Accomplished editor wins 2022 SFRA Book Award
[This Inver Hills News spotlight story was originally published in August 2022; republished today with a newsworthy update.]
David Higgins, PhD, published the following article Friday, October 14, 2022, in The Guardian, the noted British daily newspaper:
Illuminations by Alan Moore review – a savaging of the superhero industry
A short-story collection from the Watchmen creator takes aim at the comics industry and populist fascism in America
This collection of Alan Moore’s short fictions contains five stories that have been published elsewhere—mostly in smaller, indie print venues—and four entirely new works. The opening story, Hypothetical Lizard, is a queer surrealist revenge tale written in 1987, while in Cold Reading, originally published in 2010, a real ghost takes revenge on a con artist who performs fake seances.
All the others have been written in the past three years: highlights include Not Even Legend, in which a strange creature moving backward through time infiltrates a group of friends who investigate supernatural phenomena; The Improbably Complex High-Energy State, a self-conscious tribute to 1960s new wave science fiction that chronicles the sexual escapades of a Boltzmann brain in the first femtosecond of creation; and American Light: An Appreciation, in which Moore flaunts his ability to capture the essence of American beat poetry and 1980s literary criticism while satirically undermining both.
The original novella What We Can Know About Thunderman is the savage heart of the volume—and not just because it takes up more space than all the other stories combined. Moore’s Watchmen has been described as a deconstruction of the “silver age” superhero genre, painstakingly exposing its conventions in order to subvert its entire undertaking. What We Can Know About Thunderman may be said to offer a similar deconstruction of the American comics industry itself.
David Higgins, PhD, serves as chair of the English department at Inver Hills Community College. Also English faculty at the college, David was recently honored with the 2022 Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) Book Award for his book, Reverse Colonization: Science Fiction, Imperial Fantasy, and Alt-Victimhood (2021).
The mission of the SFRA is to improve classroom teaching, encourage and assist scholarship, and evaluate and publicize new books and magazines dealing with fantastic literature and film, teaching methods and materials, and allied media performances.
“If there’s anything that working on this book has made clear for me, it’s that science fiction is strikingly powerful in today’s world,” David said. “On one hand, science fiction has the power to help us imagine and enact positive transformational change. Sadly, it is also the case that science fiction can sometimes function as a tool in the service of reactionary victimhood, enabling subjects of power and privilege to imagine themselves as colonized insurgents waging fantastic forms of rebellion against what they think of as oppressive hegemony.”
David added that science fiction in the modern world touches the hearts and minds of nearly everyone. “Science fiction has become one of our few cultural commons during a time when many people otherwise withdraw into isolated media ecologies to echo and reinforce existing ideological views,” he said. “As such, it warrants thoughtful critical attention and engagement.”
What inspired you to write Reverse Colonization?
At first, I was inspired to write this book because I noticed that science fiction since the 1960s overwhelmingly offers a critique of Euro-American imperialism.
Science fiction, which can often be an imperial adventure genre (endless outward expansion into outer space, the colonization of other worlds, imperial warfare against alien races, etc.) really blossomed into critical self-awareness during the 1960s and began to overturn the celebrations of colonial conquest that had characterized much of the genre in earlier decades.
Most science fiction since then has been strikingly anti-imperial: we all like to imagine that we’re the Rebel Alliance fighting against the Empire these days.
What started to disturb me, though, was discovering that science fiction’s anti-imperial energy had become co-opted by far-right reactionaries, who use science fiction to think of themselves as rebels or insurgents struggling against a colonizing Empire of left-wing hegemony.
I was bothered by how much I saw white supremacists, anti-feminists, and violent reactionaries of all kinds using language and images borrowed from science fiction stories that I love (like The Matrix and Star Wars), so I set out to figure out what exactly was happening there. This ultimately led to Reverse Colonization.
More about David…
David is originally from Crown Point, Indiana, a city in Lake County where John Dillinger, FBI Public Enemy #1, broke out of the reputedly escape-proof county jail in 1934. David holds a Ph.D. in English and American Studies and an M.A. in English from Indiana University. He earned his B.A. in English and B.A. in History, both magna cum laude, from the University of Southern California in 1999. He started teaching at Inver Hills in 2012.
David serves as senior editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), a role he took on in 2021. David’s most recent LARB articles include “A History of Cyberpunk Comics,” “The Name of This Feeling Is Revolution: On David Mitchell’s ‘Utopia Avenue,'” and “Escaping from Shadow: Monte Cook’s ‘Invisible Sun.'”
David’s article, “Toward a Cosmopolitan Science Fiction,” won the 2012 SFRA Innovative Research Award. His scholarship has been published in a number of journals, including American Literature, Science Fiction Studies, Paradoxa, and Extrapolation; his work has appeared in edited volumes such as The Cambridge History of Science Fiction and The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction. David has been a featured speaker on the NPR radio show, On Point, and he serves as the second vice-president of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA).
