Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

I’m really happy about today’s announcement that Bob Dylan is the first songwriting musician to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Dylan’s career is fascinating.  I love that he has shifted his style/tone over several decades, right up to the folk-drenched, humorous fatalism of his early 2000s work like Love and Theft and Together through Life, taking the kind of risks I’d expect a Nobel laureate to have taken over a life’s work.

He also embodies something that’s quintessentially American: he’s drawn to anger, but he resists it.   In his early folk-singer phase and his later born-again period, he showed a predilection for taking sides and cutting down his enemies with words.  Songs like “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “Property of Jesus” come out of real frustration at humans inability to do right by each other.  He took that attitude and turned it on romantic relationships in albums like Blonde on Blonde and  Blood on the Tracks.

But his best stuff–material on Another Side of Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, Love and Theft--portrays a narrator with a talent for taking sides who shuns that talent.  He’s wise enough to know that path only goes so far.  It’s the wisdom of a person trying to escape a world that rewards them to for being constantly angry.

Another Nobel laureate, W.B. Yeats said “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Dylan’s best songs are about trying to uncompromisingly live in the world between those two extremes, never giving up on honesty, searching for some kind of integrity, and finding comfort in a sense of dark humor.  Some of my favorite examples:

  • “My Back Pages”
  • “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”
  • “Every Grain of Sand”
  • “I Shall Be Released”
  • “Highlands”
  • Modern Times


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My Full Worldcon Schedule

I’m listing my full events schedule for the 74th World Science Fiction Convention (MidAmeriCon II) in Kansas City.  I’ll be at these events for sure–on some as a panelist, and moderating or assisting others.  I’m rounding up the end times (they all end at 10 minutes before the hour, mostly in 50 minute blocks).

Thursday, Aug. 18

  • Utopia: Past and Present, 6:00-7:00 pm, 2504B (panelist)
  • Campbell and Sturgeon Awards & Reception, 7:00-9:00 pm, 2501D (attending and assisting)

Friday, Aug. 19 

  • Preserving the History of the Future (SF Libraries & Archives), 3:00-4:00 pm, 2201 (moderating)

Saturday, Aug. 20

  • Campbell Conference Roundtable, 9:00-11:00 am, 2201 (attending and assisting)
  • Trojan Horse TV, 11:00-Noon, 2204 (moderating)
  • Ancient Greece and Rome in Science Fiction, 4:00-5:00 pm, 2201 (moderating)
  • Economics of Scarcity and Cold War Rhetoric, 5:00-6:00 pm, 2201 (moderating)

Sunday, Aug. 21

  • Third Rock (and Roll) from the Sun, 11:00-Noon, 2207 (panelist)

A couple of elaborations to add.  The panel on “Third Rock (and Roll)…” is about pop music in science fiction and fantasy (not the 90s TV show).  There’s also a panel specifically about David Bowie that I may try to attend on Saturday.  The academic panel on “Economics of Scarcity” will feature readings of classic ’50s invasion films like Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers.  Should be interesting.

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Read My New Short Story at Sockdolager

I have a short story in the Summer 2017 issue of Sockdolager Magazine.  It’s called “River Styx Leads to Athens: The Nearly Complete U.L.O. Story.”

It’s probably better the less I say about it.  Read it before you read the rest of this post.  If you’ve seen me read at ConQuesT in Kansas City, MO or Aimee’s Coffeehouse in Lawrence, KS more than once, it’s likely you’ve heard an earlier version of this one.

As usual, there was a lot of stuff floating around in my head that went into the story: the closing of a few music venues where my old band had played, the cutback in independent music reporting in local weekly tabloids, and whatever debt I owe to four musicians I’ve never met from Athens, Georgia.  Seems a weird way to pay that debt, but also weirdly appropriate.



