Engagement, Learning and Inspiration in SF: Use Cases for the City Tech Science Fiction Collection

I delivered this presentation at the James Madison University Pulp Studies Symposium on October 7, 2016. The video above shows my presentation’s images, and the script of my talk is included below.

The paper is about introducing new audiences to old ideas for the benefit of two different City Tech audiences: 1) frame the historical publication context of science fiction short stories for students, and 2) illuminate the deep history of technological ideas for faculty fellows in the NEH-funded “Cultural History of Digital Technology” project.

[UPDATE: The symposium was a great success! Thank you to everyone who had questions and comments during our session. I posted photos taken by colleague Caroline Hellman over at the Science Fiction at City Tech website.]


Engagement, Learning and Inspiration in SF: Use Cases for the City Tech Science Fiction Collection

Jason W. Ellis


In the first issue of Amazing Stories dated April 1926, Hugo Gernsback writes:

By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story—a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision … Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading—they are always instructive. (Gernsback 3)

According to Gernsback, the literary genre that would become known as science fiction combines romance, scientific fact, and prophetic vision. The romance engages the reader in an interesting story. The facts instruct the reader in science and technology. The prophetic vision extrapolates from what is known into the not-yet-known and simultaneously inspires readers to realize that vision. I believe that Gernsback’s vision of SF is fundamental to arguments for SF collections at colleges with a pedagogical and community-serving commission like City Tech. Our college occupies several buildings in downtown Brooklyn and serves the educational needs of over 17,000 students. Historically a trade and vocational school, it has over time and by design developed into a senior college of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. Nevertheless, the students it serves and the fields it attempts to prepare them for are primarily focused on STEM career paths. While not all stakeholders recognize the importance that the humanities have to STEM graduates’ success and overall outlook, the administration’s support of the City Tech Science Fiction Collection signals at least one way in which the humanities—in this case via SF—is seen as supportive to the otherwise STEM-focused educational work of the college. In effect, SF and the collection serves as a source for engagement, learning, and inspiration for students who have much to gain from it as a literary genre that reveals the inextricable linkages between STEM and the humanities. While I cannot within the scope of this presentation explore all of these functions of SF, I will restrict myself to discussing how I have used the collection to support my teaching and pedagogical work at City Tech.


Teaching Science Fiction from a Historical Perspective

For students, my SF syllabus takes a historical approach to the genre. Following Brian Aldiss, I point to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the genre’s beginning, because its plot pivots upon on an extrapolation of science and technology. Following this novel, I have students read a chronological progression of short stories that correspond with the movements in the genre: proto-science fiction and SF’s influences, H.G. Wells and his scientific romances, Jules Verne and his Voyages extraordinaires, Hugo Gernsback’s scientifiction and the pulps, John W. Campbell, Jr. and the Golden Age, the New Wave, Feminist SF, Cyberpunk, and contemporary SF. Looking at my current syllabus, which draws on readings from the Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction and a few stories in PDF form that are not in the anthology, over half appear for the first time in magazines held in the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, including: Isaac Asimov’s “Reason,” Astounding Science Fiction, April 1941; Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations,” Astounding Science Fiction August 1954; Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies—,“ The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1959; Harlan Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman,” Galaxy Magazine, December 1965; Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction April 1966; James Tiptree, Jr’s “The Women Men Don’t See,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction December 1973; William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome,” Omni July 1982; and Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds,” Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Mid-December 1983. In addition to discussing each story in its historical context and its addressing Gernsback’s tripartite definition (along with other definitions, too), I show students photos of the magazines and their contents. I relate how these magazines were a big deal that introduced readers to engaging stories, new science and technology, and inspirational ideas via the haptic and tactile experience of reading printed magazines. Furthermore, the contents of a given magazine add an anthropological context to the magazines via editorials, letters, fandom, and advertising. Finally, the magazines help situate the readings for students, because they empower me to point at the library and take the readings out of the abstract realm of anthologization.


