Back in Kent After a Short Christmas Reprieve

Yufang and I are back from a week long visit to see my family over Christmas. We had a great time in the South, but there was far too little time to do everything we would have liked to have done or see everyone who we would have liked to have seen. I have some pending DynamicSubspace.net updates on my reading and experiences while we were gone, which should follow in short order.

The picture above is of us on my Grandpa Ellis’ dock on the heavily polluted Turtle River. It’s pretty there, but you don’t want to eat anything that lives in or around the water. Industry along the river dumped a good deal of mercury and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) into the water, which have obviously worked their way into the food chain.

There are only a couple of days left in 2009, so I would like to say to everyone: Happy New Year and Peace to All.

Read My Chapter on Nomadology and Student Digital Lives in McFarland’s Writing, Reading, and Teaching Science Fiction

Writing, Reading, and Teaching Science Fiction, the first collection that I have contributed to, has been handed over to McFarland for publication. You can find my chapter “Revealing Critical Theory’s Real-Life Potential to Our Students, the Digital Nomads” in the first section on Teaching Science Fiction. The publisher doesn’t have a page up for orders yet, but they have given permission for us to post the abstracts, which you may find below. There is some additional information available on editor Karen Hellekson’s website here. I will give a link to the official McFarland page once it goes live.

Writing, Reading, and Teaching Science Fiction

Edited by Karen Hellekson, Craig Jacobsen, Patrick Sharp, and Lisa Yaszek

McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010

Part 1—Teaching

1. Teaching with Science Fiction

Section edited by Craig Jacobsen

2. Grokking Rhetoric through Science Fiction: A Practical Examination of Course Construction

Jen Gunnels

Traditional teaching methods and materials for core curriculum all too often leave the student disengaged, or worse, confused. A text’s placement in the Western canon does not automatically make it accessible or engaging. It can leave the students bored and unconnected, and it can give them an inaccurate perception of rhetorical thought and the writing process. That is not to say that the canon is not important—it is—but often undergraduate core courses, especially mass courses such as rhetoric and composition, fall back on the same few texts. A reliance on canonical material—canonical to the instructor, but often unfamiliar to undergraduates—splits student focus between understanding the materials used to illustrate the concepts and the concepts themselves. A more accessible literature has the potential to free the student to concentrate on the new, often complicated, ideas being presented, and science fiction in particular can engage students who are studying core subjects by providing exemplar texts that clearly and compellingly illustrate major fundamental points. Here, I examine the use of science fiction in teaching basic undergraduate rhetoric and composition, and I reenvision its implementation. I include basic rhetorical elements that a course should cover, and I analyze a sample assignment, a brief rhetorical analysis of Tom Godwin’s 1954 story “The Cold Equations,” to illustrate basic rhetorical tools and wider arguments affecting rhetorical choices.

3. Incorporating Science Fiction into a Scientific Rhetoric Course

Michael J. Klein

Many of the scientific and technological achievements of the past century were prefigured by writers of speculative or science fiction. The scientific and technological achievements we view as commonplace (e.g., the Internet, wireless communication, advances in reproduction) were often discussed by literary authors decades before their “discovery.” Conversely, advances in science and technology drove authors to further their speculations and logically extend the discoveries of the day in their writing. In that spirit, I decided to expand the traditional canon of works I used in a scientific rhetoric course to include works of science fiction. The students in the course compared and contrasted the representation of science and scientists in fictional and factual accounts, examined the ways in which texts become important to a culture and a discourse community, and identified the means by which science informed science fiction, and vice versa, during the past century. I found that for undergraduates, the addition of literature made the concepts of scientific rhetoric more accessible and fostered greater conversation between students studying different subjects. The students in the humanities and social sciences used the literary works as a stepping stone to understanding the discourse within the scientific community. Conversely, students in the sciences and engineering recognized and appreciated the humanistic elements of science by seeing parallels in the works of fiction. These results speak to the benefits of increased dialogue among disciplines that address the concepts of science and technology.

