Welcome to Dr. Kathryn Allan's blog! I'm an Independent Scholar of science fiction and disability studies (specializing in cyberpunk, feminist SF, and SF TV & film), Editor of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, and the inaugural recipient of the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship. My PhD thesis is awesome: Bleeding Chrome: Technology and the Vulnerable Body in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk SF [pdf]. I write about my time spent in the academy, my current research into representations of disability in SF, and anything shiny that catches my eye. If you like what you read, follow me on Twitter @BleedingChrome.
Last year, I took to saying that 2013 would be my “debut year” as an independent scholar. After transitioning away from academia, establishing Academic Editing Canada, delivering conference papers, writing articles, and editing a book, I felt that I was finally starting to see my new (portfolio) career path solidify ahead of me. I could not have predicted, however, just how exciting this year would turn out. The publication of my collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, this past August was a big deal for me—I’m still in wonder that I made that I made a book happen. I haven’t yet come across any published reviews of Disability in Science Fiction, but positive appraisals have begun reaching me by word of mouth, so I can’t be any happier about that whole project. With the edited collection alone, 2013 was shaping up to a significant year in my professional life.
Until two weeks ago, I had no idea that I would be achieving another major milestone: on November 8, I was named the first ever Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellow. I cannot express how deeply honoured I am to have received this award. The fellowship is a $3000 grant to perform research at the University of Oregon’s Knight Library Special Collections and Archive, which houses an amazing treasure trove feminist SF papers. The title of my proposed project is "'The Other Lives'--Locating Dis/Ability in Utopian Feminist SF" (which I will blog about more soon). It isn’t the money that I am excited about here (although it is certainly extremely helpful), but that other people think that my scholarly work is important and has an impact on the field of feminist SF studies. I still cannot quite believe my good fortune.
This past weekend (Nov. 8-9), I attended the Sally Miller Gearhart “Worlds Beyond World” Utopian Feminist Science Fiction symposium (held as part of the celebration of the U of O’s The Center for the Study of Women in Society’s 40th anniversary celebration). Even if the I wasn’t chosen as the inaugural Le Guin Feminist SF fellow (which was officially announced before Le Guin’s keynote reading and interview), I still would have made the trek to beautiful Eugene. An event like this one doesn’t come along too often these days. In attendance were many of the feminist SF writers I’ve long admired: Vonda N. McIntyre, Sally Miller Gearhart, Molly Gloss, Kate Wilhelm, Suzy McKee Charnas, L. Timmel Duchamp, Hiromi Goto, Andrea Hairston, Larissa Lai, and, of course, Ursula K. Le Guin. In addition, there were many wonderful feminist SF scholars in attendance. I was pleased to meet (or reconnect with) Margaret McBride, Alexis Lothian, Joan Haran, Liz Henry, and Grace Dillon, along with all of the keen and dedicated grad students too numerous to individually name here. It was a real treat to inhabit a space that was full of intelligent and passionate talk about feminism, science fiction, and fandom.
In a word, I found this weekend overwhelming. In the best possible way. In an if-I-think-about-it-too-long-I-start-crying kind of way. Because graduate school was damn difficult and painful. Because the past three years have been full of hard decisions and sometimes unbearable loneliness. During the panel I was on (focused on current feminist SF research), I said that attending this symposium felt like “I was coming home.” It has been a very long time since I last felt such ease at being part of something larger than myself. I’ve enjoyed my time at fan conventions, and I certainly have a fondness for academic conferences like ICFA, but none of those gatherings have been as welcoming, stimulating, and just plain right as the feminist SF symposium. Over the past few years, I have often felt too fannish for the academics and too academic for the fans. At the Worlds Beyond World symposium, however, I didn’t feel that I had too much or not enough of some intangible quality to belong. I wasn’t the only feminist in the room (far from it). I didn’t have to defend being an independent scholar (in fact, people wanted to know more). It was a celebration of everything I love about science fiction, feminist and otherwise.
There were so many amazing and surprising experiences I had during the symposium that it is going to take me a few weeks to process everything. I definitely want to share more of my thoughts, so I will write more posts as soon as I can about what I learned at the symposium, about my fellowship, and my current/upcoming research activities. Things are good!
My edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, has been out for a couple of months now. It is available in print and ebook from most booksellers worldwide. I have occasionally checked the internet for mentions of the book and my other published writing, and, to my absolute delight, there are people out there who are interested in my work! There have been no reviews of Disability in Science Fiction yet, but I though I'd post a roundup of some sites that have featured the book or my other recent writing in some notable & awesome way.
- Excerpt from my "Introduction" to Disability in Science Fiction on Tor.com
- Guest post, "Story Behind Disability in Science Fiction," on upcoming4.me
- Review of my essay, "Theorizing Vulnerability in Feminist SF," in Shattering Ableist Narratives (Ed. Joselle Vanderhooft) on Wordgathering
- First (known) citation of Disability in Science Fiction in Sarah Gibbon's "Playing for Trascendence, Deux Ex: Human Revolution and Disability" (on First Person Scholar)
- Geekquality posted about my work on their Tumblr, "Feel like some academic reading on disability & sci-fi?"
I want to thank all the individuals out there who have helped spread the word about Disability in Science Fiction through tweets, blogs, and word of mouth. Each signal boost is appreciated!
Two weeks ago, long time tweep, historian, and fellow Canadian Merle Massie (@merlemassie) asked me: “Do you recommend your editing/writing life to others? Twitter provides a mix of positive and draining notes.” My first response, in all honesty, was “no.” But that was because I’m feeling overworked, tired, and not at my best. I hesitated. There are so many different kinds of life situations and career paths, and, as a rule, I do not give blank statements on what people should do with their lives. For the most part, I really love what I do day to day. I thoroughly enjoy editing other people’s writing and independent scholarship is pretty darn fun. The truest answer I can give is “it depends.” A wholly unsatisfying response, I know. Instead of tweeting Merle all day long with my work/life reflections, I decided to write this blog post.
The biggest con of a freelancing editing/writing life is uncertainty. Of all the challenges involved in a freelancing life, uncertainty is at the top of my list. I would prefer to have a set amount of hours to work each week and know that those hours will remain in place for the foreseeable future. This is often not the case with freelancing. Some weeks I might only have 5 hours of paid work, while other weeks I put in over 30 hours. In terms of money then, that means my monthly earnings can vary greatly. There are many strategies to avoid long gaps between client work, but when you are just starting out, you will need to plan for inevitable lean periods. You can definitely make a good living doing freelance editing and writing, but you must be willing to accept a certain amount of uncertainty in work hours and income. The longer you are freelancing, the better you will become, hopefully, at networking and advertising, but it really isn’t a job you can just pick up and be immediately successful.
Being a Canadian makes a freelancing editing/writing life a lot easier (since we have government funded health care), but you are still entering a marketplace flooded with other people trying to grab the same customers as you. To be a successful freelancer, you will need to spend time developing a business plan, have a professional internet profile (i.e., personal website, etc.), and learn the art of networking. I actually think of myself as more of an entrepreneur than as a freelancer editor. When I can, I go to local business networking events and do what I can to positively get my name—and services—out there (in the community, on the internet).
The biggest pro of my portfolio career (academic editing, coaching, and scholarship) is that my schedule is flexible. Since I have some chronic pain issues that need managing to avoid debilitating flare ups, being in control of how much I work and when I work is essential to being as happy and productive as I can be. Take this month for example: at the beginning of October, I had several client projects on the go and was putting in full days of editing and coaching. And then I was glutened badly. I was out sick for a week…and then I came down with the flu. It totally sucked being unwell for two weeks but I didn’t “miss” any work because I was able to reschedule and reorganize my client commitments. The weeks I was ill, I made a point not to look for immediate work. I still checked email but simply scheduled any incoming work for the following weeks when I knew that I would (most likely) be well enough to work again. Having that kind of flexibility and ownership over my time is worth any uncertainty around workload and income.
So, to Merle and anyone else interested in pursuing a similar editing/writing life, I recommend spending time figuring out your top work priorities. How do you feel about uncertainty in income? How much money a month do you need to make to support yourself (and your family)? Do you have health issues that need managing? Do you like working by yourself? I have a partner who works full time, we have no dependents (just a spoiled cat), and we’re in a city that is quite affordable to live in. I chose my current career path because it made sense to me. I often tell people that my PhD has enabled me to make an excellent “part-time” career for myself. And for now, the writing/coaching/scholar life is the best fit for me.
