Off to WorldCon I go…

Where to find me at MidAmeriConII (WorldCon) in Kansas City

I’ve got a great schedule of programming this week at MidAmeriConII (the 2016 World Science Fiction Convention). I hope to see you there!


Panel title: The Interstices of Historical and Fanfiction

Day/Time: Wednesday Aug 17 at 07:00 PM to 08:00 PM

Location: Kansas City Convention Center – 2204
Historical fiction is a work of literature, comic, film, or television program set in the past. Fanfiction is a work of fiction produced by fans for fans, using famous people or source texts as their inspiration. Frequently the worlds overlap. Let’s discuss the overlaps, benefits, and pitfalls of working in these genres. The overlaps include writing fanfiction about historical fiction, setting fanfiction in an alternative universe by placing the narrative in a different historical era, fanworks about real-life historical figures (Historical RPF), or historical fanworks — any fanwork set in the past.

With Lyda Morehouse; Ms Sumana Harihareswara; Teresa Nielsen Hayden


Panel title: Joyful Disruption: Narratology and the SF/F Franchise (Solo presentation)

Day/Time: Thursday Aug 18 at 09:00 AM to 10:00 AM

Location: Kansas City Convention Center – 2201

Despite familiar complaints about the lack of creativity, interlocking franchise stories like those in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars saga rely on complex narrative functions that I weave together into a cohesive theory involving disruption among layers of narrative; the role of canon, and other forms of cultural memory; and textual boundaries. My overall goal is to identify what it is about these franchise stories that creates “built-in” loyal audiences in the first place. In other words, I’m working to answer the question, what are the narrative features of these franchises that keep bringing audiences back time and again?


Panel title: Science Fiction at Universities: Creating the Canon

Day/Time:Thursday Aug 18   06:00 PM to 07:00 PM

Location: Kansas City Convention Center – 2204

Different universities including Dundee, Liverpool and the local Kansas City University run science fiction courses. The reading material they cite as foundational varies considerably, with some including very few women, PoC or otherwise diverse SF while others start from a basis that SF began with Mary Shelley and includes works such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915) and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s, We (1921). What influence do university courses have on canon formation and what responsibilities do they have in representing and encouraging awareness of the diversity of material that is published?

With Dr. Paul Booth; Ms. Lynne M. Thomas; Gary Wolfe


Panel title: I Don’t Believe in Science

Day/Time: Sunday Aug 21   01:00 PM to 02:00 PM

Location: Kansas City Convention Center – 2204

All too often we hear about people who “Don’t Believe in Science”, but science isn’t about belief.  A discussion about why talking about science in terms of belief does science, and faith, a disservice.

Moderating this discussion with panelists Renée Sieber, Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, Carl Fink, and Benjamin C. Kinney.


Some Extended Thoughts on Fandom and Canon, a Blog Series; Post #3: Canon’s Dark Side

Earlier this summer, I contributed to Adam Sternbergh’s research for a New York Magazine article on fandom and canon that was published in the July 27 issue (see here for the article). As I wrote in the previous two posts, I am sharing some of my perspectives that didn’t make it into the final published version via a series of weekly blog posts. Today’s focus is the dark side of canon used as an exclusionary tactic and gatekeeping mechanism to separate out “real” fans from the rest of us.

One thing that became clear for me while doing the research for The Science Fiction Reboot is that fans do not always wield the power of canon with an accompanying level of responsibility (or even common decency in some cases). Canon has been employed in much less joyful ways, particularly with long-running stories such as those in the comics universes and Star Trek. All one has to do is Google “Star Trek in Name Only” or “fake geek girls” to see this dark side in action (though I would add significant content warnings to those searches for abuse of all kinds, especially misogynistic).

One particular manifestation of this dark side (pun intended) that I encounter anytime I talk about Star Wars is those who declare that the prequels “do not exist” (as if they somehow live in a parallel universe where the movies were not made and released), which has also led to the social media meme/trend where “real” fan-parents pledge to only show their children Episodes IV-VI, “as it should be.” I covered my personal frustration with this attitude in the Afterword of The Science Fiction Reboot but, the TL;DR of my take on the prequels versus original trilogy “debate” would be that it was never going to be possible for anyone, let alone a mere mortal like George Lucas, to recapture the magic fans associate with those original three movies for those who saw them between 1977 and 1999. What can be indisputably observed, however, is the magical effect the prequel trilogy and related television series (Clone Wars and now Rebels) has on the children born after 2000, who encounter all six episodes. The magic lives.

