Category Archives: Reading

The lost last paragraph of our review of The Expanse

[no spoilers]

In spring 2021, a review of The Expanse TV series that I co-wrote with SFF author Heather Clitheroe was published in the open-access journal SFRA Review. (It got a surprise, much-appreciated nod from the authors.) The Review‘s editors had advised we cut the whole last paragraph of our draft. For that journal, the cut was right, a darling killed for length and tone. But having just finished the ninth and final Expanse novel, Leviathan Falls, today–after re-reading the first eight since September, and as new episodes of the sixth and final Expanse series are now airing weekly–I thought that last paragraph is worth retrieving and sharing now. My co-author had lamented its lopping off; moreover, everything I’ve read and watched this month has only affirmed it. So voilà:

As the generally glowing tone of all this commentary may suggest, the time of this writing finds one of your co-authors (McCutcheon) unexpectedly a fan again. Unaccustomed to unalloyed adulation, he’s not one to use the term “fan” lightly: after decades as an English professor, a man pushing fifty figures the profession has disciplined out of him the capacity for fandom–its afición. How little time has he to read a book based on a show–never mind burn through all the things the show’s based on. A man’s happy to be so wrong, hasn’t felt possessed by such weird and fierce fanhood since Star Wars. How welcome, in a world of relentless catastrophe, to encounter an epic page-burner that can ambush a jaded reader, reigniting fanboy delight in love and rockets’ flight, inviting critical self-reflection on a settler-colonial youth steeped in Westerns, and sharing a novel vision of solidarity, no less. How surprisingly the encounter restores to him both the sheer plaisir du texte and a glimpse of hope for all humankind.

I admit that’s a bit ebullient for academia; but I also meant it to echo a bit of Miller.

Meanwhile, more of my commentary on this extraordinary set of texts is forthcoming, in a chapter in Frankenstein and STEAM (U Delaware P, 2022) and in other research-creation in progress. For now, I’m still processing the finale of this epic and timely story, and looking forward to Friday’s episode…and fighting the temptation to pick up Leviathan Falls again and reread it right away.

My home library’s Expanse collection: 5004 pages of killer space opera

“This Machine Chills Copyright Bots”: a #DJmix coda to #FairDealingWeek

A mad mash of Billie Eilish, Deadmau5, Lil Jon, Carly Rae Jepsen, Armand Van Helden, Public Enemy, Young Galaxy et al:

The general idea here’s a thick mix–2-4 tracks playing at most times* (all in the key of Gm/Bb)–seeking to scramble copyright bots’ capacity to discern properties; and in the process to share a genre-bent (#twotone) music mix for use in your socials that hopefully won’t get taken down by copyright bots. Which are just the worst judges of #fairuse and #fairdealing. (If you do use this mix but find your socials take it down, I’d welcome a comment about it.)
What CV Dazzle is to face recognition tech, a mix like this wants to be to automated copyright enforcement. And a coda to #fairdealingweek.
(* except the intermezzo with Sasha’s “Xpander”)

This mix, btw, began as an improvised #ValentinesDay jam for my basement #rollerskating fam…which I add to reflect how critique proceeds as a labour of love.

Downloadable-file version: TBA. Here’s the full track list:

“Alien is the thing that made me want to write the books”: Ty Franck

Alien is the thing that made me want to write the books and the screenplays for the show,” says Ty Franck—half of the authorial team known by their nom de plume, James S.A. Corey—on the 16 Dec. 2020 episode of The Expanse Aftershow. Talking with Thomas Jane, director of season 5’s third episode, “Mother”, and Wes Chatham, Franck expounds:

“The movie Alien is the single largest influence on The Expanse. I saw that movie when I was, like, I think ten or eleven, and it never left my mind…so, the two characters in Alien that are what The Expanse is, is Parker and Brett. Two guys in jumpsuits walking around fixing pipes on a spaceship, and they’re treating it like a job. They’re not starfleet, they’re not admirals, they’re not like Klingons. They’re a couple of guys with pipe wrenches fixing stuff and complaining they don’t get as much money as everybody else…those guys, those two guys are the foundation of The Expanse.”

As a scholar of science fiction’s representations of labour, I find Franck’s reflection a helpful specification of the source material for The Expanse’s refreshingly sympathetic depictions of organized labour. I find three particular things striking about his words here:

  • It’s a clear, co-authorial assertion of labour and working-class perspective as an oppositional premise (“they’re not…”), and thus as both an aesthetic and an ethos;
  • It’s an open acknowledgment of intertextual influence and (unlicensed) adaptation, and so it models transformative fair use (as does a lot of SF, to be fair); and
  • In the process of explaining Alien’s influence, Franck also names—inadvertently, perhaps, but suggestively—two other SF classics, viz., “foundation” and “the thing.”