NEH-sponsored “Cultural History of Digital Technology” Project

While my students’ experience of SF is enriched by the historical materiality of our readings, City Tech’s faculty, who are engaged in pedagogical planning that bridges STEM and the humanities, share some of the same needs as my students. I have learned that my STEM-focused colleagues are experts in their fields, but many do not conceptualize SF on one level as a literary genre that addresses Gernsback’s tripartite definition: romance, scientific facts, and prophetic vision, or on another level as a literary form built on interdisciplinary STEM methodologies (i.e., building assemblages of ideas and constructing extrapolations) and focused on the effects of science and technology on humanity and vice versa (e.g., Asimov’s concept of “social science fiction” or Philip K. Dick’s epistemological and ontological adventures). Professor Anne Leonhardt of Architectural Technology and director of the NEH-funded project titled, “The Cultural History of Digital Technology: Postulating a Humanities Approach to STEM,” asked me to join and contribute my humanities-focused perspective. The project’s goal is to create six interdisciplinary pedagogical modules—on maps, fractals, robotics and sociality, geotagging, topology, and finally, robotics and the workplace. We do this by inviting speakers, holding reading groups, and participating in pedagogical workshops. The student-facing modules will integrate readings, classroom lecture and demonstration, and a hands-on activity. Initially, I helped with finding readings for two modules—fractals and topology, but as I describe below, I have leveraged the City Tech Science Fiction Collection’s magazine holdings and demonstrated that humanities folks can do more than find interesting readings. Also, I will use Gernsback’s definition as a measure of each considered story’s usefulness to the module’s goals.


3D Printing

The first module that I contributed readings to is called “Fractals: Patterning, Fabrication, and the Materiality of Thinking.” Its purpose is to bridge students’ understanding of mathematics to the natural world by using fractal geometry—the notion that Benoit Mandelbrot introduced as the process and principle of order and structure underlying the physical world. We teach students the underlying principles of fractal geometry, help them create a workflow using open-source tools to generate a 3D printable STL, or STereoLithography model, and finally, have them print their model using one of City Tech’s powder or plastic 3D printers.

Initially, I did not consider the City Tech Science Fiction Collection’s holdings, because everything was sitting in 160 boxes stacked floor to ceiling in my office and my former colleague, Alan Lovegreen’s office. Rudy Rucker’s “As Above, So Below” (1989), a story not widely anthologized but available on the author’s website, first came to mind, because I knew that both sides of his professional work touched on this topic. Rucker, a cyberpunk SF writer and mathematician, had written this story after his own attempts at discovering what is now called a “Mandelbulb,” or a three-dimensional plot of the Mandelbrot set, the recognizable image based on a simple iterative function explored in the work of Benoit Mandelbrot. In Rucker’s story, a mathematican hacks together a program that creates a three-dimensional Mandelbrot set that breaks out of his computer screen and takes him on a trippy voyage away from life and into a crabmeat can in his pantry where he can code and enjoy energy drinks for the rest of his life—as long as no one get hungry for canned crab. While it is an interesting story and Rucker’s work on the Mandelbulb is noted in the module, his story is more romantic and possibly prophetic, but less instructive.

Shortly thereafter, Alan and I finished moving and shelving the City Tech SF Collection, and I began searching for a better story in the collection’s magazines—a story that fulfills the Gernsbackian requirements and connects to both of the module’s topics: fractals and 3D printing. One such contender was Robert Heinlein’s “Waldo,” which tended to capture the materiality-emphasis of the module better than Rucker’s much later story. Published in August 1942 in Astounding Science Fiction as by Heinlein’s pseudonym Anson MacDonald, “Waldo” features on the cover with art by Hubert Rogers and story illustration by Paul Orban. The story is where the term for a remote manipulator system is coined—a waldo. However, the story is about a man named Waldo Jones who invents remote manipulators to enable his weakened body to act on the world. With his invention, he sets out to make smaller ones and smaller ones until they were capable of manipulating microscopic neural tissue and investigate the cause of his physical handicap. The idea then is that waldoes could be used to build up matter in the same way they were used to build smaller versions of themselves. Heinlein’s story fulfills Gernsback’s requirements—romance (intrigue and revenge), scientific fact (cybernetics), and prophetic vision (what possibilities might waldoes enable), but it does not fulfill both module topics as strongly.

Eventually, I found the story that is credited as the first SF describing 3D printing in detail: Eric Frank Russell’s “Hobbyist,” in the September 1947 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Unlike “Waldo,” “Hobbyist” is not as widely anthologized, so having access to it in its original magazine was a bonus. If you are familiar with the contemporary video game, No Man’s Sky, then you have an idea about what “Hobbyist” is generally about. Astronaut Steve Ander and his companion parrot Laura crash land on a distant world and are in need of nickel-thorium alloy for fuel, which will hopefully get them a little closer to home. While scavenging around the crash site, Ander notices unsettling patterns of repetition in the world around him and discovers a structure that houses what amounts to a collection of life forms created in a 3D printer of sorts and maintained by an omnipotent being. The narrator describes it thus:

