Author Archives: Prof. Gold

Course Archive: Science Fiction

"HAL," by flickr user Erin Williamson

“HAL,” by flickr user Erin Williamson

This site contains student blog posts and teaching materials related to ENG 2420 — Science Fiction, a course taught at the New York City College of Technology in Spring 2014 by Prof. Matthew K. Gold. The course focused on the genre of science fiction in literature and film. During the semester, we explored Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Octavia Butler’s Dawn, Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, Chris Marker’s La Jetée, Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl In the Ring, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can find out more about what we did by checking out the syllabus and reading through the archived blog.

The content of this site will remain available as a record of our class and a resource for others who might be interested in the topics covered. Please contact Prof. Gold if you have any questions about the course or the materials that appear on the site.

Class Notes – 5/8/14

La Jetee – 1962

still images — difficult to pay attention

images so beautiful — nice to have time to look at them

very good storytelling – close eyes, examine

even though it lacks current standards —
time/imagination — viewer tries to connect what the narrator is saying to the photos

photos made it more believable

storytelling — voice droned — detached voice

stillness, not happening in the moment

photogaphs crystalize one moment — capture, make static, doesn’t change
why do we take photographs — to remember, memory
film — 28 fps
one photo vs. ten seconds of film

narrator’s voice provides interstitial frames?

back to past, to the future

photography — has the potential to fix time

fixing time

human power to control time


Nalo Hopkinson, _Brown Girl in the Ring_

Future earth?
core of city –
abandoned city — resources that a city should have = gone

is this a future earth?

retro dystopian
almost an 80s vision of the future
Mad Max
Escape from New York
The Warriors

— how do these stories imagine the city? in ruins, disorder, chaos, violence, decay

low end of the city

tales of crime taking over the city

exaggerates worst parts of cities in the 70s, 80s

police state

dropping a breast-feeding mother into the middle of that — gender

mix of sci-fi genre elements + folktales + voodoo

language, race, culture, futurity

in what ways does sci fi tell stories about the present through the figure of the future?

race / culture doesn’t disappear in the future! isn’t a magical erasure of race/culture/tradition in the future as we see in so many standard sci-fi tales.

as a corrective the ways in which the future has traditionally been imagined

code-switching —

diaspora – spreading of a group of people

source of power in this novel — very different from traditional sci-fi

in traditional sci-fi
prizing of technology, mechanization, automation, rationality

vs. Brown Girl in the Ring
religious, witchcraft, demons, folktales, spirituality,


class and science fiction
caves of steel – spacers, human — limited room, etc., shorter lives — promotion, hierarchy — C7

detective — middle class, move through upper/lower echelons of society

why do we read/like sci-fi?

take one element of present — mess w/it, play w/it

let’s us go to different place, from comfortable place

shows incredible potential technology we haven’t invented yet, then shows you how it will kill you

sci-fi vs. science — makes scientific advances seem natural — more focused on what happens w/technology

we feel powerless and limited by bodily, technological, temporal aspects of our lives; sci-fi gives us fantasy of world where we have control over such things

— yet also disrupts those fantasies — not utopian


This paper will examine the ways that Dawn and Brown Girl In the Ring treat the theme of violence. I will argue that the violence in Dawn, though biological rather than physical, does greater damage to characters in the text than the violence we see in BGITR.

Class Notes – May 1, 2014

District 9 – issues of race
— discrimination against race — dehumanization
Prawn as derogatory term
I27 forms – cf. I9 form — off-planet — immigrants
cf treatment of immigrants to US
aliens segregated into ghettos
unlawfully evicted from properties
cf. rights in America except if groups considered property (cf. slaves in 18th/19th c. US)
pamphlet – tents — Japanese internment camps – forced out of towns and cities — WWII/Pearl Harbor

parallel to Nazi regime – destructive propaganda, dehumanizing Jews – concentration camps – cf. aliens being shot at if doing antyh8ing wrong

start w/aliens as grotesque — find sympathy for them

hinted at other movies in sci-fi genre. These aliens not necessarily more advanced – helpless
beg of movie – inversion

how media affects our views of things

how do you symbolize filth? cockroaches — correlate w/Nazi, slavery in Am — characterize Jews as dirty

strip of identity by giving English name – Christopher Johnson

sexual connection – smears of Wikus having sex w/a prawn, seeming “tainted” – infected

black magic – Nigerian

cat food – crack cocaine.
hinting at drugs being pushed into black communities after black power 70s.
minds messed up b/c of cat food

the “Other” — or “othering”
liminal / liminality –

colonialization / colonization

prawns subjugated

mercenaries – cf. Iraq

paramilitary force

bureaucratic issues – sign paper.


eminent domain

human rights organization




compare wikus in district 9 w/Lilith in Dawn
reject that part of themselves
where do they start, where do they go – wikus trying to chop off arm

do these characters become more human through their transformations/melding w/other species?

