Displaying items by tag: disabilitySF

I haven't been posting lately due to a combination of steady client work (yay!) and painful health issues (boo!). Now that I've cleared off my schedule of editing and coaching work until the New Year, I'm taking some much needed down time to rest and heal. I have several blog posts on the go--as I still want to share more about my Le Guin Feminist SF Fellowship--but they will have to wait until January. In order to get back to fighting form, I'm limiting my screen time for the rest of December.

I do want to share these two great reviews of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure. I was beginning to worry about the book's reception, but these reviews have totally comforted my mind. Big thanks to the reviewers (and to everyone else who has purchased a copy, requested their local/uni libraries buy it, and/or has given the book much appreciated signal boosts).

From Tor.com:

"Kathryn Allan, an independent scholar whose work focuses on the connections between technology and the body, has put together a rare beast. Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure is an unusual collection of academic articles: it combines interesting scholarship with an remarkable degree of accessibility to the general reader." Read the rest of the review here.

From Wordgathering--A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature:

"It is hard to say enough good about Disability in Science Fiction. It is, quite simply, the single best resource for those interested in the intersection of SF and disability. Not only does it provide seed stock for future research in disability studies, but in the rich example of nexuses between disability and SF that it provides, it makes the case that no course in science fiction literature can afford to ignore a discussion of disability." Read the rest of the review here.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Friday, 01 November 2013 19:51

Links to Share

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.

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!

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

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:

_ _ _

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.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

Good news! My proposed paper was accepted for the Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre conference at McMaster this fall. I'm particularly excited about writing and presenting this one, since it will be my first try at crafting a theoretical framework in a conference paper (more than simply presenting an analysis). Here is my proposal:

Backwards and Beyond: Neuroscience and Disability in Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy

In Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW trilogy (Wake, Watch, Wonder), Caitlin Decker is a blind teenager who is given technology that enables her to see both the physical world and the virtual realm of the internet. She becomes a figure that stands between a human past where intelligence is characterized as singular and “primitive” (represented by the apes Hobo and Virgil) and a “posthuman” future where intelligence is multi-faceted and supported by a great number of organic and inorganic technologies (i.e,. the spontaneous AI, Webmind). Framing my reading of the books within Disability Studies, I propose that Caitlin’s prosthetic enhancement, as well as the novel kinds of intelligence displayed by both the apes and Webmind, disrupt the Western cultural construction of disability as a biomedical condition that can be known, contained and controlled.

In Cultural Locations of Disability, Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell contend that the disabled body is often characterized as temporally in flux: “As a vector of human variability, disabled bodies both represent a throwback to a human prehistory and serve as the barometer of a future without ‘deviancy’” (32). Given that current neuroscience demonstrates that the brain is far more complex than previously understood--moving away from the study of the single neuron to positing that “communities” of neurons act together to complete a task, allowing for the direct integration of prosthetic technology into the brain (see Miguel Nicolelis’ Beyond Boundaries)--the Western biomedical model’s conception of disabled bodies as “primitive” or limited must be reconsidered. I will theorize how the threats to normative human embodiment displayed by the “enhanced” disabled/deviant bodies in Sawyer’s WWW trilogy reflect the advancements in neuroscience that have disrupted the distinction between the “primitive” and “human” being. My reading of the science fiction series will address the necessity of changing our Western understanding of what constitutes intelligence and ability, and which bodies are therefore entitled to autonomy and self-determination.

Works Cited

Nicolelis, Miguel. Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connection Brains with Machines -- And How it Will Change Our Lives. New York: Times Books, 2011. Print.

Sawyer, Robert J. Wake. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2009. Print.

– –. Watch. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2010. Print.

– – –. Wonder. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2011. Print.

Snyder, Sharon L. and David T. Mitchell. Cultural Locations of Disability. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. Print.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

My edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan August 8, 2013. It is available for pre-order from most major North American and European booksellers!

Book description: In science fiction, technology often modifies, supports, and attempts to "make normal" the disabled body. In this groundbreaking collection, twelve international scholars – with backgrounds in disability studies, English and world literature, classics, and history – discuss the representation of dis/ability, medical "cures," technology, and the body in science fiction. Bringing together the fields of disability studies and science fiction, this book explores the ways dis/abled bodies use prosthetics to challenge common ideas about ability and human being, as well as proposes new understandings of what "technology as cure" means for people with disabilities in a (post)human future.

