There are lots of great things going on at Worldcon in Dublin and there’s
‘Francis Bacon’s Alien’
H. R. Giger, designer of the alien in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, has said in various places that he was inspired by a painting: ‘Bacon did a crucifixion in 1945, and there is a kind of beast in it that has a head that is only a mouth.’ The three-canvas painting is Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which probably dates from 1944 but was worked on for a number of years and depicts three grotesque figures on a luminous orange background. Normally the three figures would include St John, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene, but elsewhere the Irish-born Protestant Bacon identified them with the Eumenides or Furies, female figures of vengeance. The canvasses have caused debate among Bacon scholars, because they do not include the cross and therefore the potential for salvation. Does the painting represent despair and horror, or salvation through suffering? By looking at this painting and other crucifixions by Bacon, in relation to Alien, I raise the possibility of a backwards infection of reading Bacon’s work as science fiction, through his ongoing engagement with the grotesque, his ‘invisible rooms’ frames within his canvasses, and his use of surreal juxtapositions.
part of: Different visions of Ireland18 Aug 2019, Sunday 11:30 – 12:20, Odeon 6 (Academic) (Point Square Dublin)
1. Dr Andrew M. Butler – ‘“We are meat, we are potential carcasses”: Francis Bacon’s Alien’
2. Dr Richard Howard – ‘Comfort Plus Excitement: Bob Shaw and David Hardy’
3. Val Nolan – ‘Narration and Recurrence in Neil Jordan’s Shade’
Unknown and/or forgotten artists
17 Aug 2019, Saturday 13:30 – 14:20, Odeon 2 (Point Square Dublin)
Some artists enjoy commercial success, while many others stay in the shadows. Why does this happen? Panellists discuss artists who have been forgotten or haven’t received the attention they deserve.
Phil Foglio (Studio Foglio, LLC), Pat Robinson , Sue Mason, Dr Andrew M Butler (Canterbury Christ Church University) (M)
Get us out of the Twilight Zone: the work of Jordan Peele
18 Aug 2019, Sunday 13:30 – 14:20, Stratocaster BC (Point Square Dublin)
With two extraordinary films and a reimagined Twilight Zone under his belt, Jordan Peele has made a huge impact as a weird/horror visionary over the last few years. This panel will discuss Peele’s work: what it says, how it works, and why it matters.
Catriona Ward, Dr Andrew M Butler (Canterbury Christ Church University) , Chris M. Barkley (M), Dr Wanda Kurtçu (California State University, Hayward).
Terry Pratchett: HisWorld (Salisbury Museum, 16 September 2017–13 January 2018)
I’m always a little agnostic when it comes to exhibitions about writers. What is there to show? There was a little confusion when I was writing a critical book about an author as to whether I was writing a biography, and his agent contacted me with the reasonable objection that I hadn’t talked to anyone he knew. I corrected the confusion, but not before the author asserted that he wouldn’t object to a biography.
Continue reading →
I was invited to do an appreciation of Terry Pratchett for the Los Angeles Review of Books blog: “Death and the Author: A Brief Commemoration of Terry Pratchett“.
(Thanks to sister Kelly Butler for additional proof reading.)
It must have been somewhere around 1984 or 1985, and it must have been in Kevin’s bedroom, one lunch time or after school, that there was an advert in a computer magazine for The Colour of Magic (1983). Maybe it was a bit later and it was The Light Fantastic (1985). At some point I bought both — I suspect at a long-lost sf and gaming shop in the Broadmarsh Centre — and read and enjoyed, although I preferred the novel to what was effectively a few novellas. I bought each paperback as it came out and, in 1989 in Leeds at a convention, had the slightly embarrassing experience of queueing up to get an already-signed copy of Mort (1987) signed by Pratchett. I had found copies of The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981) in the local library and read them — indeed I bought the latter when the library sold it.
At some point in the early 1990s I went to a conference on Mikhail Bakhtin in Sheffield, and sat there wondering why no one was talking about Pratchett and Death. Eventually, this turned into an article for Foundation (“Terry Pratchett and the Comedic Bildungsroman” (1996)), which I was never quite sure whether was a parody of an academic or serious. As if there’s a difference. In time, Farah Mendlesohn, Edward James and I edited a collection of essays on Pratchett for Foundation, Guilty of Literature (2001), which was nominated for a best-related book Hugo, and when I started writing books for Pocket Essentials it was one of the ideas I pitched. That was a fun summer or autumn, reading the novels one by one, made weirder by receiving a missive from Colin Smythe.
It had come to someone’s attention that I was writing a biography of Pratchett and people were somewhat aghast that I hadn’t spoken to anyone more than remotely connected to Pratchett. I pointed out that this was a work of criticism — which wasn’t actually reassuring to all parties, but it was hoped that it would be better than the one that three people had edited a couple of years earlier. Coughs quietly. And indeed, I was led to believe that a biography might not be objected to — although I presumed that most of it would be about someone sat at a keyboard. I was invited to visit Colin Smythe and picked up from the station by a large expensive car, and was lent a copy of the book that was going to come out just as we went to press.
At that point I had OD’ed on the novels. At some point I wrote a piece on Only You Can Save Mankind (1992) in relation to other virtual reality war novels — “’We Has Found the Enemy and They Is Us’: Virtual War and Empathy in Four Children’s Science Fiction Novels” (The Lion and the Unicorn (2004) 28(2)) — and I was commissioned to edited a book on Pratchett for Greenwood Press, An Unofficial Companion to the Novels of Terry Pratchett (2008), which damn near killed me. Certainly I could have done without an all-night proof read of the galleys putting right the errors introduced into the manuscript. And I learned — as I had with the Pocket Essentials — that some of Pratchett’s readers don’t like anything other than absolute praise. OK, sobeit: He was the finest comic writer of the last thirty years. But sometimes he nodded.
This is going to go on, but here are two parts of the intro to the Greenwood volume. I’m not sure I ever read Making Money, but I will and no doubt will be lured back to read him. Just because you love a writer’s work, doesn’t mean that it can’t be criticised. Continue reading →