4. Revealing Critical Theory’s Real-Life Potential to Our Students, the Digital Nomads

Jason W. Ellis

I propose a reading of Mike Resnick’s science fiction novel, Ivory: A Legend of Past and Future (2007), that engages critical poststructuralist theory and postcolonial theory for the purpose of providing a way to advance these theories in relation to the here and now of college undergraduate students. Ivory simultaneously promotes and challenges the practices of Orientalism, but my purpose is to engender further discussion regarding potential solutions to the problem of Orientalism presented in the text. Nomadology and rhizomatic resistance may provide a means to solve the problem represented in the novel. Ivory represents these concerns by showing how the fictional problem and its solution in fact epitomize our everyday digitalized and online existence. The novel explores models and provides examples of the online technologies that digital nomad students may use for self-empowerment and personal protection from the encroachment on their lives by the state and by global capital.

Part 2—Reading

5. Reading and Writing SF

Section edited by Patrick Sharp

6. Reading/Writing Martians: Seeing Techn{emacr} and Poi{emacr}sis in The War of the Worlds

Charles Harding

From its opening lines, The War of the Worlds is concerned with seeing, or comprehending, through reading and writing. Wells’s novel emerges from a cultural environment in which a lack of foresight and illiteracy mark future-war stories and scientific discourse. Wells interrogates this cultural blindness and fosters competency by presenting his narrator as a scientific—that is, a knowing—spectator of the Martian invasion. The narrator strives to distinguish himself from those who exhibit nescience in relation to the attack. His insight proceeds from his ability to read—to comprehend and translate—what emerges from the Martian cylinders. The Martians figure as a prevision of a technologized future, and the narrator’s scrutiny of their features and annihilative machinery reveals a potentially dangerous element in humanity’s relationship to technology. This danger manifests in the Martians’ degenerate techn{emacr}, their transformation of the world into a totally mechanized and depersonalized system. Despite the forbidding nature of this futuristic world, the possibility remains that it may be averted. This possibility lies in poi{emacr}sis, or artistic producing, which in The War of the Worlds culminates in the narrator’s rewriting of the invasion. According to Heidegger, poi{emacr}sis constitutes a space for an essential reflection on the danger for humanity in technology. Wells’s novel offers an opportunity for reflection on future humankind, embodied in the Martians, and its relationship to advanced technology by inviting readers to see alongside the narrator as he scrutinizes the Martians and their techn{emacr}. With The War of the Worlds, Wells suggests that science fiction must be knowing fiction.

7. The Creation of Heinlein’s “Solution Unsatisfactory”

Ed Wysocki

Robert Heinlein’s short story “Solution Unsatisfactory,” which appeared in Astounding Science-Fiction in May 1941 under the pen name Anson MacDonald, is well known for its presentation of a precarious world situation after the development of a nuclear weapon. This story appeared well before the establishment of the Manhattan Project for the development of an atomic bomb. Knowledge of the state of nuclear physics in the time before the story’s creation is presented to show that its concept grew from an uncertainty regarding the means by which an atomic bomb could be constructed. The source of basic premise of the story, the use of radioactive dust rather than a bomb, is identified as Astounding’s editor, John W. Campbell Jr. Development of the story, while retaining the basic weapon concept, was then taken by Heinlein in a different direction than had been originally suggested to him. Possible sources of technical information available to Heinlein are then considered, and a connection shown to a friend of Heinlein who had just received his PhD in the field of nuclear physics, Robert Cornog. The dust idea presented in the story occurred shortly before the same idea appeared in a report developed to suggest possible military applications of atomic fission. Although the close timing between the work of fiction and the report has been noted previously in the literature, no effort had apparently been made to establish a connection. In this essay, I propose a definite connection.

