JFA 18.2 (2007)

Editor’s Introduction

Brian Attebery

A scholar works alone. So I was led to believe throughout my graduate education: my job was to delve into obscure tomes and manuscripts; glean bits of information and insight; and, sitting in my solitary carrel or bookstrewn bedroom, assemble those bits into compelling narratives and coherent arguments, revising and polishing until the whole thing was ready for posting off to a set of similarly isolated readers.

Then I went to the fourth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Boca Raton, Florida. I didn’t know what to expect: my experiences at academic conferences had only included a few Ordeals by Interview at the MLA and my first paper presentation at the South Atlantic MLA. At the latter I was scheduled opposite a humor session that included Art Buchwald and Russell Baker, an experience which gave me a new appreciation of the King’s lines in Henry V: “We few, we happy few…”

Then at the ICFA, I found myself surrounded by other people who valued the same books I did. I came face to face with people whose work I knew, whose ideas I had cribbed for my own work (properly cited, of course). Transformed from listings in bibliographies into real people, these scholars proved to be, as one would expect, articulate and imaginative. One might not expect that they would be so witty or so welcoming as they turned out to be. This welcome extended not only to me, as a distinctly junior scholar, but also to the students who attended—then mostly local students of Bob Collins’s from Florida Atlantic University.

Along with junior and senior scholars, the ICFA attracted distinguished writers, artists, editors, and publishers. To my surprise, there was no dividing line between the academics and the writers—which is not always the case even in science fiction and fantasy circles. A poolside conversation might draw in both Wolfes—scholar Gary and writer Gene. A late-night session of old music-hall songs would likely include Brian Aldiss along with a motley assortment of students and critics whose critical faculties were temporarily dulled. If we had not already formed friendships during the rest of the conference, we bonded in common suffering at what must be the worst conference banquet in history. At my table, we all donated our inedible, probably instant, mashed potatoes to make a model of Mount Rushmore, with a collective cry of “This means something!”

Over the years, succeeding conferences have carried on these traditions even as the conference grew and evolved. The food has improved; the number of students participating and the range of their home institutions have increased manyfold; guests both distinguished and eccentric have come and gone; various sponsors have stepped in and disappeared; some attendees have drifted away or, sadly, died; the location veered from Florida to Texas and then back again; the Conference spawned an Association and then a Journal. Through all these changes, the culture of the organization has remained continuous. It has become, and remains, an annual literary salon: a social event that is also an incubator for ideas, literary and critical movements, editorial projects, and alliances.

The conference now seems to be more or less self-sustaining (though not without considerable behind-the-scenes planning and maneuvering). It is also self-correcting: outbreaks of old-boyism and self-congratulation have been quashed and new voices have been invited in. 2008 saw a successful transplanting of the ICFA from its two-decade home of Ft. Lauderdale to Orlando. We on the board were not sure whether the move would work, but evidently the spindizzies (for you James Blish fans) were in working order, lifting the conference in a single piece. Not a member, an amenity, or a theoretical tenet was lost.

One effect of my regular attendance at the conference has been that I no longer see scholarship as a solitary activity. I read critical essays and hear the dialog that is going on behind the words on the page. Instead of “works cited,” I see a list of collaborators and colleagues. I don’t see any piece of scholarly writing as either complete or self-contained but rather as a snapshot of the scholar’s thinking at a particular moment. Both the scholarship and the scholar represent composites of many individual voices and insights, like the imprinted personalities of “4,000 dead men” from which the central character in Greg Egan’s “Reasons to be Cheerful” must build a new self (94). This is a truism of poststructural thought when it comes to works of literature—that they are nodes in a network rather than integral wholes—but it took me awhile to realize that the same was true of academic writing, including my own.

