Friday, July 26, 2019

Doctor Logic Goes to WorldCon!

Edit August 1: The final schedule is now up, and I can confirm that the below is all correct.

I am super excited to be going to my first WorldCon, in Dublin next month. It'll be an interesting adventure -- it's my not only my first WorldCon, but it's also my first SFF con of any type, and while there I'll be participating in events that feature many different facets of my life. I've got lodgings arranged with philosophy and NaNoWriMo friends; I'm giving a paper on onomastics in the academic track; I'm speaking in two panels on AI; and I'll be participating in the demos and display stalls for the Society for Creative Anachronism; and I've got a drink-beer-with-an-author session. All my academic, hobby, and authorial pursuits all coming together into one!

So, what, exactly am I do, and where can you find me? Here's the scoop!

Thursday, August 15

11:30-12:50: Worlds (Academic Session)

Names: Form & Function in Worldbuilding & Conlangs

Significant interest has been generated in recent years in the robust development of conlangs (constructed languages) for fantasy and sci-fi purposes, with detailed handbooks now available for the amateur conlanger, providing instructions on how to develop grammar, phonology, etc. One area of linguistic development that many conlangers often overlook is personal and place name patterns and practices.

The influence of medieval European naming practices can be seen throughout contemporary fantasy naming practices. This influence can be traced back to the Father of Fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien, as many of his names – such as Gandalf, Thorin, Frodo, Theodred, and Peregrine – are in fact genuine medieval names; and Tolkien himself was significantly influenced by the medieval-style romances of William Morris. However, unlike Tolkien and Morris, many modern authors developing ‘generic medieval European’ style fantasy worlds do not have a background in medieval history or linguistics, with the result that even dedicated conlangers approach names in an unsystematic or ungrounded way.

In this talk we argue for the importance of including personal names and place names in the development of fantasy worlds and languages, and highlight the distinctive aspects of the formation and function of personal and place names that conlangers and authors should be aware of when developing a world or a language. We also show how resources available to the amateur historian and linguist, such as the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources, can be used to develop consistent, grounded, systematic name pools and patterns of construction.

Date, Time, Location

15 Aug 2019, Thursday 11:30 - 12:20, Odeon 6 (Academic) (Point Square Dublin)

Speakers

  1. Dr. Sara L. Uckelman – ‘Names: Form & Function in Worldbuilding & Conlangs’
  2. Andrew Richardson – ‘Civilisation and Science Fiction’
  3. Dr Kevin Koidl – ‘Trust and the Future of Social Media’

Friday, August 16

16:30-17:20: Is Hari Seldon’s project becoming achievable? (Panel)

People have long tried to predict future outcomes of nations or personal behaviour. Prediction is now enhanced by big data and machine learning. Panellists consider which events we already can predict with high probability. With stochasticity, which events will we never ‘get’? What mechanisms would prevent misuse (e.g. for advertising or influencing voting)? What would trigger a ‘Seldon Crisis’?

Date, Time, Location

16 Aug 2019, Friday 16:30 - 17:20, Alhambra (Point Square Dublin)

Panelists

  1. Shmulik Shelach
  2. Dr. Sara L. Uckelman (Durham University)
  3. Tomasz Kozlowski (Atelier of Improvisation) (Moderator)
  4. Marina Berlin

Saturday, August 17

15:30-16:20: Crafting your fandom (Panel)

From building a spaceship wardrobe to knitting the Doctor’s scarf, baking the Death Star, or putting their travel cards into wands, fans have ever more inventive ways to express their love, enthusiasm, and fandom through arts and crafts. Our panellists will share their love of fandom crafting from what they do to how they do, and discuss why we all do it.

Date, Time, Location

17 Aug 2019, Saturday 15:30 - 16:20, Alhambra (Point Square Dublin)

Panelists

  1. Dr. Sara L. Uckelman (Durham University) (Moderator)
  2. Todd Allis
  3. Arwen Grune
  4. Michelle Coleman (University of Nottingham)
  5. Alicia Zaloga

Sunday, August 18

17:00-17:50: Society for Creative Anachronism (demo)

Date, Time, Location

18 Aug 2019, Sunday 17:00 - 17:50, 4th floor foyer (CCD)

21:00-21:50: Literary Beer with Dr Sara L. Uckelman

Come and keep me company and have a beer (or not) and talk about writing (or not) or academia (or not)!