Additional note: I edited this collection for both scholars and serious fans of SF. The analysis is academic, but the language accessible (i.e., we avoid esoteric terms & explain any complex theoretical ideas).

For anyone interested in what's inside, here's a sneak peek:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction: Reading Disability in Science Fiction, Kathryn Allan

Theorizing Disability in Science Fiction

1. Tools to Help You Think: Intersections between Disability Studies and the Writings of Samuel R. Delany, Joanne Woiak and Hioni Karamanos

2. Freaks and Extraordinary Bodies: Disability as Generic Marker in John Varley’s “Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo,” Ria Cheyne

3. The Many Voices of Charlie Gordon: On the Representation of Intellectual Disability in Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, Howard Sklar

4. The Metamorphic Body in Science Fiction: From Prosthetic Correction to Utopian Enhancement, António Fernando Cascais

Human Boundaries and Prosthetic Bodies

5. Prosthetic Bodies: The Convergence of Disability, Technology and Capital in Peter Watts’ Blindsight and Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, Netty Mattar

6. The Bionic Woman: Machine or Human?, Donna Binns

7. Star Wars, Limb-loss, and What it Means to be Human, Ralph Covino

8. Animal and Alien Bodies as Prostheses: Reframing Disability in Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon, Leigha McReynolds

Cure Narratives for the (Post)human Future

9. “Great Clumsy Dinosaurs”: The Disabled Body in the Posthuman World, Brent Walter Cline

10. Disabled Hero, Sick Society: Sophocles’ Philoctetes and Robert Silverberg’s The Man in the Maze, Robert W. Cape, Jr.

11. “Everything is always changing”: Autism, Normalcy, and Progress in Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark and Nancy Fulda’s “Movement,” Christy Tidwell

12. Life without Hope? Huntington’s Disease and Genetic Futurity, Gerry Canavan

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

Last year when I went to ICFA, my only hope was that people would be nice to me. It was my first time trying on the “Independent Scholar” label and I worried that no one would pay much attention to anything that I had to say. Happily, however, this was a groundless concern and I ended up having an extremely positive experience (which spawned this post). This year, I went to ICFA with a different set of hopes and fears (but mostly excitement).

Since last March, I have made some good headway in my independent scholarship, most notably my soon-to-be published (in August) edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure. In addition to that book, I also have several peer-reviewed articles/chapters in process, as well as a few non-academic bits of writing floating about (my favourite being the Afterword I wrote for Outlaw Bodies). I viewed this year’s ICFA as the start of my official debut as an Independent Scholar (capital letters and all). I knew that I would be meeting and talking with a great deal of lovely people, but I still had some anxiety about the reception of my latest work. My previous papers had arisen out my doctoral research, all thoroughly vetted and evaluated by my thesis committee. My research and writing about disability in science fiction, though, has happened in the comfortable bubble of my home office. While I have had a passing conversation or two about disability studies in the past year--and obviously have been engaging with it in depth for my collection-- I hadn’t yet tested my new knowledge base on the spot, in front of a room of my colleagues. So I worried. What if I interpreted the theory wrong? What if everything I have read is embarrassingly out dated? What if nobody cares?

As usual, I was stressing about nothing. It turns out that I do know what I am talking about. Of course I still have so much more to read and learn, but I am definitely on the right track. One of the highlights of the conference for me was talking for hours with another disability studies and genre scholar, Derek Newman-Stilles (visit his wonderful blog, Speculating Canada: Canadian Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy). Next year, we want to organize a panel discussion on reading disability in genre literature. We both agree: The timing is right, the interest is there, and disability is an identity position that deserves greater engagement within genre studies. With such conversations in mind, I have left ICFA feeling a great sense of forward momentum in my scholarship. I have finally found my niche and connecting with so many supportive people warmed the long burnt out cockles of my academic heart.

