Monday, July 11, 2011

Fiction Rave: Robert Silverberg & Academic Citations

I first read Robert Silverberg and his Majipoor series in an anthology edited by George R.R. Martin that invited authors of epic fantasy worlds to create short stories in their worlds. Robert Silverberg's story stood out in the anthology and although I haven't read St. Valentine's Castle, an out-of-print copy waits in my toread pile.

Since then, I've read a short story by Robert Silverberg in F&SF, but didn't like it as much as I had the one in the anthology. However, I recently came across "The Tomb of the Pontifex Dvorn" published by Subterranean Press's online magazine and this story had everything that attracted me to the first one. It touched on themes close to my heart and provided a further exploration into Majipoor. The theme of this story concerns the edges of academic research and commerciality.

Much of the story concerns two young academics who come to a backwater town hoping to make their name, and strike a find that proves to be earth-shattering (or Majipoor-shattering). However, the problem comes when the preeminent researcher on Majipoor decides to take a primary role in their research. The find becomes his. The central conflict in the story depends on how the young academics come to terms with this appropriation.

My history in academics is part of why I find this interesting. As a graduate student, there was one woman in our program who'd left another graduate program to join ours because of hard feelings over attribution of research. I remember this because of the rarity of this in computer science. Unlike some sciences, most graduate programs value collaboration of professor and student and therefore students always get the first-author position on papers. I did have a professor travel to Puerto Vallerta to present a paper I wrote at a conference, but at the time I wasn't part of his research program, so I wouldn't call that taking my credit (my name was first on the paper and if I'd decided to switch areas earlier I'm sure I would have been presenting.)

This theme occurred recently when a friend posted on Facebook to ask whether she should be concerned about her boss taking her work and not citing the work that she'd done. This seems to be common in the corporate structure, actual credit is rarely attributed, yet the good managers find ways to promote their employees regardless.

But I digress, I liked this story because of the theme and because I can't help enjoying the scope of the world that has been created, and the smooth way he manages to juxtapose the rich history and the confines of a novella (especially, for someone such as I who hasn't read the novels).

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