Fifty years after Russ’s game-changing story, the major sf/f prizes are being won by women, among them N.K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette Kowal, Laura Jean McKay and Martha Wells. To these we can add the posthumous success of Octavia E. Butler and the mainstream acclaim of writers such as Susanna Clarke. Despite such controversies as ‘Puppygate’, sf/f now appears to be a more inclusive place, partly because of the role played by women.
If sf/f has indeed changed, in what ways did women help to cause this happen? On the other hand, does the glamour of sales and literary prizes for a few select authors disguise structural inequities within sf/f that endure from the 1970s? We invite papers of 20 minutes in length that will debate these questions. Possible topics may include (but are not limited to):
Imagining post-patriarchal futures
Lesbian, non-binary and trans representations
Women and Indigenous futurisms
Women and technoculture
Disability studies and the medical humanities
Women, ecology and the ‘Manthropocene’
Space opera and planetary romance
Sf/f and Young Adult fiction
Women and the graphic novel
Video, table-top and role-playing games
Fanzines and fan cultures
Modes of production and consumption – women as editors, reviewers, publishers
Feminist presses and imprints
The New Wave and literary experimentalism
The role of the female auteur in sf music and cinema
Women and sf/f criticism and theory
Exploding the sf/f canon – re-visioning sf/f histories
Sf/f and social/digital media
Transmedia and adaptation studies
Canonisation and the role of literary awards
Proposals of up to 250 words with a bionote of 50 words should be submitted to Dr Paul March-Russell (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 1 August 2022. We are also interested in ideas for panels on special topics related to the conference theme. A selection of papers will be published in the winter 2023 issue of Foundation.
Our Fantasy and Puppetry event celebrated the art of puppets and puppeteers in bringing fantasy and the fantastic to life, on stage, on screen and on the page. If you missed it, you can watch all sessions below. You will also find here a reading list of texts mentioned during these sessions!
Fantasy and Puppetry (Film): Brian and Wendy Froud, interviewed by Terri Windling:
Bringing Fantasy Creatures to Life : William Todd-Jones, interviewed by Terri Windling:
Bringing Fantasy Creatures to Life (Theatre): Howard Gayton:
Panel on Puppets and Puppetry in Fantasy Narratives:
Puppet-related fiction recommended by the panelists
The two lists below were collated from the Zoom comments during all of the Fantasy and Puppetry sessions. Recommendations are listed in alphabetical order and are copied directly from the comments of attendees.
Join us on 26 May 2022 at 5pm BST (on campus and online!) for a public lecture by Dr Lars Schmeink, Leverhulme Professor of German Studies, University of Leeds, on “Changing the Voices of Science Fiction: The Progressive Fantastic in Germany”. The lecture will take place in Room 253 (Seminar Room 1 – Yudowitz), at Wolfson Medical School but will also be broadcast via Zoom webinar. Book your free tickets here.
German science fiction has traditionally been a conservative genre, its main authors to this day mostly white, cis, hetero males of middle age. Until recently, diversity of genders, non-heteronormative sexuality, race or varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds, or representations of other marginalized groups (age, (dis)ability, etc.) has been sorely missing. But there has been a concerted effort by a younger, more diverse group of writers to change the approach to fantastic literature as a whole. Under the umbrella of the “progressive fantastic”, they have called for the inclusion of other identities in speculative fiction, the strengthening of own-voices, and a keen-eyed reexamination of traditions and structures in fantastic texts. In this talk, Dr Schmeink will present the key features of this “progressive fantastic” by looking at exemplary texts of recent German SF production: Judith and Christian Vogts groundbreaking work in writing in a non-heteronormative language and presenting intersectionally diverse communities in Wasteland (2019) and Ace in Space (2020); James Sullivan’s investigation of belonging and self-positioning via Afrofuturist estrangement in Die Stadt der Symbionten (2019), Lena Richter’s subtle emphasis on (dis)abled and neurodivergent characters in her short stories “Feuer” (2020) and “3,78 Lifepoints” (2021), and Theresa Hannig’s reinvigoration of the hopeful narrative strategies of utopia as a genre in Pantopia (2022).
Dr Lars Schmeink is currently Leverhulme Professor of German Studies at the University of Leeds, visiting from his position as Research Fellow at the Europa-Universität Flensburg, where he just applied for funding for a larger research project on science fiction as a form of science communication. Before coming to Leeds, he concluded his work as principal investigator of the federally funded „Science Fiction“ subproject for the „FutureWork“ network, an interdisciplinary research group working on the development of work and society. In 2010, he inaugurated the first German academic organization dealing with research into the fantastic, the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung, and served as its president for ten years. He is the author of Biopunk Dystopias (2016), and the co-editor of Cyberpunk and Visual Culture (2018), The Routledge Companion to Cyberpunk Culture (2020), Fifty Key Figures in Cyberpunk Culture (2022) and New Perspectives on Contemporary German Science Fiction (2022).
