Tag Archives: labour

“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.”

Research on unions and science fiction, mobilized

Last summer, the annual WorldCon (World Science Fiction Convention) included a panel, based on my & Bob Barnetson’s research on representations of unions in science fiction, that featured some of the authors I and co-author Bob Barnetson had discussed, namely Eric Flint and Cory Doctorow. (Wish I’d been there!)

Since then, that panel’s organizer, Olav Rokne, has hosted a still-continuing conversation on this topic via his Twitter account; see the thread (and Rokne’s excellent blog post):

(BTW, if you want a copy of Barnetson’s and my article, “Resistance is futile: on the under-representation of unions in science fiction,” e-mail me a request or see this link for details.)

In related news, I’m finally watching the enthralling TV series The Expanse, based on the eponymous novels by James S.A. Corey, which I think I’ll have to read too, since unions feature so prominently in this story — and, refreshingly, are depicted in a nuanced and more positive than negative light. (They’re about more than strikes, here; they enact an ethos of community, democracy, and the greater good.)

Academic service in the corporatizing university

Here’s a Facebook discussion I had with some friends and colleagues about academic service. I thought it might warrant a wider audience.

The discussion started when I shared a blog post on “Overcoming Post-Tenure Paralysis.”

Me (quoting the post): “Believe it or not, the biggest threat to midcareer professional success is often too many service commitments.”
Uh, damn right I believe it.

Friend: The more government services are cut, the more “volunteer opportunities” are created. The present fascist government would like nothing more than for the 99% to give up political affiliations and actions entirely because we are too busy with “service commitments”. Volunteer less, and protest more. Join a political party. Choose a candidate in the next election and become active in their campaign. (I know I’m preaching to the converted here, Mark, but hitting “like” seemed insufficient this time)

Me: the related story inside the increasingly corporatized university is that the professoriate is asked (or pressured) to do both more and less service: more service to protect collegial governance from corporate-style management, and, in the process, to shoulder governance work the administration should take responsibility for; and yet also less service, in committee work and related commitments that comprise “consultaganda,” giving the barest veneer of legitimacy to the administration’s decisions that it really doesn’t want to genuinely consult about. the documented inflation of senior management roles in universities does not then spell less service for faculty, but more: it becomes busywork to justify administrators’ similarly inflated salaries (thus too is documented) and – coming to my point here – it keeps critical scholars and teachers like me from doing the critical research and teaching that are themselves vital forms of political action.

Friend: Hear hear!

APO colleague: The buzz word I got fed for my job”academic effectiveness”. The moment you start trying to measure whatever the hell that is, you’ve forgotten what the hell a University is there for in the first place.

Contingent academic colleague: …so the tenure track do all this ‘service’, get course releases, then sessionals are paid next to nothing to teach the courses but can’t do research or service work so they also stagnate…. seems like the only people who get mid career success are the admins, what do they do again?

Me: How’s this for a telling symptom? The new issue of University Affairs, which is a national platform for university & college administrators, has a “career advice” article for post-tenure professors – and the advice is, literally, Service, Service, Service, and Service:
http://www.universityaffairs.ca/now-that–i-have-tenure-whats-next.aspx

Contingent academic colleague: I found a niche that doesn’t involve tenure or service, but it took ten years and some serious soul searching… now I teach 50% of the time and work for publishers for the other half, but it’s all on my terms so I’m actually very happy. Decent income, no committees!

Faculty Association staff member: Some ‘service’ work is often downloading work management should be doing and more often doing work that gives the appearance of faculty involvement in decision making. Look for that pesky word ‘recommend’.

Tenured academic colleague: Consultaganda. Just the word I’ve been looking for.

Note: Credit for the “Consultaganda” coinage goes to AU labour studies prof Bob Barnetson.

Alberta Diary blog quotes Frankenstein re: labour legislation

Well, the Alberta Diary blog is quoting Young Frankenstein, in this case.

Blogger David Climenhaga captions a screen shot of Mel Brooks’ version of the iconic “creation scene” as follows: “Premier Alison Redford, in lab coat, centre, and her Progressive Conservative cabinet get ready to bring Consolidated Bargaining to life.”

The reference to Brooks’ parody is itself significant: it signals the blogger’s critical assessment of Consolidated Bargaining as farcical.

It’s for samplings like this that I like my research subject: it turns up in lots of places, in unexpected ways, if often to tell a certain specific story (“the machines designed to serve mankind instead became the executioners of civilization…”). Historically, Frankenstein has tended more to figure labour, especially the working class, than government or business, but of course that’s because the traditional, corporate news media serve and revere the latter, and dismiss and revile the former. Perhaps the rise of “citizen journalism,” as a more diversified supplement to traditional corporate news, is likewise diversifying the possibilities for how journalism makes and spins intertextual references like this one.