CFP (ASLE 2019) – Prehistoric Creatures and Anthropocene Fears: The Past Comes Back to Bite Us

Conference: ASLE (the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment) – Paradise on Fire
Dates of Conference: June 26-30, 2019
Location: University of California, Davis
Deadline for Submissions: December 15, 2018 at 11:59 pm (EST) via Submittable

Horror and science fiction have long featured the return of the prehistoric, the monstrous past coming back to intrude upon the present and thereby shape the future. Jurassic Park is perhaps the most obvious instance of this return of the prehistoric (thanks to human meddling), but the prehistoric also rises up from the depths of the oceans, is triggered by radiation, or is revealed by the events of climate change.

jurassic park

In “How Death Became Natural” (1960), Loren Eiseley describes the human relationship to the geologic and evolutionary past, writing that “we are linked forever to lost beaches whose sands have long since hardened into stone” (164), and speculative narratives about returning prehistoric creatures emphasize this link, bringing the past into our present and possibly into our future. However, Eiseley also writes that there is “[o]ne thing alone life does not appear to do; it never brings back the past” (165). What then does our speculative, fictionalized insistence on bringing back the past say about our present concerns?

Mega Shark

This roundtable seeks to explore the significance of such prehistoric returns during the Anthropocene. How are modern, Anthropocenic fears reflected in such prehistoric creatures? What does the return of the prehistoric indicate about our contemporary anxieties about extinction or about the role of the human in the global ecosystem? And, finally, how does this return – typically figured as a threat – potentially shape our steps into the future?

Please submit 300-word proposals for roundtable presentations to Submittable no later than December 15th, 2018. Please send any questions to Christy Tidwell (

ASLE 2017 Roundtable

Today, my usual co-conspirator (Bridgitte Barclay of Aurora University) and I got our acceptance for ASLE, the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. The conference will be held in Detroit this June and centers on the theme of Rust/Resistance. I am so excited to be going again! ASLE is my scholarly home, where I find the most interesting connections, meet the coolest people, and come away the most excited about new possibilities for scholarship and teaching.

Our roundtable is called “Resistant Discourses and Strategies of Recovery: Exploring Gender and Environment in Science Fiction.” Aside from Bridgitte and myself, it will feature Carter Soles (The College at Brockport, SUNY), Michelle Yates (Columbia College), Stina Attebery (University of California, Riverside), and Tyler Harper (New York University). It will include papers on sf texts ranging from the 1950s to the last year or two, including 1950s creature features (like The Wasp Woman), Soylent Green, WALL-E, the Mad Max franchise, Upstream Color, WALL-E, Her, Ex Machina, and – our lone novel – Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.

Our paper titles given an even better sense of the roundtable’s specific topics and theoretical concerns:

  1. “Remixing Reproduction: Queer Intimacy and the Ecology of Sound in Upstream Color” – Stina Attebery
  2. “Saving Eden: Masculinity, Civilization, and Environmental Nostalgia in Soylent Green and WALL-E” – Michelle Yates
  3. “Mad Max: Beyond Petroleum?” – Carter Soles
  4. “‘Either you’re mine or you’re not mine’: Controlling Gender, Nature, and Technology in Her and Ex Machina” – me (Christy Tidwell)
  5. “(En)gendering Nature in Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312” – Tyler Harper
  6. “Camp Resistance: Animal Avatars and Gender Exaggeration in 1950s Creature Features” – Bridgitte Barclay

I’m a particular fan of Carter’s paper title. I agonized over my own, on the other hand, and still don’t love it. Someday I’ll develop a knack for title-writing, I hope.

This should be a fun and productive conversation about gender, environment, and resistance across a range of sf texts. Any readers who may be at ASLE this year should come see us!

Rollercoasters and Car Crashes: Exploring the Line between Thriller and Horror

When I taught horror film & literature last year, we spent a lot of time trying to define the genre of horror by exploring its limits. One particularly challenging limit to nail down was that between horror and thriller. There is, of course, a lot of overlap between the two. For starters, they both include fear, suspense, and violence. Murderers and serial killers are common inhabitants of both genres.

However, despite the blurred lines between the two genres, they are distinct. They feel distinct. They are differentiated from each other by the emotion they aim to evoke in their audiences. And as I was drifting off to sleep last night, considering this distinction, I had this thought that I want to briefly explore as a way of illustrating the difference between the emotions of the two genres: A thriller is a rollercoaster ride; horror – at least, good horror – is a car crash. 


Silence of the Lambs (1991) is one of the examples my students raised as a film that sits at the border between the two genres. The film features a monster (Hannibal Lecter – sociopath, serial killer – is a human monster), puts the protagonist in danger, and induces fear and/or anxiety in the audience. Seven (1995) works similarly, but it also contains procedural elements that distract from horror’s typical emphases.


When we defined horror in class, these are the central ideas we agreed upon to limit the genre:

  • Horror includes the threat of death and/or madness.
  • Horror includes or is about the violation of our expectations or social norms.
  • Horror includes the emotions of fear, dread, and/or anxiety.

Thrillers, like Silence of the Lambs and Seven, include the threat of death and emotions of fear, dread, and/or anxiety. They emphasize the short-term emotions that the class’s definitions attribute to horror. They work on adrenaline and the immediacy of plot and suspense. Their central questions include: What’s going to happen next? Will the hero(ine) save the potential victim in time? Who is the actual villain? Like a rollercoaster, there are ups and downs, thrills (hence, the name of the genre), but these sensations do not extend outside of the limits of the film. The killers in these films may not violate our expectations or social norms; they do not challenge our sense of the world. As another example, I think of The Fugitive (1993). The driving tension of The Fugitive is our anxiety for its protagonist and his situation (will he escape? will he uncover the truth?), not any sense that the reality we generally accept is under threat or in question. You leave the movie (or rollercoaster) and go on with your life, unchanged, not seriously affected.

Horror, on the other hand, goes beyond this. It presents a different type of fear, a potentially more lasting kind of fear. Now, to be fair, not all horror films achieve this – and some do not achieve this for all viewers. I am considering, both with thrillers and horror, the best (or perhaps the most representative) of each genre.


Where the fears of a thriller may quickly fade, therefore, as does the adrenaline from a rollercoaster ride, the emotions evoked by horror can be more lasting, like the feelings after even a minor car crash. The experience of being in a car crash leaves one shaken; it forces an acknowledgement, however brief, that the life that feels so safe and secure is really not. Driving, something we do so routinely, is actually dangerous and, despite our confidence in our ongoing existence, we could die at any moment. Similarly, horror raises questions about the rules of the world we live in and think we understand. What if our bodies are taken over and we lose control of ourselves – whether via aliens or the supernatural? What if the people around us are not what they seem? What if we only think we are sane? The world is shown to be unsafe, insecure.


The best horror has certainly left such an impression on me. For instance, The Babadook (2014) not only upset and terrified me while I watched it, but left me thinking about it for days afterward. And even now if you were to come up to me and say “Ba-BA-ba dook! dook! dook!” it would probably freak me out a bit. The film shook me up – both because of the monster and because of what it represents. I wasn’t able to easily walk away from it as simple entertainment; it got at something deeper.