Presentation Videos from the Third Annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium, Nov. 27, 2018

 

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The Third Annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium was an amazing success! Here are videos from the symposium’s presentations and discussions from Nov. 27, 2018. Watch them all on YouTube via this playlist, or watch them as embedded videos below.


9:00am-9:20am
Continental Breakfast and Opening Remarks
Location: Academic Complex A105
Justin Vazquez-Poritz, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, New York City College of Technology
Jason W. Ellis, New York City College of Technology


9:20am-10:35am
Session 1: Affect and Experimentation
Location: Academic Complex A105
Moderator: Jason W. Ellis
Leigh Gold, “The Legacy of Frankenstein: Science, Mourning, and the Ethics of Experimentation”
Lucas Kwong, “The Island Of Dr. Moreau, Fantastic Ambivalence, and the Victorian “Science Of Religion”
Robert Lestón, “Between Intervals: A Soundscape for all Us Monsters”


10:45am-12:00am
Session 2: Identity and Genre
Location: Academic Complex A105
Moderator: Jill Belli
Anastasia Klimchynskaya, “Frankenstein, Or, the Modern Fantastic: Rationalizing Wonder and the Birth of Science Fiction”
Paul Levinson, “Golem, Frankenstein, and Westworld”
Joy Sanchez-Taylor, “Genetic Engineering and non-Western Modernity in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl”


1:15pm-2:30pm
Session 3: American Culture and Media
Location: Academic Complex A105
Moderator: A. Lavelle Porter
Aaron Barlow, “‘Fraunkensteen’: What’s No Longer Scary Becomes Funny or, How American Popular Culture Appropriates Art and Expands the Commons”
Marleen S. Barr, “Trumppunk Or Science Fiction Resists the Monster Inhabiting the White House”
Sharon Packer, “Jessica Jones (Superhero), Women & Alcohol Use Disorders”


2:40pm-3:40pm
Student Round Table: “Shaping the Future: A Student Roundtable on Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower”
Location: Academic Complex A105
Moderator: A. Lavelle Porter
Panelists: Zawad Ahmed
Marvin Blain
Kartikye Ghai
Devinnesha Ryan


4:00pm-4:50pm
Frankenstein Panel: Mary Shelley’s Novel’s Influence on Scientists and Technologists
Location: Academic Complex A105
Moderator: Justin Vazquez-Poritz
Panelists:
Heidi Boisvert, Entertainment Technology Department
Robert MacDougall, Social Sciences Department
Ashwin Satyanarayana, Computer Systems Technology Department
Jeremy Seto, Biological Sciences Department


5:00pm-6:00pm
Closing and Tour of the City Tech Science Fiction Collection
Location: City Tech Library L543
Remarks by Jason W. Ellis

Call for Papers: 200 Years of Interdisciplinarity Beginning with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Third Annual City Tech Symposium on Science Fiction

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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)
  • SF’s interdisciplinary imaginative functions (or Gedankenexperiment, considering ethical issues, unintended consequences, or unexpected breakthroughs)
  • Studying SF through an interdisciplinary lens (or combining otherwise discipline-bound approaches to uncover new meanings)
  • Bridging STEM and the humanities via SF (or SF as an interdisciplinary cultural work that embraces STEAM—Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics)
  • SF and identity (or how interdisciplinarity in SF reveals, supports, or explores issues of identity, culture, sex, gender, and race)
  • SF and place (or how SF’s settings are interdisciplinary, or where it is written fosters its interdisciplinarity)
  • Interdisciplinarity and archival work in SF collections (or making the City Tech Science Fiction Collection work for faculty, students, and researchers across disciplines)

Please send your abstract (no more than 250 words), brief bio, and contact information to Jason Ellis (jellis at citytech.cuny.edu) by Oct. 31, 2018.

The program will be announced by Nov. 12, 2018 on the Science Fiction at City Tech website here: https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/sciencefictionatcitytech/.

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/.

Science Fiction, LMC 3214, Summer 2014: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Day 2 of 2)

Georgia Tech: Engineering Great Minds.
Georgia Tech: Engineering Great Minds.

