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 first met Marleen in 2006 at my first Science Fiction Research Association Conference in White Plains, New York. She and I were on the same panel. As you might imagine, I, having just graduated with a B.S. from Georgia Tech, was a bit nervous presenting in front of an audience of professional scholars. Marleen gave me words of advice and encouraged me. Since then, she and I have worked together on different projects, such as The Postnational Fantasy, which includes an essay by her, and her two consecutive presentations at the first and second City Tech Science Fiction Symposia. In addition to these personal anecdotes, Marleen is, of course, a scholar and writer whose work has been instrumental to the on-going development of science fiction studies and deservedly earned her recognition and awards, including the SFRA’s prestigious Pilgrim Award for Lifetime Achievement. Now, she has a new work of science fiction–a collection of parodic short stories–featuring the United States’ current president. Read below for details about this new collection and how to order it from the publisher B Cubed Press.
Award winning feminist science fiction scholar and writer Marleen S. Barr brings you The Feminist Science Fiction Justice League Quashes the Orange Outrage Pussy Grabber: Political Power Fantasy Fiction (forthcoming from B Cubed Press). This book, the world’s first single-authored satirical Trump-focused short story collection, is a guide to the Trump revenge fantasy galaxy. Barr turns to fiction to move beyond wishing for Trump’s impeachment. She subjects our President to close encounters with feminist extraterrestrials, alternative Hillary winning history, Godzilla-esque male metamorphosis, lock up in the Phantom Zone—and that’s on a good day. In the end, Barr transports Trump to a galaxy far far away from us. Those who recoil at pussy grabbing need to grab this laugh out loud funny groundbreaking feminist power fantasy. Liberals will rate it a ten. Will Trump call science fiction a fake book? Will he expect feminist extraterrestrials to characterize him as a very stable genius? Parody is powerful! Books can be ordered at https://bcubedpress.com/contact/.
I wrote a brief article titled “Multimodal Writing and Sci-Fi” published in the Winter 2017 issue of Nucleus about how I use City Tech’s homegrown, open-publishing platform called OpenLab in my teaching and professional collaborations, such as the Science Fiction at City Tech initiative and the City Tech Science Fiction Collection. You can find the article here on page 18 or click on the image to the left.
My “Writing the Brain” assignment, which helps students understand how different media (Twitter, photography, posters, and essays) shape and change their messages, appears in Melissa Bender and Karma Waltonen’s edited collection, Twenty Writing Assignments in Context: An Instructor’s Resource for the Composition Classroom. Melissa and Karma put a lot of good work into curating this guide of innovative assignments. Each chapter includes an assignment, its rationalization, and examples of student work. I’m proud to have my assignment included with the engaging pedagogical work of its other contributors!
Twenty Writing Assignments in Context
An Instructor’s Resource for the Composition Classroom
Edited by Melissa Bender and Karma Waltonen
Print ISBN: 978-1-4766-6509-2
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-4766-2729-8
21 photos, notes, bibliographies, index
288pp. softcover (6 x 9) 2017
About the Book
Twenty original, classroom-tested assignments: This innovative collection of college writing assignments explores the practical applications of each lesson. Drawing upon current best practices, each chapter includes a discussion of the rationale behind the assignment, along with supplemental elements such as guidelines for evaluation, prewriting exercises and tips for avoiding common pitfalls. The assignments are designed for a range of courses, from first-year composition to upper-division writing in various disciplines.
Table of Contents
The Rhetoric of Everyday Objects: An Assignment Sequence, Melissa Bender
Writing and Designing Informational Booklets for International Exchange Students, M. Ann BradyFraming the Personal Narrative: Composition and Documentary Film, Jodie Childers
Blogging Advanced Composition, Elisa Cogbill-Seiders, Ed Nagelhout, and Denise Tillery
Proposal Writing in Technical Communications, Barbara J. D’Angelo
Past Meets Present: Exploring the University Archives to Compose and Connect, Christine Denecker
Writing the Brain: A Multimodal Assignment Sequence, Jason W. Ellis
Making Financial Contracts User-Friendly: Conducting Research, Redesigning Documents and Proposing Changes in the Workplace, Sara K. Gunning
Geobiographies: A Place-Based Assignment Sequence, Jim Henry
The Discipline Resource Guide Website, Dalyn Luedtke
Global Urban Centers: A Rhetorical Analysis of Street Art, Gerald Maki
The Academic Discourse Project, Gracemarie MiKe
Political Cartoons and Multimodal Composition: The Visual Argument Assignment, Erin Dee Moore
Researching and Writing a History of Composition-Rhetoric, Lori Ostergaard
Critical Analysis of a Wikipedia Entry, Gwendolynne Reid
“In the Year”: Using Website Design for ePortfolios, Katherine Robbins
Workplace Document Analysis and Evaluation, Melissa Vosen Callens
The Partner Project: Advanced Argument, Karma Waltonen
Captain Discourse and Other Heroes: Learning about Writing Research through Comic Books, Courtney L. Werner and Nicole I. Caswell
Critical Analysis of Student Ethnography, Abby Wilkerson
About the Authors
Melissa Bender is a lecturer in the University Writing Program and the assistant director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at the University of California, Davis. Her interests include professional writing, visual rhetoric, composition and international education. A former president of the Margaret Atwood Society, Karma Waltonen is a senior lecturer in the University Writing Program at the University of California, Davis, where she won the Academic Federation Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015.
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.
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.
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
Sue Hassler has already written a review of the new book on Amazon, in which she says, “The work of Marleen Barr in this collection of strange things is worth the price of admission alone.”
Horace Jeffrey Hodges has more to say about the new collection on his blog here.
I highly recommend the original Emanations, too. Check out both titles for your daily dose of the unknown!