JFA 20.2 (2009)

Editor’s Introduction

“Introduction: Conferring, Convening, Conversing, Communing”
Brian Attebery

The late, great Idaho historian Merle Wells was gloriously eccentric. One of his idiosyncrasies was a way of carrying a conversation across gaps of time. If he hadn’t seen you for two years, he would remember exactly what you were talking about the last time and launch, without preamble, into his next point in the discussion. “Oh, say, about those Finnish homesteaders,” he might begin, and heaven help you if you didn’t remember which Finnish homesteaders or what the issue might have been.

Dr. Wells’s conversational style turns out to be particularly well suited to academic conferences and fan conventions. Some of my best discussions have been spread out over two or three trips to the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, with maybe an addendum at Wiscon. Some are still suspended, waiting for the next Science Fiction Research Association meeting or Readercon. I’ve learned over the years not to try to wind everything up at the end of a conference; better to leave a topic on the table to be picked up when chance and common interests bring the conversational partners back together.

More recently I’ve been thinking that the conversation doesn’t really wait for the next face-to-face meeting—or even e-mail. In Fred Pohl’s brilliant story “Day Million,” two lovers meet for a day, exchange information, and separate forever, but each carries an avatar of the other, a virtual replica with whom he or she can talk, make love, and grow old. A more recent version of the same idea is the beautiful, hallucinatory visitor, known as Six, who takes up residence in the head of Battlestar Galactica’s Dr. Baltar. We all have these versions of “Head Six.” We are all continually engaged in conversation with those who have touched our lives and contributed to our thoughts.

In the world of scholarship, which educational philosopher Robert Maynard Hutchins taught us to call the Great Conversation, discussions are never concluded and cases are never closed. The old guys (i.e., the “Great Books”) keep talking, picking up, like Merle Wells, right where they left off. Newer voices join them, asking questions, forcing them to defend their assumptions, reframing their arguments, keeping them alive. It’s a nice metaphor. It doesn’t matter that each of us has to supply the air that keeps those voices resonating. We do the same for other silent speakers: for instance, all the great fictional characters, the ones who jump right out of their books to keep reminding us of their ways of seeing the world. Conversations that never took place in the real world never have to end.

But even if the conversation goes on, there is loss when a participant joins the ranks of the silent. This year, we lost two people whose conversations I have enjoyed for decades, at ICFA and elsewhere. I met Charles N. Brown, founder and longtime editor of Locus, at the first SFRA I attended. Actually, we met on the shuttle from the airport to the campus at Kent State University in 1985. I confess I had never heard of Locus then. It took a couple of years for Charles to convince me that I should subscribe. Now I am utterly dependent on it, not only to find out what is happening in the fields of science fiction and fantasy but also to keep up with all the other friends I have made at cons and conferences. My conversations with Charles over the years rarely took a serious critical turn. We mostly talked about mutual friends, food, and music. Our shared interest in great fiction was taken for granted: there if we wanted to pick it up, but mostly an unstated understanding. We read what each other wrote and mostly agreed; we didn’t have to comment.

The other loss this year is Robert A. Collins, founder of the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Like Charlie, Bob edited a semipro magazine, Fantasy Review; I still turn to old copies for interviews and information. In this issue, we have tributes from people who knew Bob better than I did, although I enjoyed about a quarter century of conversations with him, mostly (as with Charles Brown) on non-literary topics. People don’t really exchange information most of the time. The purpose of a lot of talk is simply to maintain contact—what linguists call phatic communication. We say, “How are you?” “What have you been up to?” “Nice weather, isn’t it?” and we don’t expect substantial answers. We are keeping the channels open. Sometimes the channel is more important than the message. In that respect, many of us owe both Bob Collins and Charles Brown a tremendous debt. They both created new channels for sharing ideas and opinions on sf and fantasy. This journal is an offshoot of the Conference on the Fantastic and, more indirectly, of Fantasy Review, which folded into the Association’s newsletter, which then led Carl Yoke, Roger Schlobin, and others to see the need for a more formal venue for scholarship on the fantastic.

So if you are reading this, you are participating in a conversation that would not exist without Bob Collins or, probably, Charles Brown, although neither is around to offer new observations. I have my own versions of “Head Six” for both men. Between them, they pretty much fill the niche of Inner Curmudgeon, which is a very good thing when it makes me check my own ideas or attitude. I regret that my unfinished conversations will not be taken up at the next conference, but they both made it possible for me to keep talking to others. Don’t be surprised at the next ICFA if I come up to you and in my best Merle Wells voice say something like, “Well, say, about those Finnish fantasy novels…” I’m just transferring the conversation from Charlie Brown and Bob Collins to you, their designated successors. Communication continues.