This issue of the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts is a good one to represent the interactive nature of scholarship. The selections that follow are all connected to the 28th annual conference, the last one held in Ft. Lauderdale. The conference theme of “Representing Self and Other: Gender and Sexuality in the Fantastic” is an appropriate one for thinking about unbounded and permeable selfhood, since both the scholarly ideal and the impermeable Cartesian self are gendered concepts, traditionally reserved for masculine identities. This is not a proceedings volume, and yet the contents all reflect conference activities. Most obviously, we are publishing the addresses of Guest Scholar Jane Donawerth and Guest of Honor Geoff Ryman. We were delighted to have both of these distinguished attendees; we are equally delighted to be able to offer their talks in print form to open and close our conference issue. Donawerth has been a major influence on many of us who study feminist science fiction, and her discussion of technology and representation of gender brings to the field a new and provocative set of ideas from rhetorical analysis. Ryman also discusses television and gender; his elegant distinction between grandsurface and small-surface science fiction is a tremendously useful way to talk about the genre’s contradictory nature.

The academic essays in this issue are developed from papers delivered at the conference and convey something of the rich and stimulating mix one finds in the paper sessions. Rachel Haywood Ferreira’s essay on Latin American science fiction opens up a field of which most of us linguistically challenged sf readers are unaware. Andrea Hairston’s discussion of Peter Jackson’s re-animation of King Kong doubles as academic analysis and witty performance piece; I was lucky enough to hear it delivered, and I only regret that readers of the print version will lose her brilliant delivery. Richard Landon’s “A Half-Naked Muscleman in Trunks” was the winner of the annual competition for best paper by a graduate student, but it appears here not as a student entry but as a peer-reviewed essay; Landon’s investigation of gendered images of comic-book masculinity is an original and substantial piece of scholarship. Finally, Gary K. Wolfe and Amelia Beamer form an interesting collaborative team, not only because they come from different backgrounds, one scholarly and the other creative (they converge as contributors to Locus magazine), but also because their collective voice defies categorization by gender, something like the collaborative author that was C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Wolfe and Beamer turn their joint perspective on a genre, horror, and on a writer, Peter Straub, who has helped to transform that genre into something new. They give this new category the name “transcendental horror,” a term that I hope to see picked up at subsequent years of the ICFA and in the ongoing conversation that is the academic world.

Work Cited

Egan, Greg. “Reasons to Be Cheerful.” 1997. The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fifteenth Annual Collection. Ed. Gardner Dozois. New York: St. Martins, 1998. 69–94.


“Performing the Technologies of Gender: Representations of Television in Science Fiction by Women”
Jane Donawerth

“By Burro and by Beagle: Geographical Journeys through Time in Latin America”
Rachel Haywood Ferreira

“Lord of the Monsters: Minstrelsy Redux: King Kong, Hip Hop, and the Brutal Black Buck”
Andrea Hairston

“A Half-Naked Muscleman in Trunks: Charles Atlas, Superheroes, and Comic Book Masculinity”
Richard Landon

“Peter Straub and Transcendental Horror”
Gary K. Wolfe and Amelia Beamer

“The Science Fiction Dream”
Geoff Ryman


Justin D. Edwards’s Gothic Canada: Reading the Spectre of a National Literature
Rev. by Madeline Ashby

Marina Warner’s Monsters of Our Own Making: The Peculiar Pleasures of Fear
Rev. by Michael Levy

Lisa Hopkins’s Bram Stoker: A Literary Life
Rev. by Elizabeth Miller

Marjorie Burns’s Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-earth
Rev. by Faye Ringel

Robert Kolker’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: New Essays
Rev. by David N. Samuelson

Robert Kolker’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: New Essays
Rev. by C. Jason Smith

Dunja M. Mohr’s Worlds Apart? Dualism and Transgression in Contemporary Female Dystopias
Rev. by Douglas W. Texter

James Gunn’s Inside Science Fiction
Rev. by Scott Vander Ploeg

H. G. Wells’s Star Begotten: A Biological Fantasia
Rev. by Jason P. Vest

Todd McGowan’s The Impossible David Lynch
Rev. by D. Harlan Wilson