Category Archives: Pirates

Thoughts on this year’s ICFA.

(Note: At some point my blog decided it no longer liked the word “from.” It wouldn’t post if I had too many of them. So after a while you’ll find “frm” instead. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

Spectacular! I got back from this year’s International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts just this morning. Was there since Wednesday last (today’s Monday) and already sorely miss being there.

It was my second one, I blogged my reactions to my first, last year: Back from the ICFA. It’s very likely this year was even better, despite a couple major downers:
Most disappointing, my wife couldn’t come along with. 🙁 Since the conference overlapped Easter, she needed to stay home and do family-time for the holiday. She had a great time last year, and I’m going to make sure she can go next year even if it means shanghai’ing her. *wink*
The other downer was I couldn’t afford to stay in the (nice) hotel the conference was held at, despite the conference rates. Had to stay in an Econo Lodge a few miles away. Not a huge deal, but very annoying and inconvenient.

But on the plus sides:
The friends we made last year came back! (Well, Mrs. P. and Ms. N. did, and Ms. B. for some of the time. Unfortunately, Mr. B. and “The Germans” couldn’t make it, but I did get an opportunity to get better acquainted with other regulars which was nice. The more the merrier!
But I have to say, I’m so glad to have gotten a chance to get to be better friends with P. and N. They’re smart, funny as all-get-out, friendly, talented, and are a real inspiration for me to keep working on my own writing! I so suck at corresponding with people, but I pledge to do so with them. More in a bit….

Alright, the conference.
It was held at a much nicer hotel than in years past, and in Orlando instead of Ft. Lauderdale. And the best thing, there was a variety of restaurants in the area! Although I mainly went to Bennigan’s. *grin* Miss them since leaving Iowa (although, I have to say, I was disappointed with their Ruben).

I attended a variety of sessions, but I tried to focus on ones that involved a posthuman subject or approach, since that’s my main area of scholarly focus. One panel in particular that was rather entertaining and wildly informative, was “Cyberpunk and Beyond.” The panel included editor Ellen Datlow (I’ve always liked her editing…how nerdy is that?!), James Patrick Kelly, and John Kessel (and some other fellow I didn’t know, but who also didn’t participate in the panel much). Kessel and Kelly have edited compilations together, such as Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology (which I’d gotten not long ago for research on my own paper), and it was just hilarious how the two bickered and argued and corrected each other. Like an old married couple. While they were so often at odds, you could still detect the professional respect they have for each other. It was great. Datlow found herself often in the middle of Kessel’s dour dismissals and Kelly’s theatricality.

Anyway, that panel was about discussing what made up cyberpunk as a (distinct?) sub-genre of SF, who was responsible for it (Bruce Sterling) and more importantly–what may come to replace it as “the next big, great thing in SF.” While there are some interesting things being done with slipstream, for example (another sub-genre Sterling is trying to raise to cyberpunk fame), but the forces of change in the publishing industry and technology and culture, make it nearly impossible for another powerful and popular sub-genre to spring up like that again.

I presented my paper on Thursday, and I think it was pretty well received. It generated some discussion afterward. It was about the death of science fiction (complicated issue) and how the posthuman is intimately tied in with the material forces that are killing scifi as a distinct genre. Which is not a bad thing. Another Marxist approach for me, sure. I’d post it up on my “scholarly” blog, GrogMonkey, except that after my paper presentation, an editor for the Journal for the Fantastic in the Arts (a peer-reviewed scholarly journal, and a product of the IAFA) came to me and said he’d like me to submit it for possible publication! *glee*. What’s interesting, is the day before during another fantastic panel: Publishing for Grad Students, in which several journal editors discussed their publications and gave advice on writing articles, stated emphatically that when an editor says “send it in,” they mean it. They won’t say it if they weren’t really interested. *glee*
So, as soon as I finish writing my take-home midterm for my cultural studies class, I’m going to work on the article and get it ready!

