The quarter at UC Davis is over, and I’m spending most of my time revising a 4,000-word entry on “Science and Technology” for Mark Twain in Context, a book forthcoming from Cambridge U Press. It’s a joy to read/re-read some of the famous moments in Twain’s life, especially now that we have all three volumes of the Autobiography out (thanks, Berkeley!) So I find myself writing about Tesla, vivisection, patent law, steamboat safety, and other things Twain was interested in.
On the fiction front, not so much luck. A rejection last week. Only one story currently making the rounds. I just don’t have the time to do the Twain entry and revise a couple of stories in progress to the level they really need to be before submission.
This week, students in my Fall 2018 “First-Year Seminar” on steampunk turned in their first round of creative projects.
The assignment asks them to “steampunk a common object.” As you can see from the photo below, I got some clever responses including steampunk “blue books” for final exams, hair salon fixtures, water bottles (with analog temperature gauge), and light sticks (for those Victorian EDM raves).
I have a particularly smart and fun bunch of first-year students this year, though I wish we’d had more time; two sessions of the class were canceled due to smoke from the Northern California fires.
I’m doing a reading/signing for my book, Gears and God, at the Avid Reader in Davis this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Please share with friends who like Mark Twain, science fiction, or U.S. history!
As promised earlier, here is a link to the full text of John Bird’s review of Gears and God on the Mark Twain Forum. Here’s an excerpt:
Gears and God is important for the way it places Mark Twain’s works within the context of dime novels that link technology, imperialism, and religion, all important topics in Twain studies. While Williams is careful not to claim that Twain was a reader of such popular sub-genre fiction, his study shows that Twain was part of a broader cultural movement that has not been fully explored.
Gears and God received a really positive review from John Bird on the Mark Twain Forum last week. I’m unable to reprint it, but will try to link to it in the future.
Speaking of reviews, I’m thrilled to be reviewing Jason Heller’s new book, Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded, in a future issue of SFRA Review. This book is an astounding feat of research into rock history and science fiction.
I was thrilled to hear about Heller’s book at Worldcon, and was so stoked by its contents that I promptly volunteered to review it for SFRA Review. I’m going back through it, doing a critical reading, but my initial impressions were “These connections are amazingly cool.” The Bowie material is only the tip of the iceberg. I’ll link to that when it’s out.
A few months ago, Joe Lemak from the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College asked me if I’d like to write something to promote my book for their web site.
Today, they’ve published that essay, along with some great visuals. The piece is called “Gears and God: What Powered Twain’s Speculative Fiction?”
I’d encourage folks to read it, and to browse some of the other material Elmira has published in the last year on the site. They do an excellent blend of notes on recent research, coverage of their “Trouble Begins a 8” lecture series, and notes on international Twain scholarship. They’ve really been knocking it out of the park.
The image on the left is one of Dan Beard’s illustrations from the original edition of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). The image on the right is from a Frank Reade, Jr. dime novel from a few years earlier. Both feature 19th-century guys in chain mail. To learn more, read the article at the Center for Mark Twain Studies.
This week, BBC announced the official premiere date of the new season of Doctor Who, starring Jodie Whittaker. The first episode’s title will be “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.”
It’s a tip of the hat to 1970s sci-fi film starring David Bowie. There’s more on the connection in the Radio Times article.
I’ve written before about connections between Who and Bowie: