The Importance of Science Fiction

On Wednesday, December 6th City Tech held the second annual Science Fiction Symposium. I’ll be honest I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the second session due to school and work. The talks during the second session covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from science (obviously) to politics, philosophy and even design.

One of my favorite parts was during Adam Heidebrink-Bruno’s, “Structural Violence of Late Capitalism and the Limiting of Radical Imagination” when Bruno critiqued the “ideological purity” of capitalist goals. Bruno’s talk was very interesting, I was glad to hear that others had about similar sentiments about capitalism, and could concisely describe the points that made it that way, such as, the superficialness and manipulation. Out of all the talks, this is the one that I took notes on the most, furiously, if I might add. Bruno’s talk was saturated with analysis, and despite not having read the text he was describing I could picture exactly what he was referring to. His suggestion that people were made uncomfortable by seeing a reflection of themselves in something that they disagree with, stood with me, I learned that writers will purposely try to instill their readers with this feeling so as to expand their critique into readers lives; it makes sense, they push the boundaries of storytelling and writing and give themselves more space to manifest their ideas. This ability gives them the opportunity to provide the readers with more to take away, and possibly, to even make an active change in their lives or the world around them.

At the symposium, I learned that there was more to science fiction than I initially believed. I, of course, knew there was a degree of importance to science fiction given that some of the greatest known literary works are science fiction pieces (e.g. 1984, The Handmaids Tale, Fahrenheit 451), however, I believe that I underestimated the subtle nuances that are necessary to have a good science fiction piece, as well as severely underestimating the limits of the topics that science fiction could cover, which are, as I learned duringKimon Keramidas’ talk, literally infinitesimal, given that science fiction can cover anything in the past, present, or future. I was also pleasantly surprised by Leigh Dara Gold’s talk to see that philosophy is a topic that can be so present in science fiction. I almost embarrassingly realized that my original views of science fiction were quite narrow and limited mostly to tropes of overly complicated science or gatekeepers trying to make sure that you’re a “real fan” of anything vaguely geeky. I came to find out that a lot of things I was interested in, that I wouldn’t have even thought of as science fiction, actually fell under that category, pieces of media like Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, Black Mirror, and one of my favorite short stories of all time Folding Beijing by Hao Jingang.

Given our current political climate, I believe analysis and discussion, like the kind displayed at the Science Fiction Symposium, should be not only encouraged but viewed as necessary in order to generate a more comprehensive understanding of the world we should be moving towards.

Below I’d like to include a list of some of my additional favorite sci-fi works:

Folding Beijing by Hao Jingang
Black Mirror
Kin by Bruce McAllister
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adam
Stranger Things
The Twilight Zone

Science Fiction Symposium, 2017

I had the opportunity to attend the science fiction symposium a few days ago, and I enjoyed my time there. Some of the subjects that were covered were known to me, and I got to learn about several other works of literature. We had several speakers at the event, but since I only had time to attend two sessions, only four speakers really had my absolute attention. I was really interested in what they had to say for different reasons, so much so, that I had to constantly remind myself to take notes for this blog.  Before I get into details about my time at the event, I would like to acknowledge the presence of Prof. Jill Belli & retired Professor, Samuel R. Delany. Unfortunately I couldn’t be present during their talks, however I met Prof. Belli and we had time to talk in between the sessions.

The first speaker who had my full attention was Adam Heidebrink-Bruno, a graduate student in Lehigh University’s Literature and Social Justice program. He had my full attention because of the specific work of Literature he was talking about. He went into the different types of conflicts in a book by Dave Eggers titled the circle. It’s a good work of Literature, it’s not for everybody, but I enjoyed watching the movie they made about it. In fact, I watched the movie the night before the symposium, with no knowledge whatsoever about what the talks would be about. The fact that I watched the movie the night before, the immersive storytelling and diverse conflicts in both the book and the movie, ( ex: Humans vs Technology) are some of the reasons why Adam had my absolute attention. For anyone who doesn’t know anything about it, hopefully the following quote will get you started, “ Privacy is a human right “.

The second speaker who had my full attention was Kimon Keramidas, associate director and clinical assistant professor in the Center for Experimental Humanities in New York University’s Graduate School for Arts and Sciences. He had some of his students work on science fiction storytelling related video games. I thought that was a very interesting approach to video games,  because most of the video games I know of, aren’t known for there storytelling, they are packed full of actions with no story to back them up. I always appreciate a good immersive story in a video game, and I long for more of them. He also mentioned one of his students video game, about the female body image which explores the saying, “ you’re not good enough “. I thought that would be an interesting video game experience for me. I will finish this section by including a direct quote from Kimon, “ Much of science fiction predicts the science of the future “.

