Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Archive for the ‘Look at what I put on the Internet’ Category

Brand New Semester, Same Old Pandemic

leave a comment »

I’ve finally beaten my syllabi into shape for the semester:

ENGLISH 3241: “Crafting the Short Story” (my summer/J-term lit/creative writing hybrid, now in person!)

ENGLISH 4716/5716: “Classics of Science Fiction” (featuring Slaughterhouse-Five, The Female Man, Kindred, Ted Chiang, The Fifth Season, and a NCAA-style tournament to determine which 1980s SF movie we’re going to watch instead of reading Neuromancer)

Comments and suggestions welcome, as always!

Written by gerrycanavan

August 29, 2021 at 6:19 pm

Monday Morning Links!

leave a comment »

A Whole Summer’s Worth of Links Crammed into a Two-Weeks-Sized Bag

leave a comment »

Written by gerrycanavan

August 10, 2021 at 7:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet, Look at what I put on the Internet

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


leave a comment »

Sixty years later, Gerry and Aaron are joined by Keguro Macharia to talk about No Longer at Ease! Should it be illegal to teach Things Fall Apart without also teaching its sequel? Find out within…

GSA1: Things Fall Apart chapters 1-13

leave a comment »

It’s all happening again…

Grad School Achebe: Episode Zero

leave a comment »

The first episode of season two! Gerry and Aaron discuss the gameplan for Grad School Achebe, the history and reception of African literature inside and outside academia, Achebe’s place in the canon, his uncanny recurrent deaths on social media, the finer points of pronunciation, and more. Next week: the podcast falls apart.

Texts discussed:

Chinua Achebe in conversation with Bill Moyers (1988)

Chinua Achebe in conversation with Lewis Nkosi and Wole Soyinka (1964)

Chinua Achebe, No Longer at Ease (2015)

Ceremonial End of the Semester Tab Purge and Semi-Annual Apology for Being So Busy

leave a comment »

Between my research, service obligations, Zoom teaching, the kids’ virtual schooling, and getting a new puppy, I’ve been just incredibly busy. Another man might say: hey, this is the perfect opportunity to let the blog you’ve been updating continuously since 2004 die! But I am no ordinary man...

First, just a few things I’ve been doing:

And a carefully curated, deliberately and self-consciously incomplete list of some things I’ve been reading this spring:

Written by gerrycanavan

May 11, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet, Look at what I put on the Internet

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

GSV25: Death March, Power Rankings, and Celebratory Clambake

leave a comment »

A Hypercontemporary Literature Syllabus! And More!

with 2 comments

The first week is already over and I realized I never got around to putting up my syllabi. I’m teaching two classes this semester, an all-Zoom revision of my Tolkien class and an all-Zoom survey of 21st Century Literature that I decided to focus on texts from more or less the last two years. (I also have an independent study on Gender and Sexuality in New Wave SF that’s been terrific; no formal syllabus for that one but we’re reading Le Guin, Russ, Delany, Tiptree, Lem, the Tarkovskys, all your faves.)

Thanks so much to everyone on Facebook and Twitter who flooded me with suggestions for the 21st Century course. In the end I was so overwhelmed by the possibilities I solicited suggestions directly from the students, which allowed me to craft a syllabus that was both inside and outside my usual wheelhouse, hopefully in ways that will be fun for both my students and myself. And we still get to be surely the first class in the world to study Ishiguro’s new book.

The syllabus doesn’t list the films they picked, but our class vote landed on Parasite and Soul for the last two weeks of class, an intriguing dialectic arraying the full possibilities of the human experience…