I also left ICFA with a renewed sense of advocacy for graduate students and underemployed adjuncting PhDs. There is still a lot of work to do around raising awareness and developing plans for action around the job market (both academic and non-academic). I talked with at least 10 grad students who had no exit plan at the end of their degrees. Most were clearly struggling to fully comprehend the financial reality about to befall them once they left their programs. I also talked with many sad and angry adjuncts--far too few actually enjoyed their current job position or felt any optimism about their future as academics. Now that I am operating on the outside, the stratification of labour within the academy is even more obvious…and more appalling. I can no longer imagine being within that system and needing to fight a daily battle for fair and equitable employment. In the upcoming years, I would like to see some sort of panel discussion that addresses alternative work strategies for genre scholars. The science fiction and fantasy fan communities are robust and might offer previously unconsidered opportunities for MAs and PhDs wanting to engage with genre in a meaningful (and perhaps paying) way. This year I had several grad students and TT faculty directly ask me about my independent scholarship, so the interest in non-traditional academic career paths is definitely there.

Next week I am off to the Eaton/SFRA conference and I am feeling, overall, a lot more confident about my scholarship going into it. I still have some of the same groundless worries bouncing around at the back of my brain, but I am getting so much better at ignoring them. When I was in grad school I could not have imagined this life that I have carved out for myself. While I have no clear goals for the future outcome of my independent scholarship, I am starting to make long(ish) term plans (e.g. write a book). Whenever my anxieties creep up now, I remind myself: an uncertain future is also a flexible one. And thank Cthulhu for science fiction.

 

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

In the 1985 essay that defined the terms for feminist thinking about science and technology in the decades since, Donna Haraway observed that “the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.” She drew together the cybernetic organisms of fact and fiction, the beings of shiny technology and messy biological stuff, and her terms and her ideas came as much from the creative thinkers of feminist science fiction (Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ) as they did from technologists, political thinkers, and philosophers.

It’s 2013, and the cyborg manifesto is old enough to vote. Where are feminist science fictions now, and what can they tell us about feminism and technology? New media make our experiences of social reality resonant with classics of speculative fiction, particularly works that accounted for the uneven distribution of futuristic technologies and their participation in hierarchies of race, gender, capital, and ability. Literary scholars continue to explore the intricacies of works by Octavia Butler, James Tiptree Jr., Joanna Russ, et al., while the aesthetic and political techniques of critical and creative speculative thinking that these writers pioneered are taken up in multiple forms. Fiction writers like Nalo Hopkinson, Andrea Hairston, L. Timmel Duchamp, and many more bring questions of language, culture, race, and violence into the fray, as social media platforms like blogs, twitter, and Facebook deepen conversations between writers and fans. Small presses continue to support the older technology of the printed page and to articulate why written visions matter for a possible feminist future.

Feminist science fiction has never only existed between the bindings of books, however. Fictional speculation is part of how we understand ourselves in relationship to technology; from the way our smartphones seem to extend our embodied being, to the difference it makes when we shift our perspective and think instead of the being of the gendered bodies who made them, to the imaginative constructions we produce of the wireless waves and fiber optic cables that link us to collaborators, interlocutors, and friends. Ada is published by the Fembot Collective’s academic network, which is itself a feminist science fiction. An imagined array of co-conspirators made real, its name indexes the power in reworking the venerable sci-fi trope of the gendered automaton. Technological speculation is our social reality, and feminist science fiction has the tools to code it to the specifications of our politics.

Feminist science fiction describes a diverse landscape of multimodal, multiplatform, multifaceted cultural production. It is a means for thinking marked bodies into technological contexts, from Ada Lovelace herself to Janelle Monae’s racialized android Cindi Merriweather. It is also the visual and conversational online cultures that endlessly repeat, reblog, argue, and fight back about what real and imagined futures of gender, race, technology, and representation ought to be like. It may even be the new philosophical modalities of materialist speculation, when they acknowledge that the hierarchized markings on bodies we name as race and gender are not limited to some narrowly defined conception of the human. And it is the unpredictable future of what cybernetics and organisms could be and could become, in the flesh and in plastic, silicon, steel.

The third issue of Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media and Technology seeks essays on any of these and more. We welcome unpublished work from scholars of any discipline and background, including collaborative, nontraditional, or multimodal approaches that can especially benefit from the journal’s open access online status.

Topics and approaches might include, but are not limited to:

• Key works of feminist science fiction and their relevance for new media and technology studies
• Gender, race, sexuality, and/or disability in science fiction literature, film, and television
• Feminist speculation in new media production
• Feminist science fiction’s online fan cultures
• Speculative or science-fictional tropes in new media and technology theory and practice

General Submission Requirements
Authors should submit essays of 4000-9000 words directly to the editor in Rich Text Format (.rtf) or MS Word format (.doc) by 1 May 2013. We encourage you to discuss potential contributions in advance of the submission deadline, particularly for those contributors interested in multimodal contributions. Contributions in formats other than the traditional essay are encouraged; please contact the editor to discuss specifications.

