ENG 2420: Science Fiction

City Tech, Fall 2016

Category: Class Discussion

Class Discussion: ‘Blade Runner’

This is a space to continue our class discussion of Blade Runner.

Here are the group discussion prompts from today’s class, as starting points (though you can address anything you want in relation to the film here):

Consider the novel & film together. While you should certainly take stock of their similarities and differences, this is only a first, brainstorming step. Your discussion here should not only note key similarities and/or differences but also (and this is the crucial part!) discuss the significance of these similarities and/or differences. Putting two texts in dialogue with each other allows you to create a more nuanced argument about their themes, conflicts, characters, and meanings.

  1. Consider the novel & film together. While you should certainly take stock of their similarities and differences, this is only a first, brainstorming step. Your discussion here should not only note key similarities and/or differences but also (and this is the crucial part!) discuss the significance of these similarities and/or differences. Putting two texts in dialogue with each other allows you to create a more nuanced argument about their themes, conflicts, characters, and meanings.
  1. Consider the scene in J.F. Sebastian’s apartment, where the replicants encounter other automata (his “toys” and creations). In particular, consider the scene where Deckard uncovers Pris (before she attacks him).
  1. Consider the scene in which Roy encounters his various creators (first “Chew” with the eyes, then J.F., and then Tyrell).
  1. What’s up with the “unicorn” dream & origami figure at the end of it?
  1. Consider the theme of “eyes” in the movie.
  1. Consider the theme of memories in this movie.
  1. Consider the setting of the film, and how this contributes to the themes, plots, and conflicts.
  1. Consider the scene near the end, in which Roy and Deckard struggle and fight. How does this battle help reinforce (or complicate) our assumptions about these characters, about the distinction between replicants and humans, and about good and evil?

Also, make sure to check out today’s class notes (once they are posted), for more themes of what we discussed. Let’s engage with the notion of the “cyborg,” and also “prosthesis” (remember to check out the great scene, starting at minute 43, where Deckard enhances his vision to see into Leon’s photography through the use of the Esper machine).

[The Logistics]

Just a reminder that you should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by F 11/4. Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments (of course, more are always welcome!) in response by 11:59pm on Su 11/6.

Your comment (reply) can be just a few sentences: provide the quote/citation and a quick explanation of how/why it functions in the context of some larger issue/question (or you can raise questions, complicate issues, extend discussions, analyze a character, or setting, etc. &/or discuss central conflicts/values/themes through the use of your evidence/analysis). Feel free to post multiple comments, and also to respond to others. If you’ve already discussed some of these instances in your previous blogs or in class, you should feel free to draw on that material.The goal is to have some good virtual discussions here to help you think critically about important themes/questions raised by this complex novel, and to find/analyze/synthesize various pieces of evidence in support of claim.

The goal in all cases is to provide specific examples from the film (quotes/scene + citation – use the minute:second format) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger claim/argument. You must cite currently in MLA format (in-text citation).

Crowdsourcing what constitutes the “human” and the “authentic”

As part of our reading of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, we are exploring what it means to be human, in a world where both people and animals have their fake/electric/mechanical/non-living counterparts.

We are also exploring what authenticity means in a world where everything, including emotions (think the Penfield Mood organ), empathy (Mercerism), beings, products, etc. can be simulated. You might consider the andys, the Penfield Mood Organ, notions of empathy,  the implantation of false memories, the Voight-Kampff test, (etc.), as well as the following questions:

  • What defines a “human” or “humanity”?
  • What distinguishes the real/genuine/authentic from the fake/simulated/ersatz? What is missing/lost/sacrificed (if anything) in these replicas?

(You can think about all of these questions, but especially the first two, above, in relation to the article, “Japanese professor creates uncanny, human-like robots, exhibit website, Android: What is Human? that we’re looking at for this coming week)

  • Who/what serves who/what? Who are the masters and who are the slave? Who are the superiors and the inferiors?
  • What are the relationships (colleagues, friendship, sexual, love, etc.) between different types of beings?
  • What is a real “emotion” if it can be simulated on a Penfield mood organ and what is real empathy if it can be simulated through Mercerism (and tested, perhaps, by the Voight-Kampff)?
  • What about fertility/reproduction (with Deckard’s neighbor’s horse, with the regulars/specials, with Mercer bringing dead things back to life, with having to deal with a post-apocalyptic world that is mostly dead)?
  • What kinds of competing sets of values are at play?
  • What are central conflicts of the novel?

I am also particularly interested in us tracing how, through their interaction with andys (and their particular positions in the world: Bounty Hunter and special/chickenhead, respectively), Rick Deckard and John Isidore move from merely embodying values/norms of their society that they have have already internalized, to developing individual, (perhaps rebellious?), free-thinking understanding about the world and their places in it, and the hierarchy of beings (living and otherwise).