In this blog post, we share recommendations for fantasy works that have been neglected, overlooked, or forgotten. We hope to inspire you to pick up one of these books or stories! The recommendations here were shared in one of the bi-weekly meetings for our fantasy PhD students.
Dear reader, I know exactly what you’re thinking! Ursula K Le Guin in a blog post on overlooked fantasy works?
Yet her final fantasy trilogy, Annals of the Western Shore (2004-2007) is curiously ignored. These three novels, Gifts (2004), Voices (2006), and Powers (2007) are set in a fantasy world where both the fantastic and the protagonists are marginalised, side-lined within their own worlds. Despite each novel in the series being award winning, and despite Le Guin’s place at the heart of the fantasy canon, there is almost a complete paucity of scholarship on the series. I suspect this has something to do with their Young Adult categorisation, but maybe also to do with the time in which she wrote and published these novels. After her Earthsea novels (1968-2001) revolutionised fantasy, and the Hainish Cycle (1966-2002) asked bold new questions of science fiction, her work turned inward. After interrogating the patriarchal assumptions of the genre, she turned the critical lens on herself, to stunning effect. Always Coming Home (1985) and the later Earthsea works (2001) re-envisioned her own understanding of fantasy storytelling.
Her mid-2000s writing is rather unexamined in contrast. For me, though, the Annals trilogy suggests a calm settling of her work. All the richness and balance of her writing is still here, but in this Third Age of Le Guin, there is a settled quality to the texts: a certainty and trust in the simplicity of her sentences, and the assuredness of her characterisations. They may not have revolutionised the genre, but these three final fantasy works are ultimately amongst the most moving and readable of Le Guin’s oeuvre. A beautiful conclusion to a wonderful career, but not a complacent ending: typically of Le Guin, these are still urgent and fiery texts at their heart.
Of the three novels, I’ll highlight the concluding one, Powers, which focuses on Gavir, a young man escaping slavery in the city state of Etra. Along with her final novel, Lavinia, this text finds Le Guin delving further back for the inspiration for her setting. In this case, early Roman history provides the rich soil for a novel about how history is written and revolutions are born. This final novel, I would suggest, is the novel for today: a book about re-examining the past whilst urgently facing the future, about migration, postcolonial identity, and a personal exodus in a time of crisis. Pick these books up: you won’t be disappointed!
Tatterdemalion, by Sylvia V Linsteadt & Rima Staines
Recommendation by Lynn R S Genevieve
Tatterdemalion is a piece of speculative fiction but written in a folk-tale manner. The author Sylvia Linsteadt was inspired by the artwork of Rima Staines, who describes her paintings as ‘Waymarkers to the Otherworlds because I am fascinated by the shamanic process inherent in creating art’. What is specifically different about the writer’s process here is that the illustrations came first; Linsteadt used the pictures Staines had already produced to craft a story – and did so extremely successfully. The title Tatterdemalion is evocative of both the process of piecing together the book from scraps and one of the main characters, the ragamuffin Poppy.
There is a helpful ‘Time Line’ rather than a standard index setting out the order of events, but conversely, the story is told in a reverse fashion. A series of ‘Constellations’ are interspersed with other named story chapters. This adds to the patchwork effect of the storytelling, marrying up the disparate paintings with what could be a disjointed narrative if it weren’t for the sign posting. It is an unashamedly feminine perspective, the work of two women, involving intuition, dreams and magic.
I particularly appreciated the style of prose. The mix of an old-world lyricism within a – at first glance – dystopian future is unsettling whilst inviting a familiar warmth of round the fire fairy-tales. There is a deliberate wildness capturing the old Northern European tropes that inhabit much of Staines’ work and placed in (the more familiar to Linsteadt) California. The narrative deliberately sets out to create a future world that has been ‘uncivilised’, recognising the value of the indigenous and the marginal.
I cannot end before introducing a central character, the strange, wheeled creature that came from a painting, called Lyoobov:
‘He came on perfect wheels of skin and wood and bone; he was a leathery-skinned, ancient, trunked beast, rolling the way no orderly thing, no neat instrument of civilization, should roll.’