8. Entropy, Entertainment, and Creative Energy in Ben Bova

Donald M. Hassler

Even though Ben Bova is discounted by some as an “easy” writer or, perhaps, even because of this fact, his usefulness as a representative of the genre has impressed me. Further, I like his storytelling both for its ease and for its consistency. So this essay is one of several I have written attempting to account for genre effects in SF. I discuss several recent Bova novels, each dealing with the extrapolation of what we know of one of the planets in our system; and I find, in fact, some rich resonance of what I call “genre effects” in these books. I write in part as a fan, as well as an academic who hopes to set enthusiasm into the larger context of literary study. Many of Bova’s storytelling techniques seem outdated because they appear in the same milieux as postmodern experimentation, and I evoke the family romance metaphor from Freud—we tend to seek out and to feel comfortable with the “generation” of our fathers. Much of my point, then, about Bova’s effects is captured in what I label in the title as “the entropy” of reading and genre. I argue that the vigorous generation, or family sense, in these science stories allows us to see beyond.

Part 3—Media

9. Media and Science Fiction

Section edited by Karen Hellekson

10. Investigating the Postmodern Memory Crisis on the Small Screen

Susan A. George

In this analysis of the importance and reliability of memory in the context of postmodern SF, I use close readings of two exemplar episodes ( “Adam” and “Sleeper”) of the television program Torchwood (2006–9) to explore the fundamental nature of humanity. Torchwood asserts that some essential qualities escape quantification. These qualities define the human and separate the human from the nonhuman. Memory is the locus of these qualities, not some metaphysical or religious construct called the human soul.

11. Text’s Resistance to Being Interpreted: Unconventional Relationship between Text and Reader in Watchmen

Ho-Rim Song

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel Watchmen (1986–87) experiments with postmodern literary devices, forms, and style to problematize the conventional concept of interpretation. In particular, the text deconstructs the conventional relationship between text and readers as the interpreted and the interpreter, and by doing so, it calls into question readers’ perception of their own reality as well as that of the text. Watchmen ultimately claims that interpretation, or the act of finding truth or meaning, is meaningless for our postmodern reality.

12. ”Breathe, baby, breathe!” Ecodystopia in Brazilian Science Fiction Film

Alfredo Suppia

This analysis of four ecodystopian Brazilian SF films—Claudin{ecirc} Perina Camargo’s 93{deg} Tunnel (1972), José de Anchieta’s Stop 88 (1978), Roberto Pires’s Nuclear Shelter (1981), and Marcos Bertoni’s Armadillo Blood (1986)—demonstrates that ecodystopia is one of the most structured and long-lasting manifestations of science fiction in Brazilian cinema, offering critical and speculative visions at the crossroads of social, political, and environmental issues that continue to remain strikingly relevant today. These films shed light on Brazilian anxieties regarding modernization in the atomic era that reflect greater world ecological concerns that are only becoming more compelling.

Part 4—Women

13. Women and Writing

Section edited by Lisa Yaszek

14. Hail the Conquering Campbellian S/Hero: Joanna Russ’s Alyx

Eileen Donaldson

For many theorists, both feminist and not, the figure of an archetypal, active female warrior hero has been problematic. Many feminists believe it is gender stereotyping to suggest that women are unable to possess the force of the archetypal warrior hero and that this archetype is ultimately available to both men and women. I briefly define the nature of the archetypal hero and an argument is made for the active female s/hero who possesses the “masculine” powers of the hero and thus allows the archetypal power of the active warrior hero to pass to women. Joseph Campbell’s work on the archetypal hero of myth is drawn on extensively. One of the genres that allow an exploration of the s/hero is SF. I explore the s/hero in SF, particularly as she is evoked in Joanna Russ’s Alyx stories, published as short stories first and then collected in 1983 and published as The Adventures of Alyx.

15. Essentialism and Constructionism in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling

Kristen Lillvis

Although critics have argued that science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler confines her heroines to biologically determined sex and gender roles, in this article, I look beyond genetic predispositions and explore the influence of social and material conditions on her characters’ beliefs and actions. I use Butler’s final novel, Fledgling (2005), to investigate acts of sexual violence, demands of heterosexual sexual practices, and traditional notions of maternal roles as they affect the novel’s human and vampire species as well as Butler’s protagonist, a genetically engineered being whose biology aligns her with both species but whose amnesia frees her from a socially constructed consciousness. I posit that although biological tendencies may exist in the novel, Butler uses her heroine’s atypical beliefs about and responses to female behavioral norms to demonstrate that sex-specific characteristics become unavoidable truths only for the individuals and societies that choose to accept them as such.

