Saturday, August 28, 2010

Love, Love, and more Love

One thing I noticed about all the stories that we read last week was that their seemed to be some form of "love" in each tale. It was quite prevalent in It Takes Two, but in the other stories I don't think it was quite as obvious. In The Island, the main character as this infatuation with the "island." She is so determined to save this "island" that this infatuation can be seen as a love for this wondrous creature. In The Pelican Bar, the main character's parents loved her to the point of sending her away to an institution in order to change her life and she loved to dream of The Pelican Bar which helped her through the toughest of times. Finally, in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Matilda was willing to change into a vampire so that she could go save her boyfriend and Lydia. There were quite a few more examples in the rest of the stories. I think Spar should go without explanation.

Story volunteers for Sept. 1

According to my notes, here are the folks who are launching our class discussion of this week's stories. Let me know, please, if I'm misremembering.

  • Swanwick and Gunn, "Zeppelin City": Caleb Weeks
  • Broderick, "This Wind Blowing, and This Tide": Katy Santi
  • Sterling, "Black Swan": Bailey Carpenter
  • Genge, "As Women Fight": Jenny Strack
  • Baxter, "Formidable Caress": Amelia Baez
Remember, no summaries necessary; we've all read the stories. Talk instead about what strikes you as interesting, unusual, surprising, or worth unpacking within the stories. Pose a question or two for your classmates. No outside research required, though you're certainly welcome to do some if you're curious.

And of course, you needn't wait until our class meeting to start the conversation. You could start with a blog post -- a new post, please, not merely a comment attached to this post. Each story deserves at least one thread of its own.  Thanks, all.


While reading The Coldest Girl in Coldtown I kept getting this feeling that I'd read something like it before. As it turned out, I had, but it wasn't fiction. Lydia's character reminded me of a phenomenon called "bugchasing", where people seek to become infected with the HIV virus. Some of the terminology used in bugchasing even arises in the story; the Eternal ball shares some qualities with "Bug parties"(gatherings of chasers and carriers) and vampirism, which is regarded as a gift in a lot of vampire mythology, is similar to the term "gift givers", the term used to describe HIV+ people. It isn't a perfect comparison, but I thought it was interesting how closely science fiction could approach the real world.

Stanford Prison Experiment

Hey everyone. Just thought I would share a link with you all. Clicking the title of this post will take you to the official website of the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. If you click through the slide show you will get the full explanation of what happened and a little introduction to why (known as "The Lucifer Effect"). We've discussed this in several of my psych classes, and that is probably the biggest reason I didn't see the captors in "The Pelican Bar" as aliens, but just people. Humans are capable of terrible things. Like Mama Strong said, "Humans do everything we did. Humans do more."

Friday, August 27, 2010


So, as I was talking to Mark and Adam the other day, I noticed my supercool Cars band aide. And then it dawned on me. Cars is scifi. So are Wall-E, Monster's Inc, and UP (well, Doug is, at least). I always think of children's movies as being full of fantastical make-believe, like The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, and these Pixar movies are no different. For some reason, it really surprised me that these Pixar movies are science fiction. I think this is because they're fun, zany, and completely improbable. This goes against the stereotypical motif of struggle and hardship. When I picture science fiction, as a whole, it seems like something that would come in dark colors, greys and blacks and browns, not in the flamboyantly bright primary colors of Pixar animation.

My only question is: what about Toy Story? Science Fiction or Fantasy?
(BTW title is a link to the original trailer.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sonnet 116

In class we mentioned the dual nature of the title to describe the situation in Spar. The obvious combative meaning of the word comes to mind throughout the story as these two are in a non-stop confrontation with one another, like a game of tug-of-war with no end in sight. Then, there is the statement on page 141 about the two of them being shipwrecked strangers clinging to the same spar. Further down on that page, the narrator recites a few lines of a poem. I remembered this poem from another class, and I assumed there had to be some reason for her use of this particular sonnet. This Shakespearean sonnet is another allusion to a ship lost at sea, and if she is metaphorically clinging to that spar, the only hope for survival is love, or in a less literal sense from the poem, a connection. The title is a link to the entire sonnet and a note explaining what a bark is.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Speaking of the Dead

We were talking about zombies in class today and how they exist mostly in movies. That reminded me of a preview I saw for a television show that is about to come out on AMC titled "The Walking Dead". Some of you may have already seen this trailer, but for those of you who have not, please enjoy.

