Armed Force(s): The Last Jedi and Elvis Costello

I’m obsessed with places where science fiction and pop music overlap. So I loved seeing recent reports about a veiled reference to musician Elvis Costello in the latest Star Wars movie.

Apparently, director Rian Johnson used the moniker “DJ” for Benicio Del Toro’s morally ambiguous hacker in The Last Jedi as a tip of the hat to Costello and his 1979 album, Armed Forces.

Promotional material for that album had a military theme, including photos with Costello holding a rifle to his mouth, looking like he’s ready to blow his brains out. The logo on these simply says “DON’T JOIN.”

Johnson reported that the character’s name is “DJ” is a reference to that “don’t join” slogan from Armed Forces‘ promotional material. It’s actually the character’s motto rather than his name, according to some Star Wars books. (It’s also on the character’s hat in the movie, but I never could read it clearly.)

Costello fans know that Armed Forces‘ working title was Emotional Fascism. The songwriter was wrestling with the rise of neo-fascists in 70s England. (The “Mister Oswald” referenced in his early single “Less than Zero”, for example, was British fascist Oswald Mosley.) Costello often found himself (lyrically) drawing parallels between fascist government and boy/girl romantic relationships, which played into the entire album’s cynicism.

Links to the original articles are under the photos of Elvis (one on left is designed by Barney Bubbles and from, the right is from the link on ign’s article below):



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My Book’s on Amazon Now

My publisher wrote to let me know that Gears and God is now available for pre-order at Amazon.  It gives the release date as July 10, 2018 (so just in time for Worldcon).


You can read the publisher’s summary, the “about the author” stuff, as well as Gregory Pfitzer’s fantastic complimentary blurb.

I’ll post a better photo of the cover soon.


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C19 Paper Acceptance: In Nemo’s Footsteps

Last week, I learned that I’ll be presenting a paper at the C19 Conference at the University of New Mexico, March 22-25, 2018. The conference theme is “Climate.”

My paper is called “In Nemo’s Footsteps: U.S. Responses to Verne’s Oceanic Internationalism.” I’ll be discussing the influence of Jules Verne on American writers in the 1880s and 90s and the removal of political content from Verne’s works by English translators. Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea portrays the ocean as a place for radical transformation of the political status quo. American writers, however, often mimicked the content of the de-politicized Verne bowdlerizations, and (perhaps unsurprisingly, and quite contrary to Verne) their undersea narratives view the ocean as an area for colonization and military expansion.

My paper covers two of the more complex variants of this problem: inventor dime novels featuring Frank Reade, Jr. and Tom Edison, Jr., who each use submarines to facilitate U.S. sovereignty.

C19 is the Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists: “the first academic organization dedicated to nineteenth-century American literary and cultural studies.” Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to the other presentations featured at this event.

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Twain and Dime-Novel Science Fiction

If you’re interested in listening to my October 11, 2017 guest lecture on “Mark Twain and the Inventor Fiction Boom, 1876-1910” the audio is now available online.

You can’t watch the slideshow that went with it, but there is a photo on WENY TV News’s article about the event.

The event was part of Elmira College’s “Trouble Begins” Mark Twain lecture series. It’s hosted in Elmira, NY, home of Twain’s in-laws and the place where he spent summers writing some of his most famous books.

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Gears and God Book Editing

BOOK UPDATE: I received publisher’s final copy-edits on my book, Gears and God, from University of Alabama press last night. I have about three weeks to spend going over them, checking for accuracy or making small revisions.

I’ll be doing at least some of the editing while I’m in Elmira, NY for a Quarry Farm Fellowship, staying at the house where Mark Twain wrote much of his fiction.


Photo from


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Upcoming Mark Twain Lecture

Here are final details on my upcoming presentation at Elmira College’s “Trouble Begins” Mark Twain Lecture Series:

“Mark Twain and the Inventor Fiction Boom:
Technology Meets American Conceit, 1876-1910”
Wednesday, October 11
at The Barn at Quarry Farm
Elmira, NY
7:00 p.m.

Elmira’s website has a preview with more about the lecture series. The photo on their site is the bat-winged aerial ballon from Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894).

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New Doctor Who is a Woman (and Still Kinda Bowie)

Kudos to David Llewellyn who immediately noted the similarity between Jodie Whittaker in the promo for her new Doctor Who and the cover of David Bowie’s Low.  His tweet was picked up by NME earlier last week.

Low A side.tif


I’ve blogged about Capaldi’s interest in Bowie as he crafted his portrayal of the Doctor, even noting other musicians who match previous doctors. It’s nice to see the trend continue.

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