The next speaker who had a significant influence on my thoughts after I left the event, was a chemist who doesn’t really like science fiction since much of his work is related to physical science. This is one of these moments where I was so immersed in the talks that I failed to write down the name of the speaker. I could relate to this chemists opinions about certain science fiction works of literature, because of their very nature. An example of such literature is the Harry Potter series, don’t get me wrong, I love these works of literature, I grew up wishing I could be a part of their world. My only concern with these types of literature is that I have no place to insert myself in, the older I get, the more out of place I feel in them, I have no place in them, because of how incredibly impossible they are. I have an active imagination and I really appreciate some science fiction literatures such as the one’s about Harry Potter, but most of the times, I feel excluded in them. There is a saying that brushes on the types of literature I’m talking about, when a narrator mentions something that’s practically impossible, in the world of literature they call it “ An Act of God “.

The last speaker I had time for that really caught my attention, was an art historian working on the creative nature of robots. Her research is mostly about the drawings of ancient times, however, she has a background in robotics, and has a bachelor in computer engineering. She had my full attention when she started talking about a man named Cohen Harold, who taught an AI called AARON, to draw and program images, then went on to teach it about including colors into the drawings. She had very interesting things to say about the AI, but as I mentioned before, I wasn’t focused on taking notes, I was focused on all of the new and interesting information I was getting from the talks. I also would like to mention Jean Pierre Hebert, he is an independent artist of algorithmic art, drawings, and mixed media. He co-founded the Algorists in 1995 with Roman Verostko. I believe his work was being used to teach AARON to draw, program and add colors to images. I will leave you with a quote from a man I admire, “The pace of progress in artificial intelligence (I’m not referring to narrow AI) is incredibly fast. Unless you have direct exposure to groups like Deepmind, you have no idea how fast—it is growing at a pace close to exponential. The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five-year timeframe. 10 years at most”. Elon Musk

Adaptation to the big screen

The Hulu series of The Handmaid’s Tale differs in many ways from the novel. The Hulu series which was created by Bruce Miller, in my opinion, has done an excellent job in portraying what the novel was intended to say. The first 2 episodes take a rather fast pace to those who have read the novel. The episodes go through several chapter and including the ceremony. I feel like the creator had to do this in order to keep people watching past the pilot. In television, as well as novels, have to engage the reader into staying around until the end. The creator of the show had to take what was most interesting about the show and incorporate it into the pilot. In this case I think one of the more interesting aspects of the novel definitely is the ceremony and the strange aspect of it. This with the little backstory we get to see in the form of flashbacks from Offred do well into telling the viewer what is going on without giving too much of the story away.

With every television or film adaptation there has to be changes made. This is for both creative and time purposes. In this case I believe it was more of the creative process that had to be changed because the novel is long enough to create a series of multiple episodes without adding something of ones own. This can be seen already in the first 2 episodes of the series. When the Salvaging is taking place there is a big switch from the novel in which Offerd can be seen not wanting to participate at all in the act but in the series she is portrayed as someone who will take matters into her own hands. In the series Offred is the first one to deliver the first blow to the accused rapist. She is the one who is seen making the kicks and punches count and blood can be seen covering her robe and face. I think this is a very important and drastic change which changes the way the viewer sees Offred. In the novel despite everything that she gone through in the end she does not see it in herself to hurt someone else. She can not bring herself to hurt someone who she knows most likely is innocent. In the series one can say Offred is not afraid to lay the first punch and is seen as a much stronger character. This changes the tone of the series and makes it that much different from the novel. It puts a nice twist to the characters and makes it interesting to see how this new Offred will react to other situations.

I will continue to watch the series and see what other changes have been made. I do feel like the characters were changed to fit the narrative of the series. Some of the more notable are Serena Joy and the Commander, they are portrayed much younger than in the novel, I do not mind the change but it is there nevertheless.

Science Fiction: The Truthful Harbinger of Things to Come

At the symposium, several speakers said some stuff that I either didn’t know before or never thought of it in the way they presented it. I found it easier and more interesting to understand the speakers’ thoughts when they made comparisons between science fiction and various kinds of texts.

For example, a woman made a point about creating a sustainable Earth. She described The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, a book that the woman had read as a child. In that book, mushrooms and other organic materials are used for construction of cities. The speaker argued that if we fail to utilize biological resources, there will be dire consequences for all of the planet. The woman reminds the audience that organic matter matters.