[The Logistics]

Just a reminder that you should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Saturday (10/22) at 11:59pm. Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments (of course, more are always welcome!) in response by Tuesday 10/25 by 2pm.

Your comment (reply) can be just a few sentences: provide the quote/citation and a quick explanation of how/why it functions in the context of some larger issue/question (or you can raise questions, complicate issues, extend discussions, analyze a character, or setting, etc. &/or discuss central conflicts/values/themes through the use of your evidence/analysis). Feel free to post multiple comments, and also to respond to others. If you’ve already discussed some of these instances in your previous blogs or in class, you should feel free to draw on that material.The goal is to have some good virtual discussions here to help you think critically about important themes/questions raised by this complex novel, and to find/analyze/synthesize various pieces of evidence in support of claim.

The goal in all cases is to provide specific examples from the text (quotes/citation) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger claim/argument. You must cite currently in MLA format (in-text citation).

World-Building in the Presidential Election

“Perhaps the crispest definition is that science fiction is a literature of ‘what if?'” (Evans, Christopher. Writing Science Fiction. London, A & C Black, 1988.)

I know many of you are watching the third Presidential debate tonight  between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. As we’ve discussed in class, elections for public office are steeped in both utopian and dystopian rhetoric, about what the state of our country is, what it should be, what it could be. In short, these debates and these elections traffic heavily in “what if?” What will the country and the world (not to mention our individual lives) look like “if” they are elected to serve us? The candidates are putting forth visions about what they think this country should look like, and how they will enact these visions. These elections and the candidates’ words and policies are, in a very real way, about world-building: they are about reality but also about imagination grounded in possibility.

“I define science fiction as the art of the possible. [. . .]. Science fiction, again, is the history of ideas, and they’re always ideas that work themselves out and become real and happen in the world” (Bradbury, Ray. “Ray Bradbury: The Science of Science Fiction.” By Arthur Unger. The Christian Science Monitor 13 Nov. 1980).

This is an open forum for class discussion, tonight and through election day, to share your thoughts on how this rhetoric and these visions shape what is possible in our world. This is a space to consider what these candidates’ visions of well-being for our country (what do they imagine will create the good life for Americans). This Presidential debate, and this election,  is about “extrapolation,” which is so central to the genre of science fiction. The candidates are starting from our present circumstances and extrapolating to what might happen if we continue down our current path undeterred, or what alternatives exist, and how things might be different if we change our course. Though there is much obsession with the “facts,” this extrapolation depends on assumptions, perspectives, and values. This extrapolation is grounded in competing needs and desires about how people should live and how societies should structure themselves (think of hierarchies, treatment of the “other,” about all the questions on the Science Fiction Framework).

Together, let’s close (and actively) read these texts of the election (the candidates’ words, their policies, media coverage surrounding them, etc.) and critically examine what is being explicitly (or implicitly) stated in these vision. As always, textual evidence (with citations/links) from the debates &/or other sources will help to support your claims about what the candidates’ believe America does, could, and should look like in the possible future of their tenure as President of the United States.

Class Discussion: ‘Brave New World’

We’re continuing our discussion of Brave New World over the weekend. Feel free to pick up on something we discussed in class, bring in aspects of the text we didn’t get to, raise questions, offer excerpts/analysis, provide connections to our contemporary world (references & links to other texts articles, songs, videos, etc. would be great!), raise (& take a shot at answering) big existential questions raised by the text (e.g., can happiness be “real” if it is manufacturing chemically?), or anything else relevant. The goal is conversation that will lead to deeper understanding of the text 🙂

You should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Sunday (9/25). Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments (of course, more are always welcome!) in response by Tuesday 9/27. 

Class Discussion of “The Machine Stops”

We are continuing our  class discussion of “The Machine Stops” online this weekend / next week. The goal is to have some good virtual discussions here to help us all think critically about this short story. Therefore, your comments need not be very long, and there are a number of ways to approach/contribute to this discussion. For example:

  • you can provide a quote/citation and a few sentences of explanation of how/why it functions in the context of some larger issue/question
  • you can raise questions
  • complicate issues
  • extend discussions
  • analyze a character, or setting, etc.
  • discuss central conflicts/values/themes (especially in relation to the Science Fiction Framework)
  • you can make connections to contemporary society (a lot of you mentioned parallels to our own society/lives in your blogs)
  • and/or feel free to discuss the various short film versions of the story that are assigned for/will be discussed in class on Tuesday (9/6)
  • anything else you believe would add value to the discussion of this text

The goal in all cases is to provide specific examples from the text (quotes/citation) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger point.  In you are discussing an outside source (films or your contemporary/personal examples), though, make sure to discuss them in relation to the original source text (the Forster short story), and how that particular adaptation or contemporary parallel helps us to understand (or complicate) certain aspects of the story.

You should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Saturday (9/3). Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments (of course, more are always welcome!) in response by Tuesday 9/6.