synchW1/27Among Us game and thinkpieces [D2L]
asynchF1/29Giorgio Agamben, “What Is the Contemporary?” [D2L]
synchM2/1PLAY/MOVIE: Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me (including bonus material) [Amazon Prime]
synchW2/3What the Constitution Means to Me discussion continues
asynchF2/5POEM: Andrea Gorman, “The Hill We Climb” [D2L] and online reactions 
synchM2/8SHORT STORY: N.K. Jemisin, “Emergency Skin” [Amazon Kindle]
synchW2/10SHORT STORY: Ted Chiang, “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom” [online]
asynchF2/12Jemisin and Chiang sandbox assignment
synchM2/15COMIC: Chris Ware, Rusty Brown, Vol. 1, part one
synchW2/17COMIC: Chris Ware, Rusty Brown, Vol. 1, part two
asynchF2/19COMIC: Chris Ware, Rusty Brown, Vol. 1, part three sandbox assignment
synchM2/22COMIC: Chris Ware, Rusty Brown, Vol. 1, part three discussion
synchW2/24COMIC: Chris Ware, Rusty Brown, Vol. 1, part four
asynchF2/26Haruki Murakami, “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey” [D2L]optional: Haruki Murakami, “A Shinagawa Monkey” [D2L]
synchM3/1Haruki Murakami, “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey” discussion
synchW3/3Hades [Steam or Nintendo Switch]
asynchF3/5Hades sandbox assignment
synchM3/8Hades discussion continues
asynchF3/12Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 1-16
synchM3/15Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 17-30
synchW3/17Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 31-45
asynchF3/19Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 46-60
synchM3/22Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 61-74
synchW3/24Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, chapters 75-90
asynchF3/26Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, whole book
synchM3/29Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future and responses
synchW3/31Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future and responses
synchM4/5Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
synchW4/7Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
asynchF4/9Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
synchM4/12Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
synchW4/14Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
asynchF4/16Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (page range TBD)
synchM4/19CREATIVE NONFICTION: Zadie Smith, Intimations (first half)
synchW4/21CREATIVE NONFICTION: Zadie Smith, Intimations (second half)
asynchF4/23MOVIE or TV SHOW TBD
synchM4/26MOVIE or TV SHOW TBD
synchW4/28MOVIE or TV SHOW TBD
asynchF4/30MOVIE or TV SHOW TDB


leave a comment »

Written by gerrycanavan

December 5, 2020 at 9:25 am

GSV17: Timequake!

leave a comment »

Written by gerrycanavan

November 21, 2020 at 11:11 am

Canavan vs. Endgame, Dawn of Thinkpiece

with one comment

I’ve got a short piece up about Endgame up at Frieze, if you’re interested: Why Avengers: Endgame Doesn’t Have to Make Sense. And a bonus after-the-credits observation here, for the true fans…

Big link post coming soon! Just didn’t want this one to die on the vine in the meantime.

Spring 2019 Syllabi! “Classics of Science Fiction” and Game Studies

leave a comment »

I’m teaching three courses this semester: a graduate level course titled “Classics of Science Fiction,” a first-year seminar on game studies, and the second half of our yearlong “methods of inquiry” sequence (also for first-years). You can see the full syllabi in all their glory at my website:

ENGL 6700: Classics of Science Fiction

Main texts: Jack Finney, Invasion of the Body Snatchers; Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed; Octavia E. Butler, Kindred; William Gibson, Neuromancer; Octavia E. Butler, Bloodchild and Other Stories; Kim Stanley Robinson, The Lucky Strike; Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen; Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), 2001, Blade Runner, and Star Trek: The Next Generation; “That Only a Mother,” “The Evitable Conflict,” “All You Zombies,” “The Heat-Death of the Universe”; “Houston, Houston, Do You Read” and “The Screwfly Solution,” “The Gernsback Continuum,” “Game Night at the Fox and Goose”; “The Space Traders”; criticism from Suvin, Sontag, Jameson, Freedman, Delany, Csiscery-Ronay, Rieder, and even Gerry Canavan himself

HONORS 1955H: Game Studies

Main texts: Ian Bogost, How to Do Things with Video Games; Alexander Galloway, Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture; Frans Märyä, An Introduction to Game Studies; The Stanley Parable, Doom, Journey, Bandersnatch, Tetris, Candy Crush, Civilization, SimCity, The King of Kong, Braid, FIFA 19

CORE 1929H: Methods of Inquiry: The Mind

WEEK ONE—HISTORY: George Rousseau, “Depression’s Forgotten Geneaology: Notes Towards a History of Depression”

WEEK TWO—STRUCTURE: Luigi Esposito and Fernando M. Perez, “Neoliberalism and the Commodification of Mental Health”

WEEK THREE—PERSONAL NARRATIVE: Leslie Kendall Dye, “It Isn’t That Shocking”

That last one is a 1.5 credit course that’s mostly devoted to independent research in the second half, but it did allow me the chance to formalize something like a definition of the difference between the physical sciences and the academic humanities as I see them operating, at least at the level of the very extreme generalization, for better or worse:

Last semester we were working at the intersection of the sciences and the humanities, exploring the ways each of these two “cultures” engage questions of knowledge production and dissemination. In contrasting the humanities to the sciences, I suggested that contemporary humanities approaches—speaking of course extremely generally—tend to extend from a few assumptions that are not always shared by the sciences (especially the physical sciences, but also some historically conservative social science disciplines like economics or political science):

1) social causation: the proposition that the best explanations for social phenomena originate in social structures, rather than in individual psychologies, pathologies, or choices;

2) social construction: the proposition that knowledge is embedded within social structures like language, ideology, history, and economics, rather than existing radically apart from social structures in supposedly objective facts or eternal truths;

3) social justice: the proposition that knowledge has a politics, and that we should choose methods of knowledge production and dissemination that help heal the world rather than do harm or simply remain neutral.