Date, Time Location

18 Aug 2019, Sunday 21:00 - 21:50, Liffey-A (Fan Bar) (CCD)

Monday, August 19

10:30-11:30: AIs and the female image (Panel)

Whether in smart homes or wearing mechanical bodies, until recently many ‘female’ AIs emphasised beauty and sexuality. Now some portrayals emphasise strength and intelligence. Can we do both? How does the representation of ‘male’ AIs differ? Must we anthropomorphise AIs and assign them genders? Can we have non-binary AIs?

Date, Time, Location

19 Aug 2019, Monday 10:30 - 11:30, Odeon 1 (Point Square Dublin)

Panelists

  1. Madeline Ashby
  2. Charles Stross
  3. Pat Cadigan
  4. Dr V Anne Smith (University of St Andrews)
  5. Dr. Sara L. Uckelman (Durham University)

It may come as a surprise to some people that I am actually an introvert and sometimes can suffer from incapacity shyness and anxiety. I've spent a large part of my life thinking "Surely everyone has someone they would like to talk to more than talk to me". But if people come up and talk to me, I am positively delighted and often can pretend very well to be an extrovert. So look out for these shoes and introduce yourself to me if you see me! (And if there is someone else at WorldCon with these shoes...I want to meet you.)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

New publication announcement!

On Friday, my paper "Contradictions, Impossibility, and Triviality: A Response to Jc Beall" was published in Journal of Analytic Theology, as part of a symposium on Jc Beall's paper, also published in the same issue, "Christ – A Contradiction: A Defense of Contradictory Christology". It was a pleasure to be invited by the editors of the journal to participate in this symposium, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading Beall's paper and responding to it. I look forward to reading all the other responses with the attention and care they are due.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

the "I forgot to wear trousers to lecture" dream

[Note: I originally posted this to my personal blog, which I don't share the link around to much, and kept wanting to share it with people because it's so funny, so I finally decided to copy the post over to this blog, so I can share this link.]

Last night [April 28, 2016] I dreamt it was my first introduction to logic tutorial, and as I was waiting for everyone to file in I realized there was a lot more people there than I was expecting -- instead of 10-12, or even max 20, it was more than three times that (as the people kept filing in, the room kept growing, but even so, it was a small room and it was full). And then someone else professorial showed up, expecting to teach there at the same time; his course was on the Swedish/Danish October 1844-1846 Revolt between the red coats and the green coats. But we compared notes, and realized that I was scheduled to teach there at 9:00am, which it was, and he was scheduled to teach there at 8:00am, and had thus missed his first lecture. Oops.

Nevertheless, the room was still awfully full, so I realized this must've been the first lecture, not the first tutorial, and adjusted my plan correspondingly and when the trickle slowed, I launched into my "What is logic?" with full vim.

Lots of vim, because right about then was when I realized that I was lecturing in my underwear. On the other hand, I also had my coronet on, so it all evened out, and I blithely Emperor's New Clothesed my way through the opening words until someone tentatively raised her hand and asked "Uhhh, what class is this supposed to be?"

"Introduction to Logic.",/p>

"Not dance?"

"Uhhh, no. But what kind of dance? I can teach medieval and Renaissance dance, as well as tap, ballet, and jazz." [Note: This is true]

"Modern hip-hop."

"Sorry, no, not this room." And about twenty of the students filed out.

At that point I was poking my head out the door to see if there was anyone else planning to show up, and realized there were people with pitchforks running through the halls! -- the red coats and the green coats. A red coat, pursued by two green coats, saw my open door and dashed into the lecture hall, swooped me up, flung me over his shoulder, and ran down the stairs. I did have to ask him if he was one of the good guys or one of the bad guys, because, to be honest my knowledge of the October 1844-1846 Revolt was quite minimal -- the only thing I knew about it was that Joel has a wargame based on it, entitled "Bugles and Bubbles" -- and I didn't even remember who won in the end. I don't remember his answer, and things became a bit fuzzy for a bit, but eventually I escaped him, found some proper clothing to match my crown, snuck through various halls and into the cathedral where the funeral service for the king was happening, and somehow by the time I woke up, I ended up queen of Sweden.

