Tag Archives: review

Review of The Expanse TV series

with apology for an erratum

A new review of The Expanse TV series, co-written by SFF writer Heather Clitheroe and yours truly, is out today in the SFRA Review.

The Expanse may ruin other space opera for you…It’s worth it.”

And then the Expanse creators shared a very kind shout-out about the piece…making today this fan’s best ever May the 4th.

An unlooked-for kindness that an astute reader promptly rendered ironic by observing (to my mortification) that I’d misrepresented an Indigenous actor’s identity:

In working to correct this error, I’m reminded how attentive, sensitive readers like this speak to the calibre of the series and its capacity to generate and (mayhaps) organize such ardent community.

Review of #frankensteinapp for iOS

The British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies’ Media Reviews site has published my review of Dave Morris’ Frankenstein, an interactive fiction app for iOS. It’s an arch adaptation of prior adaptations, and a teachable text. (I particularly like the subtle nod to Blade Runner, but identifying it here would be a bit of a spoiler.)

Review of Fringe Festival Forum on risk in theatre (and risk in reviewing theatre)

On Wednesday I went to the third of the Edmonton Fringe Festival’s three free forums: “A Fringe Too Far? What Risks Do We Really Take?” The panel consisted of four playwrights – Marty Chan, Kristen Finlay, Nicole Shafenacker, and Mark Stubbings – and was moderated by playwright and theatre administrator Eric Rice. The panelists spoke to the topic with reference to their own work and their experiences with the Fringe Festival, and the moderator accommodated lots of questions and comments from the audience, which seemed largely comprised of other theatre professionals.

Fringe Festival playbills. (Detail of “Village of the Fringed” by mastermaq, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.)

The discussion of risk tended to address three areas of risk in particular: artistic risk, commercial risk, and political risk. I was most interested in the latter, but it occupied the least discussion of these three areas. The discussion of artistic risk focused on the playwrights’ process in writing about (and performing) personally, psychologically, and politically daunting subjects: what subjects is the playwright willing or unwilling to explore? The discussion of commercial risk seemed to predominate the panel discussion: it encompassed considerations of commercial failure, commercial success, and – interestingly – the role of reviews in making or breaking fringe shows. To the point that the panel almost became a session on reviews, and how playwrights respond to them. Playwrights reflected on good and bad reviews, on the changing culture of reviewing in the wake of social media (when a tweet-sized review can travel faster and farther than traditional word of mouth), and on the difference between journalistic theatre reviews and critical reviews. Many playwrights and audience members shared the sense that journalistic reviews (i.e. those in newspapers) aren’t so much about the artistic success of the play as they are about telling a personal story about the theatre-going experience that the reader can relate to – and that the reader can use to decide how best to spend one’s entertainment money.

In light of the perceived prevalence of this kind of review, and the corresponding perceived dearth of critique, a very interesting suggestion arose: for the festival to consider hosting a workshop for would-be theatre reviewers. Festival program director Thomas Scott mentioned previous workshops in which theatre practitioners reviewed reviews, and then subjected their meta-reviews in turn to further meta-meta-review by others. This kind of workshop caught my imagination; it’s the sort of thing I myself teach in an introductory graduate course on literary studies, in which the students are tasked to critique selected critiques of major literary works (rather than critique the works themselves). Such a workshop could encompass a range of different forms and media, for instance: how to review not only for newspapers, but, say, for blogs, or even for Twitter. It might also consider not only the forms but also the content of theatre reviews: is this an envelope that can be pushed, say, in the manner of Vice magazine’s record reviews, or the avant garde restaurant reviewing dramatized to great comic effect in Russell Smith’s novel Noise?

James hung up and typed,

A wine-list of compassion, generosity and near-Proustian comprehensiveness – but a toothache-sweet intra-course sherbet shrivels the more ethereal choices. A gregarious duck in blood orange sauce consorts freely with wild rice, raisins, almonds and vinegary cabbage – a precarious success, arranged with the zest of fauvist painting. Marrakech Tuna steak on soya-sake butter of chocolatey richness (both rice and salt only distant notes, perfectly balanced), plus amusingly proletarian tempura onions. (14)