It was done by electroponics, atom fed to atom like brick after brick to build a house. It wasn’t synthesis because that’s only assembly, and this was assembly plus growth in response to unknown laws. In each of these machines, he knew, was some key or code or cipher, some weird master-control of unimaginable complexity, determining the patterns each was building—and the patterns were infinitely variable. (Russell 56)

“Hobbyist” satisfied the Gernsbackian requirements—romance (escape the planet), scientific fact (small scale engineering, iterative and fractal growth), and prophetic vision (might this technology make us gods?) and united both module topics. Capturing “Hobbyist” with my iPhone and Scanner Pro app, I shared the story with the other NEH Fellows— the story’s text and in-story illustrations by Edd Cartier and cover art by Alejandro de Cañedo. During meetings, I related the history of the magazine and how that adds to the importance of the story as a nodal point of STEM ideas expressed through SF long before 3D printing was first innovated in the 1980s, and even before it was described in theoretical terms by Richard Feynman in his well-known December 1959 American Physical Society presentation, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.”



The second module that I contributed to is called “Topology: Behind Escher’s Wizardry, A Look at the Development of Modeling and Fabrication.” Unlike the earlier fractal module, the topology module would involve programming to create each student’s 3D printed model. In addition to my role as the humanist on the team, I made this a personal challenge to relearn Wolfram Mathematica, a symbolic computation program that supports a relatively easy-to-use programming language, because I wanted to demonstrate how its could satisfy all aspects of teaching, coding, and modeling. I began by creating a Mathematica workbook that demonstrated topology concepts, such as points, lines, polygons, and dimensionality, and easy-to-follow programming tutorials of topological surfaces. Additionally, I showed how Mathematica exported 3D printable STL files of the topological models students would create.

Initially, we considered Edwin Abbott’s Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884), but Professor Satyanand Singh, a colleague in the Mathematics department, suggested that we show a video based on Abbott’s story instead. This created an opportunity.

While performing serious play with Mathematica, I recalled Robert Heinlein’s “—And He Built a Crooked House” from the February 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Featuring cover art by Hubert Rogers and story illustrations by Charles Schneeman, the story is about an ambitious architect who designs a house in the shape of an unfolded tesseract, or a four-dimensional cube. Unfolded means to create a geometric net or the interconnected, component elements of the object. For example, a three-dimensional cube unfolds into a net composed of two-dimensional squares arranged in eleven different configurations. On the other hand, a tesseract, which is four-dimensional, unfolds into a net of connected three-dimensional cubes with 168 possible configurations! The architect’s innovative design is such an arrangement of three-dimensional cubes, which in this case, resembles the Cross of St. Peter. Unfortunately, having been built in California, there is an earthquake and the house collapses into itself forming a nondescript house-like cube. The incredulous architect and his nonplussed clients enter the domicile to investigate and become trapped within the structure’s weird, higher-dimensional geometry. It is an improbable story, but it captures the strangeness of higher dimensions and introduces topics for discussion. “—And He Built a Crooked House” fulfills Gernsback’s definition—romance (escape the counter-intuitive house-turned-maze), scientific fact (higher dimensionality), and prophetic vision (let’s use math to build innovative buildings), and it tangentially fulfills the module’s focus on topology.

The NEH project is on going, so there are opportunities to locate other stories and materials in the SF magazines held in the City Tech Science Fiction Collection. In my SF class, I hope to bring my students to the archives for special projects pre-arranged with the librarians. Professor Jill Belli is doing this now, and some of her students’ work will be features in a special session of the upcoming Symposium on Amazing Stories: Inspiration, Learning, and Adventure in Science Fiction on November 29 at City Tech, which I hope that you all will consider presenting or attending. Thank you for listening.

Works Cited

Gernsback, Hugo. “A New Sort of Magazine.” Amazing Stories April 1926: 3.

Heinlein, Robert. “—And He Built a Crooked House. Astounding Science Fiction, February 1941, 68-83.

Russell, Eric Frank. “Hobbyist.” Astounding Science Fiction, September 1947. 33-61



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Posted in City Tech, Conference, Pedagogy, Science Fiction

CFP: Symposium on Amazing Stories: Inspiration, Learning, and Adventure in Science Fiction (Date Updated)


Symposium on Amazing Stories: Inspiration, Learning, and Adventure in Science Fiction

Date: Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 9:00AM-5:00PM Wednesday, November 30, 2016, 9:00AM-5:00PM

Location: New York City College of Technology, 300 Jay St., Namm N119

“By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story—a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision … Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading—they are always instructive.”
-Hugo Gernsback, 1926.