10 of the best books I read in 2020

In chronological order (of when I read them):

  1. Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year
  2. James S.A. Corey, The Expanse (series)
  3. Ursula K. Leguin, The Lathe of Heaven
  4. Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad
  5. Natalee Caple, Love in the Chthulucene (Cthulhucene)
  6. Shirley Jackson, Novels & Stories
  7. Dionne Brand, Luce Ostinata / Tenacious Light
  8. Joshua Whitehead, Full-Metal Indigiqueer
  9. Jeffrey Weinstock, ed., The Monster Theory Reader
  10. Philip Pullman, The Book Of Dust (series)

“Ravel” by Mary Dalton (a cento from Hooking, 2013)

This weekend I’m giving a talk at the Interdisciplinary Workshop on the Technique of Cento Texts, hosted by the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. The poem I’ll be discussing as a case study is “Ravel” by Mary Dalton, from her book of centos, Hooking (Véhicule P, 2013). I’m sharing an annotated copy of that poem here so other delegates can read it, since it is hard enough to find in Canada, never mind elsewhere. (I’m sharing this copy under educational fair dealing auspices, and will delete it from this post after the weekend.)

Link

New post at my other blog: “On fielding a press inquiry about how pop culture depicts the oil industry”

English professors don’t often get press inquiries, but a writer for EnergyWire, an oil business-facing news service, contacted me last week to ask what I think of the video for Justin Bieber’s new song “Holy.”…

Leonard Cohen, operating in the night

“Montreal is still small enough to have one or two centres, one or two late night centres, and into this funnel is drawn everyone who happens to be up that night or at least a representation of the various groups operating in the night, and groups operating in the night always have a special kind of interest and a special kind of ritualistic atmosphere. 

“And into these places, these special places in the city, and Ben’s is one of them, is drawn this very urgent cross section of people who have somehow committed the first rebellious act that a man can perform: refusing to sleep. 

“That’s the real rebellion against life and the generative process. That’s the real human idea: I refuse to sleep. I’m going to protest the idea of sleep by turning night into day.

“I’m going to revel and drink and womanize all night and this way I show time, death, the natural process of destruction, decay and regeneration — I show it all with my mind and my will that I, man, triumph. And so they come to Ben’s.”

–Leonard Cohen, quoted in Ladies & Gentlemen…Mr Leonard Cohen (NFB, 1965)

[A thousand thanks to you, Mr Leonard Cohen, for showing us how the light gets in. And for being the light.]

On the “literary turn” in non-literary disciplines

A thought about the late spate of studies like this one, just reported in The Guardian:

“Literary fiction readers understand others’ emotions better, study finds: Research by US social scientists found that those who read novels by the likes of Toni Morrison and Harper Lee do better on ‘theory of mind’ tests. Genre fans do not.”

Read the full article on Dr Kidd and Castano’s study, and/or read the study itself.
Anyway, my thought is this: literary studies have long valued & practiced interdisciplinarity; but, from recent neuroscience studies on novel reading and empathy, to this latest sociological research on fiction, the apparent “literary turn” of other disciplines — often better funded and better reported disciplines — is maybe cause to ask (at the risk of seeming protectionist) to what extent those other disciplines are engaging with literary study — or colonizing it?

New MA course on Canadian prairie poetry & drama at Athabasca U

Athabasca University’s MA in Integrated Studies program is pleased to offer a new group-study* course for the coming fall semester: Poetry and Drama of the Canadian Prairies (MAIS 752).
The course is open to enrollment by students not just in Athabasca U’s MA program, but also in other Canadian and international graduate programs that recognize and transfer AU course credits.  Interested grad students can e-mail AU’s MA program office at cis@athabascau.ca for more information or to enroll. (Enrollment deadline: Aug. 15.)

ForgetSK_26June2016

Highway 13 sign pointing to the town of Forget, Saskatchewan.

* “Group study”: Some of AU’s graduate programs use an online grouped study format. Students in these courses augment their studies with online group discussions and learning activities. Online grouped study courses are usually 13 weeks long and start in May, September or January. There are no extensions for these courses.

New Fronts in the Copyfight, Part 2

Now published, just in time for Fair Dealing Week 2016: Part 2 of New Fronts in the Copyfight, my guest-edited series in Digital Studies/Le champ numérique (DSCN). DSCN is an open access journal in the Digital Humanities. New Fronts in the Copyfight is a series featuring innovative, multidisciplinary directions in critical copyright studies. The new installment includes research articles by Dr Carolyn Guertin (author of Digital Prohibition) on digitally remixed creativity, and by Dr Daniel Downes (author of Interactive Realism and co-editor of Post-Colonial Distances) on a theory of “transproperty.” The installment also includes my review of Rosemary Coombe et al’s Dynamic Fair Dealing (2014), an excellent book, and a timely one, given the fast-approaching review of Canada’s amended copyright act and the copyright implications of the signed but not yet ratified Trans-Pacific Partnership.