So, you know, it wasn't all bad.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Short story birthday: "An Orb of Ice-Blue Held Aloft in a Perfect Hand"

Mermaid Audris by Phil Mac Fadden

Yesterday my short story "An Orb of Ice-Blue Held Aloft in a Perfect Hand" was published in Manawaker Studio's Flash Fiction Podcast. (Go listen to it! It's only 10 minutes long!)

The story itself has quite a story behind it. Late February/early March last year, I was involved in the longest-ever strike in UK higher-education history. From long cold days on the picket lines in the snow, to the harshness of being able to do my job, it was a tough time (something I blogged about daily here, starting with Day 1). I was struggling with the disruption of my schedule, of my projects, of my identity. Then one of my friends posted the above photo on Facebook, and I commented "I wanna write that story."

So I did.

About a week later when the local branch of the Durham UCU held a "Solidarity Salon", I read my strike story out loud -- the first time I've ever read any of my fiction aloud to an audience other than my daughter. Writing that story provided me with an outlet and a solace amidst a very stressful time, and I am so pleased that I was able to capture such an amazingly beautiful photo (of my amazingly beautiful friend!) in a story. That someone else liked my story enough to publish it is just the cherry on the top!

Photo credit: Mermaid Audris by Phil Mc Fadden. Follow @MermaidAudris on twitter.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

New publication announcement: "Computation in Medieval Western Europe".

I've got a new publication to announce! (It actually came out a week or two ago, but I only got my author's copy on Tuesday, so no author selfie before then.) It's a book chapter in Sven Ove Hansson, ed., Technology and Mathematics: Philosophical and Historical Investigations, on "Computation in Medieval Western Europe":

Abstract:

Practices that fall under the broad umbrella of ‘computation’ in the western European Middle Ages tend to be goal-oriented and directed at specific purposes, such as the computation of the date of Easter, the calculation of velocities, and the combinatorics of syllogisms and other logical arguments. In spite of this practical bent, disparate computational practices were increasingly built upon theoretical foundations. In this chapter, we discuss the theoretical principles underlying three areas of computation: computistics and the algorithms employed in computistics, as well as algorithms more generally; arithmetic and mathematical calculation, including the calculation of physical facts and theorems; and (possible) physical implementations of computing mechanisms.

It was an interesting paper chapter to write because it stretched the boundaries of my comfort zones -- I had to read up a lot on calendrical computation! (Which is super interesting.) But it's a fascinating exercise, to pick a modern concept, such as computation, and then see what, if anything, counts as its historical precursor.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Wot I've Published This Year (fiction edition)

So apparently the thing to do in late November/early December, if you're a fiction author, is to write up a post outlining everything you've published in the last year. As my wonderful friend Heather Rose Jones put it in her such post, this is "Purely for people's curiosity and amusement, of course. Not at all with any expectation or pressure for people to consider our works for award nominations."

Phew! Thank goodness! Because while I do know that there are things out there such as awards (I could even name a few of them, if I thought about it. There's...Hugos. And...Nebulas. And...others.), I wouldn't have the first idea whether anything I've written is "eligible" for them, and it seems like it would be a lot of work to find out. So I'm going to take a leaf from her book and simply do a round up of what I've published this year, fiction-wise. (I hope to do a separate post for my non-fiction.)

2018 has been a pretty amazing year, fiction-wise, according to the stats.

In 2018, I had 13 pieces out on submission. One was a poem that I sent to one venue (rejection), and two were pieces of flash fic written for specific purposes/venues (both rejected). So let's call it an even 10. These 10 were submitted a total of 46 times. 37 submissions were rejected, 1 I withdrew, and 4 are still outstanding. But that means out of the 10 pieces I had in play this year, FOUR were accepted. That's super exciting.

