The Spinning Plates – Redux

It’s been a while since I updated my to do list. As we start the new academic year, I thought it might be worth dusting it off — not so much showing off as reminding myself that I have things to do and giving you insight as to what we academics do with our ridiculously short working weeks.

Not that you wanted to know.

You’re welcome.

I’m leaving out lectures (four a week on average this term) and if I’m circumspect about details, it’s just because I’m superstitious that way.

  • Notes on bad taste and comedy – tonight
  • Paper on A Scanner Darkly – 30 September
  • abstract on Star Wars – 1 October
  • notes on The Island of Doctor Moreau
  • Paper for Lisbon – mid-November
  • books proposal for Sekrit TTTTTTTT project – asap
  • revise bounced book manuscript – asap
  • three book reviews
  • turn War of the Worlds and The War in the Air papers into articles
  • continue beer research

I note, having read a PhD thesis, I have an idea for an article I will hide from and, having thought a bit about Chuck Tingle, I will move right along.

The Ghost of Academia Future Perfect Subjunctive

So another year over, and what have we done…

In the published corner:

  • ‘Disfigured Myth: The Destruction of London in Postmillennial SF Film’, Foundation, 122 (2015): 122-32.

  • ‘Sleeping/Waking: Politicizing the Sublime in Science Fiction Film Special Effects’. Endangering Science Fiction Film. Edited by Sean Redmond and Leon Marvell, New York and London: Routledge, 2016: 117-31.

  • ‘Human Subjects/Alien Objects? Abjection and the Constructions of Race and Racism in District 9’, Alien Imaginations: Science Fiction and Tales of Transnationalism. Edited by Ulrike Küchler, Silja Maehl and, Graeme Stout, New York: Bloomsbury, 2015: 95-112.
  • ‘Iain M./ Banks’, Twenty-First Century British Writers (Dictionary of Literary Biography). Edited by Tom Ue, Chicago?: Gale, 2015.

Somewhere out there — and I don’t like to talk about work in progress before the ink is dry — are chapters on Adam Roberts, British sf short stories, queer YA sf and perhaps one I forget — editorial work on someone.

I am about to put to bed an article on The Clarke Award and a chapter on a period of sf.

Downsides — the article proposal turned down (but there was some small compensation in that the editor reassured me that I might be able to place it elsewhere, may be in a peer-reviewed venue) and the chapter rejected after much time but short shrift (it may well be crap, but it was not a well-handled project).

To do in 2016:

  • I failed to convert one conference paper into a chapter and probably have missed the boat on that book, but it can feed into another commission I have;
  • to convert the paper on Quest for Love into a chapter;
  • to convert the paper on Mieville I gave at a conference into a chapter (I seem to have fallen off a mailing list there);
  • to return to a book that was bounced and needs work;
  • to produce a book proposal that I’ve been pondering for too many years;
  • to sort out two book proposals for projects that came up some years ago and stalled;
  • beer and brewing and drinking research. I need to be priming the pump.

And I need to do some writing on sf film — maybe go back to the Moon paper and the keynote for the CRSF.

Have I missed anything any of you have asked me to do?

Clearly this is too much for a year. We’ll see.

I See Dead London

“Disfigured Myth: The Destruction of London in Postmillennial SF Film”, Foundation 122, pp. 122-32.

There is a moment in Rob Bowman’s Reign of Fire (2002) when the hero, Quinn Abercromby (Christian Bale), climbs a wall from a river and gazes across at a semi-destroyed Palace of Westminster and says, ‘Well, this town’s gone to Hell.’ It is not the only landmark to have survived several decades of destruction: Tower Bridge has also made it through. This article explores the symbolism and meaning of such landmarks, drawing upon the ideas of Charles Peirce, Roland Barthes and Sigmund Freud, within a number of recent British science fiction films: Reign of Fire, 28 Days Later (2002) and its 2007 sequel, and Children of Men (2006). To already indicate the instability of a British identity that these films work to prop up, only 28 Days Later is a fully British production whereas the others are co-productions. The director of Reign of Fire is American, of 28 Weeks Later Spanish, and of Children of Men Mexican, but they all feature a British-born star (although the protagonist of 28 Days Later is Irish-born).

