This semester, I am using course release time to focus on a research project that I am tentatively titling, “The Language of Computers in Science Fiction, 1975-1995.” Most of my readings come from SF magazines, but I’m finding some material in anthologies, too. More to follow…stay tuned.
200 Years of Interdisciplinarity Beginning with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Third Annual City Tech Symposium on Science Fiction
Date and Time: Tuesday, November 27, 2018. 9:00am-5:00pm
Location: New York City College of Technology, 300 Jay St., Namm N119, Brooklyn, NY
“So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein—more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.”
–Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1831 edition)
“Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
–Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park (1993)
Ian Malcolm’s admonition above is as much a rebuke to the lasting echo of Victor Frankenstein’s ambition to accomplish “more, far more” as it is to park owner John Hammond’s explaining, “Our scientists have done things no one could ever do before.” Films like Jurassic Park and the kind of literature that came to be known as Science Fiction (SF) owe a tremendous debt to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818). In addition to being an (if not the) inaugural work of SF, Mary Shelley builds her cautionary tale around interdisciplinary approaches to science, and she takes this innovation further by applying the humanities to question the nature of being in the world, the effects of science on society, and the ethical responsibilities of scientists. These are only some of Frankenstein’s groundbreaking insights, which as Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove observe in Trillion Year Spree (1986), “is marvellously good and inexhaustible in its interest” (20). The many dimensions of interdisciplinarity in Frankenstein and the SF that followed are the focus of the Third Annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium.
In this special anniversary year of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, join us for a one-day symposium discussing interdisciplinarity and SF. Continuing conversations began in the earlier symposia, we seek to investigate SF’s power as an extrapolating art form with interdisciplinarity at its core, including interdisciplinarity within STEM fields and the interdisciplinary synergy of STEM and the humanities.
We invite presentations of 15-20 minutes on SF and interdisciplinarity. Papers on or connected to Frankenstein are particularly encouraged. Possible presentation topics include, but are not limited to:
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and interdisciplinarity (focusing on research questions or teaching approaches)
Explorations of interdisciplinary ideas, approaches, and themes in SF (or what disciplinary boundaries does SF bridge)
SF as an interdisciplinary teaching tool (or what SF have you used or want to use in your classes to achieve interdisciplinary outcomes)
Hosted by the School of Arts and Sciences at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY.
The Annual City Tech Symposium on Science Fiction is held in celebration of the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, an archival holding of over 600-linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and scholarship. It is located in the Archives and Special Collections of the Ursula C. Schwerin Library (Library Building, L543C, New York City College of Technology, 300 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201). More information about the collection and how to access it is available here: https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/sciencefictionatcitytech/librarycollection/.
Recently, I decided to rebuild LEGO set 76038 Attack on Avengers Tower from the Avengers 2: Age of Ultra line. The trouble was that the elements for the set were strewn throughout my boxes of bricks and sorted drawers. I used some of the bricks in an Iron Man Hall of Armor MOC, which had to be disassembled for this project. A 511 piece set like this might normally take me a couple of hours to complete. As I had to sort and find the bricks while looking at the downloaded PDF instructions on my computer screen, it took the better part of a day to complete the impressive playset. Then, I started thinking about how to make this good set even better. One aspect that bothered me about it is how short it is. While I understand that LEGO considers cost, playability, and profitability in designing their sets, I thought that Avengers Tower should stand above the Manhattan skyline, which according to the logic of minifigure playsets would put this two or three levels higher. I decided to add two floors, because where the bottom floor extends to–following the slope established in the original set–is about as far out as the edge of platform at the top of the tower. To my mind, this seemed to work out well for a taller and proportionate LEGO Avengers Tower.
LEGO 76038 Attack on Avengers Tower Unmodified
Barring the additional minifigures (and four Iron Legion instead of the stock two), the photo above is of the unmodified LEGO 76038 Attack on Avengers Tower. On the lower level, it has the Iron Legion docking area and medical bay. The middle level has the Iron Legion repair bay/Ultron’s first embodiment and the diagnostic bay with scanner for studying Loki’s scepter. The top level features the platform, entertaining space, and computer station. The tower’s pinnacle is a drone deployment system.
I like the design work that went into the overall design of LEGO 76038. The angular front of the tower and the curve flowing down the side from the platform is spot-on with the design from the film. Of course, LEGO’s designers embellished the design for playability, but the thought that went into what elements should be included such as the Iron Legion bays and the scepter scanner reveal how dedicated their designers are to creating a model that balances play with realism.
Planning Additional Levels
To begin my modification to Avengers Tower, I had to plan out how to extend the slope of the front part of the tower. Following the slope provided in the original model, I saw that the next level–if it were the same height as the previous level–would need to extend two studs past the previous level. This allowed me to plan how much area in studs I would have to work with for the new first or bottom most level, and the new second level. The rear part of each level–with curved, translucent windows would remain the same for the new fourth and fifth levels. The new first level features an interactive Arc Reactor and Computer Server Room. The new second level features Tony Stark’s workshop and the Iron Man Hall of Armor.
