Category Archives: City Tech Science Fiction Symposium

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

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. Her name was Marleen S. Barr, an author, editor, and a CUNY professor of English. Barr described Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, a book that she had read as a child. In that book, mushrooms and other organic materials are used for construction of cities. Barr argued that if we fail to utilize biological resources, there will be dire consequences for all of the planet. She reminds the audience that organic matter matters.

Adam Heidebrink-Bruno, a graduate student from Lehigh University’s Literature and Social Justice program, discussed capitalism and perception of corporate America in Dave Eggers’ novel, The Circle. However, the way Bruno talked about it reminds me of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. He described how the protagonist of The Circle, Mae, is living in a world that’s beyond her control and feels awry. Similar to Offred, the main character in Atwood’s novel, Mae is in a society where public sentiment is manipulated and resistance is marginalized. Both characters live in dystopian worlds where according to Bruno, “if you control the flow of information, you have the power to control everything” (Bruno). He 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 Peter Spillane, a Chemistry professor at City Tech. He 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. Professor Spillane spoke of carbon nanotubes and how a painter, Harold Cohen’s AI, AARON, creates original images.

Sharon Packer, an author, psychiatrist, physician, editor, and Assistant Clinical Professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, talked about the fictional superhero, Luke Cage. Packer summarized how Cage became who he is through experimentation while in prison. She said that “by breaking out of jail, Cage symbolically breaks barriers” (Packer) for African Americans. Packer 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” (Packer).

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.

City Tech Science Fiction Symposium on 12/6: Extra Credit Opportunity!

City Tech is holding its 2nd Annual Symposium on Science Fiction on Wednesday, December 6th. This event is free and happening all-day (9:00am-6:00pm) on campus: all of the day’s events take place in Namm 119 except for the final tour of the City Tech Science Fiction Archives (you don’t want to miss this: check out information about the collection to get a sense of what is there).

I encourage you to attend the Symposium, and in possible, to make the keynote, which is at 4pm. We are so honored to have Samuel Delany speaking then, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime treat 🙂 (You can learn more about Delany and his contributes to Science Fiction in this New Yorker article, “Samuel Delany and the Past and Future of Science Fiction”).

This is a totally optional event, but I encourage you to attend if you can and to share what you’ve learned with the class. If you attend a portion (or all!) of the Symposium on W 12/6 & blog in response by Su 12/10 you will get extra credit (yay!).

This extra credit will replace a missing blog if you missed some blogs, or it will count as extra credit if already you did all of your blogs (bonus points). Please note that, as always, there are only two grades for this extra credit blog: 100 and 0. If you attend the event and blog your responses/reflections thoughtfully and comprehensively, you will receive 100% (otherwise,  you will receive no credit). Don’t forget to take notes at the event, so you can include concrete details in your blog.

Please categorize your blog as “City Tech Science Fiction Symposium.”