This is a version of the paper “London Death Drives” I gave at the Worldcon in August 2014, fleshed out and theory-enriched. It strikes me that there are a couple more films that could also be included here (I watched Doomsday (2008) and Flood, but neither quite fitted in the word count) and I’m sure I’ll return to British sf film soon.

May be we are set in our ways — I note here I am still in the Freudian paradigm with the uncanny and the death instinct — but note also the importance of Tom Shippey’s chapter, “The Fall of America in Science Fiction”, in Tom Shippey, ed. Fictional Space, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell for The English Association, 1990), pp. 104–32. That Shippey collection was some of the first serious sf criticism I read and it influences me more than I usuallly realise.

The Trail of the Spinning Plates

So, let’s look at the to-do list based on 26 January 2015, updated 15 March 2015, 3 April 2015 and 20 May 2015:

  • a submitted chapter that needs editorial queries answeringanswered
  • a keynote to write for the SF postgrad conferencedelivered
  • chapter to write for another companion — first draft
  • an article that’s been bounced from a special issue but has been taken up and needs another thousand words addingapparently doesn’t need those words; edited version submitted
  • two a conference papers to convert to an articles
  • a book to read for review
  • a book proposal to finish — I’ve had some ideas
  • a book manuscript to rescue — I printed out chapter one… somewhere
  • several reference book entries that are missing in actionchased and waiting
  • * new * article on The Arthur C. Clarke Award

Shall we note and celebrate the fact that I’ve completed the first draft of something a goodly way ahead of the deadline? I fear that this is something that happens rarely these days (leaving aside the “Can you write this by tomorrow?” commissions).

I have, admittedly, spotted a problemette in it that I ought to think through and solve, although I can see I need to cut 200 words to fit anything in to deal with that.


When I first used a word processor — possibly something like WordStar or Works or LocoScript and then eventually Word 2 — there were a couple of limitations. I recall having to carry six floppy disks around with me to run the programme, and I think that was in addition to the actual file you were working on.



And those 3 1/2 inch disks were somewhat new fangled.

The other thing was that filenames were of the type abdcefgh.123. Eight characters and a suffix — txt, doc, ps. My PHD thesis, which I have most of electronically was


No, don’t ask me why the naming convention isn’t consistent.

These days we don’t have to use eight characters and we’re much more used to having nested folders — but equally used to using several machines, pendrives, clouds and gdrives. We can be sensible in our naming conventions.

Let us imagine that I am working on a chapter for a Cambridge Companion.[1] I write a file and I save it as CAMBRIDGE.DOC. That’s nine characters. Living on the edge.

Professor Neil James is editing a Cambridge Companion which consists of twelve chapters. So far, the day after the deadline, he has seven files called CAMBRIDGE.DOC.[2] This, obviously, is aggrannoying, so he renames them by contributor and then I get back a file called BUTLER.DOC. To go with the fifty or so I already have of that name.

Now, what would be more sensible is to have a naming convention where the project and author is clear. So call it CAMBRIDGE BUTLER.DOC. Or, maybe, BUTLER CAMBRIDGE.DOC, but I reckon the first will alphabeticise better. Then go a stage further and add a date or a version.

This is a whole other bundle of fun – I have a file called CAMBRIDGE FINAL.DOC. Which is fine, until I come to rewrite the file or I spot something else to change or there’s a possible edit to make but I don’t want lose the other version. So try something like CAMBRIDGE SUBMITTED JUNE 2015.DOC.

Ah, dating conventions.[3] To my eyes small, medium, large is sensible. So, day/month/year is superior to month/day/year. Fourth of July, not July fourth.

But alphabeticisation means CAMBRIDGE SUBMITTED 2015 6 14.DOC is better than CAMBRIDGE SUBMITTED 15 6 2015.DOC.