I started building my addition to Avengers Tower on the bottom most, or new first level. Thinking back to the first Avengers film, I wanted the tower to have its own Arc Reactor. The first challenge was to think about what that would look like as it is only seen in the film as a 3D schematic on Pepper Potts’ computer monitor, and the second challenge was to integrate some interactivity into this part of the model. While the Arc Reactor doesn’t spin (just the plasma within its torus moves within its magnetic confinement rings), I thought a geared spinning mechanism might be fun to engineer. Due to the placement of the window, I added a series of three gears to move the work where it was needed to spin the reactor. A small knob on the right side of the tower is used to spin the reactor. I added gauges, pipes, valves, and supports to frame the Arc Reactor within its space.
Computer Server Room
Opposite the Arc Reactor on the first level is the computer server room. I built the 19″ computer racks four bricks high, but I might make these higher later. I staggered their placement to imply depth to the space. In the back corner, Ant-Man is hiding out to see what Stark might be up to.
I focused the new second level on Iron Man. In the front, sloped space, I created Tony Stark’s workshop. It has a desk with computer, parts, coffee mug. Next to the desk is a set of drawers with tools, and on top are two containers and Stark’s Mark V or Suitcase Armor from 76007 Iron Man: Malibu Mansion Attack. In the foreground, Tony Stark has a wrench, and a set of Iron Man armor is on the rotating work platform. Below are some false starts that I made while trying out different designs for this space, including a movable robot arm, which looked very nice but overcrowded the small area available.
Hall of Armor
On the rear side of the second level is Tony Stark’s Iron Man Hall of Armor. I was able to fit six different Iron Man armors in this tight space by building two tiers for the armor–one lower and in the foreground, and one higher and in the background.
New Avengers Tower Assembled!
After completing the new first and second levels, I connected them to the bottom of the original Avengers Tower model. This took some time and massaging to get full clutch without accidentally breaking the model. I’m happy with the new, taller version of Avengers Tower. I wonder what role, if any, it might play in the upcoming Avengers 4 film.
When I built my desktop PC last year, I opted for a low-end video card, because my graphics requirements were modest and it helped keep the cost of computer parts down. Since then, I’ve wanted to experience a better visual experience on my computer in games and graphics simulations, meaning more detail and effects, and higher frame rates at 1080p resolution.
Unfortunately, video card prices were outrageously inflated due to high demand from Etherium and other easy-entry cryptocurrency miners. With the welcome crash of electricity-wasting cryptocurrency markets and the anticipated announcement of a new generation of video cards from nVidia, the prices of video cards began to return to lower prices, which prompted me to begin looking for an upgrade.
Considering that I have a 400-watt EVGA PSU and my monitor is 1080p, I focused on nVidia’s GeForce GTX 1060, because despite its Pascal architecture’s very modest power requirements (recommended 400 watt PSU and 6-pin PCIe auxiliary power), it pushes very high-quality graphics at 1080p resolution. While the 3GB model was less expensive than the 6GB model, I chose the latter, because it has more CUDA cores (1280 vs. 1152), more texture mapping units/TMU (80 vs. 72), and more streaming multiprocessors/SM (10 vs. 9). These enhancements coupled with twice as much GDDR5 video ram justified its slightly higher price for better performance and hopefully greater use lifespan. I went with EVGA’s single fan version of the 1060, because I have had good experiences with their products and I appreciate their streamlined, unostentatious, and quiet design on this video card.
After purchasing the GeForce GTX 1060 6GB video card for $280 from Microcenter and installing it in my PC, I stress tested it and ran benchmarks to verify that everything was okay after the upgrade. As you can see above, it scored a 3D Graphics Mark of 10684, which is more than twice as high as the 3,954 scored by my old Radeon RX 550 4GB video card.
In the Final Fantasy XiV Heavensward benchmark, the GTX 1060 GB scored an 11,797 at 1080p, while the RX 550 4GB scored only 4,416 at the same resolution.
In the Docking Bay 94 Unreal Engine 4 simulation, I get well over 40 fps with the settings maxed out at 1080p. Read about how the simulation was made and find download links on 80 level.
And, I get to fly the Millennium Falcon in EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront 2 video game. While the game’s graphics are amazing, I was reticent to purchase it after its launch debacle with in-game purchases and loot crates. Thankfully, EA backtracked on those things after the gaming and Star Wars fan communities collectively denounced these greedy and unethical practices.
Finally, EVGA’s current video game promotion includes a free copy of Destiny 2 with the purchase of a GTX 1060 or higher video card. After redeeming my copy, I’ve played a little of it, and I like it. I’m a big fan of the original Halo by Bungie, and this game reminds me of that game without the story relying on a single archtype hero, such as Master Chief. In Destiny 2, you can create your own character based on class (Titan, Hunter, or Warlock), species, sex, and appearance. For my first experience in the game, I created a Hunter. The GTX 1060 6GB video card makes this game run smooth and look beautiful at 1080p.
