Author Topic: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?  (Read 918 times)

dubsartur

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CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« on: January 02, 2021, 03:47:39 AM »
https://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/cfp/2020/12/21/do-ancient-egyptians-dream-of-electric-sheep-the-reception-of-ancient-egypt-in
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Date: 9 July 2021

Registration: estimated £10, £5 students/unwaged

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) – a milestone in the history of the science fiction genre – the eponymous scientist is horrified when the creature he has assembled from assorted body parts is successfully animated. ‘A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch’, Frankenstein relates. This comparison – between a figure who represents the potential disastrous consequences of cutting-edge scientific enquiry and the bodies of the ancient Egyptian dead – is one that recurs later in the novel. Having dispatched his creator, the creature’s ‘vast hand’ is described as ‘in colour and apparent texture like that of a mummy’. Nearly two centuries later, Roland Emmerich’s Stargate (1994) also depicts ancient Egyptian bodies in settings infused with a futuristic aesthetic; alien entities acquire human forms in order to extend their lifespans, while sarcophagi are reimagined as regeneration chambers.

Science fiction has undeniably contributed to creating an image of ancient Egypt, and yet it is only starting to be addressed by Egyptological scholarship. Literature, theatre, film, television, comics, and video games all present images of Egypt that have had an enduring impact on perceptions of Egypt by the public. Nevertheless, and despite the involvement of experts in contributing to or shaping these cultural products – in Stargate’s case, in professional Egyptological consultation with regards to written and spoken Ancient Egyptian – the ways in which Egyptological scholarship informs science fiction in particular still remain to be explored. How might Egyptologists engage with this material beyond judging its historical authenticity? And to what extent can science fiction contribute to scholarly discussions of ancient Egypt?

The aim of this workshop is to explore the reception and reconstruction of Egypt in science fiction, fostering a dialogue among Egyptologists, cultural historians, literary scholars, and creative practitioners. The organisers are keen to receive abstracts from scholars coming from a variety of academic perspectives and diverse backgrounds, and who are interpreting science fiction in its broadest sense, including those informed by ancient Egyptian understandings of science.

The organisers seek proposals for 15-minute papers, which should be sent in the body of an email to Dr Leire Olabarria [L.Olabarria@bham.ac.uk] and Dr Eleanor Dobson [E.C.Dobson@bham.ac.uk] by 28 February 2021. Abstracts should be a maximum of 250 words and should be accompanied by a short biographical note.

I sent an email about it but did not get a reply or see it in the latest Exilian newsletter.

Jubal

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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2021, 11:56:44 AM »
Sorry, that's my bad - Leafly was busy so I had to finish the newsletter, and I've had a cold the last few days and haven't been keeping up with checking emails properly. :( My apologies!

That does look very interesting - I have an idea for a paper, too, but I don't know if I have the time to write or present it...
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dubsartur

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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2021, 09:22:44 PM »
The first thing that strikes me is that even though weird fiction in general and SF in particular is fascinated with the ancient world (Jason Colavito, The Cult of Alien Gods ...) its hard to think of Egyptian themes in SF (which is a genre of prose written by people who published in the United States between 1939 and 1975).  Key writers like L. Sprague de Camp or Harry Turtledove used Egyptian themes in their historical fiction but not their SF as far as I can recall.  Turning ancient Egyptian astronauts into a SF movie and TV series was really unusual!

Its easier to think of an important story with Hittite themes ("Omnilingual") than Egyptian.

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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2021, 12:07:03 AM »
I'd usually take a muuuuch broader definition of SF! But I see what you mean.

I guess one case par excellence to look at in a wider definition of Science Fiction are things like the Necrons, who have a very clear Egyptian theme. I suspect there's a lot more tangential referencing when one looks into casual use of e.g. glyph systems, pyramids, pharaonic imagery around rulers, etc. The pyramids-aliens-space trope is definitely one that's seen a lot of use.
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dubsartur

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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2021, 12:31:07 AM »
I'd usually take a muuuuch broader definition of SF! But I see what you mean.

I guess one case par excellence to look at in a wider definition of Science Fiction are things like the Necrons, who have a very clear Egyptian theme. I suspect there's a lot more tangential referencing when one looks into casual use of e.g. glyph systems, pyramids, pharaonic imagery around rulers, etc. The pyramids-aliens-space trope is definitely one that's seen a lot of use.
The Necrons appeared pretty recently in the Wh40k-verse, didn't they?  Like the past 10 or 15 years?  Around when the Tau were introduced?

Glyphs and pyramids often draw on Mesoamerican and Mesopotamian archaeology, like in "Red Nails" (which has a laser wand, carnivorous stegosaurus, and mesmerism so the line between fantasy and SF is fuzzy) or "At the Mountains of Madness."