There are also those who have expressed similar indignation at the canon “trim” to the Star Wars universe currently in process at Lucasfilm/Disney Studios. Some fans who enjoyed the extended universe (primarily the novel series that continued the story post-Return of the Jedi) are quite distressed that the events and characters in those stories will not be part of the ongoing canon. And they have been quite vocal, even vulgar, about it online.

To use the cliche, it seems we are either damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Not all changes to canon in reboots work for all fans. And when we write it that directly, it seems so obvious. Yet, there are those who seem to believe that their self-proclaimed status in a particular fandom endows them with the authority to pass judgment over what is “allowed” in canon and what is not. Such “authority” also seems to include deciding who may identify as a fan and who may not. I’m not talking about criticism or critique; I mean outright rejection of a text’s existence as part of the canon. I have said to my students several times over various genre courses that when you reject a text, whether it is a reboot or a sequel or even just a story arc you didn’t like, you are also rejecting the fans of that text at the same time.

That is not the fandom community I want to be a part of. Rather, I can illustrate what fandom community can be with a brief story about the first time I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron on its opening weekend this past May. I was attending the Northeast Modern Language Association conference in Toronto and so went to a screening with a few fellow scholars. During our dinner after the movie, I spent most of my time answering questions about the Marvel Cinematic Universe for these three friends who were much more well-versed in the comics canon than I can ever hope to be. It could have become a competition at that point, and at other times in fan spaces it has, but we didn’t let it go there.

The competing levels of canon, and differing experiences with these stories, don’t have to be barriers to community or gates keeping the “unworthy” out of the realm. I’ve heard several times at conventions that the great thing about fandom is that when someone learns you haven’t read/watched/played a particular genre favorite, the response is not judgment or disdain but, in the vernacular, a “squee” of “Oh my God, you have to see/read/play it! Let me see if I have a copy with me I can lend you.” I’ve experienced both the dark and the light side of fandom and have seen canon employed for both good and evil (as it were).
Next up in the blog series on fandom and canon: the phenomenon known as “head canon.”

Hugo Award Eligible Work: Better Late Than Never

We are more than a month into Hugo Award nominating season and I have begun collecting recommendations for eligible works that I want to check out before the deadline of March 31, 2014.

And I suppose it is high time that I also posted details on my own Hugo-eligible book: The Science Fiction Reboot (eligible for Best Related Work).

The Science Fiction Reboot page here includes links and details about the analysis and conclusions I come to in the book about reboots such as Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, V, and even Star Wars. But here are a few you might be interested in visiting:

I am particularly proud of this book because of the way I was able to blend my academic training with my fandom. I was introduced to narrative theory in the fall 2000 semester, during the first required course of my Master of Arts in Writing program, and most definitely didn’t get it. But, as I grew as a scholar, I came to not only understand the theory, but also its inherent power for explaining my fannish experiences. This book, like my other publications, is so strongly rooted in fandom because it is based on several ideas I just couldn’t get out of my head until I wrote them down. So write them down I did.

But there are many more categories in the Hugos and here are just a few of the works/authors I am considering nominating (with related links):

** I’m not the only one recommending Lissa for this award, by the way. Harlan Ellison is urging us to do so as well. See this link to his boards for the original location of this blurb: “I urge any of you who have the Vote to suggest an excellent new writer named LISSA PRICE who wrote STARTERS for Random House YA last year for the upcoming bestowment of the John W. Campbell Award — Most Promising New Writer. A very good read, a sparkling choice for the JWC newcomer trophy. Go viral with this hurrah, if you like, and tell’m SFWA Grand Master Harlan Ellison sent’cha!”

And here are a few resources that list many other eligible works:

So my question is: What else am I missing? What else should be on my ballot?

You have until the end of March to leave a comment here with suggestions.

Happy reading/viewing!

Where to find me at Arisia 2014 (January 17-20)

For those of you attending Arisia (at the Westin Boston Waterfront from January 17 through 20, 2014), here is my panel schedule. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, January 18

Time: 7:00 pm

Panel #: 458: Why Do So Many YA Franchises Bomb Onscreen?

Location: Paine

Description: For every Twilight, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games, there seem to be dozens of perfectly successful books that fizzle on screen: The Host, The Golden Compass, The Mortal Instruments, Beautiful Creatures, Percy Jackson, etc. Why do some of these hit books translate so well, and others never gain any traction? Is it about the quality of the film, the marketing, or just a fickle audience?