Another speaker discussed capitalism and perception of corporate America in a book whose title I forgot to take note of. However, the way the speaker talked about it reminds me of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The man described how the protagonist, May, is living in a world that’s beyond her control and feels awry. Similar to Offred, the main character in Atwood’s novel, May is in a society where public sentiment is manipulated and resistance is marginalized. Both characters live in dystopian worlds where according to the speaker, “if you control the flow of information, you have the power to control everything.” The speaker tied together the themes of modern work ethic and ideology. He also made a great point in saying that innocuous human actions are linked to the political economy.

Another speaker that caught my attention was one who talked about whether or not robots truly have singularity, creativity, and a conscience. He made comparisons to movies like The Martian and Big Hero 6. He spoke of carbon nanotubes and how a painter, Harold Cohen’s AI, AARON, creates original images.

The final speaker I listened to before leaving had talked about the fictional superhero, Luke Cage. The woman summarized how Cage became who he is through experimentation while in prison. She said that “by breaking out of jail, Cage symbolically breaks barriers” for African Americans. The speaker compared what happens in Luke Cage comics to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the Attica Prison Riot. She said that the story of Luke Cage reflects existing controversies with prison studies. It “reopens dialogue between medical researcher and practitioners.”

The discussions during the symposium remind me that science fiction combines both facts and fiction. No matter how “crazy” certain concepts seem to be, sci-fi has more truth to it than certain individuals see it as. Science fiction goes to show that there are endless possibilities for how things unravel in what we want to consider as due time. However, sci-fi applies what I’ve known for a long time. The only things certain in life are the mysterious uncertainties that nobody is meant to figure out. Doing so will drive those, who dare to try, “crazy”. Doing so will upset the standards and the balance of the universe, throwing all that dwell within into disarray because it only takes at least one to affect the rest.

The Handmaid’s Tale TV Series

The famous novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was recently recreated earlier this year by Bruce Miller as a Hulu TV original series. Many elements of the TV series differ from the book, Bruce Miller was able to extract the dramatic appeal that the novel originally had, he even went as far as enhancing this appeal in some episodes. The cast for Bruce Miller show were selected perfectly, as someone that has both read the book and watched the show I can assure you that the cast truly embodies the will of the characters. Interestingly enough the show took a different route for character development, the writers for the show decided to shine more light on smaller characters. For example both Ofglen and Serena Joy were smaller characters in the novel that helped exemplify the plot, but during the Hulu TV original series if felt like they had their own subplots.

The TV series had a mysterious vibe, and from episode to episode, the writers are able to  keep the viewers on the edge of their seats. The writers provided additional information to the characters and their background, this was obviously to elongate the show. It was satisfying that they provided additional information because there was a lot of questions left after reading the novel were answered in the tv series about Offred, which was played by Elisabeth Moss, and her Husband Luke played by O-T Fagbenle. The TV series allowed the viewer to see their life before gilead, the lifestyle they lived, how the couple met, and most importantly how Offred was captured into the city of Gilead. The viewer is also given comfort by knowing that her family is alive and are safe.

Luke managed to escape and currently lives in Canada, and Hanna, their daughter, was captured but is still able and is safe. I am assuming that she is being raised  to one day become a handmaid, like her mother. We got to know that Nick played by  Max Minghella was actually an eye, which seems to make a huge difference and a calmness about Offred’s escape. The audience may feel safe about where Offred is going, and about her future assuming that Nick may be able to protect her. We also get to know the Commander played by Joseph Fiennes, and Serena Joy, played by Yvonne Strzechowski, in dept. Serena Joy was actually one of the masterminds behind the creation of Gilead, which ironically seems bizarre, because she didn’t seem very happy. Overall the series is a must see, because of the intensity of its excitement, it draws the viewer in. After watching the entire series, I have become a supportive fan, and am anticipating the second season.

Dec. 7th

ANNOUNCEMENTS-

  • Homework #1: Watch the first two episodes of The Handmaid’s Tail Hulu series by Tuesday, Dec. 12th 
    • NOTE
      • You must’ve already have read the novel. 
      • Be sure to take notes as you watch and if you want to mention a scene in class to discuss a scene, write the episode number as well as the minute/seconds of where the scene is at.
      • Think of the adaptation. Don’t just make a list of differences. Describe how these differences change the narrative or how these new choices/changes effect the story and characters as a whole?
      • (Optional) Extra Credit of this due Monday December 11th– You can write your notes and thoughts on the blog. 
  • Homework #2 due Tuesday December 12th– Make a “Two-Part title; Separated by a colon” 
    • EXAMPLE: ______;_______
  • Essay #2 due Thursday Dec. 14th 
  • Extra Credit blog based on your experience of the City Tech Science Fiction Symposium due by Sunday Dec. 10th

 

Writing Tips~! 