UPDATE!! (4Dec) Got another acceptance! A flash fic piece, "An Orb of Ice-Blue, Held Aloft in a Perfect Hand", will be coming out in Manawaker Studio's Flash Fiction Podcast. I wrote this story in the middle of a March snowstorm, and am super pleased it's found a home.

Of those four, three have been published in 2018 (and one may still make it out before Christmas), and two which were accepted last year were also published this year, for a total of five pieces in 2018:

[no book selfie yet]"Bad Harvest", The Martian Wave (2018).
"Being Human", in Robots and Artificial Intelligence (Flametree Publishing, 2018).Author Q&A with Publisher, part 1;
Author Q&A with Publisher, part 2;
About the story
"The Bargain", in J. Scott Coatsworth, ed., Impact: Queer Sci Fi's Fifth Annual Flash Fiction Contest (Other Worlds Ink, 2018).About the story
"The Platform Between Heaven and Earth", in Jessica Augustsson, ed., Wavelengths (Jayhenge Publications, 2018).About the story
"The Name of the Sword", in Carol Hightshoe, ed., Tales from the Fluffy Bunny (WolfSinger Publications, 2018).

I had the amazing realisation, about a week ago, that the earnings I made selling my short fiction this year were enough to cover the costs of a weekend trip to visit a friend and her son, bringing my daughter along with me. We got back late last night, and since she's a fellow writer and one of my biggest champions, it was so satisfying to have funded the trip in this way. (It also makes me realise just how crazy academic publishing is, via which I have made precisely ZERO income.)

This post also seems to be the right place to mention my reviews of short SFF fiction; SFFReviews hit its 1st anniversary in September, and since it's inception, we've reviewed over 560 short SFF stories, and over 275 of those reviews have been mine. Being able to contribute to the reading, writing, consuming, and enjoying of speculative fiction in this way satisfies me almost even more than having my own stories published! (Almost.)

2018 was a good year. Let's hope 2019 is even better!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Approaching philosophy as a speculative fiction author

Two days ago I had the brilliant opportunity of giving a skype guest lecture in Michael Rea's undergraduate class on Science Fiction and Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. Michael invited me to speak to his students not in my capacity as a philosopher but in my capacity as a Real, Live Author (a capacity which I still find a bit boggling that I have!), to speak to his students about the ways in which philosophy feeds into my writing and how my writing feeds into my philosophy. He asked that I speak for 15-20 minutes, and then there'd be a Q&A, both them to me and me to them. It was an excellent hour and a quarter full of living discussion from which I came away with many thoughts about things I'd never considered before, and I thought I'd write up the brief notes I had for my kick-off presentation, as well as put together some lists that I promised the class during the course of class.

In advance of the class, I had them read Kate Elliott's blog post, The Omniscient Breasts, on the problematic internalisation of the "male gaze":

A problem arises when people write and/or read without knowing or realizing they are writing and reading exclusively from the perspective of a male gaze. When this perspective has been internalized as the most authentic or real perspective, it can subsume and devour all other perspectives because it is treated as the truest or only one.

Why does this matter? Because:

Stories told through a female gaze are just as valid, just as true, just as authentic and universal. And they are just as necessary, not just for women but for men, too.

ALL OF THE STORIES ARE NECESSARY

A fortuitious series of events also lead me to read this interview with Sheri S. Tepper in Strange Horizons a few days before giving the talk, and many of the topics discussed in it informed what I wanted to say.

Notes for my presentation

Topic: Why is my reading/writing spec fic relevant/important to my being a philosopher?

  • Brief intro: Who am I?
    • Writer since age 4. 10 year gap while I wrote a PhD/established an academic career.
    • Picked up writing again in 2014; started submitting in 2015. Since then, I've had 9 short stories or pieces of flash fic published or forthcoming. I'm currently in my 3rd year participating in NaNoWriMo
  • Practical aspects: The first way in which integrating the practice of reading and writing fiction into my philosophical research is beneficial is a straightforward practical one: It gives me concrete philosophical research questions to try to answer.
    • What is "creation"? What is being created? "If creation is important to something or someone or is going to become important, then all subcreations of it are also important. Everything is important. There is nothing so unimportant you can ignore it or destroy it with complete impunity." (Tepper interview, op. cit.)
    • What are fictional characters?
    • Truth in fiction.
    • Emotions and fiction.

