As I got older it still seemed that female characters were much less numerous than the male characters and were more sexualized than the male characters, and usually have weaker powers and less interesting stories. So I decided to formally apply my political science and gender studies training to this issue and found that what I felt growing up is true not only about superheroes but also about the way women are portrayed across fiction–they are portrayed much less often, with much less nuance, and with much less power. There has been some change over time, but not very much. So Superwomen investigates how and why this is the case. (more…)

Terence McSweeney discusses a new collection of essays that explore the legacy of September 11th in recent film

We begin our conversation having marked the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The legacy of those events has had an inestimable effect on the cultural, historical, and ideological landscape. What do you think it means to say that we are living ‘in the shadow of 9/11’?

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American Cinema in the Shadow of 9/11, edited by Terence McSweeney (EUP, 2016)

The title of the book is derived from this often repeated phrase “in the shadow of 9/11” which was one we heard very frequently during the turbulent first decade of the new millennium. Even though fifteen years have passed since September 11th 2001 we can clearly see how impactful the events of 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ still are on contemporary geo-politics. This is not to endorse that simplistic aphorism that “9/11 changed everything”, because it certainly did not, but what it and events after did was to provoke what we might describe as the shifting of ideological co-ordinates in a variety of ways: whether in terms of American foreign policy decisions or the considerable impact of what Jason Burke called “the 9/11 wars” on the body of films which have been produced by the American film industry since. It seems hard to deny that the ‘War on Terror’ is one of the most profoundly impactful cultural events of the last two decades and just as fears and anxieties concerning the Second World War and the cold war became materialised in novels, films and TV shows in their respective eras, so 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ can often be found within the frames of contemporary American film. (more…)

Verso publishes a new anniversary edition of Thomas More’s radical vision
Thomas More's Utopia, with contributions from China Miéville and Ursula K. Le Guin
Thomas More’s Utopia, with contributions from China Miéville and Ursula K. Le Guin (Verso, 2016)

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia. Despite its advanced age, More’s compelling vision of a perfect society remains a quintessentially modern aspiration. Utopia is hailed as ‘astonishingly radical’ by contemporary political thinkers, and the text continues to offer inspiration and renewal for writers, artists, and filmmakers.

The perfect island of Utopia is a dream of societal harmony and order, not unlike the Biblical garden paradise or Plato’s Republic. More’s early modern work is considered a canonical text of Western literature and culture, providing a template to which we might one day aspire. But Utopia is also a perplexing and troubling text. More’s explorer protagonist, Raphael Hythloday, is presented as a companion of Vespucci on his voyage to the New World, which binds the utopian dream to the European invasion and colonization of America. It is no coincidence that there are slaves on the island of Utopia. Despite its associations with liberal thought and communal happiness, the island of Utopia has a rigid societal hierarchy and strictly-regulated communal laws. (more…)

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The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985 to overwhelming critical acclaim. It won the Governor General’s award for English-language fiction that year, and the inaugural Arthur C Clarke award in 1987. Often labelled a feminist dystopia, the novel captivates and terrifies in equal measure. Is Gilead the result of puritanism, misogyny and megalomania taken to their logical end? Is Atwood shooting readers a warning that this is where fanaticism and militarisation at the expense of humanity might lead?”

More at The Guardian.

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“It had also been my belief since I started writing fiction that science fiction is never really about the future. When science fiction is old, you can only read it as being pretty much about the moment in which it was written. But it seemed to me that the toolkit that science fiction had given me when I started working had become the toolkit of a kind of literary naturalism that could be applied to an inherently incredible present. So those three books were experimental for me in that sense.”

More at Business Insider.

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From Open Culture: “One of the very first feature-length sci-fi films ever made, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis took a daring visual approach for its time, incorporating Bauhaus and Futurist influences in thrillingly designed sets and costumes. Lang’s visual language resonated strongly in later decades. The film’s rather stunning alchemical-electric transference of a woman’s physical traits onto the body of a destructive android—the so-called Maschinenmensch—for example, began a very long trend of female robots in film and television, most of them as dangerous and inscrutable as Lang’s. And yet, for all its many imitators, Metropolis continues to deliver surprises. Here, we bring you a new find: a 32-page program distributed at the film’s 1927 premier in London and recently re-discovered.” [Read More]

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“A rich blowhard running for president. Tech-bro execs hoping to splinter off into their own anything-goes fiefdoms. So much screaming over gigabyte network pipes that’s getting faster, dumber, and scarier. The present feels like it’s running along the plotline of a William Gibson science-fiction novel. So let’s ask the man who wrote the future to try and make sense of today.”

Read the full Q&A over at io9.

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2001: A Space Odyssey (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

From BFI: “Director Terry Gilliam reveals insights about Brazil (1985), his Orwellian retro-futurist fantasy. Gilliam also talks about his love of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), his dislike of middle management bureaucracy, and his experience of casting Robert De Niro.” (Source: BFI)

Source: Tor.com.

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Octavia Butler

Well, no. But, nonetheless, her late-1990s dystopian novel, The Parable of the Talents, anticipates troubling undercurrents in the culture of the United States. And there are some noteworthy similarities to the 2016 presidential election. Open Culture reports:

“[I]n the second book of her Earthseed series, The Parable of the Talents (1998), Hugo and Nebula-award winning science fiction writer Octavia Butler gave us Senator Andrew Steele Jarret, a violent autocrat in the year 2032 whose ‘supporters have been known… to form mobs.’ Jarret’s political opponent, Vice President Edward Jay Smith, “calls him a demagogue, a rabble-rouser, and a hypocrite,’ and—most presciently—he rallies his crowds with the call to ‘make America great again.'”

The article also finds Trump predictors in a host of other pop culture sources, from The Simpsons to the Back to the Future franchise.

More at Open Culture.

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