Class Discussion #7: World-Building in Political Elections

“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 anxiously watching the presidential election unfold (and that many of you–hopefully all who are eligible to do so!–are voting in it as well).  Elections for public office are steeped in both utopian and dystopian rhetoric, about the state of our communities and our country, about how our lives and world are, how they should be, how they could be.

In short, these debates and these elections traffic heavily in what if? 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. What will our communities, our country, and the world (not to mention our individual lives) look like if certain people are elected to serve us? What kinds of worlds do these candidates think is possible and desirable? How will they enact these visions? In whose interests?

All elections matter, but this one is particularly consequential, as we are in the midst of a global pandemic, economic instability, social unrest, and a continued struggle to expose and dismantle structural racism.

This is an open forum for class discussion, in the lead-up to Election day, and beyond, to share your thoughts on how political rhetoric and platforms shape what is possible in our world. This is a space to consider what candidates’ visions of well-being for our communities and our country mean, what they do. The current elections (and the campaigning and political battles that have been accompanying them, for months now) is about “extrapolation,” a tool 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 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 (our own experiences/thoughts/emotions/fears/dreams; the candidates’ words, their policies, media coverage surrounding them, etc.) and critically examine what is being explicitly or implicitly stated in these visions. As always, textual evidence (with citations/links) will help to support your claims about what the candidates’ believe America does, could, and should look like one possible future; the future in which they are elected public servants of our communities and of the country where we live and work and dream, the United States of America.

At least one comment due by the start of class on Election Day (Tuesday, 11/3), but I hope we can get into a rich discussion here, so comment early and as often as you feel so inclined.

Class Discussion #6: Apocalypse

“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

The above quote, which has been attributed to a number of folks at various times (notably, Fredric Jameson), speaks to both the proliferation of apocalyptic visions and the difficulty of imagining a substantively different world order or way of living.

The short story we just read, Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” is a post-apocalyptic vision. It is a frightening tale and a compelling warning about the dangers of technological progress. It’s also enduring: we also watched this animated adaption of the story almost four decades later: There will Come Rains,” (Nazim Tulyakhodzayev, 1987).

It’s not just this one short story though. Science fiction has long been obsessed with the end of the world, of a massive destruction, but also of what life is like in the aftermath of such destruction. In short, science fiction often deals with the apocalypse and the post-apocalypse.

This class discussion is a place to crowdsource contemporary or historical examples of apocalyptic visions and analyze them, thinking critically about imaginings of “the end” (and then, of what follows … new beginnings).

Two comments are due by Tu 10/13 by the start of class (though as always, feel free to contribute more!). You should post at least one example to start off. Examples can be real  (e.g., related to natural disasters, climate change, politics, etc.) or fictional (movies, TV shows, video games). Share your example, with citation, and explain why/how it can be consider apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic, and what questions it raises. Make sure to include concrete discussion in your comments (referencing specifics from your example), and also to refer back to the short story if/when possible.

As always, in addition to posting your own comment(s), you are responsible for checking back in and reading through the whole discussion, prior to each class. This “discussion” is part of the required reading for the course. You are responsible for responding to at least one classmate’s example by Monday as well.

Class Discussion #5: What does it mean to be “human”?

As part of our reading of Westworld, we are considering how humanity is redefined in the world of this text. We are exploring what it means to be human, in a world where people have their non-biological, “fake,” non-living counterparts (“hosts”).

What does authenticity means in a world where everything, including emotions, memories, reveries, beings, etc. can be simulated, created by people? What defines a “human” or “humanity” in the world of Westworld? What distinguishes the real/genuine/authentic from the fake/simulated/ersatz? What is missing/lost/sacrificed (if anything) in these replicas? Is anything gained?

  • 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 or real memories if they can be implanted?
  • What about the setting, the utopian park of the old Wild West, where the rich come to live out their fantasies at the expense of others?
  • What kinds of competing sets of values are at play?
  • What are central conflicts of the first episode?

I am also particularly interested in us tracing how, through their interaction with the “hosts,” people (the “newcomers” or the people who work on creating the hosts or Westworld itself) 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).

Think about these questions in relation to other texts we are read or ideas discussed this semester, as well as real-life advances in technology (such as those presented in this article, “Japanese professor creates uncanny, human-like robots and the exhibit website, Android: What is Human?).

[Logistics]

Make one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Tu 10/6. 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 W 10/7.

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 (scenes/quotes/citation from the episode) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger claim/argument. You must cite currently in MLA format (in-text citation).

Class Discussion #4: AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Our most recent reading, “The Last Question” (Isaac Asimov, 1956), considers the relationship between humans and technology through the evolution of AI (artificial intelligence). The notion of intelligent, free-thinking machines takes the “man vs. machine” conflict to a whole new level, forcing us, as readers, to consider the consequences of our creations in new and frightening ways. AI permeates the science fiction genre, and is a common theme of contemporary films and TV shows. We’ll be exploring AI throughout the semester, considering the ways in which advances in science and technology have prompted even more complex representations in the genre (as well as in real life). There’s much, much more to be said on the topic, but for now, let’s start to crowdsource this theme, here in this Class Discussion.