Sunday, January 19

Time: 10:00 am

Panel #: 267: Once Upon a Time (I’ll be moderating this panel)

Location: Paine

Description: It’s campy, it’s cheesy, and it’s not exactly the first show any of us admit to watching. However, it’s not only entering its third season as a hit, but it’s launching a spin-off, and it seems to bring in big-name guest stars every week. Come discuss your favorite ways the show has updated classic characters, your favorite moments, and your concerns about both Once Upon a Time and spin-off Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

Time: 1:00 pm

Panel #: 128: Fan Speak: The Language of Fandom

Location: Independence

Description: What communications styles, methods, and vocabulary seem unique to fandom? Hyperbole seems to be used more than in mainstream speech. Also, literary and media references are more common. Interrupting conversation isn’t seen as rude. How did these patterns develop and why? Have they changed?

Time: 2:30 pm

Panel #: 471: Star Wars: What’s Next

Location: Paine

Description: JJ Abrams is taking over the Star Wars franchise under the auspices of Disney. Other than lens flares, what does this mean for the series? On the TV front, Clone Wars has ended, and rumors of a live-action series continue to spread. We’ll talk about the state of the franchise on all fronts during this panel

Time: 4:00 pm

Panel #: 512: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Location: Paine

Description: Now that the second movie in the trilogy is out, how do people feel about the way the movies are going? Is it still toeing the line between being faithful to the books and accessible to the newcomers? Did the change from Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence as director work? Is Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss still a great heroine? We’ll share our thoughts on the movie, as well as speculation for the final film, in this lively panel.

Time: 5:30 pm

Panel #: 262: Marvel Cinematic (and TV) Universe

Location: Burroughs

Description: The last year has given us new entries in the Iron Man and Thor franchises on the big screen, and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe moves forward, how are things looking? Are the stories still fresh? Does the TV show have long-term potential? Are we worried about Guardians of the Galaxy?

Time: 7:00 pm

Panel #: 429: Found Families in Speculative Fiction

Location: Faneuil

Description: A lot of fans find a home/family in fandom. Found families are also a common theme in specific, both written and in TV shows such as Farscape and Star Trek. What narrative and thematic purposes can found families serve? How does this trope resonate with other themes present in speculative fiction?



Monday, January 20

Time: 1:00 pm

Panel #: 462: SF/F as an Ongoing Conversation

Location: Alcott

Description: John Scalzi’s Redshirts is only the most recent work of SF/F that responds directly to tropes, themes or claims in another work of SF/F. Sometimes parodies, sometimes commentaries, sometimes angry rebuttals, our genre has a long tradition of dialectic, perhaps enabled by how small a group we are. How does this dialectic function, what are some of its major landmarks, and what are the pivotal points in the conversation right now?

My LoneStarCon 3 (2013 World Con) Schedule

For those who will be in San Antonio at the end of the month, here is where you can find me at LoneStarCon 3. If you have any ideas on these topics that you’d like me to share during the panel, be sure to leave a comment at the end.

FanAc: Steampunk Fashion and Digital Fandom

Saturday, 8/31 12:00 – 13:00

Paper session.

Courtney Stoker of Lone Star College presents “My Corset Is Just As Political as Your Tech: Steampunk Fashion and Its Subversive Potential.”

Heather Urbanski presents “Rhetorical Memory and Digital Fandom.”

From Child of Fortune to The Hunger Games

Saturday 8/31 14:00 – 15:00

Child of Fortune: How does its young female protagonist compare with those in today’s SF, especially Hunger Games?

Ginjer Buchanan , Emilie P. Bush, Heather Urbanski

Reading: Heather Urbanski

Saturday 8/31 17:00 – 17:30

The Science Fiction Reboot

Summer Blockbusters – 2013

Monday 9/2 10:00 – 11:00

This year’s summer blockbusters are now (almost) history. Iron Man 3, Star Trek…it’s all over but the long form Hugo nominations. Let’s discuss this year’s crop. Why are they always franchises?

Mark Oshiro, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Elektra Hammond, Heather Urbanski

Headturning Moments in Star Trek Into Darkness

Warning: Spoilers for Into Darkness

In The Science Fiction Reboot, I describe the experience of what I call the “headturning moment” as “a reaction generated by a scene, snippet of dialogue, or some other cinematic feature that causes audience members to turn to their neighbors and comment (usually) quietly. This is best observed from the back of a movie theater, as the shadowed heads seem to move in unison.”