During today’s LMC 3214 Science Fiction class, I continued my lecture on the importance of the Biology of Mind to Frankenstein specifically and Science Fiction generally.

In the last lecture, I ended on a discussion of the empiricist vs. rationalist debates. Then, I turned to the questions, “How and why do we enjoy literature?” I discussed solving puzzles (finding solutions), feeding our imagination (the novum), deploying our theory of mind and observing theory of mind at play in the novel, recognizing how the brain is a virtual reality simulator (it simulates our experience of the world and our experience of imagined worlds in fiction–in both cases there is a divide between us and the world itself–even more so in the case of the epistolary novel form), and finally, understanding that each person’s experience of the novel will be different based on wiring, hormonal production/reception, memories, and associations (we discussed how we observe this in the novel and how it is important to Romanticism).

I ended the lecture on an etymology of hubris and nemesis and a discussion about how the novel is a critique of the Age of Enlightenment.

In the last half of class, I asked the on-campus students to lead the discussion and raise those points, passages, or questions that they were most interested in concerning the novel. Our discussion ranged from Jurassic Park connections to women’s biological rights to the Creature’s missed potential due to his undutiful creator.

There’s no class on Monday for Memorial Day or Wednesday due to a professional trip. Our class lecture for Wednesday (LS and QUP sections) will be available on T-Square under Resources as an MP4 video. In that lecture, I will discuss proto-SF, Voyages Extraordinaires, and Scientific Romances.We will continue our conversations on Twitter through this weekend and next week. We will resume normal classroom meetings and lecture recording on June 2.

Science Fiction, LMC 3214, Summer 2014: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Day 1 of 2)

Popular or Sci-Fi depictions: The Creature in Boris Karloff disguise and Victor Frankenstein as the mad scientist.
Popular or Sci-Fi depictions: The Creature in Boris Karloff disguise and Victor Frankenstein as the mad scientist.

Today, my LMC 3214 students and I shifted our attention away from contemporary science fiction as represented by Ted Chiang’s “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” towards the beginning of the genre.

My goal was to shift my students’ thinking about Frankenstein away from the popular conception (photo above) to the novel’s original depiction of these important characters in science fiction and English literature (photo to the right, below). When time and materials permit, I will bring in other Lego models to illustrate some of my larger points in class.

SF original: Mary Shelley's learned and angry Victor Frankenstein and grotesque, gargantuan Creature.
SF original: Mary Shelley’s learned and angry Victor Frankenstein and grotesque, gargantuan Creature.

During today’s class, I lectured on precursors of the genre beginning with the Epic of Gilgamesh (connecting each of these earlier works to either Chiang’s story or Frankenstein to illustrate how the themes in SF influences still remain today) and moved forward to modernity. I glossed the Age of Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, Romanticism, and the Gothic.

With that groundwork established, we began discussing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). I lectured on her biography and significant themes in the novel (science saturated novel, all three protagonists are scientists–Walton, Victor, and the Creature, and the biology of mind). The latter theme of mind (empiricism vs. rationalism) was what I rounded out the lecture with by discussing how the rationalists via Noam Chomsky eventually won out over the empiricists (the tabula rasa/the blank slate).

My students are building their discussions on Twitter using the hashtag #lmc3214. Please join in and participate in the conversation!

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Gender Studies Final Paper on Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Queen City Jazz and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, April 26, 2004

This is the second post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This essay is particularly important to me, because I can confidently say that it was my day spent speaking with and listening to Kathleen Ann Goonan that helped me decide to study SF as a profession. Ms. Goonan is a very important contemporary science fiction writer. I wrote the essay as my final paper in Professor Lisa Yaszek’s Gender Studies class at Georgia Tech in Spring 2004. I had already thought a lot about teaching on the college-level after having great learning experiences with (to name a few in no particular order) Professors Lisa Yaszek, Carol Senf, Kenneth J. Knoespel, Eugene Thacker, Narin Hassan, Hugh Crawford, and Robert Wood. I wanted to do good work in the classroom like they had done for me, and I wanted to publish original research in those fields that I wanted to teach. However, I was not yet decided. My conversations with Ms. Goonan on that day helped the tumblers of my mind fall into place and unlock the door that lead to the present. Now, Ms. Goonan and I teach at Georgia Tech, which is a lucky happenstance.