Train Travel Day, Which Means A Whole Trainload of Links

leave a comment »

* Two talks down, two to go! My Worlding SF keynote is archived at Facebook Live, but my “Superheroes vs. the Climate” talk got pulled down due to the Funny or Die video I played during my presentation and will need to be edited and reposted. You can also get some coverage from Austrian Public Radio and the Superscience Me podcast (which was there all weekend reporting on the conference). If you’re dying for more Worlding SF content, there’s always the #WorldingSF hashtag on Twitter!

* I was also briefly interviewed for GlacierHub’s latest blogpost tracing the impact of ice sheets in science fiction.

* CFP: Science Fiction and Communism Conference 2019. CFP: Call for Papers: ANGUISH graduate conference at Georgetown University. CFP: The Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference, on “Artifice.” CFP: Glasgow International Fantasy Conversations, Mapping the Mythosphere, 23rd-24th May 2019. CFP: The 2019 Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, June 7-8, 2019.

* Paradoxa 30 is out, on Latin American Science Fiction.

* Terrific short film inspired by Richard McGuire’s Here.

* Margaret Atwood is officially writing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. All is proceeding precisely as I have foreseen.

* 2018 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar. Of course there’s many, many, many more links below the image…

* Isn’t the most important response to the question “how do we get students to value the humanities” this: how do we get the humanities to value students?

Lies About the Humanities — and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.

What We Hire in Now: English by the Grim Numbers.

“While humanists are often skeptical of measuring a major through debt, salaries, or employment after graduation, other fields that have not already seen extensive declines probably have more to fear from an honest accounting of salaries than we do.”

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has paid $424,000 to insure itself against a significant drop in tuition revenue from Chinese students.

* UNC announces exciting plan to return Silent Sam to campus for a mere $5 million up front and $800,000 every year. (Over the past ten years, taxpayers have directed at least $40 million to Confederate monuments.) They’ve got some other great ideas, too!

* UNC TAs go on strike in protest. More here.

* I mean it’s only half (up front) what they’re paying their basketball coach not to coach basketball anymore.

Louisiana School Made Headlines for Sending Black Kids to Elite Colleges. Here’s the Reality.

Graduate School Can Have Terrible Effects on People’s Mental Health.

* The Insect Apocalypse Is Here. How A Shorter Sea Ice Season Is Changing Life In The Arctic. U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy. The Nobel Prize for Climate Catastrophe. How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking the Planet. Here’s How Climate Change Is Already Impacting The US. How Climate Change Is Challenging American Health Care. Climate May Force Millions to Move and U.S. Isn’t Ready, Report Says. America’s Last-Ditch Climate Strategy of Retreat Isn’t Going So Well. Reindeer in Sweden usually migrate in November. But there’s still no snow. Huge if true. Democrats get on board with Manchin for energy committee post. When the survival of the planet is at stake, calls for moderation and compromise aren’t a mark of adult politics — they’re a threat to civilization. But Mr. Burns and the plot of Snowpiercer have a plan.

* Parable of the Sower was a documentary.

* Imagine a better world: Forests are the most powerful and efficient carbon-capture system on the planet.

* Not even Pantone is safe. More geoengineering, coral reef edition.

* 150 Minutes of Hell: Inside the Carr Fire Tornado.

* Meanwhile, Brexit, am I right?

* Welcome to Our Modern Hospital, Where If You Want to Know a Price You Can Go Fuck Yourself.

The steady erection of a system of minority rule that Republicans are implementing is not as dramatic as a populist putsch. But it’s actually happening before our eyes. And it’s led not by the rabble-rousing president or the unwashed masses who thrill to his rallies, but by the elite network of donors, operatives, and politicians who run the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

* How do they do it, every single time?

* Russians! Surprise! Trump was blackmailing everybody.

* When I was closing tabs I found this story about the Moscow Trump Tower project, which was like three unindicted crimes ago already.

* The notion that a) the constitution absolutely forbids charging the sitting president for crimes, and b) the statute of limitations for those crimes *still runs while he’s in office* so he might never face charges, shows how fatuous the constitutional analysis was to begin with.”

