Brian Attebery has received many honors for his work on science fiction, fantasy, and children’s literature, including the Science Fiction Research Association’s Pilgrim Award for lifetime achievements in scholarship in science fiction and fantasy and the Idaho Humanities Council’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Humanities. The anthology he edited with Ursula K. Le Guin, The Norton Book of Science Fiction, is widely used in classrooms and was instrumental in bringing a number of new writers to the attention of scholars. In addition to teaching literature at Idaho State University, he is a reviewer for the Los Angeles Review of Books, editor of the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, and principal cellist in the Idaho State Civic Symphony. His most recent books are Decoding Gender in Science Fiction, published by Routledge, Parabolas of Science Fiction, edited with Veronica Hollinger, published by Wesleyan University Press in 2013, and Stories about Stories: Fantasy and the Remaking of Myth, published by Oxford University Press, 2014.
What is fantasy literature about and why is it a major misreading to burn copies of Harry Potter? This presentation looks at the way fantasy draws on traditions of myth and magic to create modern metaphors. Brian Attebery, author of two books on fantasy, discusses some of the reasons fantasy appeals to many children and increasing numbers of adults, and some of the reasons a few people are puzzled or disturbed by it.
One purpose of art is to challenge the status quo. Two closely related branches of literature are the utopia—a vision of a better kind of society—and the dystopia—a nightmarish projection from the worst of present-day trends. Dystopias are in fashion right now, especially in young adult fiction such as Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. More positive visions are scarcer, perhaps because convincing utopias are hard to invent and harder to depict in interesting narratives. This presentation looks at examples of both forms and explores the ways they question expectations and challenge social structures. Those challenges sometimes lead, as Ray Bradbury pointed out in his dystopian Fahrenheit 451, to the banning and even burning of books.
Popular culture—including movies, TV shows, advertisements, political rhetoric, and internet memes—is full of images that would have been called paranoid half a century ago. People are half machine. Virtual celebrities entertain us. Clones and simulacra replace our loved ones. Fabricated memories substitute for real ones. Psychoactive drugs keep everyone pacified. All of these images can be found in the work of one writer, Philip K. Dick, who might well have been paranoid but was also a genuine visionary. Movies such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, and Total Recall, borrow Dick’s paranoia but hardly touch on his humane vision of a posthuman world.
Science fiction has always been a repository for and source of vivid images of the thinking self. Some of these include Victor Frankenstein’s monstrous experiment at the very beginning of the genre, the clockwork men of the mid-19th century, the swollen superbrains of pulp magazines, and the cyborgs of the late 20th century. Nowadays, it is common to imagine ourselves as software and our brains as organic computers, but writers such as Greg Egan and Ted Chiang challenge those assumptions, offering even stranger and perhaps more useful metaphors for our inner lives.