This issue of JFA focuses on the 2009 ICFA, which was devoted to the theme of Time and the Fantastic. Besides the tributes to Robert Collins, we have something from each of the invited guests. From children’s literature scholar Maria Nikolajeva, we have a talk on time and totalitarianism, and from one of our guest writers, Guy Gavriel Kay, a consideration of the ethical collision between two ways of representing time—fiction and biographical experience. Our other guest writer, Robert Charles Wilson, is represented by an interview addressing his own practice of transforming history and change into provocative fictions of the future. Thanks to all three for their participation in both the live and print versions of our ongoing symposium, and also to Graham Murphy for both interviewing Wilson and preparing their discussion for publication. I’m happy to have started conversations with Wilson and Kay, whom I had not met before; one of the perks of this editorial position is the chance to correspond with such interesting and intelligent people. With Nikolajeva, the Conference was a chance for me to resume a discussion that started in Stockholm in 1988.

We have three peer-reviewed articles as well, all related in different ways to the conference and its theme. Longtime attendee Sandra Lindow gave a paper that was one of the first academic treatments of Ursula K. Le Guin’s historical- fantastical novel Lavinia, itself a dialogue with Vergil’s Aeneid. Lindow’s fine reading is presented here in a fuller form. Sandor Klapcsik was named the winner of this year’s Jamie Bishop Memorial Award, given by the IAFA to the best critical essay in a language other than English, for an essay entitled “Scanners Darkly: Drugs, Media and Schizophrenia in Philip K. Dick’s Oeuvre.” He is represented here by a different essay, on Neil Gaiman’s tricky but user-friendly brand of intertextuality (the equivalent in fiction of our unending academic colloquies). Finally, we have Kurt Fawver writing on time in the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Fawver’s essay was the winner of the 2009 Graduate Student Award; as in the past few years, it also went through our reviewing and revision process. The strength of these graduate student entries testifies to the high level of interest and ability among younger scholars in our field. The conversation will continue.

Works Cited

Hutchins, Robert Maynard. The Great Conversation: The Substance of a Liberal Education. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1952. Print. Great Books of the Western World 1.

Pohl, Frederik. “Day Million.” 1966. The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960–1990. Ed. Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery, with Karen Joy Fowler. New York: Norton, 1993. 166–70. Print.


“A Tribute to IAFA Founder Robert A. Collins”
Carol McGuirk, Rob Latham, Bill Senior, and Judith Collins McCormick

“Maria Nikolajeva: An Introduction”
Michael Levy

“Time and Totalitarianism”
Maria Nikolajeva

“The Double-edged Nature of Neil Gaiman’s Ironical Perspectives and Liminal Fantasies”
Sandor Klapcsik

“Higher Verisimilitude and the Weirdness of the Universe: An Interview with Robert Charles Wilson”
Graham J. Murphy

“Lavinia: A Woman Reinvents Herself in Fact and/or Fiction”
Sandra J. Lindow

“Guy Gavriel Kay: An Introduction”
Gary K. Wolfe

“The Fiction of Privacy: Fantasy and the Past”
Guy Gavriel Kay

“‘Present’-ly Safe: The Anthropocentricism of Time in H. P. Lovecraft’s Fiction”
Kurt Fawver

Review Essay

“Starting the Conversation”
Paul Kincaid


Benjamin A. Brabon and Stephanie Genz’s Postfeminist Gothic: Critical Interventions in Contemporary Culture
Rev. by Janice M. Bogstad

Edgar Cézar Nolasco and Rodolfo Rorato Londero’s Volta ao Mundo da Ficção Científica [Around the World of Science Fiction]
Rev. by Marcello Simão Branco

Carrol L. Fry’s Cinema of the Occult: New Age, Satanism, Wicca, and Spiritualism in Film
Rev. by J. Robert Craig

Steven M. Sanders’s The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film
Rev. by Michael J. Klein

Irene Andrés-Suárez and Ana Casas’s Cristina Fernández Cubas
Rev. by Dale Knickerbocker

Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan’s Exploring the Utopian Impulse: Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice
Rev. by Thomas J. Morrissey

Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock’s Scare Tactics: Supernatural Fiction by American Women
Rev. by Kathy Davis Patterson

Valerie Steele and Jennifer Park’s Gothic: Dark Glamour
Rev. by Carol Siegel

Benjamin Szumskyj’s Dissecting Hannibal Lecter: Essays on the Novels of Thomas Harris
Rev. by Jason P. Vest

Raphael Comprone’s Four Major Latin American Writers—Pablo Neruda, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel García Márquez
Rev. by Stephenie A. Young