* Trump officially ruining books, too.

Trump Ramped Up Drone Strikes in America’s Shadow Wars. No Bush, No Trump.

* When George H.W. Trump ruined a kid’s life for a five-second TV bit. Why Do Political Journalists Think It’s Their Job to Portray George H.W. Bush as America’s Benign, Saintly Grandpa?

Samuel Oliver-Bruno, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, didn’t need to leave the Durham church where he’s been taking sanctuary for eleven months Friday morning. He knew stepping foot outside the church risked arrest and deportation, but he chose to, in good faith, get a biometric screening to comply with part of his pending asylum petition. At about 8:45 a.m., Oliver-Bruno entered the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Morrisville, where he was thrown on the ground by ICE officers and arrested, according to Viridiana Martinez of Alerta Migratoria. He was taken outside and placed in a beige van with dark tinted windows.

* Migrants Tear Gassed at US Border. Families are still being separated at the border, months after “zero tolerance” was reversed. This is what the world looks like to kids in the caravan. US nixed FBI checks for teen migrant camp staff. ICE To Release Asylum-Seeker After 2 Years In Detention. Trans woman beaten to death in ICE custody. Making President Trump’s Bed: A Housekeeper Without Papers.

Holocaust Survivors Recall Exact Day Holocaust Started Right Out Of The Blue.

* Meanwhile, the Democrats.

* Same joke but meanwhile, NJ Democrats.

What the Cult of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Got Wrong.

The Pentagon’s Massive Accounting Fraud Exposed.

The New Republican Myth of California Voter Fraud. Meanwhile, in NC-09.

* How Democracy Works.

* Coups in WI, MI, NC, and WV. The suffocation of democracy.

* The lame duck session is a deranged, obviously terrible institution.

Overall, the experiences of Central European countries suggest that when left-leaning parties turn their backs on working people, other parties will willingly step up to channel their frustration.

40 million people with diabetes will be left without insulin by 2030, study predicts. Insulin is a cheap and easy to manufacture drug invented 100 years ago, deliberately entered into the public domain by its creators to prevent precisely this situation.

* U.S. Life Expectancy Declines Again. Suicides are at the highest rate in decades, CDC report shows.

* “Is curing patients a sustainable business model?”

Billionaires Made So Much Money Last Year They Could End Extreme Poverty Seven Times.

Unemployment Is So Low Some People Have 2 or 3 Jobs.

* Sign here to lose everything.

He won Powerball’s $314 million jackpot. It ruined his life.

* Generational analysis isn’t great, and yet.

* The violent theft of land and capital is at the core of the U.S. experiment: the U.S. military got its start in the wars against Native Americans.

GM gave out $25b in dividends etc last 5 yrs; its auto biz is now worth just $14b, yet financiers want more. Financialization grinds real industry into the dirt.

* Police chief gets three years for a wide-ranging conspiracy to frame black people for crimes. When Brooklyn juries gentrify, defendants lose. How Incarcerated Parents Are Losing Their Children Forever. Now we see the violence inherent in the system.

An interview with the managing editor at one of the country’s most widely read prison newspapers.

* I’ve been collecting an archive of attempts to bolster the police state by leveraging people’s sympathies for dogs. It’s such a bizarre phenomenon but it happens over and over.

* Meet the Stuntwomen.

* Meet the 90s nonwhite character actors.

You Probably Owe Jennifer’s Body An Apology. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie marketed so catastrophically badly.

About 137 women killed by someone they knew every day in 2017. More here.

* Rape by deception apparently isn’t illegal in Indiana.

* Neil deGrasse Tyson under investigation after accusations of sexual misconduct.

* The Miami Herald has been diving deep into the Jeffrey Epstein case.

* The Socialist Memelords Radicalizing Instagram.

@ChuckWendig yo, can you help me out

* Minneapolis becomes the first American urban area to ban single family housing.

School turns students’ lunch debt over to collection agency.

* Welcome to the Good Place: China’s plan to judge each of its 1.3 billion people based on their social behavior is moving a step closer to reality, with Beijing set to adopt a lifelong points program by 2021 that assigns personalized ratings for each resident.

* What could go wrong? Chinese scientists say they’re creating CRISPR-edited babies.

Millennials in China Are Using Nudes to Secure Loans.

* In less sensationalistic, Orientalist news, approximately one million Uighurs have been put in concentration camps in China.

* Surveillance in everything.

* The Palm Oil Catastrophe.

