Friday, 22 October 2010

Done! The thesis is submitted!

I submitted the final, printed copies of my honours (undergraduate) thesis on religion in Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun this week — what a relief! As proof, I present a photo of the finished product:

The introduction ended up being as long as the first chapter, since I covered a lot in it, briefly examining the history of religion and "scientism" in the sf genre, and introducing Wolfe and his work. The first chapter was largely concerned with deciphering the text. I argued that Silk's enlightenment by the Outsider is central to the series and is intended to be understood as a genuine spiritual experience (rather than a "cerebral accident" or a download of information), and that the series is, first and foremost, about Silk's spiritual journey. The second chapter examined the Outsider in greater detail, and I argued that he is literally and distinctively the Catholic God in the text (as opposed to some amorphous monotheistic deity) and that Wolfe uses his depiction of the Outsider to propound a distinctively Catholic theology. I also examined how Wolfe expresses his deviations from traditional Catholicism and even engages in a critique of the Church through his representation of the Vironese Faith (a "bad religion" that borrows heavily from Catholic ritual and the Church). The final chapter compared Wolfe's use of the generation starship trope to those of authors such as Heinlein, Aldiss, Harrison and Simak. I argued that, while retaining many traditional aspects of the trope and its archetypal treatment, Wolfe radically inverts its meaning and treats faith and religion in much more complex ways than his predecessors, using the trope to create a distinctly Catholic story.

In the end I managed to keep to the word limit (an upper limit of 18,000 words) by relegating the stuff I'd written on Chesterton to an appendix, which doesn't contribute to the word count proper (so that kind of felt like cheating, but it was what my supervisor recommended!). The finished product totaled 80 pages. My copy is now sitting on the shelf and I won't touch it again until I have my results (early December, I think) lest I discover typos — no matter how many times you read something, some wicked and evil typo will always elude you.

What now? On the day I submitted my thesis I got an email from Charles Sturt University accepting me into the Master of Information Studies (Librarianship), which I will complete part-time off-campus over the next three years so I can become a fully-fledged librarian.

After that I'll probably work while doing a PhD part-time. Currently I'm thinking of studying Wolfe's short fiction, with each chapter examining a specific story, but I haven't yet decided how to tie the whole thing together yet, what the overall point will be.

In the immediate future, however, I'll be working on a couple of articles for possible publication (if I'm lucky) based on my honours research and on the paper I gave recently on Australian utopian literature. Also, my wife and I are members of a feminist reading group at Monash, and we intend to run a symposium on female superheroes in comics, prose, TV and film some time next year, so there's organising to do for that (and I have to work on a paper to give).

And this blog will certainly live on — although I must change it's subtitle from "musings of a science fiction obsessed literature student," since I am not, sadly, a literature student any more (at least I won't be for the next few years). I've still got a lot of Wolfe left to read and I find that blogging about what I read keeps me thinking. At an honours thesis-writing workshop that ran earlier this year, one of the academic speakers stressed the importance of writing regularly, whether in a personal journal, for study, or for a blog, just to keep the words flowing smoothly. Sounds like good advice to me!


  1. CONGRATULATIONS, Zach! Is there any chance of obtaining a copy of this once it's marked? Through the university or something, if nothing else? I do hope you'll go on in Wolfe studies and publish a book someday.

    The precis of your whole thesis sounds amazing. I hope to be speaking to groups of Christian scholars and artists in the future on Wolfe's work (introducing him to most of them for the first time probably) and I would highly value being able to study the results of your research.

    All the best,


  2. Congratulations on submitting the thesis! Best of luck for the marking!