The impossibility of this being adds to the originality and wonder of this book and I appreciated the thread of imagination reflecting reality, a mirroring of themes held in stories, so important to humanity. The symbolism of this is held in a book within a book within a book; Lyoobov holds one, Poppy tells the tale from one, and you hold one in your own hands when you pick up Tatterdemalion.
I would recommend further exploration of Rima Staines’ work which is far ranging; married to the notable poet, Tom Hirons (Sometimes a Wild God), they have collaborated with Terrie Windling, Jay Griffiths, and Martin Shaw, amongst others.
Varjak Paw and The Outlaw Varjak Paw, by S.F. Said
For my neglected gem, I chose Varjak Paw by S.F. Said. This was partly because I think it’s a uniquely strange, wonderfully gothic children’s book, with a beautiful and haunting illustration style. I feel it has long gone underappreciated, ever since I first read it, aged 11. But now, reflecting back on it as a fantasy scholar, I also think the book is an excellent example of Todorov’s concept of fantastic hesitation.
This duology of books follows a purebred pedigree cat, Varjak Paw, who must leave the safety of his home when it is threatened, and travel into the city looking for a way to save his family. While exploring the urban landscape, Varjak also travels to a fantastical version of Mesopotamia in his dreams. There, he learns ‘the Way’ from his ancestor Jalal: a series of ancient martial arts techniques for cats (for Mesopotamian blue cats, specifically!) In a feline hero’s journey, Varjak embarks on a quest to learn how to defend himself, facing off against monstrously frightening cars, befriending dogs, and attempting to defeat the strange, ghostlike cat, Sally Bones, who rules the city.
The story opens up many uncertainties where fantastic interpretations can reside. We never know if Varjak is truly speaking to Jalal in his dreams. Nor do we know if the abilities of ‘the Way’ are supernatural, or simply a learned set of martial art skills, but they do seem to affect the world as if with magic. Antagonists like the Gentleman and Sally Bones also dwell in the liminal space between the mundane and the supernatural, seemingly possessing preternatural abilities. As a child, I really enjoyed how so few of these ambiguities were explained away, and now I understand that this contributes to the strange, unsettling and fantastic quality of the story.
“The Woman in Red” and “Unmasked”, by Muriel Campbell Dyar
Many think of Victorian fiction as stale, outdated, and often riddled with harmful ideology. However, this is certainly not true of all nineteenth-century literature, and there are some brilliant works which are sadly overlooked despite their quality, originality, and surprisingly pertinence in the twenty-first century. My favourite case in point: Muriel Campbell Dyar’s ‘The Woman in Red’ (1899) and its sequel ‘Unmasked’ (1900), both published in The Black Cat magazine. These two stories are not only excellent works of dark fantasy but, when read together, they also raise important issues concerning men’s attitudes towards women and accountability for their behaviour. Yet, despite Dyar’s talent and the popularity of the first story amongst contemporary readers, the two tales are little known today. Were it not for the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series – set up specifically to recover and share great yet neglected short stories – then I may never have had the pleasure of coming across her work.
The first of Dyar’s pair, ‘The Woman in Red’, features an enchanting, masked woman who enraptures the men around her after suddenly arriving at Monte Carlo with no name and only an old woman for company. With no clues as to her identity but plentiful rumours about her wealth and beauty, it’s not long before the men begin to speculate about who she might be. However, tragedy ensues after one gentleman succeeds in peering behind the mask. A year after this story’s publication, and after high demand for a sequel that ventured deeper into the Woman in Red’s secret, ‘Unmasked’ was published and proudly advertised at the top of the issue as ‘“The Woman in Red” – Unmasked!’. ‘Unmasked’ is equally well-written and reveals an excellently chilling twist that makes the reader question their previous understanding of the events in the first story, and makes a rather poignant remark on men’s mistreatment of women, one that still resonates to this day.
Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem (1915) is a story about the fluctuating lines between reality and superstition, reason and madness, and the frail construction of what we call the self. Using Prague’s streets and alleyways, with their history steeped in folklore and magic, Meyrink tells the stories of the forgotten souls of the Jewish ghetto, whose beliefs and suffering share the stage with legendary creatures such as Golems and Doppelgängers. At its core, the text poses the following questions: if you realized that in this world there is a force superior to you, to your strength and imagination, a force that steers your life in mysterious, even mystical ways, what would you do? Would you feel comforted in the knowledge that every aspect of your life has led you to this moment? Or would you cower in fear, paranoia, for there is a chance that this force is not simply indifferent or benign, but indeed antagonistic to human desires and purposes, and that resistance is futile? Beyond the plot of the novel, Meyrink’s narrative has endured a fantastic history of its own: from being the author’s most renowned novel and a celebrated piece of Germanophonic fantastic fiction at the beginning of the 20th century, The Golem was later banned by the National Socialists and burned due to the narrative’s apparently “harmful worldview”. But the text survived, and its words have inspired scholars and writers of the likes of Gershom Scholem and Jorge Luis Borges. Although obscure and in some corners of the world still unknown or forgotten, The Golem remains a seminal text in the history of European fantastic literature.