16. Joanna Russ and the Murder of the Female Child: We Who Are About To{3.}

Rebekah Sheldon

In this essay, I investigate the violation of the rescue of the female child theme in Joanna Russ’s 1977 novel We Who Are About To{3.}. In stories like “The Second Inquisition” (1970), Russ positions the reader as the double of the child in the plot and rescues both by engendering the story as a hero. I assert that We Who Are About To{3.} rends open this closed loop through its refusal of proper narrative structure and its murder of the female child. I interpret this murder as an interrogation of the metaphysics of presence implicit in the rescue thematic, a move to a deconstructive writing practice and a liberation of the child from service as the site of future redemption.

17. Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn: The Taoist Way in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Telling

James Thrall

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Telling (2000) is more than simply a novel steeped in Taoism. It is, in fact, an attempt to make a political point by imagining a novel in a Taoist mode. Her protagonist moves beyond merely studying the Telling, a way of life modeled on Taoism, to becoming a practitioner herself. Le Guin contrasts her construction of the Telling’s grassroots system of communicating life wisdom through story with hierarchical systems of domination and control. By emphasizing the importance of properly engaged listening, which she sees as a key aspect of both Taoism’s and the Telling’s feminist principle, Le Guin advocates an alternative politics that embraces “peaceful anarchy” rooted in cooperation and discernment rather than conflict.

An Early Christmas Present


Yufang gave me the sweetest Christmas present a little bit early so that I could begin using it right away. Actually, I’m using it to write this post. She gave me an Apple Wireless Keyboard as pictured above on my desk.

I’ve had a Wireless Mighty Mouse for a year, which I really like except for scroller issues that have to be remedied too often with the help of a rough sheet of paper.

Now that I have the Wireless Keyboard, I can set my MacBook on Yufang’s hand-me-down computer stand, which places the screen at eye level. She’s been worried I spend too many hours perched over my laptop, so I hope that her fears are now allayed with my keyboard and elevated computer screen. I can report that it is more comfortable in this new configuration, which I haven’t experienced in quite awhile.

However, I do have a beef with Apple about the way that they shipped the Wireless Keyboard to our house. The keyboard is the same size as my MacBook keyboard, and the box that it came in isn’t that much larger. To save space, they even pre-installed the two AA batteries! With all of these packaging efficiencies, Apple looses their environmentally friendly gains by first shipping it DHL, which circumnavigated a curiously long route from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to Kentucky before being handed off to USPS for its final trek to Ohio with USPS, and placing the teeny-tiny keyboard inside a ginormous box full of packing paper, which you can see below.

Perhaps they mega-packed my keyboard, because they knew that it was going on an epic journey to find its way to us. Nevertheless, Apple needs to find a better balance between packaging and product shipping safety. I’m afraid that this earns them a SHIPPING: FAIL.

Now, if I can only keep myself from reaching up to my laptop keyboard to do things like adjusting the volume.

Landmark Post No. 500!

I began blogging about my experiences in academia and as a science fiction scholar in the Fall of 2006, but I moved my early work over to WordPress.com in March 2007 where I have been hosting dynamicsubspace.net ever since. This is my 500th blog post since I began, so I thought I dig through my site logs and share some surprising statistics with you.

DynamicSubspace.net had a very tentative beginning with only 3,772 visits during 2007. However, things really took off after I wrote more content and that content was indexed by Google. So, in 2008, my total number of site visits leapt to 27,878, and so far in 2009, I have 29,924 visits. In the screen grab above, you can see these numbers spread out by month, which generates a nice roller coaster graph of site activity.

I have written 224,109 words, including tags, on DynamicSubspace.net, which includes my earlier mac.com posts before the transition. That’s two regular-sized novels or nearly one mega-sized novel like Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.

Over the past three years, these have been the five most popular pages on Dynamicsubspace.net:

  1. On Forced Deep Throat in Aliens vs. Predator Requiem (10,230 visits)
  2. The Cigarette Smoking Man and Ms. Yutani in AVP2 Requiem (1,995 visits)
  3. 1080p Trouble with Windows 7, Nvidia, and Samsung LCD HDTV (1,120 visits)
  4. Apple Favors the MacBook Pro With 64bit Kernel (896 visits)
  5. Fandom, Otaku, and Home Guys in Taiwan (789 visits)

These are the top five search terms on DynamicSubspace.net. It should be noted that I don’t mean to misrepresent. I do talk about these things, but I don’t think that I talk about them all necessarily in the way that many of these readers want.

  1. predator (13,533)
  2. vagina dentata (588)
  3. forced deep throat (537)
  4. forced deepthroat (527)
  5. sunshine review (338)

I plan to write more about science fiction scholarship for 500 more posts and beyond–time and energy permitting, but I should consider putting my writing down for other purposes like writing a book.

NASA Speaker Professor Jay Reynolds Visited My Writing Classes Today

Thanks to NASA’s Speakers Bureau, Professor Jay Reynolds of Cleveland State University and the Glenn Research Station agreed to visit my two intro writing classes today to talk about America’s return to the Moon, current research on Mars, and investigations of asteroids and protoplanets, which is what Prof. Reynolds is at the present involved in with the DAWN mission to observe Vesta and Ceres.

I asked Prof. Reynolds to speak to my classes about some of the things taking place right now at NASA, particularly in relation to NE Ohio, where the majority of my students are from, and to give some context to the work that NASA does. He did an excellent job of this in his two presentations today for my students. Based on the subjects that he covered, I believe that he filled in many gaps that I either didn’t have the time to cover or those things that didn’t occur to me at the time as my classes worked their way through Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars as part of the “Space Exploration and Your Future” theme of my intro writing classes.

Prof. Reynolds demonstrated his depth of knowledge about NASA and its missions while also engaging broader economic and political interests in response to questions put to him by my students. He displayed a contagious abundance of energy and excitement about his work and the work taking place at NASA that I believe carried over to some of my students in the two classes.

At the beginning of his presentation, he began simply by asking my students what they thought of the unauthorized, yet mission making, Apollo 8 picture of the gibbous Earth next to the lunar surface [find it here] and the Apollo 17 image of the fully illuminated Earth [find it here]. What he stressed with these images was that our missions to the Moon turned into missions about the Earth. Our going out there gave us, meaning humanity, a new perspective on our planet and ourselves as co-inhabitants of what Carl Sagan termed a pale blue dot.

He discussed the Space Shuttle, Saturn V, and Ares I and V launch vehicles [see my Lego versions here] in detail, which elicited many questions between the two classes. Other questions included: How safe are the launch vehicles? Why did we go to the Moon? Does anyone own the Moon? What do you do with Helium-3?

Prof. Reynolds’ presentation ended with a discussion of asteroids and the importance of locating and tracking those objects which cross or may eventually cross the orbit of the Earth. This is related to the work that he does for NASA with the help of undergraduate and graduate students from Cleveland State University in conjunction with the DAWN mission [some related info here].

I am thankful that NASA can make a special event like this possible, and I am especially grateful to Prof. Reynolds for taking the time and energy to drive down to Kent and spend the afternoon with my students. It was a terrific occasion to close out the Fall 2009 semester for my students.

Lego Models of NASA’s Project Constellation, Orion and Altair

Legos return to the Moon! I built the following Lego models of NASA’s Project Constellation spacecraft and lunar lander when I would take breaks from my PhD exam reading schedule. The Orion spacecraft includes a detachable solid rocket booster, and it can be mated to the Altair lunar lander craft. Orion carries three minifig astronauts, and the Altair has room for one minifig astronaut. I based my Lego models on some of the computer generated mockups shown on NASA’s Constellation program website here.