Light novels (for fascistic understandings of 'entertaining') by Baen often have a "god-king" trope which is vaguely inspired by stereotypes about Egypt.  Karl August Wittfogel's hydraulic despotism comes up in Niven's "What can you say about Chocolate-Covered Manhole-Covers?" but I can't recall it being a major trope in worldbuilding like historical cycles, the Fall of the Roman Empire, or ideas about feudalism.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2021, 01:05:29 AM by dubsartur »

Jubal

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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2021, 01:57:19 PM »
22 years since their introduction and 18 since their first full sourcebook, apparently, as compared to 20 years since the first T'au were released, so yeah, they're about much of a muchness for age. I think they're nonetheless one of the big, recognisable Egyptoidish science fiction cultures/factions that has wide cultural penetration as of now.

And yeah, it's definitely true that Mesoamerican, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian stuff tends to get muddled in popular consciousness. I think the fascination with undeath is seen as quite a specifically Egyptian theming trope though (regardless of whether that's true). Mesoamerica I guess one can hive off more reliably with tropes about priests and sacrifice and whatever in a pulp fiction sense, whereas most people don't have a sufficiently separate aesthetic idea of ancient Mesopotamia to really evoke it in trope-space all that easily as independent from an ancient Egyption aesthetic.
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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2021, 06:08:16 PM »
Definitely in agreeance that the original Necron theme was definitely going for Egypt rather than, say, Mesopotamian or Mesoamerican. Or perhaps, rather than ancient Egypt in general, so much as Egypt specifically in a way which was inspired by the Mummy films of the 90's (which I think is a big part of the inspiration behind the Tomb Kings from WHFB, or at least the direction they went in over time in that game)

Immediately upon seeing the topic here, Star Gate was the first thing I thought of. Admittedly, beyond that, I didn't really think of too much else. I didn't even click with Necrons to be honest, because I personally kind of lump 40k in with fantasy rather than SF.
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Jubal

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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2021, 11:42:56 AM »
Yeah, the "is 40K really fantasy" is one of the issues with defining SF, in that there's its more literal meaning re speculative fiction about scientific possibility, but also a much wider "basically anything with futuristic aesthetics of a certain kind" definition which I think is how most people actually think about it. It's a chronological/aesthetic version of the evocation of place stuff I wrote an article about: if I put laser guns in, it's Sci-fi, even though e.g. Star Wars is absolutely a fantasy narrative with a SF aesthetic pasted over the top, people categorise it by the latter.

Regarding the Necrons, it's telling that one of their first units was the Scarab, which is a bit of a par excellence Egypt evocation.

I'm trying to think what else there is - I'm sure there are mroe things with space pharaohs and stuff... Hm.

A couple of minor thoughts that spring to mind are that Homestuck actually uses specifically Egyptian evocations, since one of its primary villains has a Cairo Overcoat - a Chicago Overcoat being slang for a coffin, and the Cairo Overcoat thus turning into a Sarcophagus when needed. The Sarcophagus is a time-travel device, which I guess riffs on the "magic box travels through time" TARDIS trope but also the general sense of the Sarcophagus and the preservation it implies as in some way messing with time, which I think is a sort of feature of our unease about the idea of preserving the dead.

Second minor thought is that there's an old tablet/mobile game which you can probably still get free called Void Pyramid which is very explicitly one where you have been trapped in a tomb/prison and you must try and escape (if you die you are brought back to life, but the slower you complete the game and more times you die, the worse ending you get, as I recall). That's a pretty good and interesting example IMO.

EDIT: Turns out it's free on Steam too! https://store.steampowered.com/app/563430/Void_Pyramid/
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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2021, 03:49:30 PM »
I skimmed over everything, are Egyptologists finally admitting the obvious truth that aliens built the pyramids?

Spoiler (click to show/hide)

dubsartur

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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2021, 06:58:34 PM »
Yes, aesthetics is the word I was looking for!  40k is one part a 'Hyborean age but for military adventures' (the Hyborean Age let REH tell oriental adventures, Injun Fighting, pirate stories, Latin intrigues, and crusader adventures in one setting) and one part a reskinned Warhammer Old World (Chaos Warriors -> Chaos Space Marines, elves -> Eldar).  There are even hints that the Old World might be out there somewhere in the void.  it does not even engage with science in the <insert tecnobabble> way, but it has all the visual tropes: spaceships, FTl travel, psi, aliens, city-worlds, declining interstellar empires.

One of my go-to models is rational vs. dramatic fiction.  Rational stories are about working out the consequences of a premise, dramatic stories are about whatever is exciting. So in Star Wars travel happens at the speed of the plot, whereas even Tolkien carefully worked out the chronology of Frodo's journey to Mt. Doom on a map, and Heinlein was proud of working out the orbital mechanics for Destination Moon on a roll of butcher's paper, he on one side, Virginia on the other, then checking each other's work.

Jubal

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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #10 on: February 27, 2021, 03:11:30 PM »
Finally got a response to the CfP sent off, just in time, so hopefully I'll be able to report back on this later in the year :)
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dubsartur

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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #11 on: March 17, 2021, 07:00:36 PM »
My paper was accepted yesterday

Jubal

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Re: CFP Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?
« Reply #12 on: March 17, 2021, 09:31:01 PM »
Oh cool! Likewise, I will also be there :)
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