In addition to the leading essay on Queen City Jazz, I am including below my outline and essay notes. I am copying them as-is from my files without any corrections. Think of these extra additions as the “special features.” However, I cannot vouch for their completeness for quotations and citations–I can only do this for the essay itself. Therefore, the “special features” are meant to be an interesting appendix for readers and my students (who I will send her to look at my approach to writing at that time).


Jason W. Ellis

Professor Lisa Yaszek

LCC3224 – Gender Studies

April 26, 2004

Final Paper: Gender Issues in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Queen City Jazz

            Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Queen City Jazz is a novel that takes place in Earth’s future that is about women taking the initiative to save the people of the nanotechnology mediated city of Cincinnati.  The story uses new technologies and the dangers associated with them to illustrate the development of a strong heroine who uses many elements of the history of feminist thought to fulfill her destiny on her own terms.  Cincinnati was envisioned as a city built on nanotechnology assemblers and modifications to the city’s inhabitants so that they can receive and send information pheromonally.  The city would provide for everyone’s needs and wants because of the near zero cost of nanotech assembled goods and foods.  Rose, a woman from the time of the first Conversion, sets events into motion that will eventually lead to the breaking of the cycle of unending rebirth instituted by the Flower City architect, Abe Durancy, and controlled by his mother, India, the Queen Bee.  Rose’s plan culminates with the return of a (prodigal) child formed in the city, Verity.  Verity is a hybrid of nanotechnology and a life spent outside the Seam (the nanotechnology barrier between the outside world and Cincinnati).  Only a hybrid can make her way into the heart of the city to bring about fundamental change that will give the inhabitants a choice about their futures.

The reason the story begins is because a son becomes a bad father and a mother becomes an evil Queen.  If Abe Durancy hadn’t perverted the Flower City model to the end of bringing his mother back from death, then none of this might have happened.

Both Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein and Abe Durancy are the products of bad parenting.  Victor Frankenstein was allowed to continue his reading of the great alchemists and Abe Durancy was allowed to feed his appetite for books without being taught to complete what he had started.  Verity experienced one of Abe’s memories, from when he was twelve.  Rose comes over to his house to watch him while India is away.  He tied up his hammock in a haphazard way.  Rose said, “oh, you’re always so careless…just don’t want to take the time to do it right” (Goonan 397).  Rose proceeds to take the hammock down and tie it up correctly.  Frankenstein never learned the value of family and personal responsibility.  It doesn’t seem like Durancy was ever disciplined or taught personal responsibility either.  Verity experiences no memories of Durancy learning from someone else except in this example with Rose.

Durancy recalls, in a memory that Verity experiences, that instead of being in Cincinnati when it had the vote for conversion, “I went up to the Big Lake.  The beach was gratifyingly cold:  windy, with distant islands gray smudges like cardboard blips on the knife-edge of the horizon” (Goonan 281).  Abe is confident that the vote will go in favor of Conversion.  This vote is in a sense the birth of the Flower City, or at a minimum, its choice to be conceived.  Victor Frankenstein secluded himself from family when he was creating his monster.  When the creature first opened its “dull yellow eye,” Victor runs away from his creature (Shelley 58).  Abe’s Flower City was not yet a reality, but he makes the choice not be there at the vote that would enact its creation.  He turns away from his responsibilities.

After India had been infected with a nanplague, she agreed to let her mind be transferred to the City archives.  There were complications though.  Katy, Abe’s coworker and ex-wife, said to Abe, “I have to tell you, there was something odd about the redundancy tests…I’m not sure if the copy is any good.  She–died in the middle of it, you know, and there was some sort of break” (Goonan 329).  Abe “turned and walked out onto the snowy streets of Cincinnati a completely changed man (Goonan 329).  The memory continues, “Abe was never sure why he chose to live, that night.  Maybe it was just some odd, bizarre, sprouting hope.  The hope that Katy was wrong.  And the beginnings of the formulation of his Great Plan, wherein Cincinnati had to vote for conversion.  Only in that way could his mother live again” (Goonan 330).  Abe changes after his mother dies.  He might have had the best intentions for the City before her death, but now the City serves a purpose to him instead of to the people of Cincinnati.  He wants his mother to live because, in a sense, that is the only woman he really loves.  He could never bring himself to go against the way his mother felt about Rose.  Durancy became a selfish person who thought of his mother as a thing to be recreated for his own gratification.