How do each of the characters grow:
Wikus –

wikus – self-interest

humane – empathy, compassion
extrapolating from own species

District 9 – contamination
Dawn – transformation

Dawn – aliens are manipulative, controlling, invasive
District 9 – aliens are submissive, oppressed, victimized

but in each film, a human being becomes mixed with the aliens

District 9 – play of corporate power – D9 as critique of capitalism – cf. Occupy Wall Street, rhetoric around protestors, cleaning out square

style – documentary style, cinema verite
— amount of times Wikus says to shut off camera
— suggests that there will be a sanitized version of this film that will be shown to public

thick moments

dehumanization –
markings/tattoos – no clothes

Question at the end of the movie – what will Christopher Johnson do if he comes back?

Paper 2 due May 15

Class Notes – 4/24/2014

opening paragraph / thesis
In this paper, I will argue that
* it should be not overly general
* it should mention the texts you will examining
* ask the “so what?” question and push the thesis one step further

Purdue Owl

Independent and dependent clauses

I went fishing on a boat. –> independent clause
When I went fishing on a boat –> dependent clause

When I went fishing on a boat, I caught a salmon.


WW — wrong word
awk — awkward
fused sentence / run-on sentence –
referent unclear –

make sure that you use quotations in your papers

Never leave a quotation standing alone in a sentence; always introduce it with a short phrase. Ex.: Not “QUOTE.” but As Dekard says, “QUOTE” (56).

blockquote –

book titles always italicized/underlined
journal/newspaper articles — title in quotation marks

header –


for next week — first 130 pages (through ch 5) of Brown Girl in the Ring

Class Notes – 4/10/14

[midterm exam]

back to Dawn

language – words say no, body yes
no doesn’t mean no
manipulation / consent / free will

weird sexual arousal
shared feelings – intensified

manipulating desire

genetic info trading
mixing a better race
genetic engineering

how do humans come off in this book?


oankali — cf. imperialism/colonialism
look how dangerous these native people are
oankali not as pure as hey would like to think


Class Notes – 4/3/14

Octavia Butler, Dawn

In-Class Writing:
Reflect on one of the following themes in Octavia Butler’s Dawn:




— Oankali understanding of time vs. Lilith understanding of time
O: have a grand scheme — don’t know how long i will take
— patience — much more than humans
— time = elusive
— no real sense of time
— being on ship — lose track of 24 hour day/night cycle
L: her own lifetime

–> dislocation from time

why do they seem to have an infinite amount of time?
— different life span?

— songs
— memory vs. access to memory
memory, kinship, community

— writing implements/paper
internal memory vs. external memory

— Oankali destroying ruins
oankali want to control future of humankind, which means controlling the past
–destroying ruins, destroying human culture in general
why do we want to save animals from extinction? how do we do it?
— guilt
— ecosystems — adaptations/change

why destroy our ruins?
— maybe not trying to dominate us, but trying to free us from obsession with cultivating our own traditions/past models — b/c those traditions/models brought you to another end
— cf. intelligence + hierarchical

Self interest/preservation as a central part of species survival
— cf. conserve rain forests b/c we don’t know everything about them yet — save both for earth and for planet. but if big pharma gets

— memory — in the sense of lived experiences
—- altered memories — things that the Oankali have induced humans to forget
— memory — in the sense of a past
— memory — in a kind of mechanical sense — cf. clones/prints



Birth as metaphor
genetic experimentation
awakening/alteration — rebirth
Dawn – title — beginning of a new day/era

Class Notes – 3/27/14

* Blade Runner
* From Human / Machine to Future Earth
* Dawn
* Close reading

Deckard’s attitudes towards androids in book v movie
— rachel
— more talkative
— status issue is missing in the movie
— setting — from dusty, dry — to crowded, dim, wet, dark, rainy, gritty, urban (book’s urban = desolate, empty —
— animals — missing — empathy, class division
— movie — owl. snake. unicorn

