Creative-analytical assignment (25%)

One of the things that SciFi does very well is to tell new kinds of stories by “inserting” new scientific ideas into old plots and storylines. For example, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein renews the classical myths and legends of Prometheus, Pygmalion, and Faust by re-telling them for the age of (what was then) modern biology.

This assignment is designed to explore how Science Fiction uses old stories in combination with scientific knowledge. Based on a chosen science theory (or technology), or on a science-news story that interests you, propose how you would use that theory (or technology, or discovery) to modify, refresh, or subvert a traditional storyline or plot.

This assignment is due in class on February 13, 2015. It should be about 3-4 pages long.

You need to do four things:

  1. Describe the traditional storyline you chose, charting its basic plot arc. Example: the rags-to-riches plot involves a down-and-out person who, by persevering, eventually succeeds in reversing his or her fortune. It may help to give a few examples to illustrate, too.
  2. Briefly discuss some of the traditional storyline’s implications, its underlying ideological commitments, its associated myths, its implicit values. In the case of the rags-to-riches plot, one implication is political: it reinforces the idea that those who do not succeed aren’t trying hard enough, and endorses laissez-faire economic and social policies.
  3. Now propose how you would “insert” or “incorporate” a science theory, technology, or discovery into the traditional plot. You may simply describe the resulting plot, or you may describe it and also include a brief creative writing section (storyboards or comics formats could also work). An example would be the movie Sliding Doors (1998), which inserts Chaos Theory (the “butterfly effect”) into a romcom, showing how a single chance event might turn that romcom into a very different kind of story (a romantic “drama”). Run, Lola Run (1998) uses the same scientific principle to modify the crime-caper genre. Feel free to take some liberties with the theory–you are not being graded on your scientific acumen! But you shouldn’t modify the theory out of recognition either.
  4. Finally explain how the insertion of the science modifies the implications of the traditional storyline or plot. Why one would want to change the story in this way? For example, by stressing the role of chance in our lives, Sliding Doors asks us to question unrealistic ideals (soul-mates) or notions of necessity (destiny) that the romcom genre tends to endorse.

Below are some examples of the plots/storylines and science theories you might choose. This list is not exhaustive: feel free to choose your own. In any case, be sure to cite your sources, and make sure these are reliable and adequate for academic papers.

Some traditional plots and storylines: Tragedy, coming-of-age, epic, origin myth, family saga, rom-com, fable, horror, mystery / whodunit, rags-to-riches, conversion story, courtroom drama,

Some science theories, principles, technologies, and recent news items: entropy, Maxwell’s demon, relativity, gravitation, radioactivity, quantum entanglement, quantum indeterminacy, wave-particle duality, Schrödinger’s Cat paradox, the Butterfly Effect (chaos theory), complexity theory, Superstring Theory, Brane Theory, dark matter, the ekpyrotic universe, black holes, wormholes, the Higgs boson, the grandfather paradox, Gödel’s theorem, selfish genes, natural selection, sexual selection, biomimicry, epigenetics, genetic drift, mutation, transposons, cloning, BMOs, nanotechnology, quantum computers, 3-D printing…

 

For other ideas, check out these sites: http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-scientific-theories-head-explode/ and http://listverse.com/2010/07/12/10-craziest-scientific-theories/. If you prefer to use a science news story, you may look at conventional media, but you’re encouraged to look at more reliable sources like Science News (www.sciencenews.org/), Nature (www.nature.com/news/index.html), New Scientist (www.newscientist.com/).

 

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