Overall, I’m very glad that I made this upgrade to my PC. If you’re considering an upgrade now rather than waiting for nVidia’s recently announced RTX line of video cards, I strongly recommend the GTX 1060 6GB as a lower cost, high performance video card.
I was sad to learn that Zonghe Zhuangding, Ltd., the publisher who worked with Y’s father to print an exquisite hardcover edition of my PhD dissertation, “Brains, Minds, and Computers in Literary and Science Fiction Neuronarratives,” shuttered their business after their shop burned down. Zonghe Zhuangding provided printing and book binding services for publishers in Taiwan until the fire consumed their entire facility.
Y’s father insisted that we publish my dissertation after I defended it in 2012. Zonghe Zhuangding did an amazing job printing the book-version of my dissertation, which I had to layout with opposing running headers and other book-design features. The gold-typeface on the cover and spine look very impressive. And, the stitched-in red ribbon bookmark was a surprise bonus (see below).
After Y defended her dissertation last year, her father had her dissertation printed there, too.
N.B.: In Chinese, zhuangding means binding or book binding.
Over the past three days, I worked with my City Tech colleagues–Laura Westengard, Lavelle Porter, and Lucas Kwong–and student–Jessica Roman–to inventory the City Tech Science Fiction Collection. Two years ago, I began the collection’s finding aid by cataloging the 4,000+ magazines. Last year, I inventoried the collection’s nearly 1,700 monographs and anthologies. This year, we are creating an inventory of the remaining parts of the collection: scholarly journals and novels. Read details of our progress on the Science Fiction at City Tech OpenLab site here.
I was fortunate to have met him at Dragon*Con ’99 in Atlanta, Georgia. Despite his public controversies and cultivated abrasiveness, he demonstrated there how invested he was in his fans throughout the convention–at his readings, signings, and public performances (the Atlanta Radio Theater Company’s on-stage production of Heinlein’s “The Man Who Traveled in Elephants” with Anthony Daniels and introduced by Ray Bradbury).
I took the photo above while he was signing one of his collections for me. After his talk and before his signing, he vowed that no fans would be turned away and all would have a chance to talk and receive autographs. I thought that he was crazy considering how many people were there for him. Nevertheless, he was true to his word.
Personal collections tend to say more about their collectors than anything else. While the totality of the items in the collection (with the exhibit being a curated selection from the larger collection) provides one kind of map and history of the fantastic, it ultimately expresses the logic and lived experience of its collector. Wessells explains: ‘I collect by synecdoche, meiosis, and metonymy, as well as by inclination, and by ties of friendship’, and ‘My interests as a reader have often led me away from the canonical to the uncertain edges of the fantastic. Along the boundaries is often where distinctions are sharpest, where science fiction is not so much a place you get to as it is the way you went’. Wessells’s exhibited collection is as admirable as it is interesting to experience, a path off the busy Manhattan streets and into other, imagined worlds.
Read my full review here and browse photos of the exhibit here.
I received another eBay find today: Interzone issue 14 (Winter 1985/1986). This is a special magazine issue for me, because it contains “The New Science Fiction” manifesto by Vincent Omniaveritas (pseudonym for the science fiction writer and activist Bruce Sterling; his alter ego also appears as publisher of the zine Cheap Truth–read scanned issues here or text of each issue here).
Originally published in the Puerto Rican fanzine Warhoon, this hard-hitting call-to-arms advocates that, “We must create the native literature of a post-industrial society” (40).
This isn’t necessarily a manifesto for the movement known as cyberpunk, but many cyberpunk works fit. Instead, it is a larger artistic movement, which he describes thus at the end of the essay:
What, in short, is the New Science Fiction? How do you write it, how do you recognize it?
First, it is not the property of any editor, clique, publisher, or regional or national association. It is not a question of personal influence, creative writing classes, or apprenticeship to genre gurus. It is a question of approach, of technique. And these are its trademarks:
(1) Technological literacy, and a concern with genuine modern science as opposed to the hand-me-down pseudoscience guff of past decades.
(2) Imaginative concentration, in which extrapolations are thoroughly and originally worked out rather than patched together from previous notions.
(3) Visionary intensity, with a bold, no-holds-barred approach to sf’s mind-expanding potential.
(4) A global, 21st-century point of view, which is not bound by the assumptions of middle-aged, middle-class white American males.
(5) A fictional technique which takes the advances of the new Wave as already given, using the full range of literary craftsmanship, yet asserting the primacy of content over style and meaning over mannerism.
The New Science Fiction is a process, directed toward a goal. It is an artistic movement in the fullest sense of the word. It is the hard work of dedicated artists, who know their work is worthwhile, who treat it as such, and who push themselves to the limit in pursuit of excellent.
And it is for real. (Omniaveritas 40)
The entire manifesto is worth reading–for its historical significance, its ideas for the New Science Fiction, and its prize-fighter-like style of sending its message home blow-after-blow. You can find a copy on Archive.org’s Internet Wayback Machine here.
Omniaveritas, Vincent (Bruce Sterling). “The New Science Fiction.” Interzone. No. 14 (1985), pp. 39-40.