Sofia Samatar’s first novel, A Stranger in Olondria (2013), deservedly won numerous plaudits, including the World Fantasy Award. Her second, The Winged Histories, is, in my view, even better. It’s gorgeously written, deeply human and packs incredible richness into its relatively short span. One way of describing it would be as the story of a war, but that isn’t really accurate. Instead, it’s the story of aspects of conflict and its consequences that usually get left out of conventional histories and military epics. It’s told in the voices of four women – a soldier, a scholar, a singer and socialite – reaching back to their roots before the war, winding around the rebellion itself and exploring some of what happens in the aftermath. This makes for an allusive and elliptical narrative, but never a needlessly cryptic one. It’s a book about empathy, and the power of story, and the strength and limits of love. It reworks many of the pleasures of more traditional fantasies (it includes convincing political manipulations, deep histories, cryptic writings and rich romance), but it does so in ways that make these pleasures new, bringing home how differently such things can hit when we hear of them from diverse and self-aware storytellers, rather than from the avatars of a Manichean conflict. It’s intense and sad and keening and wondrous. You should read it as soon as you can.
Katharine Briggs was best known as a folklorist, President of the Folklore Society (1969-1972) and author of many books on folk beliefs about, and literary uses of, fairies. Her work includes key studies on folklore and fairies still very much cited today, including The Anatomy of Puck (1959), The Fairies in Tradition and Literature (1967), the 4-volume Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language (1970-1971) and A Dictionary of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures (1976), among many others. Hobberdy Dick is only one of only two novels for children she ever wrote, and is – for me – a perfect example of a neglected children’s fantasy that really does demand more attention.
The titular Hobberdy Dick is a hob, or hobgoblin, or brownie, a fairy creature tied to a domestic space, usually benevolent if treated well, though playing minor pranks (especially when disrespected), isn’t beyond such a being’s sphere of activities. Dick belongs to a house which is in transition at the very opening of the novel. Our setting is a country house in 1652, just after the English Civil War and the establishment of Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan regime. As the novel begins, the old, royalist family, fallen on hard times, is leaving, and a new, Puritan family are moving in. We have, therefore, a moment of tension between the well-to-do family’s Puritan attitude towards the supernatural (seen as unholy superstitions) and the (still very much living) folklore beliefs of their servants and workers, who know (as does the reader) that fairy creatures, witches, and, yes, hobs too, exist, and should be treated cautiously. The fact that the story is told from Hobberdy Dick’s point of view establishes the supernatural as true, and reveals an entire parallel world of spirits, ghosts, and witchcraft.
What makes this novel special is its combination of historical fiction (well-researched), Briggs’ extensive knowledge of folklore traditions (used very effectively to advance the plot), and, ultimately, the point of view of a fairy being, who plots and schemes to bring about the best result possible for its beloved home, and the human beings he favours. There’s a bit of an unexpected twist at the end, and a very moving conclusion, but I’ll let you discover this for yourselves. I think this little novel is a perfect example of rich folklore scholarship explored via creative practice, something I would love to see more of.
With James Treadwell (author of the Advent trilogy), L. J. MacWhirter (author of Black Snow Falling), Fraser Dallachy (Lecturer in historical linguistics), and Rob Maslen (Co-director of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at Glasgow).
Join us online as we celebrate the launch of James Treadwell’s most recent novel, The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach(Hodder and Stoughton, 2021), with a discussion of fantasy’s obsession with history. Each of our panelists shares this obsession. Treadwell’s novel is set in the late eighteenth century, MacWhirter’s in the time of the Tudors, while Dallachy and his colleagues have advised historical novelists by drawing on the vast resources of the Historical Thesaurus of English. Together they will consider some of the challenges faced by fantasists who choose to set their stories in the past. These may include:
Historical accuracy: does it matter?
Is language magic? (Advance warning: we think it is!)
What’s at stake in your choice of style as you seek to evoke lost times?
Clichés: should we avoid them?
Magic: what part has it played in history?
We’ll also be responding to questions sent in by participants. Come along and be one of them!