* Some deep dives into the Sentinelese, among the most isolated people in the world. A Twitter thread.

* Tumblr’s porn bad reveals who controls what we see online.

* How an army of temps produces NPR.

* A people’s history of He-Man.

* Remembering Square One.

* CNN, Palestine, and actually existing media bias.

* Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the politics of digital intimacy.

* N.K. Jemisin:  “I’m writing about dragons as a black woman, and it’s fucking political.”

* Kim Stanley Robinson and Anthropology.

‘Oumuamua goes into stealth mode in preparation for attack.

Gods of Fiction: African writers and the fantasy of power. Ainehi Edoro’s Essay on the God Complex of African Writers Sets Off Social Media Reaction.

* Good poets borrow, great poets steal, but not like that.

* Dialectics of Fortnite: Fortnite Addiction Is Forcing Kids Into Video-Game Rehab. Fortnite as third space.

How one man’s quest to spread Christmas cheer led to a miserable four-year war with his neighborhood.

* Uber is a “bezzle,” doomed to disappoint the suckers who buy into its IPO.

If you flip every word in “manic pixie dream girl” you get “depressive demon nightmare boy” and you think “well thank goodness THAT’S not a thing at least-“ but then you…

* Millennials are brokest generation. Doing my part!

* Jigsaw puzzle mashups.

* Huge — IF true.

In East Germany, a gamer scene emerged just before the fall of communism. Teenagers met at a computer club to swap and play C64 games. The state watched with interest.

* I’ve been rereading the series with my kids at bedtime and this is definitely canon.

* Six french fries? In this economy?

Written by gerrycanavan

December 11, 2018 at 7:15 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet, Look at what I put on the Internet

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


with one comment

(One of the nice things about my recent promotion is that I can perhaps start to think a little differently about the way I publish. With that in mind here’s my ICFA 2018 talk, delivered earlier this morning on the Star Wars and Star Trek panel, which builds on some recent writing I’ve been doing on franchise SF but which doesn’t really have a natural home in any of my current writing projects. As you can see it winds up in a similar place to my “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” post but takes a somewhat different path to get there.)

Hello, and thanks for coming out to this early morning panel. I did indeed just find out that I’ve been promoted — this is actually the first official thing I’m doing since I found out, which is nice because I really think of ICFA as my “home” conference. I’ve been coming here since the very start of my career and many of my earliest and best opportunities (my first publication, my first book contract, in various ways most of the editing projects I’ve done) have come out of my association with ICFA. It’s a very good place.

That said, I also like SFRA, where I am the outgoing vice-president, and one of the organizers of the upcoming SFRA18 conference to be held on the campus of Marquette University July 1-4, 2018. I have a few flyers, which I’ve also been secreting to various locations on the conference tables when no one is looking—I hope to see some of you there! Please email me with any questions or for any additional details.

I’ll be talking today about Star Trek (and Star Wars just a little bit), which is coming out of some pieces on franchise SF I’ve been doing over the last couple years, including a piece I was proud of that was shortlisted for the Pioneer Award this year (“Hokey Religions: Star Wars and Star Trek in the Age of Reboots”), popular criticism at The Los Angeles Review of Books and Sight and Sound, Dan Hassler-Forest and Sean Guynes’s Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling book, and even a blog post for the recent An und für such blog event on Discovery that went up this Tuesday night. So if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook some of this might be familiar to you, though I think most of it will be new.

Since this is a Star Wars and Star Trek panel I wanted to start off my remarks with an observation of the intriguing convergence that has been happening between these two in recent years. People who’ve been attending ICFA for awhile may find this convergence somewhat unexpected, as Star Wars and Star Trek have long been understood here as doing significantly different things, and perhaps as not even properly belonging to the same genre at all. This critical distinction was matched by or, more likely, produced by a parallel divide in SF fandom of the 1980s and 1990s; people who are old enough to have been active on the early Internet will recall that Star Wars vs. Star Trek was a banned topic on many forums, especially in its more fannish varieties (like the infamous question “Who would win in a fight, a Star Destroyer or the Enterprise D?”).

Now, this all may seem a little strange—of course the Enterprise D would win that fight, as the military applications of transporter technology alone far surpass any of the known tactical capabilities of the Empire, much less their sad devotion to the ancient Jedi religion.

But it’s also a bit strange to see fandom elevate the at-times rather slim distinctions between these two mass cultural corporate megabrands to the level of political or even moral principle, especially as those distinctions are largely originating on the level of affective response (what kind of person does watching Star Trek make me feel like I am, what kind of person does their watching Star Wars make me feel like they are, and so on), rather than any particularly rigorous distinction on the level of either form or content.

