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Edward James: An Introduction.

Here's something that you may not know about Edward James.

He's been reading sf since 1952--indeed, he recalls that the first thing he read was, at five years old, an episode of the weekly comic Eagle, about Dan Dare's (excuse me: Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future!) (sorry) Dan Dare's adventures in "Marooned on Mercury" (excuse me: Marooned on Mercury!). He was 17 when he attended his first sf convention, in 1964. First, a fan.

Here are some things you might or might not know about Edward James. He's been a stunningly successful scholar inside and outside our field. Take a look at his website: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers in the Great War, for which he won a British Science Fiction Association award in 2015. (That's https ://fantastic-writers-and-the-great-war.com). Or read his most recent book--Lois McMaster Bujold. Published by the University of Illinois Press, it was a finalist for the Locus award in Non-Fiction.

Naming these two things suggests a more expansive catalog. Edward is a medievalist, and as medievalists know, at least according to Adso of Melk, the participant-author of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose: "there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of [divine] hypotyposis": Edward's catalog includes, on sf & f, nine books, either monographs or edited collections; thirty-two significant book chapters or journal articles; twelve encyclopedia articles; several score more of papers and reviews and public lectures.

Then there's the material from his day job, as a medieval historian. Well, he's now retired from University College, Dublin, but remains Emeritus Professor of Medieval History and continues work as a historian; his new book project concerns Gregory of Tours.

Let me single out two of these books: Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (a monograph) and The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, co-edited with Farah Mendlesohn. As The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction rightly says, uScience Fiction in the Twentieth Century, though designed as an introductory survey to the field, has much to say [...] to his fellow scholars as well," a claim confirmed when it won an Eaton Award for best critical study on sf. The Cambridge Companion to SF, which deservedly won the Hugo award for best related work, is an invaluable collection, simultaneously sophisticated enough for dedicated professionals and accessible enough for novices. These are great works of scholarship--sophisticated, and accessible.

Lists of publications are well and good. But we ought not neglect the pivotal role he's played in service to sf & f scholarship and to nurturing younger scholars. With Patrick Parrinder, he co-founded the MA program in SF studies at the University of Reading--to my knowledge, the first formal program in sf studies in the UK. Edward was the chief editor of Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction for fifteen years, and has continued to be a key participant in the Science Fiction Foundation and the British Science Fiction Association.

And here's something that I bet you do know about Edward James. This will be my anecdote, though I invite those of you who have been fortunate to work with him to share your anecdotes with the others at your table, or perhaps later today with conferees outside by the pool. Or perhaps you could send him an email mentioning the same. (You can contact him through his website, which is edwardfjames dot com; that "f" is needed since if you google Edward James from the US you'll get people who want to sell you mutual funds.) Edward is many things, but he won't try to sell you mutual funds.

So this is the spring of 2004, back when ICFA sometimes had one-hour sessions with two papers rather than 90-minutes sessions with three. Edward was the chair, and the other participant didn't show up. No idea why. My talk concerned William Gibson's then brand-new novel Pattern Recognition, which I claimed was his first postmodern novel. Some members of the audience were incredulous, and so we had to litigate the entire and generally quite dreary argument about the nature of the postmodern. People who know me know I'm a Biden-class bloviator, so I was happy to jabber away. But I mention this event for two reasons. First, how Edward moderated the discussion, continually turning us toward clearer, more profitable paths; one of the ways he did so was by containing my obsessive pedantry and penchant for obscurity with kind directives and discerning questions; he also insisted that members of the audience sharpen their interjections and objections. He guided the entire group, not just me. What he demonstrated in that hour was an extraordinary skill at teaching and at leading--good lord, he must be a remarkable classroom teacher and graduate advisor.

The second reason for my anecdote is what he said to me after the session. The particular words I'll keep private, thank you very much, but they came at an important moment in my career, which he somehow intuited, as cats do when they intuit human sickness or suffering. I was just then committing myself to sf scholarship, retooling after some years focused on American poetry and theory, and I was in the midst of a serious attack of imposter syndrome. His words were both encouragements and provocations, and I cannot sufficiently thank him for that wonderful gift.

Though I did just compare him to a cat, and don't know if he'll be insulted or charmed.

Won't you please join me in welcoming this year's scholar Guest of Honor--our accomplished colleague, our good friend, and our teacher--Professor Edward James.
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Author:Easterbrook, Neil
Publication:Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Date:Jan 1, 2019
Words:916
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