India’s storage in the City archives was imperfect.  Because she died during the procedure, some parts of her mind were destroyed or corrupted.  Dennis Durancy explains to Verity, “Where exactly was the place where I stopped giving and she started taking.  Where you see…it’s hard to talk about…I just don’t exactly know when that simple and powerful childlike part of her that was indelibly, powerfully saved, without any sort of older personality overlay, any kind of maturity, took over.  Simply took over the City” (Goonan 339).  “It’s hard to talk about” it because Abe lies under the surface limiting what Dennis can do or speak about.  Abe’s intentions might not have been for his mother to assume complete control, but it does seem inevitable.

The recording of India’s mind into the City archives seems to have captured her id but little of her ego and superego.  She has created her own new set of rules that apply to the Flower City that goes against the reality outside the Seam.  Inside the City Ignatz Mouse, a cartoon-like character, may throw a brick at you, or a woman can be transformed into a human with a lion-like appearance.  Famous (dead) authors, musicians, and playwrights inhabit the Flower City.  The people of the City have not developed but have been infused with memory that may or may not have been their own.  The Queen controls these functions.  She may have been a good mother who had experience tempered with maturity, but after India’s death during the memory transfer, her “self” became unleashed from the maturity she had gained though time and experience.  She became a Queen who rules for her own fancy.  A new Queen must take the place of India in order to save the City.

Verity makes her way to Cincinnati in an attempt to save the young man she loves, Blaze, and her dog, Cairo.  Blaze and Cairo had been shot, but they were wrapped in preserving nansheets that Russ had hidden away long ago.  Verity’s destiny had been to return to Cincinnati one day despite the tragedy she encountered at her home on Shaker Hill.

Verity learns from unlocked memories that she was created in the Flower City of Cincinnati.  She listens and watches from within herself when she was very young.  A woman is talking to Dennis Durancy, “She’s the brightest one we have, Dennis…We need someone different” (Goonan 331).  After doing some other things to Verity, they wrap her up and send her out of the city carried under one of the large Bees.  She is dropped off near a house around Edgetown.  She knows her own history from that point on.  Her family at Shaker Hill brings her to their home from Edgetown.  They raise her in a neo-Shaker tradition where she able to show off her Gift of Dance.  She has other gifts such as a gift of pictures (her memory is based on pictures and she can communicate with Cairo through projected pictures), internal maps, and she can access the Dayton Library and it’s information cocoon.

Verity is a mestiza, a hybrid.  She is originally from the Flower City of Cincinnati.  She has memory sponges implanted in her skull.  She is permitted access to memories and maps at certain times during her life.  Once a year, a resonating Bell calls her to the Dayton Library where she interfaces with the information cocoons that give her more information (that she may not recall after getting out of the cocoon, but she feels changed after every visit).  To be able to challenge the City, Rose devised a plan where a young girl (Verity) would be made from the Flower City, and sent to the outside world.  Verity would live a life that was unknown to the City and the Bees.  This would make it more difficult for the Bees to control Verity when she returned.  Also, she would gain experience of life that would hopefully help her fulfill her destiny to become the new Queen Bee.  Choice is made possible by having options and knowledge about those options.  Her choices are aided by Durancy’s memories she experiences throughout the story.