I haven't been posting lately because I've been going back and forth between overwork and recovering from overwork. I really, really need to break this ridiculous cycle! Anyways, that's a topic for another post--this one comes courtesy of upcoming4.me, a great online magazine about speculative fiction. They invited me to write a guest post for their "story behind" column and this is what I wrote:
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When I left academia after the completion of my PhD in 2010, I wasn’t sure where I was headed. I did know, however, that my dissertation—Bleeding Chrome: Technology and the Vulnerable Body in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk [available for download in my "about me" box above]—was not the end of my research into the ways that technology and the body intersect in science fiction. I was proud of my thesis, but there were avenues of inquiry that I wish I had been able to follow. One of those underdeveloped approaches was reading science fiction with a disability studies framework in mind. I was acutely aware of how little published (academic) work there was on reading disability and the disabled body in science fiction. Given the vast number of characters with disabilities (plus all of the plot devices of idealized “cures,” transformative surgical interventions, genetic therapies, and fantastic prostheses) in the genre, I was having a hard time watching and reading anything science fiction(al) without critically interrogating the representations of disability I saw playing out time and again. Unable to let go of my academic interests, I decided to transform myself into an independent scholar and jump into the world of academic publishing.
My edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, was a germ of an idea that finally took root during Renovation (the 2011 WorldCon). After receiving overwhelming positive support for the project from new friends and like-minded people, I returned home from the con and sent out a “call for papers” the very same week. By the end of the winter, I had 13 contributors preparing innovative and interdisciplinary readings of disability (with a focus on prostheses and the posthuman) in science fiction.
At this point in time, I should note, I had zero publications to my name. Dealing with chronic ill health and limited resources throughout my graduate career meant that I had no time or energy to pursue publishing opportunities while I was in academia. I wasn’t sure that anyone would want to publish an essay collection by a first time editor with no publishing track record. Nevertheless, I was determined to find the best press possible for Disability in Science Fiction because I believed in the value of the interdisciplinary critical analysis that it was presenting. After weighing distribution capability, promotional assistance, price point, and speed of the peer review process, Palgrave Macmillan was one of the first few publishing houses I approached. I sent my book proposal to them old-school style: I followed the directions for submissions listed on their website and, forking out the extra money for tracking and express post, mailed in my pitch. I was worried that some intern would simply shred my package on arrival, but my proposal was successful! Three weeks later the publishing house contacted me and told me they were interested in the collection (contract to be offered once the full draft was complete).
All in all, in took two years from conception to publishing the edited collection. The process of editing an academic essay collection is not a speedy one, but I think that my position as an independent scholar helped me move through the process faster than it otherwise might have gone. I selected essays that were on popular films and novels—such as George Lucas’ Star Wars, James Cameron’s Avatar, Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, and Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark— and instructed everyone to write in accessible academic language, so that (non-academic) fans of science fiction interested in the topic would also be able to read and engage with the ideas in addressed in the collection. I kept in frequent contact with the book’s contributors, gave out a lot of direction and praise (the first is easy to come by in academia, the second…not so much), and went through several rounds of drafting. Each person who wrote a chapter for Disability in Science Fiction brought a unique perspective to the questions that I previously had been working through alone. Editing this book gave me the opportunity to collaborate with scholars from across the globe, and it is an experience for which I am grateful.
Throughout the two years I worked on this project, I received amazing feedback and advice from both the academic and fan communities of science fiction. It was that support that helped me write and edit through pain flares, injuries from overwork, and fatigue. Editing the essay collection taught me that it is possible to have a voice as an independent scholar and that there is a whole community of people out there who are as passionate about the same stuff as I am. Disability in Science Fiction is one piece of the on-going scholarship that brings together science fiction and disability studies. My hope has always been that the book brings greater critical attention to the all too often negative and damaging stereotypes of people with disabilities perpetuated by science fiction, a genre that, despite its flaws, I and so many others love and take comfort in.