  • Vocabulary- Transitionthe process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.
    • NOTE– Using a transition in almost every topic question is key yo answering those question
  • You can look up more on transitions at: https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/transitions
  • Using transitional words can help validate your argument. Such as “First, Second, However, Alternately…”  

 

HISTORICAL NOTES- 

Jezebels- Starting at Section XII pg 199 

  • Gentlemen’s club where the Commander goes to
  • Going here requires costumes/certain attires. An illegal fashion for a Handmaid to wear.
  • The outfit Offred wears (pg 231) ; more exposing compared to her usual attire; skanty
  • The commander, he’s excited to take Offred to Jezebel’s as if they were attending some kind of part. Though Offred feels exposed with this type of clothing, she get’s a hard time applying the make up due to the fact she hadn’t done it in so long. She feels like she’s in someone else’s skin, unable to recognize herself.
    • Her emotions seemed all over the place, she’s confused yet feels preserved freedom.
  • The atmosphere- speakeasy, illicit, and nostalgic. (a longing to the past that Offred can’t seem to let go) [Paragraph 4, pg 234]
  • This chapter, while it teased freedom for Offred, it begins and ends with Offred being reminded of her ownership to the Commander.

 

Moira– reintroduced at 238

  • Moira was the symbol of strength and freedom to Offred.
    • But her description now, this is not the same Moira Offred had looked up to, she is now performing an identity that she hates. She’s wearing an odd articular of clothing and high heals, which is something Offred remembers
    • Moira’s story is told second hand to the narrator and to us, the reader.
    • Her strong character that we were lead to believe is now broken down to be frightened and weakened.
  • The Narrator’s final comment of this “new” Moira, wanting to shape this ending into an ending that fits to her liking an ending that feels right to her. This returns to the narrators META story righting.

 

Dec. 5 Class Notes

Upcoming Assignments-

  • Essay 2 is due Thusday, Dec 14 before 2:30PM, worth 30% of grade. Upload on dropbox, paper copy not needed. Must have a satisfactory cover letter one page long that is a reflection on writing process, NOT SUMMARY. Papers with unsatisfactory cover letter will not be graded. TIP: Keep a log of what you are doing while writing the essay; will be easier to write the cover letter. See Assignment page for more info. If you want comments on the graded essay, email the professor. OPTIONAL: Email professor to schedule a meeting, bring two copies of a 4 page draft, must have an intro paragraph. Students attending a meeting will have essay grade bumped up a letter grade. First come, first served.
  • Final Course Reflection, worth 10% of the grade. Due Tuesday December 19. Finish Essay 2 before working on this. Submit on dropbox. See Assignment page for more info.
  • Extra Credit Opportunity: Scifi Symposium Blog Post. See Post for more info.
  • No new HW for Thursday except reading the Assignments.

Discussion-

Topics of Discussion: Historical Notes; Ending of the story; The Salvaging (Ofglen and May Day); Commander/Offred Relationship, Offred/Nick Relationship; Serena Joy finds evidence of Commander’s adultery; Moira/Jezebel’s

Continued Discussion of Historical Notes:

Many of the academics attending the Symposium dismissed the value of the Handmaid’s Tale, questioning its authenticity. On Pg. 300, Professor Pieixoto says the talk is about determining the authenticity of the Handmaid’s Tale. The Professor is only interested in information about Gilead, does not care for the plight of the Handmaiden in the recordings. He wishes instead for historically substantial information from the Commander’s private computer to better describe the Gilead Empire.

Discussion of Ending:

Feelings on the ending: Cliffhanger; Resignation; Abrupt

Offred considers suicide, regrets how she didn’t act out a plan of escape or rebellion (Pg. 293). Apprehensive of Nick when he asks Offred to trust him, despite of saying “Mayday”, the codeword of the resistance. Offred decides to trust him, because that is all she has left. “But I snatch at it, this offer. It’s all I’m left with” (294).

Last paragraph is left to interpretation, Offred has no way of knowing if her capture is a good thing or a bad thing. “Whether this is my end or a new beginning I have no way of knowing: I have given myself over into the hands of strangers, because it can’t be helped. And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light” (295).

Discussion will continue on Thursday, take note of the scene(s) in Jezebel.

Nov. 30 Class Notes

Handmaids tale discussion sheet continued.

Class impressions on the handmaids tale :

  • Bad for it’s unanswered questions yet great to some to leave imagination conclude the story
  • U:nexpected/Jarring for its dehumanized content in the historical notes.

Symposium – Academic conference.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

  • Tues 12/19 is now the last day of class
  • Watching the series is not required just work on Essay 2 and re-read historical notes.
  • Bring back essay 1 on Tues 12/05
  • Extra credit due on 12/06; SF symposium + blog.