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Science Fiction Novels I’ll Be Teaching

As I mentioned previously, I am teaching the second half of the University of Kansas’ flagship Intensive Institute on Science Fiction Literature. I’ll be teaching the same novels used in previous years, so I can’t take credit for the curriculum.  It features the following novels:

  • The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
  • The Languages of Pao, Jack Vance
  • Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
  • Gateway, Frederik Pohl
  • The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
  • Timescape, Gregory Benford
  • Darwin’s Radio, Greg Bear
  • Dawn, Octavia Butler
  • Neuromancer, William Gibson
  • Accelerando, Charles Stross
  • Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks
  • Perdido Street Station, China Miéville

It’s a lot to cover in six days, but that’s part of the class’s allure: it’s two weeks of immersion in the history of SF.

If you want more info on the program or context, see the Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s website.

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Science Fiction Panel at ALA San Francisco

The panel I’ve helped put together for the American Literature Association’s conference will be at 8:10 a.m. on Friday, May 26, 2016 in San Francisco.  ALA has posted a draft of the full program if you’d like to see who is appearing.

Our panel is called “American Science Fiction: Utopian Technologies and Feminist Spaces.”  Joining me are Bridgette Barclay from Aurora University  discussing the comic book Bitch Planet, and Michelle Yates from Columbia College Chicago talking about Mad Max: Fury Road.  I’m going to cover two polar utopian novels: The Great White Way by Mark Twain’s biographer Albert Bigelow Paine and Arqtiq by Anna Adolph, a work that features (I think) the first female inventor hero, one who builds her own airship and brings her family along for the ride.

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Nebulas & Sturgeons: 2016 Short Fiction Nominees (So Far)

The Center for the Study of Science Fiction just released their list of nominees for the 2016 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short science-fiction/fantasy story. The list is really strong.  (Full disclosure: I’m on CSSF’s advisory board, but not on the Sturgeon nominating committee… so I’m biased, but didn’t help create the list.)

I always enjoy comparing the Sturgeon list to the list of Nebula Award Nominees for short fiction. I’m curious how these lists resemble each other, and what hints they give about the soon-to-be-announced 2016 Hugo Award nominees.

It is fantastic to see some favorite venues on the Sturgeon list, such as Uncanny Magazine‘s nomination for Hao Jinfang’s story and Strange Horizons’ nomination for Kelly Link’s excellent (as usual) “Game of Smash and Recovery.”

Just glancing, it looks like only five stories made both lists:

Hmmm.  That’s 3 out of 5 from the same venue.  Well played, editor Sheila Williams and the Asimov’s staff!

Are there a few gems that didn’t make the lists? Of course. If you want to find them, a good place to start is SFWA’s recommended reading list, which helps members find works to nominate.

Of course, there are some basic differences in the lists.  The Nebulas list is created by nominations from only Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America members, while the Sturgeons are a juried award.  The Nebulas break works into categories (novella, novelette, short), while Sturgeons lump all short work together into a longer list.

All in all, both lists are solid.  I’ll wait until Hugo noms come out to give further shout-outs to works I’ve enjoyed.

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Juggling Fiction and Non-Fiction

As of this week, I’ve had interest from more than one university press for my non-fiction book proposal.

My book manuscript is a study of 19th-century American fiction, tentatively titled Gears and God: Technocratic Fiction, Faith, and Empire in Mark Twain’s America. It covers proto-science fiction dime novels like the Frank Reade, Jr. series, along several of Twain’s novels, the “hollow Earth” manuscript written by Twain’s brother, and other technocratic novels by Albert Bigelow Paine, Anna Adolph, Pauline Hopkins and others.

I started 2016 with three–count ’em, three–short stories in the “nearly finished” mode. One needs line edits; another needs a better ending.  The longest one had detailed, handwritten notes ready for final revision, but the printed copy was lost when my car was broken into and my backpack was stolen–easy to replicate, but requires time nonetheless.  I also received a revise/resubmit on a story that I really love and spent a chunk of February editing it into a better, stronger story thanks to some good editorial advice.

Now, however, the non-fiction writing takes precedence.   My proposal stated that the manuscript would be done at the end of April–and now that there are presses interested, that deadline is very firm.

It’s a good problem to have, but one that will leave those three short stories unsubmitted for the time being.  And starting a new short is out of the question, though the ideas keep popping up as usual.

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