All submissions should be accompanied by the following information in the email message with your submission attachment:

• Name(s), affiliation(s), email address(es) of the person(s) submitting.
• Title of the text and the issue for which it is submitted.
• An abstract of no more than 100 words.
• A short paragraph (40-60 words) about the contributor(s).

Further guidelines for submission format can be found here: http://adanewmedia.org/submissions/ Please include text descriptions for images and transcripts or subtitles for audio or video files.

Send submissions and correspondence to Alexis Lothian: ada[at]queergeektheory[dot]org

About Ada
Ada is an online, open access, open source, peer-reviewed journal run on a nonprofit basis by feminist media scholars from Canada, the UK, and the US. The journal’s first issue was published online in November 2012 and has so far received more than 75,000 page views. Ada operates a review process that combines the feminist mentorship of fan communities with the rigor of peer review. Read more at http://adanewmedia.org/beta-reader-and-review-policy/. We do not — and will never — charge fees for publishing your materials, and we will share those materials using a Creative Commons License.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

Femspec, an interdisciplinary journal dedicated to challenging gender through speculative means in any genre, invites papers for a special issue of Femspec, Aging and Gender in Speculative Fiction, examining speculative fiction books, TV shows, or movies that re-imagine the way we view women growing older and/or depict the way societal expectations of gender roles impact how we age. Keeping in mind the feminist thrust of the journal, we seek submissions that consider how major feminist sf writers depict aging characters, that apply feminist theory to depictions of aging in sf texts broadly defined, or that address sf’s potential to critique the relationship of gender to ideologies of aging in contemporary society or to re-imagine the future of aging primarily for women, but also for men within a gendered perspective.

The seeds for this special issue were planted at a paper session, "Women Growing Older in the Perilous Realm: Science Fiction and Re-Imagining Old Age" at the 2012 National Women's Studies Conference 2012, chaired by Margaret Cruickshank. Whether analyzing a picture of older women as inhabiting a privileged position from which to critique society as in “The Space Crone,” a vision of the planet Vulcan where an older woman is the powerful high priestess, or the creation of a culture in which older women are given the most creative work as in Joanna Russ’s Whileaway, we need to ask: how does this re-imagining of old age empower older women, give new value to their accumulated knowledge or new expression to their abilities, apply a feminist lens to their subordination or oppression, or otherwise upend the hegemonic narrative of women's aging as nothing but a decline into silence and invisibility.

Because Femspec is a fully independent journal funded by subscriptions rather than institutional support, subscription is required on submission. Essays undergo a rigorous two-step jury process with independent readers and members of the Femspec editorial board. Submissions can be sent directly to the special issue editor, Aishwarya Ganapathiraju, aganapath[at]gmail[dot]com or to Femspec.org, where subscription information can be found.

In addition to this special issue, Femspec seeks scholarly submissions that explore gender issues in sf, apply feminist criticism to the study of sf or analyze the work of women writers in science-fiction media or “speculative fiction” broadly defined.

The last date for submitting work for consideration is May 30, 2013.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Wednesday, 06 March 2013 13:58

Disability in Star Trek Papers

In the next two months, I will be delivering two papers on disability in Star Trek. I am officially living the geek dream! I have wanted to present on Star Trek for many, many years now, but always felt like I should choose more literary or "high-culture" examples to discuss at academic conferences. Then I remembered: I'm an independent scholar! I can talk about whatever I want. Enter: Star Trek. Since a few people have expressed interest in my papers, I am posting the abstracts for them here. If I have the time and inclination, I also would like to post the completed full papers once I have delivered them.