When the widely recognized “Father of Science Fiction,” Hugo Gernsback first coined the term that captured the essence of the genre we now call science fiction (SF), he envisioned SF as a new form of literature that inspired with prophecy, taught with scientific and technical facts, and engaged with adventure. These traits unique to SF have launched many of its readers on trajectories into the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) fields.

Join us for a one-day symposium exploring SF as a medium for engaging imagination, a means for exploring STEM/STEAM fields, and an instrument for discovering interdisciplinary connections, and also celebrating the new City Tech Science Fiction Collection held in the Archives and Special Collections of the Ursula C. Schwerin Library.

We invite presentations of 10-15 minutes on SF and how it fulfills learning, inspiration, and fun in STEAM-focused environments. Possible presentation topics include, but are not limited to:

• SF inspired STEM careers (or what SF inspired you to enter your field?)
• SF as a teaching tool (or what SF have you used or want to use in your classes?)
• SF’s imaginative functions (or Gedankenexperiment, considering ethical issues and unintended consequences, visualizing the influence of science and technology on society)
• Bridging STEM and the humanities via SF (or SF as an interdisciplinary cultural work that embraces STEAM)
• SF and place (or SF’s deep roots in Brooklyn and New York City)
• The fun and learning in archival work in SF collections (or making the City Tech Science Fiction Collection work for faculty, students, and researchers)

Please send a 100-word abstract, brief bio, and contact information to Jason Ellis (jellis at citytech.cuny.edu) by Oct. 31, 2016. Schedule will be announced Nov.15, 2016.

Organizing Committee: Jason Ellis (Chair), Aaron Barlow, Jill Belli, and Mary Nilles.

Hosted by the School of Arts and Sciences at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY.

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Posted in Announcement, City Tech, Science Fiction

CFP: NANO Special Issue: Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Narrative, Characters, Media, and Event


I’m co-editing (with my colleagues Alan Lovegreen and Sean Scanlan) a special issue of NANO New American Notes Online that explores Star Wars: The Force Awakens as narrative, character, media, and event.

NANO is a badass journal that focuses on concise, rigorous, and multimodal arguments. It is dynamic in its writers’ approaches, and it is fast to publication with appropriate blind peer review. It is the perfect venue to approach something as big as Star Wars: A Force Awakens  with a critical and close lens before the next installment in the new trilogy appears! The CFP is included below, but you can find the original CFP and Submission Info page on NANO’s website. Please comment or email me with any questions.

Call for Papers: Issue 12

Deadline: February 1, 2017

Special Issue: Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Narrative, Characters, Media, and Event

Guest Editors: Jason W. Ellis, Alan Lovegreen, and Sean Scanlan


This thing [Star Wars] communicates. It is in a language that is talking to young people today, and that’s marvelous.

—Joseph Campbell in conversation with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (1988)

There are certainly many more themes in The Force Awakens that speak to us, and help us to learn more about these characters and what makes them tick.

—Dan Zehr, “Studying Skywalkers” column on starwars.com (May 18, 2016)


It is the aim of this special issue of NANO to address the significance of the latest installment of Star Wars by exploring its narrative, characters, media, and event. Across nearly four decades, audiences spanning generations have experienced Star Wars through films, television programs, books, video games, special events such as the annual “celebrations,” and other storytelling media, including action figures and LEGO. Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, George Lucas’ production company, audiences experienced a new transmedia event and a continuation of the old stories with the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in 2015. Joseph Campbell’s earlier observations about the first film raises new questions that deserve to be answered about the latest: How does this new film communicate? What language does it use? And, to whom is it speaking?

One way to approach these issues of communication and language is through the convergence of the film’s narrative and characters, especially how the transmission of this convergence gets revealed through a variety of media as an event. For example, how does the film’s narrative respond to, continue, and challenge those that it follows? And what about the cast of characters—some returning and some new? What do these characters and their performance of the narrative have to say about the here-and-now as well as the past? Of course, the narrative is told through media, which includes different film technologies, digital distribution, DVD and Blu-Ray discs, websites, video games, and apps. And stepping back for a larger perspective, the release of the film and its transmedia supporting elements inform The Force Awakens as an event, in part orchestrated by Disney/Lucasfilm, and in part connected to contemporary events, including #oscarssowhite, #womeninfilm, and #paygap. Furthermore, how does its event(s) relate to those of the past, including specifically those centered on the release of the earlier films and subsequent events awakening fans’ nostalgic enthusiasm. The Force Awakens’ considerable box office performance and tie-in successes signal how significant this film (and its progenitors) is, and it is the aim of this special issue to explore the promise and pitfalls of its cultural influence.

