Dr. Who Draws from David Bowie (Again)

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:

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Gears & God (& Me) at Worldcon 76

My box of author copies of Gears and God arrived a couple of weeks ago. I’ve also heard that people who’ve already ordered it on Amazon have received their copies in the past weeks.

I’m lucky to have Borderlands Books carrying copies at the World Science Fiction convention this weekend.

The book also comes with a fine color photo of me on the back flap, taken by my friend Julia at Jewel Photography. I’m posting that here, mostly so the photo starts showing up on Google; there are a lot of Nathaniel Williamses out there.

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Worldcon Academic Track and Schedule

This weekend, I’m working as the lead coordinator of Worldcon 76’s academic-track programming in San Jose. This means I’ll be moderating multiple panels, as well as attending most of the other ones. Full info is on the online programming guide. Stop by and say hello!

I have two additional events (both on Friday):

  • Moderating “Un-Pulping the Pulp Heroes” panel with Cat Rambo, Sheila Williams, Sean Grigsby, and Ira Nayman at 1:00 p.m. Friday in Room 211C.
  • Signing copies of Gears and God at the SFWA Author’s Autographing Table from 2:00 to 2:30 p.m. Friday.
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Oxford Fantasy Class

In four weeks, I taught seven novels at Jesus College, Oxford and oversaw multiple day trips. Examples?

  • After reading Alice in Wonderland, we visited Christ Church College in Oxford where Lewis Carroll taught and took a boat ride down the Isis River to see the meadows where he’d picnic with the Liddell Family.
  • After reading Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we visited Magdelen College where Lewis taught and followed the path at Addison’s Walk (where Tolkien convinced Lewis to convert to Christianity).
  • Before finishing Fellowship of the Ring, we went to Stonehenge and looked at the barrows around the area.
  • After finishing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we took the Harry Potter Studio tour outside London.
  • After finishing The Book of Dust, we ate at the Trout pub and walked the ruins of the Abbey nearby (both prominently featured in Pullman’s book).

I’m posting a few pictures below:

We also enjoyed following the English team during the World Cup, playing Aunt Sally, and many other events.

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Teaching Fantasy Class at Oxford

This summer, it will be my honor to cover Dr. Amy Clarke’s regular UC Davis Study Abroad class called Oxford: Portal to Fantasy.

Right now, I’m having a wonderful time revisiting some classics (and reading a few new ones). The course includes the following novels:

  1. Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
  2. Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
  3. C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  4. J. R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
  5. Diane Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle
  6. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  7. Philip Pullman, The Book of Dust

My students will be coming from UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UCLA, and Foothill College.

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Steampunk Class Projects

Last quarter, I finished up another section of my UC Davis first-year seminar on Steampunk. Fifteen students came on board to read the VanderMeer’s short story collection, the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel, and watch Wild Wild West and Howl’s Moving Castle.

One of the special projects asks them to design a steampunk character (for a comic, or video game, or other media). I thought I’d share a photo of some of their entries.



This year I had two students who used porcelain-style dolls for their characters. Other submissions included a four-legged “steam sheriff,” a girl balloonist, and an electric-robot version of “The Little Mermaid.”

Overall, the assignment simply asks them to show familiarity with steampunk iconography. Each one comes with a description of the characters, similar to the ones featured for costumes at the Steampunk Emporium.

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There are Two James Gunns, but Nobody’s Confused

James Gunn had two great stories in Asimov’s last month, finishing a string of works he’s published there over the last year, all affiliated with his recent Transcendental series for Tor Books.

Asimov's GUnn

But the author is not the same guy that I wrote about last month who makes movies and is a longtime Replacements fan.

Oddly enough, there are two James Gunns in the world of science fiction.

The one in Asimov’s is a nonagenarian and SFWA Grand Master, a true literary legend. He’s written scores of novels and short stories since the 1950s, and is still writing today. His dystopia about futuristic medicine was turned into a TV series (ABC’s short-lived The Immortal). Oh, and he pretty much invented college-level science fiction instruction as a professor at the University of Kansas.

The other James Gunn is a fortysomething who writes pictures in Hollywood and who directed the best, swellest sci-fi movie you saw in 2014 and its equally fun sequel. He started working at Troma, the place that brought you Toxic Avenger and the like. Clearly, the guy revels in the “so bad it’s good” school of art. (And, as the huge popularity of his Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack proves, he has an omnivorous taste for great pop music, whether sappy, cheezy, or just plain sweet.)

The two Gunns aren’t related, but they have a lot in common.

Both bring a wickedly dark sense of humor to speculative material. Gunn’s novel Kampus (1977) is a twisted take on hippie academia, with a lot of the same over-the-top violence and cringe-worthy sex found in director-Gunn’s awesome movie Super from 2010.

They’re also both Missouri boys, although author-Gunn is from Kansas City and director-Gunn grew up in St. Louis.

The big question: does this confuse anyone? The answer seems to be “no.” I’ve checked the Internet (never known for its lack of complaining) and found no one nonplussed about two James Gunns.

Maybe it’s just the bifurcation of science-fiction fandom. Conventional wisdom says that most of the Comic-con types don’t the read monthly fiction magazines, and the fandom that does follow print media and novel series may not embrace the same material as its popcorn-eating, media-frenzied brethren.

I don’t know if I agree with that summation, but I hear it a lot in SF circles. Make of it what you will.

I enjoy both men’s work though. I count KU’s James Gunn as a mentor and friend. And I enjoyed the hell out of Slither.

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