Humanities, Posthumanism, Extinction, Oh My!

Some recommendations from Erin B.:

I want to recommend a book which deals with a lot of themes we are dissecting in class. The book is called The Possibility Of An Island (La Possibilité d’une île) by Michel Houellebecq. It deals with extinction, posthumous wanderings, and the humanist element towards cloning, as well as counter evolutionary end points where the human is ultimately debunked and resituated. All of this occurs in a somewhat post-apocalyptic landscape and mindset. The main character himself becomes redistributed and is a recyclable number with a given memory that is handed down to him from his predecessors. Anyway, it’s been about three years since I last read it but I constantly find myself unearthing it as it is a rarity.Coincidentally, it is also in the layout of loggings/ journal entries which we also see in Super Sad Love True Story. Dealing with compressed Time.
Also, on the subject of human extinction I thought that I would send you this article, dealing with the relations between the humanities and the social sciences (it is a quick intro and the article itself should be available and hyperlinked). There were definite links  between this and Being Dead by Jim Crace.
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Science Poetry?

Matthew P. brings up an interesting new angle on the question of defining Science Fiction:

After reading some of the blog posts and the comments I finally came down to the last couple lines of Dan’s most recent comment:The aestheticist in me says “no,” but the part of me that despairs of the state of scientific knowledge among non-scientists says “well, why not?” 

I first thought a talk I attended recently by Alison Deming Hawthorne about “the melding of poetry with the informational content of science writing”.  One of the reasons she cares about this is to disperse knowledge and to make people feel for and understand science based issues in the world through poetry rather than through numbers, theories, reports, and news stories which have completely different way and efficacy of impacting people.

It’s a science fiction class not science poetry, but I began to wonder about poetry with science.  Its history? Is there great poetry with science? How much science and how accurate or imaginative? I’m just curious as to where it sits in relation to quantity, quality, and history of SF.  

The question of what is science fiction has kept coming up on the blog, its attributes, value, purpose, place. I’m curious about poetry with science and where it stands in relation to SF.
Dan adds: there is a long tradition of poetry (and drama, and “non-SF” fiction) that engages to various extents with scientific ideas, metaphors, images and practices. One of my most successful papers as an undergrad was on Shakespeare’s Othello as an exploration of empiricism. Milton repeatedly alludes to Galileo’s findings in Paradise Lost, and 18th-century poets in the decades following Newton were fascinated with natural laws, the nature of light, and the promise of perfect knowledge. The Romantics reacted against this to a certain extent, but many of them–notably Coleridge and Percy B. Shelley–were very interested in science too. As the 18th-century writer John Aiken argued, science changes the world, and if literature wants to retain its function of describing and exploring that world, then it ought to keep up with science. C. P. Snow would make the same point in his infamous “Two Cultures” essay in 1959 (see this article for background), and Aldous Huxley in his last publication “Literature and Science” (1963)–itself a reboot of his grandfather Matthew Arnold’s “Literature and Science” (1882), which was a response to Aldous’s other grandfather T. H. Huxley’s “Science and Culture” (1880). Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, poets have continued to mine the sciences for new devices, forms, theories, and materials.
But is any of this SF? Offer your thoughts. In the meantime, see what Kingsley Amis, one of the first critics to take SF seriously, says in his poem “Science Fiction.”

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Is realism important in SciFi?

Some good questions from Matt D.:

As of late, in many circles of sci-fi fandom, there’s been an almost obsessive need for scientific accuracy or realism in sci-fi films. Many going so far as to say they hated Interstellar because of the “gaping flaws” in the science. Astrophysicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss went so far as to say that Nolan’s latest work “was one of the worst movies ever made” because he was unable to see beyond the “bad science”.
I can almost forgive him for saying that. He has spent countless hours studying and analysing the things that Interstellar depicts.
I’ve never felt the need to see authenticity in my science-fiction. I don’t care how far out the “science” is or how many liberties the writers/directors/illustrators take with the subject matter.
For me, sci-fi is about imagination. It’s about dreaming up what can’t be done and finding out ways of getting it done: warp drive, reanimation, travelling to parallel worlds. If we start worrying about whether warp drive is possible as it’s depicted in Star Trek, to the point where we can’t even watch it, what’s the point of watching/reading any science fiction?
Sci-fi is about hope. It’s about dreaming. It’s about looking to the stars or at the robots my son plays with and saying “what if?” Our Universe is so vast and so complex. I think it was Neil DeGrasse Tyson that said we’ve discovered and understand about 5% of the Universe. With human understanding of what’s out there being so limited, why would we not got all out when it comes to sci-fi? Why would we cripple our own enjoyment of a medium that has so much to offer? There’s so much theory; so much speculation. Too much for me not to be enthralled by Interstellar. Or The Matrix. Or Doctor Who.
Because, as long as we can still imagine it, I’m going to watch it. And until I no longer enjoy it, I declare, to all those that dare say Interstellar is bad: “No. No, it is not. Now pass me my light sabre and let’s ride the TARDIS.”
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Who says being good with words is not useful?

Thanks to Olivier for alerting us to this incredible article on the crackdown on puns in China media.

And now from Groucho Marx: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

Finally, related to the assignment due next week, here are a few links that might help. First, a “retelling” of Kurt Vonnegut’s “The Shape of Stories” lesson that we watched during the first class.

Next, to be read with a grain of salt, from Mette Ivie Harrison’s “Writing Advice,” the graphs of various plots. What I find useful in this column is the idea that basic plots can be graphed (the way Vonnegut does it); doing this, whether on paper or just in your head, can help you isolate the crucial features of your chosen masterplot. The graph has low resolution: it’s just interested in the basic arc or trajectory, not the details or specifics. According to this approach, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has the same plot and same plot-shape as the Harry Potter series, though of course the specific ways in which the protagonist suffers, struggles, learns and grows differ a lot.

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How does Newspeak work?

I’ve brought up Orwell’s idea of Newspeak in several lectures so far, and it will become especially important to our discussion of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story and, in a different way, Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos and Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life.” For those who would like to see how Orwell explains Newspeak in some detail, I recommend that you read this online reprint of his “Appendix” to Nineteen Eighty Four–in my opinion the best part of the novel (by which I mean most crucial to understanding Orwell’s dystopian society as well as the most thought-provocking).

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William Gibson to speak at Concordia

Calling all Sci-Fi fans: William Gibson, author of Neuromancer and many other works of cyberpunk, will be speaking at an event at Concordia this Thursday, along with Fenwick McKelvey. The event is free; tickets must be reserved online.

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A recommendation from Terry:

If the class is enjoying Super Sad True Love Story, I’d like to recommend Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside. Silverberg’s sensibilities, noticeably Jewish-New York, are similar to Shteyngart, and although Silverberg made a mistake by insisting Tiptree had to be a man, he did later make fun of himself for it, and also, he has created some of the best science fiction ever written. Dying Inside is probably his best book, and one of the best books I’ve ever read.  It’s not a dystopia (it takes place in 1970’s New York), but the main character’s world is falling apart because he is losing his power to read minds. There’s something about the Jewish neurosis in the Shteyngart novel that reminds me of Silverberg’s style.

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