This issue welcomes multimodal essays up to 4,000 words (excluding works cited) exploring topics relating to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, including but not limited to the following:

  • transmedia storytelling and The Force Awakens (including “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” publications, such as Chuck Wendig’s novel, Star Wars: Aftermath, and comic books Star Wars: Shattered Empire and Star Wars: Poe Dameron
  • media transformation and adaptation (e.g., comparing the film with Alan Dean Foster’s novelization)
  • materiality and The Force Awakens (e.g., LEGO, play, and collecting)
  • Star Wars fandom and cosplay
  • Star Wars reference materials and publications
  • starwars.com and the official Star Wars app
  • Star Wars videogames including LEGO Star Wars: The Force AwakensStar Wars Battlefront, and the now defunct Disney Infinity tie-ins
  • Jakku Spy VR experience
  • Star Wars Celebration and ComicCon special events
  • social and political movements’ coinciding/connecting with The Force Awakens
  • the hero’s journey and the heroes’ journeys
  • movement and storytelling
  • vehicles as characters
  • nostalgia and familiarity
  • inclusive casting/characters
  • droids and aliens
  • hidden bodies/cgi characters (e.g., Maz Kanata/ Lupita Nyong’o and Captain Phasma/Gwendoline Christie)
  • race and gender in The Force Awakens
  • terrorism, insurgency, war, and militarism
  • surveillance

Direct questions to the Special Issue co-editors: Jason W. Ellis [jellis@citytech.cuny.edu], Alan Lovegreen [alanlovegreen@yahoo.com], and Sean Scanlan [sscanlan@citytech.cuny.edu].

NANO is a multimodal journal. Therefore, we encourage submissions that include images, sound, or video in support of a written argument. These multimodal components may consist of objects and data sets that go beyond traditional media. The multimodal components of the essay must be owned or licensed by the author, come from the public domain, or fall within reasonable fair use (see Stanford University Libraries’ Copyright & Fair Use site, http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/ and the U.S. Copyright Office’s Fair Use site, http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html for more information. NANO’s Fair Use Statement is available on its submission page, http://www.nanocrit.com/submissions-information/).

For questions about video, audio, or image usage, please contact NANO: editornano@citytech.cuny.edu.

NANO uses modified MLA (Modern Language Association) formatting and style.

Submission style guidelines: http://www.nanocrit.com/submissions-information/style-guide-nano/

Submission form: http://www.nanocrit.com/submissions-information/submission-form-page-nano1

Keywords and abstract: Each author is asked to submit 5 keywords and a 150-word abstract to accompany their submission.

Schedule: Deadlines concerning the special issue to be published in NANO:

  • Submission deadline: February 1, 2017
  • Complete comments and peer review June 2017
  • Pre-production begins August 2017

We look forward to receiving your contributions.

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Posted in Announcement, City Tech, Personal, Science Fiction

Working Bibliography for Digital Fabrication Module of “A Cultural History of Digital Technology” at City Tech

This is a 3D print of a Mandelbulb that I created with Mandelbulb3D, Fiji, and meshlab.

This is a 3D print of a Mandelbulb that I created with Mandelbulb3D, Fiji, and meshlab.

I’m an NEH Fellow for City Tech’s “A Cultural History of Digital Technology” project. It brings together faculty from across the college to design humanities-course modules and a new course proposal that brings the six modules together. I am contributing to the Digital Fabrication Module of the course curriculum that the team will develop.

I put together the following bibliography of Science Fiction, critical work, video games, and software as part of my contribution to the project and the upcoming curricular work. Following my bibliography, I have included the preliminary viewings and readings for this module (which were selected before I joined the project as a fellow) for those interested in learning more about these topics.

Working Bibliography

Fiction: 3D Printing (chronological)

Heinlein, Robert A. “Waldo.” Astounding Science Fiction Aug. 1942: 9-53.

Smith, George O. “Identity.” Astounding Science Fiction Nov. 1945. 145-180.

Russell, Eric F. “Hobbyist.” Astounding Science Fiction Sept. 1947: 33-61.

Sheckley, Robert. “The Necessary Thing.” Galaxy Science Fiction June 1955. 55-66.

Clarke, Arthur C. The City and the Stars. Harcourt Brace/SFBC, 1956.

Stephenson, Neal. The Diamond Age, or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. Bantam Spectra, 1995.

Gibson, William. All Tomorrow’s Parties. Viking Press, 1999.

Brin, David. Kiln People. Tor, 2002.

Marusek, David. Counting Heads. Tor, 2005. [expansion of his novella We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy, 1995].