David received the Inver Hills Partnership Award in 2015; he was the college’s Phi Theta Kappa Faculty of the Year Runner-up that same year. In 2014 and 2013, he was honored with a Phi Theta Kappa Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has given presentations at more than 30 science fiction, fantasy, and related conferences. David’s next book, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice: A Critical Companion, is scheduled for publication by Palgrave Macmillan in 2023.¹
In his free time, David enjoys cycling, comic books, role-playing games, and collecting fountain pens. He resides with Bernadette Hollyday, his romantic partner, Trixie, his canine partner, and Hickey, his feline partner, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
¹ Ann Leckie’s 2013 debut novel, Ancillary Justice, is the only novel to ever win the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke awards.
“Interest and engagement are where real learning occurs.”
David Higgins, PhD
English Department Chair
Inver Hills Community College
David Higgins • Q & A
What do you enjoy most about teaching composition and literature courses to college students?
College teaching is a brilliant and empowering way to share my enjoyment of things that I love with students—I personally enjoy writing very much, and I love helping others improve their writing and expression. And literature is always a mind-expanding adventure all around.
Why have you specialized in the science fiction and fantasy genres in your role as an educator and editor?
Although I’ve always loved science fiction, a major aspect of my undergraduate and graduate work in English and American Studies was an examination of imperialism in American history and culture. In that process, I discovered that speculative genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.) offered surprisingly insightful illuminations of the power and reach of imperial fantasy within American culture.
What advice would you give students thinking about careers as science fiction and/or fantasy authors?
Well, I’ve never published fiction, so I’m not the best person to ask! But I am friends with a lot of authors who write fiction, and I’d say that they all tend to read a LOT—you can’t write great fiction without knowing quite a bit about literature, overall, and about the complex world in which we live. So the big advice I’d give is this: learn about everything you can. Learn voraciously. The more you learn, the more your stories will have depth, richness, and dimensionality.
Who is your favorite science fiction novelist and why?
I really love Samuel R. Delany, the author of Babel-17 and Dhalgren. His writing is so sophisticated, and at the same time so filled with love, that he always just rocks my world.
Three words that describe you as an English educator:
ENTHUSIASTIC. FLEXIBLE. THOUGHT-PROVOKING.
What is your favorite fantasy novel and why?
I really like The Lord of the Rings—my mom read me Tolkien before I was old enough to speak words, and I think it sunk in quite a bit subconsciously. Tolkien’s richness of imagination is staggering.
What are the most important attributes of an editor?
Editors really need to understand how to re-build sentences in order to make them very clear and comprehensible for readers—this is a tough skill that not everyone has! Good editors also need to have the courage to offer tough advice for deep revisions, but also the skill to offer such advice with gentleness and diplomacy.
What topics do you think science fiction writers will be illuminating in 50 years?
Sadly, I think there will be a lot of past-oriented time-travel stories. People in 50 years will write about trying to go back in time and stop all the things that are damaging our world right now—things that we seem unable to address, like fossil-fuel driven climate change. They’ll write about how people from the “present” (that damaged future world) will come back and struggle to understand how the people of 2022 can keep burning fossil fuels when we know we’re wrecking the planet.
And there will be tragic scenes of these future people trying to reason with us while we ignore them and watch TikTok videos or whatever. I think in 50 years, SF writers will be using their art to work through a lot of justifiable anger at the selfishness people from the 20th and early 21st centuries.
What person has influenced your life the most and why?
There are so many people who have influenced me in powerful ways that I can’t say that just one has influenced me the most, but my high school history teacher, Jerry Holcomb, really got me thinking about the massive, complicated thing we call “The United States” in mind-boggling ways, and that led directly into my entire trajectory of learning throughout my academic life and career. That’s why I dedicated Reverse Colonization to him!
One word that best describes your experience as a writer, editor, and educator:
As a writer? EXPLORATION
As an editor and educator? PATIENCE
David Higgins • 12 Answers
- Favorite sport or physical activity: Cycling
- Place you would most like to visit: Paris
- The most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Publishing a book!
- Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Buy my hometown library building (now closed) in my hometown (Crown Point, Indiana) and turn it into a fully funded special collections library for comic books, science fiction novels, and role-playing games 2) Create a fund to offer grants to support artists and activists working on creative projects to improve the world 3) I’d also travel a LOT; I’d just live completely traveling around for a few years; and I’d buy a really fancy fountain pen
- Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
- Time period you would explore if you could time travel: Feudal Japan
- One thing you most want to accomplish in your life: Publishing another even-better book!
- Your national bird if you were your own country: Pterodactyl
- What you listen to while driving, e.g., music, news, podcasts: Audiobooks
- Person you would most like to meet: David Mitchell (author)
- Skill you would most like to learn and master: Archery
- Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Climate change
Learn more about the English department at Inver Hills by contacting:
Inver Hills Community College
More about the English department at Inver Hills…
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