But this is a rather low-level reason to integrate philosophy and reading/writing fiction: Any of these research questions I could perfectly well engage in without engaging in the production or consumption of fiction; it's just that certain aspects are highlighted or more interesting to me given that I do.

I want to contrast those pragmatic/practical aspects with two other types of aspects which I think are intrinsically tied up in the production and consumption of fiction, and cannot be dealt with separately.

  • Epistemic aspects:
    • Thought experiments: What if?
    • The opportunity to explore ideas (through writing) without having arguments for them.
    • But stories are arguments, and arguments are stories. (see here, here, and here).
    • "Things done in imagination have meaning in the world. Faery is imagination, right? Things done in imagination are transferable to reality. Promises made there can become real." (Tepper interview, op. cit.)
    • We cannot get from here to there without having an idea of what there looks like. We cannot start working towards the future we want to make real until we have a way of conceptualising what the future could be like. Fiction helps us imagine that.
  • Moral aspects:
    • No one is ever persuaded by argument alone. We need stories to persuade people.
    • Every choice matters: In fiction we can chose whether to perpetuate problematic social structures. "The male gaze occurs when the audience, or viewer, is put into the perspective of a heterosexual male." (Laura Mulvey, quoted in Elliott's post, op. cit.). Kate Elliott and the "homosexual agenda": "to him, a sexual gaze was by default a male gaze".
    • "All of the stories are necessary": Necessary how/why?

The Q&A section of the class covered a tremendously wide spectrum of topics, from the very practical questions of how can we shift mainstream media (movies and books) when everything comes down to money; how do we deal with mainstream media where the narratives of the stories (e.g., strong female leadership in the new Star Wars movies) are in conflict with the actual production of the stories (how many women in executive/production roles in the making of the movies?); how do we talk to our friends, families, colleagues about these internalised defaults; how much should we, as writers of fiction, care about how our words might be used against us or misunderstood?

A few specific points came out that I though were really perceptive. One person asked if there were anything like a trans gaze (as opposed to a male or female gaze), and if I could recommend any stories that center that. I'm not sure if it makes sense to speak of a trans gaze (as opposed to, e.g., a nonbinary or genderfluid one), but I could certainly give them recommendations for stories that center trans characters and trans authors. I have elsewhere enthusiastically reviewed a collection of short stories by trans author Ana Mardoll, and I recommend them enthusiastically here. I also recommend the detailed and unending work that that Bogi Takács does, writing, editing, and promoting spec fic by trans authors. They are the editor volumes 2 and 3 of the Transcendent: The Year's Best Transgender Speculative Fiction anthologies (volume 2; volume 3; checkout the rest of Lethe Press's trans and genderqueer fiction), and they also review speculative fiction widely and have a very helpful index of author demographics: Bogi Reads the World. (Follow them on Twitter for more recommendations.)

Another person, who has read enough of my reviews of short SFF fiction for SFFReviews.com to know of my resistance to 2nd person POV, wondered if there was a connection between that and the problematic centering of the male gaze. I thought that was really perceptive, because I'd never put the two together but I think there's something there: I don't really like 2nd person POV because it feels too often like I am being told what to do and what to think and what to feel, and I resist this very strongly. But in a sense, centering the male gaze when the reader is themself not male is similarly problematic -- I am forced into viewing as an object something that I do not want to view as an object. This is certainly something I'd like to pursue further.

Finally, people asked what, concretely, they can do to fight against the problematic structures that are sadly all too entrenched in contemporary SFF media. My best recommendation there was to read the transgressive stuff and to recommend it widely. SFFReviews (linked above) provides one means of identifying stories to read; but I also promised the class a list of mainstream SFF journals that are publishing stories that push back against problems and are freely available online. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it will give people more than enough stories to start with:

All in all, an excellent experience, and no one seemed to mind too much that -- because I was skyping in from my bedroom -- I got photobombed by two different cat butts and a 7yo.