I’m noting that increasingly whatever version of Word it is I’m on, it opens the file as Read-Only and when I try to save as, I’m told the file already exists so CAMBRIDGE SUBMITTED 2015 6 14.DOC becomes CAMBRIDGE SUBMITTED 2015 6 14a.DOC. But maybe an archive of each version per day you’ve done is useful, even if you need to tidy up every few days. You risk editing older files in error if you’ve not sorted properly.

The next trick is to start investigating the tags and comments functions, to help you find the file that you are after in Windows Explorer (or equivalent). And to make sure I put this into action myself.

1. In fact I’m writing for two, but that’s another story.
2. The other five have yet to be submitted.
3. Split the bill.

The Good Companions

I have two chapters for companions on the to do list — a chronological survey for one, something meatier for the other, and Current Events seem to be swelling the materials for the latter, which does need to be written first. I would like to write something soon that doesn’t involved holding my nose. Heigho.

In the meantime, the survey is definitely a game of two halves and I’m pondering quite how I swing things around, given that there’s a large no go zone which is the other chapter on the same materials. I am the cause of reaction and a reaction to that reaction. I can see where I’m going to end, but I need to stick the teleology in the mix and work out the route there. All very post hoc, of course. At some point I’ll need to talk to the other writer on the shadow chapter. And work out how much of the three thousand words I wrote in November are usable.

A Howl of Defeat

Among other things, I’ve been watching a horror franchise over the last month and have reached film six of seven — the idea being to get a paper proposal together for a conference which seemed as much an excuse to return to a particular town as anything else (although I reckon it will be a good conference). The paper probably would be useful context for the next Major Project.

But the deadline for proposals came and went earlier this week and I didn’t write more than a sentence of the abstract. Whilst publicly admitting defeat is usually the spark that makes me think OF COURSE — IT’S REALLY ABOUT … I think I shall admit defeat and stay defeated. (Of course, the organisers may accept a late throw in.) I shall blog the films in due course and will enter self-protection mode. There’s enough to write and redraft as it is.

You win some, you lose some.

See also under: Rugs, Persian

It’s striking how many articles that come into journals for review — or essays that are submitted to be marked — that lack any sense of the secondary literature. Admittedly, I learned whatever craft I have in the days of card catalogue indexes and scholarly indices of periodicals and going through bloody contents pages of journals, so I had it easier than the young rapscallions and skallywags who have to make do with mere search engines to several thousand journals.

Still, it is annoying to locate three articles on a subject that I’ve already published on, which didn’t appear to have been indexed when I’d done the research.

I have a habit of being very — what is the word? — instinctive. I’ll be convinced that X is connected to Y and get some way into writing about Y before I research X. I was convinced, say, that Mary Douglas’s work would help an understanding of The Sparrow, but I didn’t really put this to the test by reading Purity and Danger for rather too long. One of these days I’ll push my luck too far.

So I’d been reliant on my considerable gut on this particular piece and ran out of steam. I needed something else to kick start it. Oddly, I chose to read Adam Roberts’s Science Fiction, one chapter in particular, and a particular term jumped out.

Of course. Slaps forehead.

Searches in search engine for X and Z.

First two results: articles which discuss X, Y and Z. On the one hand, pay dirt. On the other hand, maybe someone already wrote the bleeding chapter. (They hadn’t.)
So, it might be a new journal collection or a new algorithm, but those three articles didn’t show up when I did the research on Y — which admittedly is about two years ago. One of them should have shown up.

But nothing’s wasted, as a chapter I have to write by May will use that very nicely, thank you very much, and my instinct is colliding ideas rather nicely. No research goes unused.

Meanwhile, I am plugging away at a conference paper on “Random Quest” and Quest for Love (you know, the one I wrote on Sunday, ahem) and am struck by how little has been written on John Wyndham. The secondary research on this story has more or less drawn a blank, but my gut says I have enough for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, here’s one learned analysis of another short story by Wyndham. I shan’t insult your intelligence by telling you which one.