Doctorow, Cory. “Printcrime.” Nature vol. 439 (12 Jan. 2006): 242.

Sterling, Bruce. “Kiosk.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Jan. 2007: 68-113.

Doctorow, Cory. Makers. HarperVoyager, 2009.

Stross, Charles. Rule 34. Ace Books, 2011.

Hamilton, Peter F. Great North Road, Macmillan UK, 2012.

Gibson, William. The Peripheral. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.

Newman, Emma. Planetfall. Roc, 2015.

Robinson, Kim Stanley. Aurora. Orbit, 2015.


Fiction: Fractals (chronological)

Langford, David. “Blit.” Interzone Sept./Oct. 1988: 40-42.

Rucker, Rudy. “As Above, So Below.” in The Microverse. Ed. Byron Preiss. Bantam Spectra, 1989. 334-340.

Shiner, Lewis. “Fractal Geometry.” in The Edges of Things. WSFA Press, 1991. 59.

Anthony, Piers. Fractal Mode. Ace/Putnam, 1992. [second novel in his Mode series].

Di Filippo, Paul. “Fractal Paisleys.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction May 1992: 72-106.

Charnock, Graham. “On the Shores of a Fractal Sea.” in New Worlds 3. Ed. David Garnett. Gollancz, 1993. 125-136.

Luckett, Dave. “The Patternmaker.” in The Patternmaker: Nine Science Fiction Stories. Ed. Lucy Sussex. Omnibus Books, 1994. 3-18.

Pickover, Clifford A. Chaos in Wonderland: Visual Adventures in a Fractal World. St. Martin’s Press, 1994.

Turzillo, Mary A. “The Mandelbrot Dragon.” in The Ultimate Dragon. Eds. Keith DeCandido, John Betancourt, and Byron Preiss. Dell, 1995. 167-172.

Williamson, Jack. “The Fractal Man.” 1996. in At the Human Limit. Haffner Press, 2011. 187-204.

Leisner, William. “Gods, Fate, and Fractals.” in Strange New Worlds II. Eds. Dean Wesley Smith, John J. Ordover, and Paula M. Block. Pocket Books, 1999. 166-183.

Thompson, Douglas. Ultrameta: A Fractal Novel. Eibonvale Press, 2009.

Patrice, Helen. “Mandelbrot Universe.” Dreams & Nightmares no. 92 (May 2012): n.p.

Strasser, Dirk. “The Mandelbrot Bet.” in Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard Science Fiction. Eds. Ben Bova and Eric Choi. Tor, 2014. 365-378.


Non-Fiction (chronological)

Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge UP, 1961.

Rucker, Rudy. “In Search of a Beautiful 3D Mandelbrot Set.” RudyRucker.com. 5-14 Sept. 1988 (revised 24 Sept. 2009).

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Thurs, Daniel Patrick. “Tiny Tech, Transcendent Tech: Nanotechnology, Science Fiction, and the Limits of Modern Science Talk.” Science Communication vol. 29, no. 1 (Sept. 2007): 65-95.


Video Games (chronological)

Rescue on Fractalus!, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rescue_on_Fractalus! and https://archive.org/details/a2_Rescue_on_Fractalus_1985_Lucasfilm_Games_cr_Blade.

.kkrieger, http://web.archive.org/web/20120204065621/http://www.theprodukkt.com/kkrieger.

No Man’s Sky, http://www.no-mans-sky.com.



KPT Bryce 1.0 (1994), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MY8GPU5osx4 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGLjPYgs8bg and http://kai.sub.blue/en/frax.html and http://fract.al.

The Mandelbrot Set in HTML5 Canvas and Javascript, http://tilde.club/~david/m/.

Julia Map, http://juliamap.googlelabs.com/.

FracalLab, http://hirnsohle.de/test/fractalLab/.

Paul Lutus, The Mandelbrot Set, http://arachnoid.com/mandelbrot_set/index.html.



Preliminary Viewings

NOVA, “Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension,” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/hunting-hidden-dimension.html.

Benoit Mandelbrot TED Talk, Fractals and the Art of Roughness, https://www.ted.com/talks/benoit_mandelbrot_fractals_the_art_of_roughness?language=en.


Preliminary Readings

Devlin, Keith. The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible. W. H. Freeman, 1998. 188-220.

Flake, Gary. The Computational Beauty of Nature: Computer Explorations of Fractals, Chaos, Complex Systems, and Adaptation. MIT Press, 1998. 59- 110.