Verity exhibits elements of Third Wave Feminism in obtaining her final goal of becoming the New Queen of Cincinnati.  The first is her reliance on other people who have different goals than she does.  She engages in coalition politics along her journey to the Flower City as well as once she is in the City.  Verity’s primary goal in the beginning is to find a way to save Blaze and Cairo in Cincinnati.  Over time, this changes to saving all the people in the City as well as saving Blaze.  After Verity is set adrift by the woman with the ferry, she aligns herself with Cheyenne, a boy who hunts Bees to earn a bounty.  Verity is fascinated by the Bees (particularly after her “Day of Miracles” and she used to dream of the flower topped buildings when she was little) (Goonan 16).  She cannot understand why someone would want to destroy the Bees, but she is hungry and Cheyenne offers his help in return for Verity helping him carry off the dead Bees.  After Cheyenne takes off with Verity’s solar car, she meets the musician, Sphere.  Sphere also wants to go into Cincinnati to explore his musical interests.  In the city, he becomes a hybrid of the outside world and nan that is more than the people who have always lived there.  He attains his goal of becoming more musical.  The waitress, Dezeray, helps Verity, Sphere, and Blaze.  Dezeray puts Blaze in a cocoon to help him out of his arrested state.  She hides Verity from the Queen’s thugs who are looking for her.  She also “initiated” Sphere with nanotech assemblers that allow him to interface with the City and music in ways that he could not before (Goonan 373).  Blaze is also a hybrid.  He was born in the outside world and he was altered twice by nanotechnology.

The story emphasizes new science and technology.  From Verity’s standpoint it is not so much a discovery of new technology but a rediscovery of old technology.  Shaker Hill had come about because of the nanplagues and the break down of the Flower Cities.  After the plagues, earthquakes, and the mysterious radio blackout (supposedly caused by a quasar in our galaxy’s nucleus) there was tremendous social upheaval.  Instead of developing new technologies, those technologies that were not nan (Enlivened) were scavenged and used as need required.  Before the fall of the Flower Cities, nanotechnology was the cutting edge technology that would allow humanity to create a real utopia.  Nanotechnology would allow people to reach their full creative potential because food, goods, and shelter would cost virtually nothing (similar to what was said about nuclear energy in its infancy–electricity would drop to near zero prices).  Reality often differs from the hopeful possibilities of a new technology.  There were risks and dangers associated with the new technology that wasn’t voiced as loudly as it should have been (or was that voice even allowed?).  Verity, however, uses the old/new technology to save Blaze and the inhabitants of Cincinnati.  She turns the nanotech system against itself, not in a destructive way, but in an unforeseen way that shifted the power of choice from the Queen Bee to the individual.

Verity’s Gift of Dance is analogous to the concept of the “riot grrl.”  Dance and music are essential ingredients of the neo-Shakers that Verity lives with.  After Verity’s “Day of Miracles,” “she heard Blaze begin to play once more, as if from far away, a melody which hummed like a swarm of bees, then burst like bright flowers within her vision, and she heard the shuffling steps of others as, one by one, they joined her.  She opened her eyes and watched as she and they scattered, re-formed, swirled, and finally stopped, all in the same moment, as if they had practiced but they had not:  this Dance, this manifestation of her Gift, was new” (Goonan 27).  She is challenging the status quo because “until Verity, the New Shakers had just imitated old pictures and descriptions” (Goonan 27).  Verity’s Gift of Dance empowers her.

The Shaker tradition itself is an attempt to overthrow patriarchy.  The neo-Shakers lived a simple life where Verity’s “days and nights were part of a larger Shaker cycle bound to the land, exploiting nothing, using what they needed” (Goonan 15).  Utility and usefulness was valued over beauty.  When Verity walks in on Tai Tai building something she says, “That’s beautiful” and Tai Tai responds “Beauty has a purpose too” (Goonan 48).  Verity’s thoughts continue with, “everything had to be useful, have a function” (Goonan 48).  Shakers traditionally believed that living a celibate life removed sexism and the power struggles of the private sphere that existed elsewhere in the world.