The thin line dividing the two properties has only grown thinner in recent years,as the J.J. Abrams reboot timeline expressly bringing a Star Wars action-comedy sensibility to Trek (with J.J. openly trumpeting that he wasn’t a Star Trek fan in his promotion of the first reboot film)

and the J.J. Abrams “sequel trilogy” bringing a dyspeptic, 80s-Trek-movies sensibility to Star Wars (where the once-carefree franchise becomes, in its 2010s formulation, an extended and grim meditation on the unfulfilled promises of youth, the roads not taken, the disappointments of parenting, and the sadness of growing old).

In 2016-2017 we saw each property embark full-throatedly on a project of metanarrative revision, directing their attention not only to telling new stories about categories of people they had previously ignored but also interrogating the assumptions that had previously undergirded appreciation of each franchise. I’ll talk most about Star Trek: Discovery in what follows but I hope this produces an immediate glimmer of recognition as a description of both Rogue One and The Last Jedi, which both not only center on women as central protagonists, and which both proliferate new points of audience identification beyond just “Bad Empire” and “Good Rebellion,” but which also give us new ways of understanding the mythic logic that structures the Holy Trilogy of episodes IV, V, and VI. Rogue One shows us “Star War is hell” after all, recentering our attention on the nameless extras in the background who need to die, anonymous and unmourned, so Luke Skywalker can be the Chosen One — while The Last Jedi shows us that being the Chosen One isn’t exactly all it’s cracked up to be either, and that the fantasy we thought we wanted (“You think what? I’m gonna walk out with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order?”) is infantile and embarrassing, and in any event when it does come produces not “new hope” but a new world of death that has the same no-future in the end (Kylo doesn’t turn Good; to a rounding error the Resistance doesn’t escape; Luke doesn’t save the day, and in fact, Luke dies).

For the rest of my talk I’ll be elaborating on what Discovery does to Star Trek, in the opposite direction, but my central claim can be summarized in a variation on a recent tweet of mine: Today Star Wars wants to be Star Trek and Star Trek wants to be Star Wars, and everyone is sad.

Have people been watching Star Trek: Discovery? Who’s seen all the way to the end?

I really hope I’ve pitched the paper at a level where everyone can enjoy what I’m about to say whether you’ve seen the series or not.

Because this is an academic talk I will have to break the spoiler seal, so I apologize if you were planning on going back to the room to watch some CBS All Access tonight. (That goes for you, too, Internet.) And it’s strange in a way to even have to worry about, as Star Trek has historically been a primarily episodic concern, with season and series arcs existing only at the margins of the franchise, especially in its paradigmatic formulations of TOS/TNG. It hasn’t previously hinged on “spoilers.” But Discovery is nearly all arc, nearly all mythology episodes: there is only one properly standalone episode in the series after the pilot, episode 7, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” and even that one is nominally a sequel. (I’ll return to the subject of that episode a little bit in a moment). The other fourteen episodes are almost nothing but series arc, each episode feeding directly into the next, and sadly comprised of mostly “shocking” plot twists.

I feel as though I should also apologize the way Steve did yesterday, too, for this being all a little bit fannish. But this is ICFA, after all.

The initial arc of Discovery, which is set approximately a decade before the adventures depicted in the original season of Star Trek (1966), concerns Cmdr. Michael Burnham, who in the pilot has served on the Shenzhou under Captain Phillippa Georgiou (most recently as the first officer) for seven years. (That’s no arbitrary number; seven years is the typical run of a modern Star Trek series, so we are essentially being introduced to these characters in the context of the series finale of the TNG-style series Star Trek: Shenzhou, which of course never actually aired.) Burnham is a human orphan, her parents having been murdered in a raid by Klingon marauders; afterwards she was raised on Vulcan as a Vulcan by her adopted parent, long-running Star Trek secondary character Sarek (Spock’s father). She is therefore the adopted human sister of Spock, whom he just never happened to have mentioned on camera in any context before now.

Encountering a massive Klingon installation at the edge of space, Burnham becomes convinced that the Shenzhou needs to fire on the Klingons or the Shenzhou will be destroyed. Georgiou refuses on the basis that Starfleet does not fire first — so Burnham disables her with a Vulcan neck pinch in her ready room and gives the order as if it came from Georgiou, becoming Starfleet’s first-ever mutineer. Georgiou recovers quickly and belays the order, and in the ensuing battle the Shenzhou is lost, Georgiou is killed, and the Federation plunges into a cataclysmic war with a newly reunited and newly dangerous Klingon Empire that soon threatens its very survival.