I first noticed these moments in 1997, during an opening-night (of course) showing of the Special Edition of Star Wars: A New Hope. Every time something new or different appeared on the screen, I watched the heads of those in front of me turn to the side (and since I always prefer to sit toward the back of a theater, especially with stadium seating, I had a great view of this). It occurred to me that even someone who had never seen the original Star Wars (if there is such a person) would know just from the audience reactions which elements were different in this new edition.

That observation rattled around in my head for years until I finally found a way to weave it into my academic work. In fact, the headturning moment was one of the early keys to “breaking” the analysis that would eventually become The Science Fiction Reboot. Even those reboots that don’t occur on the big screen (like Battlestar Galactica and V) have their own equivalent: the text messages sent during shows and online live fan discussion board chats.

When it comes to such moments in the 2009 Star Trek, though, I didn’t identify quite as many in Reboot as I would have thought. One remarkable example, of course, is the “redshirt” moment early in the film where we have no doubt about Engineer Olsen’s fate when he appears in a red spacejump suit. Overall, though, the second film in the Star Trek reboot, this year’s Into Darkness, was full of headturning moments. And this time, I observed them not only by watching those in front of me but also out of the corner of my eye, as my companions for that screening were fans on the lookout for just such moments.

Before I saw the film, I had diligently avoided spoilers and so had three theories of how the reboot was going to tweak the original Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn:

  1. Kirk was going to sacrifice himself instead of Spock (but I didn’t know how they were going to revive him);
  2. Spock would repeat his sacrifice (but, again, with the destruction of Vulcan, I had no idea how he would be resurrected); and
  3. Spock Prime would intervene and sacrifice himself, representing a permanent break from the original timeline.

Those who have seen the movie know that my first theory was correct, and that Kahn’s “super-blood” was the unanticipated (for me anyway) solution to reviving Kirk. And I was fine with that. I had a feeling, from the opening scenes where Kahn uses his blood to save a little girl in exchange for her father (a Starfleet officer) blowing up the Kelvin Memorial Archive, that something similar would happen at the end to save Kirk. But even though I saw it coming, I still enjoyed the movie tremendously.

And that early “event” (in narratology terms) was the second headturning moment of the film. I’ve listed, in order of appearance, five others that seemed significant in Star Trek Into Darkness as well as a bit of explanation and reflection on my reactions. Did your favorite make my list?

  • “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Zachary Quinto’s Spock delivers this line in the opening sequence, even before the title appears, at once fulfilling and frustrating fan expectations for the film. If he says it then, we wonder, what will he say at the end of the movie?
  • “Go put on a red shirt.” My heart dropped when I heard Kirk tell Chekov to change his uniform because he was taking over as Chief Engineer for Scotty, who had resigned in protest over the new top-secret torpedoes. Knowing that the reboot had completely freed Abrams and company from the previous timeline, I really thought they might kill off Chekov in this film.
  • The appearance of Carol Marcus. I have to admit that this is one of the moments that I missed on my first viewing, in large part because I am not as familiar with the original movies as my companions were. But when Spock revealed that the new science officer’s name was actually Carol Marcus, long-time Trekkers knew, or at least suspected, she would not only end up being on the right side of the story, but that she would survive the film because, in the original timeline, she is the mother of Kirk’s son, David.*
  • “Bones, what are you doing with that tribble?” I think this is my favorite from the film, probably because of my childhood memories of seeing “Trouble with Tribbles” in the Aldan Elementary School cafeteria. Not only does this exchange between Kirk and McCoy give a brief nod to that iconic episode of the original Star Trek series, but McCoy’s attempt to revive that tribble using Kahn’s blood also foreshadows the eventual solution to Into Darkness’s reversal to come (see below).
  • “This is what you would have done.”/“Khan!” Of course, this is the climax of the reboot’s reversal of the original ending of the Enterprise’s deadly encounter with Kahn. Kirk and Spock trade places, with the former sacrificing himself to save the ship and the latter screaming with rage at the death of his friend. Heads turned when Chris Pine’s Kirk says, “This is what you would have done,” because, of course, in the other timeline, it is exactly what Spock did do. Well, maybe not exactly as it seems telling that the rebooted Kirk’s actions to save the Enterprise are much more physically demanding than what was required of the original Spock in Wrath of Kahn.

* In my own defense, though, there is a reason I didn’t recognize this character. Her only appearance, before Into Darkness, was in Wrath of Kahn and that is a film I have not seen in its entirety, and even then not willingly, since it was originally released in 1982. The early scene on Ceti Alpha V where the eels crawl their way into the brains of Chekov and another Starfleet officer was too much for me to handle at the age of six and just the thought of that movie makes me shudder even today.