One of the two continuing threads of conversations that got brought up here and there and discussed by various people, was the issue of finding a good (MFA or PhD) program that will truly fit your needs and wants. I plan on continuing on from my MA to my doctorate studies, but the issue of where is vital and very quickly becoming something I desperately need to consider! I very much want to attend McGill in Montreal. Partly because it’s Montreal, mostly because it’s one (if not the) most prestigious university in Canada. However, despite the high quality and immense prestige McGill enjoys and instills, I honestly can’t say I know anything about their various programs–so, it may not be a good fit for me. There are other universities that have programs that are more fitting for my interests in posthuman cultural studies (and creative writing), but I need to start selecting now.

Unfortunately, the problem is, I have a family. I can’t just pick up and move. My wife is currently looking for a new job, we may have to move to where she can find work, which means I will probably end up getting my doctorate frm whatever local university is where we go. It’s not exactly like I can move to another city for a few years without them while I worked on my doctorate. *shrug*

The other consternating conversational thread, much less serious but still very interesting to me, was the topic of fanfic.
I have seriously conflicting thoughts regarding fanfic.
In some ways it’s always compelled me. I remember constantly daydreaming, as a kid, about myself in my favorite TV shows and movies, like classic Star Trek. Sometimes as a captain, sometimes not even. As a kid I even wrote some of these “Marty Stu’s” down. To this day I get the urge to write ‘fic, especially since Firefly! (Not as much with putting myself in it, though.) But on the other hand, I have a lot of trouble reading fiction based on existing visual media–even published works. I tried reading Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire (popularly and critically considered one of the best Star Wars novels), and I couldn’t get halfway through it, I was bothered so much. Thing is, I have such a connection to characters as portrayed by the actor, that any representation, even merely in words, seems like a pale impostor. Which is silly, really, when you consider a character (especially on TV) is a creation of usually many writers and several directors. Nevertheless, the representation created by the same actor has to be maintained by that actor or else it just feels wrong.

Let me give an example: one of my all-time favorite authors, Steven Brust (not a great author, but a whole heck of a lot of fun to read! and a really nice guy to boot), recently came out with his own short Firefly fanfic, posted for free on his site. And I have to tell you, as much as I LOVE Brust and LOVE Firefly, I’m having a hard time getting through this. The story is developing nicely, the writing is very Brustian, and I like it–but the characters feel like caricatures, because he’s using affectations developed by the actors and lines pulled frm the show. But the thing is, what else can he do? How can I expect him to portray Mal and Wash and River without using stock elements of them? But it’s still grating, like when he has Mal say to Jayne “Why are we still talking about this?” as a conversation ender, has River stick her tongue out, has Wash complain to Zoe about needing a vacation with her without her having to ask the captain’s permission…all feels counterfeit and contrived. Like, he’s resorting to these iconic moments for these characters as a way of saying “See here! I’m giving you the Firefly characters! See, see?!” And it bugs me.
But it’s my problem. Because, I love the idea of fanfic. I love the possibility of writing fanfic. But I already have a pathological hatred of writing anything that feels derivative of another work–how the heck can I write characters directly frm another work in their world?!

What’s this have to do with the conference? Because P. and N., and E. on one night, talked at length about ‘fic and the very serious and dynamic community for ‘fic, and I was amazed and fascinated and intrigued…and quite intimidated. I really really (I wonder how often I say “really” when I’m not paying attention?) want to try, and express that 25 year old need to write with the characters and settings that I know and love frm TV and film. But the thought occurred to me, that I’m so neurotic about feeling like I’m just copying something else that it’s prevented me frm completing no more than a few of the scores of stories I’ve attempted to star writing, perhaps if I already burn that bridge by actually copying characters and settings then I can just say “F* You, neurosis!” and just write! Might not be a bad idea.

Anyway, the way N. and P. talked about their many many (gotta love reduplication) ‘fic writing moments of enjoyment, I couldn’t get enough. It really sounds like a blast. I have to bite the depleted uranium rocket and go for it. But as for dipping my toe into the oceanic waters of the fanfic community–very scary. There are protocols, and expectations, and boundaries, and everything that is involved in a “community,” and that’s great. I mean, I’ve been a denizen of various online communities since circa 1994, and I enjoy the privileges of following decorum and being accepted as respectable member of a community, but the learning is intimidating. Fortunately, I’m the kind of guy who sits and watches and tries to get a sense of what’s going on. well, we’ll see what happens.