James Treadwell is the author of the acclaimed Advent trilogy, about the calamitous return of magic to a world that has forgotten it. These are Advent (2012), Anarchy (2013) and Arcadia (2015), published by Hodder and Stoughton. Before that he was an academic, whose books include Interpreting Wagner (Yale University Press 2003) and Autobiographical Writing and British Literature 1783-1834 (Oxford University Press 2005).
L. J. MacWhirter is an award-winning copywriter and author. Black Snow Falling was published by Scotland Street Press (2018), introducing a new YA mythology in multiple timelines. The 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal and the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award were among its listings and nominations. Liz is currently writing her debut novel for adults, an historical novel with magical realism, in the context of a cross-disciplinary creative practice PhD.
Fraser Dallachy is Lecturer in the Historical Thesaurus of English in the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow. He is Deputy Director of the Historical Thesaurus of English, and is currently working with colleagues both in Glasgow and at the Oxford English Dictionary to update the Thesaurus to its second edition, adding new words, senses, and improved dating to the resource. He has published numerous articles, book chapters and conference proceedings, and maintains several websites, including that of the Historical Thesaurus, second edition.
Rob Maslen is co-Director of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow. He has published Elizabethan Fictions (Oxford University Press, 1997), Shakespeare and Comedy (Bloomsbury 2005), The Shakespeare Handbook (with Michael Schmidt, 2008), and editions of Sir Philip Sidney’s Apology for Poetry (Manchester University Press, 2002), Mervyn Peake’s Collected Poems (Carcanet 2008) and Peake’s Complete Nonsense (with G. Peter Winnington, Carcanet 2011). He blogs at The City of Lost Books (https://thecityoflostbooks.glasgow.ac.uk/).
The Fantasy Horror Reading Group invites you for a night of fun, horror and mayhem with our live-streaming of Cabin in the Woods next Wednesday 27th of October at 19:00 BST. We’ll be hosting the event on Discord, and there’ll also be a film bingo, with the winner being able to choose the topic for our first reading group session of this academic year! The bingo card can be found below, and a copy is also posted on the Discord. For those who haven’t played before, you win when you cross off 5 boxes in a row, having identified the clues in the film. The centre square is blank for you to fill in as you please.
The Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic and the University of Glasgow are happy to announce Dissenting Beliefs, an early career researcher conference on religious heresy and heterodoxy in fantasy literature and media. The conference is free to attend and will be held online via Zoom webinars on 11 December 2021.
Our keynote lecture for the conference will be delivered by Prof. Alana M. Vincent, Professor of Jewish Philosophy, Religion and Imagination at the University of Chester.
You can find the conference CFP here and find our full programme below.
Registration is already open – here is the link to book your free ticket.
Keep up with our latest updates by following Dissenting Beliefs on Facebook and Twitter.
Humans have always written tales of magic and wonder that relate the human to the non-human world, whether that ‘magic’ is folkloristic belief or the modern quasi-scientific speculations and re-imaginings of Science Fiction and Fantasy. But why should this matter in an age of catastrophic climate change?
Join us online on 17 November 2021, at 18:45 GMT, for an event in which colleagues from the Centre of Fantasy and the Fantastic will foreground via short presentations how both traditional folkloric stories as well as past and current Fantasy texts, whether intended for children or adults, usefully serve to imagine our place in the cultural/natural world, including interactions with non-human others. Tales of connection and disconnection—or of utopia and dystopia—are examples of serious play in which solutions to dilemmas, especially the climate crisis, can be explored. In short, narratives of the Fantastic perennially provide not only welcome solace and escape, but also serve to spark new ways of thinking: fantasy is good to think with.
The evening will end with a Creative Writing Workshop led by two experienced workshop leaders so that participants can experiment with their own ideas, hopefully inspired by the presentations that have gone before.
Jack in to the matrix for a cyberpunk book launch! Join Glasgow University’s Dr Anna McFarlane via Zoom webinar at 6PM (BST) on 16th September 2021 to celebrate the launch of Cyberpunk Culture and Psychology: Seeing Through the Mirrorshades. The book explores the work of William Gibson and the influence of cyberpunk science fiction. Anna will introduce her book, including her concept of gestalt literary criticism. She will then be joined by academic and broadcaster Dr Sarah Dillon for a conversation about the book and the journey from PhD thesis to monograph. Finally, Anna will be joined by Dr Graham J. Murphy (Seneca College) and Dr Lars Schmeink (Europa Universität Flensburg), her co-editors on The Routledge Companion to Cyberpunk Culture(2020) to talk about how the book fits in to existing cyberpunk research, and the future of cyberpunk scholarship.