Mandelbrot, Benoit. The Fractal Geometry of Nature. W.H. Freeman, 1983. 4- 38.

Mandelbrot, Benoit. Fractals: Form, Chance, and Dimension. W.H. Freeman, 1977.

Samuel, Nina. ed. The Islands of Benoit Mandelbrot: Fractals, Chaos, and the Materiality of Thinking. Bard Graduate Center, 2012.18-56.


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Posted in City Tech, Computers, Pedagogy, Science Fiction, Technology

Science Fiction at City Tech


An anonymous donor recently gifted a tremendous collection of Science Fiction magazines (complete runs from the 1950s to the present), novels, and criticism to the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech). Alan Lovegreen and I collaborated on the proposal to acquire the collection and fund its relocation to City Tech’s Library Special Collections and Archives. While the Library prepared space for the 145 boxes of materials, we stored the collection in our two shared office spaces. Now that the space is available in the Archives, we have been moving the materials through the serpentine passages of 300 Jay Street and onto the shelves. So far, we’ve moved over 100 boxes into the Archives, and we anticipate completing the move very soon. To document the collection’s integration into the City Tech Library Archives and promote Science-Fiction-focused initiatives at the college, I created a new website called “Science Fiction at City Tech” on our open-learning platform, OpenLab. Due to the importance of this collection and the possibilities that it opens up for research, teaching, and recruitment, I added a permanent link to the Science Fiction at City Tech site in the menu above. After everything is shelved, I will create a photograph-based temporary finding aid, and the City Tech Library Archives (helmed by Keith Muchowski) will catalog the collection. There are already plans in the works for symposia, student-involvement projects, and more. Stay tuned for updates here and on the Science Fiction at City Tech site for updates.

Posted in City Tech, Science Fiction

Why Do I Build LEGO Sets Before Creating My Own Models? Thoughts on Haptics and Star Wars Rebels 75053 The Ghost


I recently purchased the LEGO Star Wars Rebels 75053 The Ghost set to cannibalize for a MOC project. However, before I parted out the set and sold off the minifigures, I built the set one time and purposefully spread the build time across several days even though the set itself should only take a couple of hours of concentrated build time to complete. Why?

A personal reason stems from the enjoyment and stress relief that comes from building something with my hands. I see the model take shape as I place brick after brick. I take joy in the innovative techniques employed by the model’s designers. I reflect on the relationship of the model to its source material–in this case, the television program Star Wars: Rebels.

From a learning perspective, the haptic experience of building the model by following its instructions teaches the builder the process and techniques of the designer. Combined with the builder’s experience gained from model building and creative expression, one can reflect on the model’s design and guess about alternative methods and potential roadblocks encountered by the designer in earlier versions. In a sense, LEGO bricks serve as an interface between builder and designer, and through the interface, the builder learns and imagines new possibilities, which the builder can turn toward future projects. Building, pulling apart, rebuilding, redesigning, and creating forms the basis of a self-perpetuating active learning experience–one that begins guided and ends self-directed.

By spreading the build across several days, it allowed me to enjoy an extended building experience while giving my brain the space to think about and reflect on the building techniques employed by the sets designers. Had I built the model as quickly as I could have otherwise, I would not necessarily learn as much from the instructions and haptic experience of following the instructions to construct the model.

Based on my extensive first-hand experience as a LEGO builder and an educator who uses LEGO in his Technical Writing and Science Fiction classes, the transition from guided to self-directed learning is one of the powerful characteristics of LEGO as a learning platform. Furthermore, its orientation as a technology of play opens engagement and enables learning that is fulfilling because of the enjoyment that it can bring about (of course, LEGO might not be for everyone and the source of enjoyment in learning differs from person to person–as with the projection learning with lecture and PowerPoint, or other forms of active learning exercises, I propose that LEGO is another tool in the educator’s toolbox that can be used, repurposed, hacked, etc. as the case and need arises).

Before I disassemble The Ghost, here are some images of a nice model that accurately captures its source while adding play elements that fans of the series–young and old–will likely enjoy.

If you’ve deployed LEGO in some way in your classroom or assignments, share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below or ping me on Twitter.

Posted in Lego, Science Fiction, The Brain

Customized LEGO Star Wars Millennium Falcon 75105 from The Force Awakens



After watching Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens for the first of four times (so far), I purchased the new LEGO Millennium Falcon 75105 (LEGO website page and Brickset model page). It is a wonderfully designed model that balances play with detail. This latest Falcon model from LEGO captures how the passage of time and change of hands has affected this storied ship’s appearance in the film. Despite the interior and exterior greebling, the layout of the Falcon is spacious and accommodating for customization by the LEGO builder. It was my intention to customize the Falcon to be more screen accurate in the main hold and cockpit, and more detailed in the engine compartment and rear storage/bunk spaces. Through the process of customization, I worked on the exterior dorsal and ventral sides (including an improvement to the boarding platform. Below, I offer some explanation and photos for each before and after stage of my customization, including the cockpit, exterior dorsal, exterior ventral, interior fore, and interior aft.