OK, a lot of digression, but there it is: some thoughts about this conference. I learned a lot, had a fantastic time, and have great expectations for the next 11 months of writing and corresponding before the next ICFA.

Pirate Master! Better than expected.

(I’m posting a few things today, so be sure to scroll down and take a look at my other posts today: The existence and morality exist w/o the need for deity, Religion and deteriorating societies, and Steampunk magazine.)

Pirate flagSo last night was the first episode of the new reality show: “Pirate Master“, from the makers of “Survivor.” I’m a huge pirate fan, so of course I had to watch it.

I’m not a “Survivor” fan. I did watch the very first season, back when “reality TV” was new and interesting, and found it fascinating! Then the second season, I stopped watching after a few episodes, and now I don’t watch any “reality show” that throws some random mix of people together into some contrived situation (like “Survivor,” “Big Brother,” and the like.) However, I do occasionally watch the odd reality program that is either pseudo-documentary-like and involves a pre-existing “cast” (such as “Work-Out“) or puts together people who have a shared talent who are in competition to win something that is directly related to their shared skill instead of just a money prize (such as “Project Runway” and my favorite: Food TV’s “The Next Food Network Star“). Granted, these shows are also often plagued with excruciatingly annoying people and embarrassingly stupid personal conflicts and issues which are the reasons I don’t watch “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” and “The Apprentice,” but the context of the competition based on a shared talent and skill (like clothing designer or chef,) makes up for the rest.

In any case, because of this I was very apprehensive about this Survivor-on-a-pirate-ship series. Especially when the first few minutes revealed one of the contestants was a “Scientist/Exotic Dancer” (oh puh-leeze!) with a really whacked-out idea of what makes for a mysterious appearance. Yikes. However, the show ended up to be rather entertaining. The challenge for the first episode was piratey, and had an interesting twist to sabotage the opposing team.
Also surprising was the inclusion of a couple of nods to actual pirate culture. For example, the winning one of the two teams elected the ship’s captain–which was the actual way in which pirate captains (in general) lead their ships. Pirate ships were little bastions of democracy in that they elected in and out their captains. However, in the TV show, they made the captain and his two hand selected “officers” into something of a naval ship’s way of operating. That is, the captain commanded the entire ship and his officers were second in command, and that’s not real pirate tradition. The “captain” on a pirate ship generally was only in charge of the military aspects of the ship–the attacks upon ships and raids upon targets on shore. When it came to the day-to-day operations of a ship, the man in charge was the ship’s pilot. In fact, oftentimes, the pilot outranked (so much as the idea of “rank” was observed on pirate ships) the captain. But in most cases, the captain, pilot, and the ship itself received an equal share of treasure acquired (the “ship’s share” was the funds needed for supplies and repairs.)

Some ships would have “officers” of a sort in the form of sergeant-at-arms who carried out the orders of the captain and/or pilot, and a quartermaster and/or carpenter who were/was in charge of stocking, repairing, and maintaining the ship. They usually received either equal share to the captain and pilot or something in between them and the rest of the men. In the TV show, the captain received half the loot! In actuality it was usually divided as: the men got 1 share, the captain and pilot and “officers” received 2 or 3 shares at most. Although, actually I am OK with their giving the captain half since he’s expected to use it for bribes and payments and other ways which may add to the dramatic element of the show–and that’s cool. Oh, and back to the ship’s democracy, the crew on the TV show can actually, if it’s unanimous, vote the captain off the ship, and that’s cool.

The show is edited in such a way as to make it appear as though the contestants (and the host I guess) are the only people on the ship (which is a real barque class ship.) I was wondering if that was all “magic of TV” and in fact they did no actual work on the ship and a real crew did everything, and in fact if the ship actual sailed at all. However, I’ve found non-CBS affiliated sites that confirm the contestants actually did do a lot of work sailing and maintaining the ship–even though, of course, there was a real crew doing the important work. Like this page written by the real captain of the ship the show was filmed on:Picton Castle
<> The Picton Castle’s Very Own Pirate’s Passage Through the Caribbean
It adds, for me, to the enjoyment of the show knowing the contestants actually did work and perform some of the duties actual pirates would have done.

So, I’m looking forward to this series; I hope it fulfills the promise I see in it so far.