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For ICFA

Blink Once for Yes: Remaking Disability in Star Trek

From reproduction technologies that seek to eradicate and limit the reproduction of disabled people, to prostheses that replace missing limbs and extend the function of the body, technology is an essential component of cure narratives in many science fiction scenarios. We can see an evolution of the representations of “cures” or “fixes” for disability on the SF screen, for instance, through the figure of Star Trek’s Captain Christopher Pike. In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “The Menagerie” (1966) Captain Pike (played by Jeffery Hunter) is severely injured during battle, leaving him confined and dependent on a wheel-chair unit (operated by his brain waves) that encases his body, leaving only his badly burn-scarred face visible. To communicate, Pike’s chair is equipped with one large light which blinks once for yes and twice for no. This Original Series Captain Pike is pitiable, and Captain Kirk – the very embodiment of masculine health and vitality as played by William Shatner – struggles to gaze upon his old mentor. Fast forward to 2009 when director J. J. Abram’s glinting reboot of the Star Trek franchise hit the screens and reimagines the iconic disabled figure of Pike (now played by Bruce Greenwood). While still injured in battle, Pike clearly earns his wounds as a hero, and is shown in the final scenes of the movie in a low-key wheel-chair, smiling, and fully functioning aside from his inability to walk. 2009’s Captain Pike is a far cry from 1966’s – the representation of his character’s disability demonstrates the change in cultural attitudes towards people with disabilities (i.e. less monstrous, more heroic), as well as highlighting the advancement of the technological “fixes” for disability. Despite the gains we see through the figure of Captain Pike, the desire to cure his injuries and return him to – or get him closest to – the idealized vision of the perfect/normal body remains. In a wheel-chair, he is a deviant body and portrayed as being no longer in a position to be the active leader of a starship (and therefore must pass off his role to the able-bodied Kirk).

In a utopian vision, like that played out in the Star Trek universe, when integrated into the able body, technology makes the human body better, an idealized version of itself. When technology is applied to the disabled body, however, all too often it is in an attempt to cure or normalize what is deemed “wrong” with the body. Take the technology away and the disabled body’s supposed lack remains. In this paper, I will analyze the ways that the two representations of Captain Pike speak to a shift in our (Western) cultural understanding and acceptance of the disabled body and its relationship to the technologies that attempt to cure and contain it.

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For Eaton/SFRA

Shadow of the Man: Reading Disability in the Star Trek Universe

From Star Trek: The Original Series to J.J. Abrams’ filmic reboot, Star Trek in 2009, the Star Trek universe is rich in its representations of disability. Throughout its forty-six year history, the space opera franchise has reflected the Western cultural attitude towards disability and people with disabilities, a vision that, while well-intentioned, is often contradictory and ableist. As Tobin Siebers argues, “the ideology of ability makes us fear disability, requiring that we imagine our bodies are of no consequence while dreaming at the same time that we might perfect them. It describes disability as what we flee in the past and hope to defeat in the future” (Disability Theory 9). While I will touch on examples from across the series, for the purposes of this paper, I will focus my main analysis on the last Star Trek: The Next Generation motion picture, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis (2002). This film is an excellent example of the two main disability narratives prominent in Star Trek: first, the positioning of disabled peoples as exploitable bodies, and second, the potential of disability to be a positive, transformative experience once it is eliminated or “cured.” I will draw on key Disability Studies theorists to frame my analysis, notably Siebers, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, and Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell.

In their foundational work, Cultural Locations of Disability, Snyder and Mitchell state: "In a culture that endlessly reassures itself that it is on the verge of conquering Nature once and for all, along with its own “primitive” instincts and the persistent domain of the have-nots, disability is referenced with respect to these idealized visions. As a vector of human variability, disabled bodies both represent a throwback to a human prehistory and serve as the barometer of a future without 'deviancy'” (32).
These two parallel disability narratives play out in Nemesis within the dominant storyline of Shinzon, Picard’s ailing clone, and the subplot of B-4, an early prototype of the sentient android (and as “good as human”) Data. Reading the film through the lens of disability studies, I am interested in examining the ways the audience reads both the fleshy Shinzon and the synthetic B-4 as inauthentic, primitive versions of the “real” Picard and Data. Each “copy” carries out different responses to living with their deviant bodies: the unevolved B-4 is unaware of his limitations and is therefore exploitable, while Shinzon, on the other hand, is fully aware of his status as other (he says, “I am the shadow of the man. The echo of the voice”) and chooses to enact his limited agency through violence and redirected repression. I am particularly interested in how the divergence between the two representations (B-4 is pitiable, yet expendable, while Shinzon is offensive and deserving of death) speak to our current cultural anxieties about expanding rights and visibility for people with disabilities. Star Trek explores not only what it means to be human, but who gets to be counted as human.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

All in all, 2012 was a great year for me. While I suffered through a string of chronic-pain flares and developed carpal tunnel syndrome in late November, I am learning, slowly, how to better take of myself (so those kind of problems don’t happen with such regularity). Overall, I am far healthier – both physically and mentally – than I ever was in graduate school. Part of this improvement is due to my decision to pursue independent scholarship. While I definitely went through bouts of self-doubt and uncertainty, I kept pushing myself to take risks. I went to cons (both academic and fan), I sent out proposals to journals, and I took on the task of editing a collection of essays.