(I should say here the series never exactly commits to whether Burnham’s impulse was correct, whether it could have stopped the war or saved the Shenzhou if she’d been allowed to see it through. That’s deliberate: in Discovery we aren’t in a place where we can simply trust our heroes implicitly anymore, and nobody knows what’s actually right or what’s best.)

This is just the pilot and we are already quite far afield of our expectations of a Star Trek series: mutiny, war, death, blowing up the ship and killing the captain and then not undoing it by the end of the episode. But things only get worse from here.

Burnham is found guilty of mutiny and sentenced to life imprisonment on a Federation work colony; however, sometime later, while being transferred with some other prisoners, there is an accident with her shuttle and she is brought aboard the science vessel U.S.S. Discovery, captained by Gabriel Lorca.

The Discovery has been retrofitted for the war, and in fact soon becomes the key tactical asset of the Federation, as it possesses a unique “spore drive” that taps into a fungal substratum of the universe, allowing the Discovery to appear and reappear anywhere it likes instantaneously. Lorca—a disabled, traumatized veteran of the war who has already lost one ship to Klingon attack, its only survivor—runs the ship not in the loose, avuncular style of previous captains but as a warship, an actual military vessel, with strict military discipline, unquestioning obedience, and a shoot-first-and-take-no-prisoners attitude towards the prosecution of the war. Indeed, our early episodes on the Discovery indicate that a decidedly un-Starfleet cult of personality has developed around Lorca on the Discovery, with some officers utterly worshipful of his leadership and others (especially the Discovery’s initial science complement, who have now found themselves conscripted as soldiers) deeply skeptical of his attitudes and decisions. One of Burnham’s compatriots from the Shenzhou, Lt. Saru, from an evolved prey species called the Kelpians, has been promoted and is now Lorca’s first officer, though he seems weirdly out of the loop compared to earlier first officers we’ve known.

And if you were at the Trek/Star Wars/Mass Effect worldbuilding panel yesterday, and heard Steve Rabitsch say he doesn’t like any of the DIS characters yet: I defy anyone not to like Saru.

Lorca doesn’t stand on ceremony with Burnham; he knows her past but also her ingenuity and incredible usefulness, and offers to allow her to resume service in Starfleet despite her crime as a non-commissioned enlistee, under his broad wartime legal authority.

The first arc thus details Burnham’s reintegration into Starfleet under the unusual Discovery command structure, as the Discovery first perfects the spore drive and then uses it to singlehandedly turn the tide of the war.

Until, that is, the last episode of the first arc, when Lorca uses the now-perfected spore drive to teleport the Discovery not home to Earth, where it can win the war, but to the Mirror Universe, first seen in the classic TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror,” home of the infamous Evil Goateed Crew.

In an extremely Star Wars twist, it turns out Lorca is not our father; he is not the affable, dad-joke Kirk, nor the dignified and distant but he-really-loves-you-on-the-inside Picard, nor the bombastic, affectionate Sisko. He’s actually the Mirror Universe Lorca, who was marooned in our universe after a transportation accident years before and who has successfully impersonated a proper Starfleet captain ever since (actually rising to extreme prominence in the fleet as an incredibly effective, brilliant war hero, due to his merging of Starfleet’s collectivist organizational ethos with brutal Mirror-Universe tactics). Lorca has done all this in a convoluted plan to return to the Mirror Universe and overthrow the Mirror Universe’s “Terran empire” and put himself at its head, with the Prime Burnham ruling by his side (the consequence of a creepy obsession he has with her, due to his having groomed the Mirror Burnham for a likely sexual relationship while acting as a literal father figure towards her in her childhood).

Luckily, in a Star-Wars-style, Throne-Room-fight high-speed resolution, Lorca is dispatched almost immediately after revealing himself as a bad guy, falling through a hole in the floor into the spore drive, presumably never to be heard from again.

Problem solved, the Discovery then goes back to the Prime Universe, where it arrives nine months late to find a Federation at the brink of defeat. But, through another extremely convoluted plan and a very high-speed resolution, they solve that problem too, and give a quick speech affirming the superiority of the Federation’s values that has not been borne at all out by any the events we have witnessed over the course of the season, while they all give each other medals—the end.