Despite commanding relatively little comment, the discussion of political risk yielded some important insights. I asked specifically about the potential intervention of our notoriously anti-arts and culture government in the festival: would it or has it ever threatened to pull funding over a controversial production? Not this festival – given its un-juried structure, what Chan called its “free-market, grassroots” character, as a kind of scene for enabling rather than preprogramming specific productions. (Though arts funding was apparently pulled from Summerworks in Toronto once; that event is juried, hence the organizers assume more responsibility for the staged material.) The political risk, then, falls on the individual artist, not the collective event. In terms of the festival itself, the panel and audience seemed to share the impression that politically risky material is less prohibited than promoted; less taboo than tonic for an audience necessarily predisposed (unlike the federal government) to be interested in the arts. “Preaching to the choir,” as one of the panelists put it. While the playwrights spoke frankly and bravely about the political risks they have taken, I think the clearest delineation of the non-negotiable threshold for political – and legal – risk in fringe theatre was starkly and concisely expressed by program director Scott:

No sex on stage.

So that’s the threshold of acceptable political risk for the festival, the line beyond which the cops would get called in. Good to know (in the non-biblical sense).

Review essay on Afro-Futurist anthology

I’ve written a review essay on a recent Afro-Futurism anthology, Afro-Future Females, in the current issue of Extrapolation.

“Debating the histories and futures of black science fiction.” Review of Barr, Marlene S., ed. Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New-Wave Trajectory (Ohio State University Press, 2008). Extrapolation 52.2 (2011): 246-68.

Barr’s edited collection is worth a look, as one

whose aims in reading black women’s sf are to re-imagine sf, to advance anti-racist critique, and to reckon with slavery’s legacies.

And it invites teaching uses by taking creative liberties with the edited collection format,

gathering fiction and interviews together with research and criticism … the collection’s dialogic mix invites the reader to a seat at the table where the histories and futures of black sf are being intensely discussed and debated.

But it’s also a book to argue with.

To claim—and I quote—that “Bill Cosby is the father of black science fiction” (18) is to do a gross disservice not just to Delany but to Sun Ra, to Lee Perry, to George Clinton … [and] is symptomatic of the book’s need to engage more closely with the extant literature on Afro-Futurism.

Either way, there’s lots of productive reading here. Find out more in the full version, or check out the book itself.

The stakes of literary criticism

The stakes of literary criticism sometimes turn out to be higher than prevailing preconceptions about it would suggest (you know, the preconceptions involving elbow patches, overpaid obscurantism, and social irrelevance). For instance, earlier this year a New York law professor faced criminal libel charges in France for publishing a critical book review. Around the same time, a Kuwaiti blogger got sued for posting a bad restaurant review.

The counter-discourse about literary criticism as a matter of life or death has roots in the pamphlet and periodical hostilities that marked (and marred) print culture in the Romantic period. The most famous example is the poet Keats, famously sensitive to critical reviews. “Who killed John Keats?” asked Byron in 1821, promptly answering on behalf of one particularly persecuting periodical: “‘I,’ says the Quarterly…”

But Keats’ case is still figurative, not literal, after all: it wasn’t bad reviews that actually killed Keats — it was tuberculosis, whose close reading skills apply only to deconstructing the ambiguities and aporias of the body’s immune system. Rather, the real life-or-death stakes of literary criticism surface in the fact that most negative reviews themselves were published anonymously — as were numerous now-famous novels, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to Walter Scott’s Waverley series, to Austen’s oeuvre. As William St Clair argues in his endlessly absorbing study The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, “anonymity protected publishers and printers from the law of libel” (174).

Perhaps that’s a protection that some of the aforementioned present-day critics wish they had, just as, perhaps, it’s a protection that explains the death of netiquette and the ubiquity of commentating trolls. But anonymity warded against more than just libel in the romantic period:

Anonymity also reduced the risk of being called out to fight in a duel, a form of literary criticism which killed more than one writer of the romantic period. (175)

Such wryly observed literary history puts in perspective “the death of the author,” reminding us of a time when an act of reading represented a kind of re-writing that was radically and literally tantamount to murder (not even murder most foul, but murder socially sanctioned, at that). Let’s hope that, amidst increasingly extremist, neoliberal forms of deregulation, IP law enforcement, and extreme sports (like ultimate fighting or chessboxing), the current spate of libel actions against critics doesn’t augur a return to the good old bad old days when running an unfavourable critique could risk catching a bullet.


Cross-blogged from the AU Landing