Also, we were talking about how zombie movies these days are mostly a parody, not really intended to be creepy. However, I found this trailer to be a throw back to the olden days and over all pretty chilling. Let me know what you think.

A Firefly Solution to a Dune Problem

I was surfing the internet the other day when I stumbled upon an article at one of my favorite sites: The article was titled "A (BLANK) Solution to a (BLANK) Problem". In short, the article is talking about how niche culture can be used to describe concepts. The quotation that sparked the article as a sign at NASA which read, "Never apply a Star Trek solution to a Babylon 5 problem." The message being that complex problems typically can not be solved with simple fixes. Because of its science fiction bent, I felt that it was worthy of discussion. It also might be an appropriate way to spark analysis of works that we read. For example the protagonist's negotiation with chimp in "The Island" might be considered a cold war solution to a 2001: A Space Odyssey problem. Can anyone else think of another analogy for one of our short stories in this format?

Awards attention

The sf field has a number of awards, and Jonathan Strahan's picks for his year's-best volume include a number of this year's award winners and contenders.  Examples from this week's reading:
  • Nicola Griffith's "It Takes Two" is a Hugo Award nominee.
  • Peter Watts' "The Island" is a Hugo Award nominee.
  • Karen Joy Fowler's "The Pelican Bar" already won a Shirley Jackson Award and is a World Fantasy Award nominee.
  • Kij Johnson's "Spar" already won a Nebula Award and is a Hugo Award nominee.
  • James Patrick Kelly's "Going Deep" was a Nebula Award nominee.
I should add that Jonathan Strahan himself has two World Fantasy Award nominations this year -- and if you look at the other nominees, just announced yesterday, you'll find at least one other familiar name.
I can't believe I forgot to mention this earlier, but my favorite musician is David Bowie, who not only made a hugely successful concept album called The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, but he actually took on the scifi persona of Ziggy himself. We mentioned Lady Gaga in class, but I definitely think that the 1970s David Bowie would be hard for even her to top.

The Softwire by PJ Haarsma

I stumbled across this story while I was stalking Nathan Fillion on Twitter the other day. His tweets are always fun. Anyway, the book is called The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 by PJ Haarman, and it's being read here by Fillion. I haven't finished listening to these first few chapters yet, but I like it so far and thought it might interest some of you as well!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Well, he may not be in Star Wars but...

I love Arnold Schwarzenegger!!! Now, that being said, it would have to follow that I enjoy sci-fi movies since he has carved out his own niche within the genre. Of course, there was the occasional Kindergarten Cop or Jingle All the Way, but he's got Terminator, Predator, The Running Man, and Total Recall to name a few blockbuster sci-fi films. I think the facination with action and fantasy from an early age (at age 4, my favorite movies were The Little Mermaid and First Blood) led me to actually become familiar with sci-fi since it tends to encompass both. Additionally, my dad is a big fan of the genre, so he was always getting my brother and I to watch things like Bladerunner, Stargate, etc., and my mom is a trekkie, so I was obviously influenced by them. Some of my recent sci-fi favorites in television and film (obviously, sans Arnold since he has been busy being a governor and all) include Repo Men and the series Caprica. I will watch any movie the Syfy network puts out, and I always like movies based Phillip K. Dick's work. Also, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I watched and really liked this movie called Repo: The Genetic Opera, which features Paris Hilton (who really stretches herself as an actress by playing a wealthy, spoiled heiress).

As far as literature goes, my experience is definitely more limited. My taste in books has always been heavy on fantasy of the magical, mythical sort. I did read and enjoy Brave New World, Jurassic Park, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and the first book in the Artemis Fowl series. As I said in class, I took a course on anthropology in fiction, and there were quite a few short stories, all of them science fiction, that we read for discussion. I liked the stories, but I don't remember the authors' names, so I'll have to look through my stuff to make note of those writers.