I write in last month’s LARB piece about Discovery about the way the series is unwilling to fully commit to its revisionist narrative (much moreso than either Rogue One and The Last Jedi, in fact), and instead characteristically uses its moments of “shocking revelation” as an opportunity to eject the suspect element from the series and start the narrative over.

And I write in this week’s AUFS piece about the way these attempt to eject these non-Trekian elements of the series—many of them the undead remnants of the original Bryan Fuller conception of Discovery that proved problematic during actual production, especially after he left the series—has itself proved failed. I don’t have time to talk about the whole post here or, indeed, to explain the entire time-travel conceit of “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”—I advise you to carefully study my blog post on your own time—so in the time remaining to me today allow me to simply summarize the essential problem I found there: like most of the early episodes of Discovery, “Magic,” ostensibly a standalone episode with a happy, we-beat-the-bad-guy ending, is no longer standalone at all, and in fact now almost impossible to watch without constantly thinking about the Mirror Universe twist. To make a long story short:

…having exposed and then immediately ejected Lorca from the series has not “solved the problem” of Lorca but retroactively turned rewatching the series into an exercise of trying to read Jason Isaacs’s exquisitely opaque facial expressions for some slight dropping of Lorca’s mask. On rewatch the whole series is now even more about Lorca than it was before.

Discovery has thus produced a perverse situation where it is primarily—indeed, nearly entirely—about something it has since decided it doesn’t want to be about—and that thing is unfortunately not “Star Trek,” at least not as we have ever understood the concept before. I’ll quote again from that piece:

As of yet we know very little about Star Trek: Discovery season two. But I think it’s fair for us, in this off season, to ask what elements of season one will extend to season two that will reward repeated rewatching by obsessive fans. Lorca is gone; Culber is gone; Tyler is gone; the war is over; Burnham is reinstated; Stamets is a plot device; Sarek is boring; Tilly is extremely inconsistently written, and by the end almost exclusively for laughs. What from the perspective of season two and beyond—from the perspective of the whole series as we will come to recognize it retrospectively years from now—will look like the must-see episodes of season one?

At the moment I think this is still very hard to say.

The last shot of the season, a cliffhanger, has the Discovery literally face-to-face with the Enterprise (still Pike’s, not Kirk’s), a place where Burnham’s adopted sibling Spock is currently serving as science officer. The series, that is, true to form, ends precisely on yet another image of imperfect, failed, mirroring: Discovery and the original Enterprise are clearly two versions of one another, in some sense or another, but the image is oddly composed, tilted and asymmetrical, and the twinned questions of (1) continuity and difference and (2) priority and subordination between the two ships remain very open-ended. Discovery seems unable to either replicate the past or to break free of it; even armed with the incredible power of the spore drive, it lacks direction or destination.

Star Trek after Discovery is thus facing a deep crisis of narrative coherence, condemned to be neither “Star Trek” nor “after”; indeed, having tossed out nearly everything that constituted the first season, there is very little sense of what if anything can extend from this initial season into a future, seven-or-more-year Trek arc like the ones we have been habituated to expect post-TNG. To coin a phrase: What are the spores here? What sort of life can grow on Discovery now, post-season-one? And will the thing this show grows into truly be “Trek,” whatever that means?

I am of course speculating here, but if any such through-line exists I suspect the key figure will actually be Saru, a key character I have spoken very little about here who is sidelined for much of the first season due to the breakdown of his prior relationship with Burnham and his effective nonpresence in Lorca’s inner circle. With the possible, arguable exception of Deep Space Nine, no Trek series has ever managed to be a true ensemble show: a pair or trio of characters always rises to the top to provide the primary locus of narrative interest. Picard and Data; Kirk and Spock (and McCoy); Janeway and Seven (and maybe the Doctor); Archer and T’Pol (and Trip). While Lorca dominates season one—so thoroughly that it is hard for me to imagine what the series will look like without him, and episodes 1.14 and 1.15 don’t exactly fill me with confidence—it seems hard to imagine that Discovery as a multi-season, unified totality can be anything but Burnham and Saru. Their fraught, delicate, but genuine friendship is the last remaining source of compelling interpersonal drama that hasn’t been jettisoned from the series by the end of season one; if seasons two (and beyond) are to feel like an extension of season one, rather than a complete reboot, Burnham and Saru will have to be their foundation.

In short, I argue, to survive as a coherent narrative project rather than an exercise in rebranding, Star Trek after Discovery will first and foremost need to find its way back to being Star Trek—and the fertile ground of the Burnham-Saru friendship is only path I see from where we are now towards that goal. If there’s hope for the series, it starts there. Thanks for listening!