Caves of Steel – DADOES — technology advances
technology advances
question of control — can we control technology as it advances

Let’s Enhance” – YouTube video

robots growing past what they were designed for — learning more

can mechanical devices evolve?

seems like the androids are more organic than mechanical

replicants — name points to clones, copies

humans had a fear of going extinct

Future Earth

Dawn – Octavia Butler
ship — as organic material
Oankali —
from technology back to nature

don’t live unsustainably
don’t tear things down

SYMBIOTIC relationships

artificial/synthetic/mechanical vs. genetic modifications
Oankali — interested in genetic information
building a better race/species

Lilith’s attitudes towards Oankali

human fear of unfamiliarity
— look different
— sexes – male/female/Ooloi
— sensory organs
— sensory organs — things that allows them to see also allows can kill you
— interact w/environment in different ways
— humans fear motives of Oankali, what will happen when they are modified
— in process of stopping the extinction of humanity, they are modifying humans to not be human any more

— unknown about humankind’s future

Octavia Butler: “[my books] are stories of power [. . .] I bring together multi-racial groups of men and women who must cope with one another’s differences as well as with new, no necessarily controllable abilities within themselves.”

humans dealing with a species that has more power

— have Lilith’s life in their hands
— have studied her
— what’s true — untrue

— cf. Oankali treat Lily as we (in our current moment) treat animals
— make decisions for them
— cf. do androids dream –> giving L. offer to kill herself
— Lilith — role — teaching other humans —
— making decisions that benefit her in long run — but she doesn’t understand how/why
— or humans to other human — parent/child — ex. taking a child to get a shot

spaying cats — ethical dimensions
are oankalis doing to humans what we have done to animals and to other humans?

process of radical inclusion — absorbing everything they run into — we are one peer species — we face being absorbed by them
— they don’t have areas — no gender separation, mixing, families

oankali — absorptive model, don’t see themselves as conquering species
— Lilith — feels that it is invasive
— Lilith’s resistance — opposite of Oankali — of what they are — she is very strong, individual —

vast majority of them — mutations

Major topics
— Difference / differentiation
— Bodies — anatomy — tentacles, — alien bodies, human bodies
— Issues of power and resistance — who has power, how is power used, how are characters manipulated?
— ethics of scientific experimentation and observation — cf. treatment of animals by humans
— imprisonment

p. 52 “the child hesitated”
— character — touches oankali — come a long way from fear of the unknown
begins to understand imprisonment more deeply
“forest of tentacles”
— what is a forest? what is inside a forest? mystery

Group exercise in close reading:
1. Share passages
2. Focus as a group on one of the passages
3. Think about issues of meaning and language – focus on important metaphors and their meanings
4. Discuss how the passage would be different w/different language
5. Interpret the passage

Class Notes – 3/20/14

In-class writing

1. What was your thesis sentence?

2. Reflect on your paper-writing process. What aspects of the writing process worked well for you? What was the most difficult aspect of the assignment and/or you chosen topic? What would you do differently next time?

3. Name one thing you learned while writing his paper

Blade Runner

Next week’s assignment on course calendar

Class Notes – 3/13/14

intro paragraph
catch reader’s attention
introduce your argument/thesis

subject — what is the essay about?
thesis — what is your take on that subject?

persuasive essay

first paragraph – end –thesis sentence. clear statement of argument of the thesis
“In this paper, I will argue that ____”

Star Trek: Next Generation – “The Measure of a Man”

Site Updates and New Postings

Course updates, as noted via email:

1. Readings are now posted on the readings page. For next week, please prioritize reading They Say/I Say. Then choose 1 of the 2 critical readings (your choice). The biographical readings are optional. Look for the [DOWNLOAD PDF] links to find and download the readings.

2. I have written up a more formal version of the paper assignment. You can find it, along with a sample paper, on our assignments page.

3. Our course calendar has been updated.

Your paper is due at the beginning of class on 3/20. Please come to class next week with an idea of the repeated element you want to write about and some examples from our texts that showcase that moment. In class, we will discuss They Say/I Say and the two pieces of literary criticism. We will also do some workshopping of your papers, so please bring in any ideas/drafts you might have. Don’t leave the paper for the last minute!

Feel free to leave comments or to email me if you have questions.