An initial comment is due by Friday, 10/2 and two additional comments by Monday, 10/5 (though as always, feel free to contribute more!). Reading through your classmates’ reading response blogs on “The Last Question” (and getting your People’s Choice Vote for this story in early!) will help you to think through this topic.

Your comments should be informed by the text (concrete details, quotes with citations), but also bring in additional examples/context. Examples can be real or fictional (e.g., movies, TV shows, video games). Share your example (with appropriate citation–such as a link to where you found it), explain why/how it relates to AI and what questions it raises; share concrete discussion in your comments (referencing particular passages, scenes, etc.) from the examples you discuss.

As always, in addition to posting your own comment(s), you are responsible for checking back in and reading through the whole discussion, prior to each class. This “discussion” is part of the required reading for the course. You are responsible for responding to at least one classmate’s example by Monday as well (this can be part of your two additional comments).

Happy crowdsourcing 🙂

Class Discussion #3: Presentations on Brooklyn SciFi Film Festival

Thanks to all of you for the whirlwind presentations today in class! Really fantastic first-go of it, and I appreciate your good-will as we experimented with this new format through Zoom 🙂

Here is a space to reflect on those presentations. Minimum of one initial comment by F 9/25 + two additional comments by M 9/28. But I encourage you to come back early and often to participate here. Comments can be quite brief, but let’s get the conversation rolling … we’re going to be doing more presentations later this semester so this is a good place reflect and improve for next time 🙂

I’ll be sharing some thoughts too, from the notes I took on everyone’s presentations. But for now, drop your comment: reflections, insights, praise, (constructive) critiques, of yourself or others’ presentations: things you liked, things you would do differently next time, lessons learned (technology, media, argument, etc.).

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts here!

 

Class Discussion #2: The Machine Stops

We are continuing our  class discussion of “The Machine Stops” in class and on OpenLab this week. The goal is to have good virtual discussion 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
  • 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)
  • make connections to contemporary society (a lot of you mentioned parallels to our own society/lives in your blogs)
  • 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/citations) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger point.  In you are discussing outside sources (e.g., 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 Wednesday, 9/9. Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least one more comment in response by Thursday 9/10 (start of class).

Of course, more comments (and extending the conversation beyond the 10th) is always welcome, and you should make sure to return to the Class Discussion even after you made your required comments to check in, see what has been added since you posted, and continue being engaged with what’s happening.

*Friendly reminder that Class Discussions are part of our OpenLab Composing Grade (worth 25% of your Final Course Grade).

It’s crazy to see how much science and technology has improved throughout the years where now the facts feels more logical in a sense. Looking at the short film “A trip to the moon” it felt really interesting to see how they thought about the space. If I was living in 1902, I would’ve believed all of it because it seemed convincing but from todays viewpoint, it felt like I was watching a kid science fiction, no offense to the short film whatsoever. I really liked how it was theoretical. It felt like long portions of it was taken in one shot but with a time lapse. I liked the plots, and the conflicts. Judging from the timepoint, there was no women visiting the moon. The women’s who were in that film felt like not so important characters. They were just more of an aesthetic than to have an actual characteristics in my opinion. But I do understand it was published very long time ago and I’m to see a change in today’s world.

Class Discussion #1: Moon Tourism

Take a look at this article, “SpaceX Plans to Send 2 Tourists Around Moon in 2018,” from The New York Times, as well as Samsung’s “A Moon for all Mankind” VR experience.

It’s interesting to consider these developments, sending tourists to the moon (in real life, or virtually) and space exploration more broadly, in relation to science fiction texts that imagine moon voyages (such as Le Voyage dans la Lune, from over 100 years ago!). This builds on the short article that you are reading for our next class (Th 9/3), on about the “Moon Express.”

There have been a ton of developments in space exploration since these short texts from a few years. Take a moment to think through instances you’ve come across in your everyday life, and/or Google around and find some examples of your own.

Make a comment here to share your thoughts about these developments (or how space / alien/ other worlds have imagined historically, in science or popular culture … or even how you imagine these things), reply to a classmates’ comment, or share your own resources/texts about space exploration. Everyone should make at least one comment before Thursday’s class (9/3), though of course, the more the merrier 🙂

The goal with these comments (and with almost all the work we’re doing in this course) is not just to point to something (here is a cool link I found), but to present it (link + description/citation) and then analyze that material (explain why or how it matters to you, the course, some larger context). For example, I’ve been fascinated that, for a while now, Groupon keeps sending me emails for a discount on buying some land on Mars. This obsession with wanting to stake a claim on some part of space is an extension of all sorts of exploration and colonization here on Earth (and has been around for a long time even in space–consider the planting of the American flag on the Apollo Moon landing in 1969, or even something more mundane such as the Star Registry), and brings up complex and important questions about who has the rights to what, and why, in what contexts and how.

 

*Helpful hints:

-You can use this category, “In the News,” at any point throughout the semester to share relevant material with the class.)

-Did you know that as City Tech students, you have free digital access to The New York Times? Check out these instructions for how to get started.