In attempting to define science fiction, I think it is important to first make the relationship between sci-fi and fantasy distinct; personally, I agree with notion that sci-fi is a sub-genre of fantasy, not a totally separate genre of its own. Now, one must specify what qualifies a work as not merely fantasy, but fantasy of the sci-fi persuasion. I think sci-fi must allude to use of technology, either futuristic or alternative in nature to that known and used in the reader's world, and the consequences of this technology's employment. These consequences, whether positive or negative, serve as a setting unknown to us that we can use to discover things about ourselves. How would life adapt to a given situation?

my shallow affair with science fiction

When I first signed up for this class, I thought to myself, “I don’t really know much science fiction.” But after our first class discussion, I realized that science fiction has been a presence in my life for almost as long as I can remember. My parents were teenagers in the 70s when Star Wars first came out. We had the original trilogy on VHS, which I naturally watched all the time as a kid. I also remember “late nights” as a kid watching the syfy channel and getting scared to death from some of the movies and The Twilight Zone. Once I randomly picked up Timeline by Michael Crighton and three days later was finished with the book and hoping that sort of “time travel” would soon be available to me. Then in high school I was convinced my mother had set up a Big Brother surveillance system to keep me in line after I read 1984. Mostly these days every time I hear the words “science fiction” I think of Rocky Horror Picture Show… “science fiction… double feature…”

When asked to define science fiction, I struggled to find a single definition that would explain my opinion of science fiction in its entirety. Science fiction, to me, is one of those forms of media that continues to grow and change to the point that there really is no true definition for it. And isn’t that sort of thing that “science fiction” writers try to convey anyway? That everything is possible, and there really are no boundaries and definitions?

In the beginning…

Alright everyone, I’m going to go a bit old school-nostalgic on this one. I can trace my loving relationship with the world of science fiction back to one place. Well, actually it was five people…

The Mighty Morphing Power Rangers.

That’s the one. That show started it all for me. It was just the right thing to turn my 4 or 5 year old mind on to the concept of science fiction and all the aliens, lasers, and giant robots that came along (especially in Power Rangers). I say this with all due respect paid to Star Wars (the shining jewel that it is), but Power Rangers came to me first. After that, I really fell down the giant space rabbit hole that was science fiction television in the early ‘90s. I fell in love with shows like the remake of Gigantor, Thunder Cats, Transformers, Voltron, Robotech, and all sorts of others (and as you can see, giant robots were kind of my thing). Elementary school saw my introduction to sci-fi videogames like Starcraft and Mechwarrior 2 (more giant robots, but now they were MY giant robots), and I started watching some pretty good movies. I saw Star Wars and finally started to actually grasp it, but it was Stargate that really blew my mind. Then I finally was old enough to start reading some real novels, and I fell head-first into things like the BattleTech universe, Tom Clancy novels, and a book called the Transall Saga by Gary Paulsen (which remains one of my favorite books). And all of this just scratches the surface. We’ll just say that I’ve had a long, fruitful relationship with science fiction in its many forms.

As far as defining it... Well, that's a little harder. It is pretty difficult to beat “the genre of ‘what if.’” I mean, for a long time this was a genre defined by space ships and giant robots, but I understand that is not, and never was, the case (although both of those things are still awesome). I mean, sci-fi certainly is about the “what if,” but couldn’t traditional fantasy play that role as well? I’ve spent the last week trying to pin down the crucial elements of science fiction, and I’ve come away pretty empty-handed. I have had one thought though: science fiction exists through the power of explanation. I think this is what sets it apart from fantasy when it comes to telling the story of “what if.” When fantastical things happen in a science fiction world, there always seems to be an explanation. In fantasy, it is most often written off as magic, but sci-fi always seems to rationalize events with things like “ancient alien technology” or midi-chlorians in your cells giving you control of the Force. Anyone have other thoughts on this?

Monday, August 23, 2010


As I stated in class, I hold that science fiction can best be defined as the fiction of anthropology. Seldom is a particular technology or an alien encounter merely about the encounter itself, rather the purpose of such is to provide insight into the human condition. An overarching theme in the genre is of change and stasis; how does humankind react to changes in the environment, be it a new life-form or a dystopian future caused by our attempts to fly too high. Technology in isolation has little meaning in a novel; rather it is how that technology affects the character which makes it of interest.

My first meaningful foray into science fiction was reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender Saga in middle school. I was fascinated by what I would now term Ender Wiggin’s “Hero’s Journey.” Since then the preponderance of my leisure reading has been in the Science Fiction / Fantasy Genre. A frequent patron of the public library, I explored both the classics of the genre (Asimov, Heinlein, et al.) as well as a variety of current authors. Some of my favorites include: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the Dune series, Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns, and Webber’s Honorverse novels. As for Science fiction in other mediums, I greatly enjoyed Joss Whedon’s Firefly, Serenity, and Dollhouse. While I wasn’t a huge fan of Star Trek, the latest reboot of the property has definitely caught my interest. The geekiest of the Science Fiction shows I watch/watched is definitely Sliders (Hooray for the 90s!).