Since I had no idea how to be an Independent Scholar, I had no expectation of reward. I figured that if I was successful in least one of my attempted academic endeavors, then good on me. I did not expect to land every proposal (except one) that I wrote up. As an Independent Scholar, I found the success –and joy, and intellectual freedom, and peer acceptance – that I never did as a graduate student. Perhaps the only thing that changed has been my attitude to the work, but I do believe I have finally discovered the path of scholarship that best suits me. Since I am honestly researching and writing for the love of it (and not for a tenure-track worthy CV), the parameters of what constitute my success and failure are broad and always flexible. Independent scholarship won’t put money in my back account, but, as clichéd as it sounds, my life feels richer for it.

It is actually quite difficult to write this post without weeping over my keyboard (and not just because my wrist still hurts). How can I properly express the depth of my surprise – and satisfaction – that I am doing well at the very thing I love? I feel incredibly blessed to be in this position. Without the support of my partner, Andrew, I am unsure if I would have taken the risk to start this unusual and uncertain career path. I have an academic coaching and editing business that I thoroughly enjoy each day, and a self-determined work schedule that allows me the space and time to follow my scholarly interests.

Here is what I accomplished as an Independent Scholar in 2012:

- Wrote the Afterword for Outlaw Bodies, Edited by Lori Selke and Djibril al-Ayad

- Presented papers/was a panelist at ICFA, WisCon, WorldCon/ChiCon7, SFContario3, and attended the World Fantasy Convention.

- Confirmation of publication in the forthcoming WisCon Chronicles 7 (paper: “Theorizing Vulnerability in Feminist SF) and a book review in JFA.

- Two articles are in the peer-review process (one for a journal, another for a collected works).

- And, saving best for last, I landed a contract with Palgrave Macmillan for my edited book, Technology as Cure? Representations of Disability in Science Fiction! I’m beyond thrilled about this news – the subject matter is important and timely, and my contributors deserve to see their interdisciplinary work in print.

Just writing all of these things out makes me giddy/proud/scared/teary. Seriously. I’m feeling all the emotions. I was so used to getting the “we regret to inform you” rejection letter that I really didn’t fully believe that I had all the skills necessary to make it as a scholar. Even though I would say –and sincerely mean – that I could make it in academia if I wanted to, there was a nagging little voice deep inside that whispered “that’s a lie.” I think defeating that voice, or, perhaps more truthfully, pushing forward despite it, has been my greatest accomplishment this past year. I don’t want to let such (old) shadows of self-doubt and fear keep me from challenging myself and exploring new and unfamiliar ways of working (either paid or unpaid).

I don’t have an exact idea of what 2013 will look like for me, but I know that it is going be an interesting year. I’m going to fulfill my long-held nerd dream of having a room full of people listen to me talk about Star Trek – I will be presenting two (!) papers on disability in the Star Trek universe (one at ICFA in March and the other at Eaton/SFRA in April). I haven’t committed to any non-regional SF cons yet, as finances will only allow for so much travel. Still, now that I have built up a network within the SF community, I don’t feel so isolated and am already looking forward to participating in SFContario 4 (held November in Toronto).

I want to thank everyone who has helped me achieve my goals this past year – my old friends from grad school and my new ones from cons, my diverse editing and coaching clients (whose business keeps me in food and books), and the many wonderful and supportive people I talk to online (I’m looking at you Twitter peeps). It is easy to laugh at Independent Scholarship – to load it up with pejorative labels and preconceived ideas of some sort of intellectual inadequacy – but I have been so heartened to find an open-minded community of people who have taken my work seriously. Thank you all. Your presences in my life, no matter how small or passing, have helped drown out that whispering voice of doubt. I wish a happy, healthy, and brave New Year to you all!

 

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
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