Cockpit, Before Customization

The original cockpit accommodates two minifigures–one sitting forward on the right (pilot) and one sitting one row behind on the left (copilot). It comes with a single lever for control and a printed wedge brick with cockpit controls. Due to the conical elements used for the cockpit, space is extremely limited. However, the rear of the cockpit has a strange design that is not evocative of the rear of the cockpit, which would have controls, lights, and a door. I targeted these issues in my customization seen below.


Cockpit, After Customization

In my customization of the cockpit interior, I raised the control panel by one plate and gave the pilot and co-pilot handle-bar controls like in the films. Above the directional control bars, there are three adjustable levels sitting on top of the printed control panel wedge brick for controlling the engines.


Exterior Dorsal, Before Customization

These images are of the Falcon’s exterior before any customization. Of note, the Millennium Falcon’s fore running lights are red instead of clear (a change depicted in The Force Awakens), and a less clean exterior to illustrate its aging and modifications.

Exterior Dorsal, After Customization

The one external element that I wanted to accentuate as much as possible was the slightly raised panels above the rear quarter over the engines. This was easily accomplished by adding a single plate above the hinge for each sectional panel, and adding a single plate height to half of the bordering panels. The latter, however, also required finding 1×3 flat plates for the segmented panels as seen below.

Exterior Ventral, After Customization (no Before photos taken)

Originally, the boarding platform does not have hydraulic lifters and the bottom of the Falcon is largely exposed to the Technic beams that form the support skeleton for the model. I added the lifters and covered much of the bottom (more can be done when I have the bricks available to accomplish a better approximation of the Falcon’s bottom exterior (angled forward pods and rear hold pod beneath the engines).

Interior Fore, Before Customization

The 75105 Millennium Falcon model continues the innovative “petal” design forming the dorsal fuselage of the spacecraft, which first appeared in the 4504 set and was improved in the 7965 set. The best change from the earlier designs is for the forward bisecting panel leading from the mandibles to the gun turret. Instead of opening up toward the turret (4504) or opening forward toward the mandibles (7965), the panel now swings forward and down between the mandibles thus giving easier access to the builder for play inside the Falcon. The navigational computer is more accurately captured with a sticker applied to a flat plate than printed wedge bricks in 7965, and the Dejarik table is printed on a round shield element. My complaints with the interior design have to do with the inaccuracy of the placement of the Dejarik table/benches and bunks. I focused on this in my customization.

Interior Fore, After Customization

In my customization, I moved the Dejarik table and benches across from the navigation computer, which required rebuilding part of the mandible supports and the swing components for the center panel (to clear the center bench back). I relocated one of the bunks to the end of the hold to create the medibay where Finn bandages Chewbacca’s arm. In the main hold, I constructed a forward wall with panel details taken from the First Order Snowspeeder 75100 set.

Interior Aft, Before Customization

The engine compartment in the rear of the model is similar to the one in 7965. This part of the Falcon captures the junked essence of the Falcon in general and the effects of the passage of time and unkind handling of the Falcon depicted in The Force Awakens. I wanted to keep its garbage appearance while giving the engine compartment greater substantiality.

Interior Aft, After Customization

In the rear hold/engine compartment, I constructed two storage rooms/bunks with swinging doors (I would have preferred to have sliding doors but I don’t have the elements to do this while conserving the limited space available), and I designed additional mirrored engine modules that go on either end of the original engine included with the set, which I hope makes the engine look more substantial for a spacecraft capable of completing the Kessel Run in 14, er, 12 parsecs!


I hope to further customize the 75105 Millennium Falcon. As I acquire new bricks and elements, I would like to think about how to better integrate the engines into the design and aesthetic of the YT transport. Other goals include, integrate a mechanism for lowering and raising the boarding platform, similar to the 4504 set, design screen accurate landing gear that raise the Falcon by at least one plate higher while on display, and further integrate my customization into the model so that it attains a unity of design instead of a piecemeal added-on quality.

If you have customized the 75105 or other Millennium Falcon sets, please sound off in the comments. Thanks for stopping by!

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Posted in Lego, Science Fiction
Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.


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