At the final moment of decision on Verity’s part, she had used her background and experience to develop a solution to the problem of Cincinnati.  Her approach was much like the Second Wave Feminist era’s Radical Feminism.  She knew that she could not change the system from within.  She had to overthrow the system (or at least catch it unawares) by introducing an element from outside.  In part, her being there to assume the role of the Queen Bee was an outside factor.  The other part was her using the Territorial Plague that had infected Blaze.  The nansheets and the cocoon in the train station had arrested the progress of the plague in Blaze.  In doing so, it had been analyzed and categorized in the Cincinnati information system.  Verity needed to assemble as many people as possible to enact her plan.  Goonan writes, “The sorting she initiated in the Hive had shuffled down to a common interest swiftly.  Everyone…seemed to remember baseball, the one constant core element that could draw them all together” (385).  She then had the City put the Territorial Plague assemblers in the food, drink, and air (released by large flowers by the scoreboards) in the baseball stadium.  The plague broke the cycle of the Bees controlling the emotions and decisions of the inhabitants of Cincinnati.  Some people decided to stay, and the others were drawn to the river so that they could proceed to Norleans–the plague’s attractor.  Verity wanted as many people as possible out of the City before Conversion took place.  Conversion would change the City again, but she had made the choice to not be there when it happened.  She was going to relinquish her crown as the new Queen Bee.

The Flower City of Cincinnati was billed as a utopia.  Because of Abe’s desire for his mother to live again, the possibility for a utopia is lost to the fact that the City is governed by a despot who is more a creation of Abe than the reality of his mother before she died.  Utopia is essentially not obtainable in this life.  The process of working towards utopia is the goal.  Abe wanted it all right now without the process.  After Abe creates the Flower City, his program, “perhaps his living intelligence, hiding deep within the Hive, so deep that it no longer had any vestige of humanity–had been able to keep [Dennis’] understanding limited.  And each time the whole sad mess began again” (Goonan 403).  Durancy succeeded in having a part of his mother live again, but the incomplete India was more selfish than he was.  She maintained a utopia of one by controlling the lives of the people of Cincinnati.

Queen City Jazz uses elements from the history of feminist movements and ideologies to create a story about a mature 16-year-old girl who reacts in a competent way to a challenging set of circumstances.  She makes her own decisions and she offers others the opportunity to make their own choices.  Verity seeks to democratize the Cincinnati system by giving people the choice to leave.

Works Cited

Goonan, Kathleen Ann.  Queen City Jazz.  New York:  Orb, 2003.

Shelley, Mary.  Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus.  London:  Penguin Classics, 2003.


Outline for Final Paper

Queen City Jazz – Outline for Final Gender Studies Paper

1)         Verity is a mestiza, a hybrid.  She was created in the nancity, Cincinnati.  Her creators sent her away from the city to learn and live away from the influence of the Bees.  Her experience would be unknown to the Bees who might attempt to influence her thoughts and decisions.  Only a hybrid, made of nan, but with a life experience of the world outside the nancity, would be capable of challenging India, the old Queen.

2)         Elements of Third Wave Feminism

a)         Verity’s path to and through Cincinnati is accomplished by her willingness to engage in coalition politics.  She aligns herself with others to forward her primary goal (to go to Cincinnati to save Blaze and Cairo who are rapped in the nansheets).  The people she works with may not necessarily share her same views or have the same goals as she has, but she recognizes the need she has for the help of others.  Additionally, in each encounter with others, she learns something new.  This learning can be about the views of others, a clue about her past or about Cincinnati, or something that triggers a memory or the presence but not physicality of a memory.  She aligns with Cheyenne (the Bee killer) and Sphere (who follows her into the city).  She also aligns with people in Cincinnati:  Azure (offers her coffee and an insight into the religion built up around the Bees and Verity as the future Queen Bee, p320), Dezaray (the waitress that helps the arrested Blaze by putting him the cocoon and later, she initializes Sphere).

b)         There is a strong emphasis on new science and technology.  Verity has grown up on Shaker Hill with the neo-Shakers.  They avoided enlivened/nanotechnology because of fear of the nanplagues.  After Blaze and Cairo are shot by John (who is in turn killed by Verity’s throw of her “radio stone”), Russ wraps the dead bodies in nanwraps in the hope that they will be preserved until they can be carried to a place like Cincinnati.  Everyone except for Russ and Verity had caught the Territory Plague which changes the mind of the person infected in strange ways as well as makes the person drawn to go down the Ohio River to Norleans.  At this point the fear of technology is a moot point.  Russ helps Verity to begin her journey to Cincinnati with Blaze and Cairo.  They pull out the old solar car that had been hidden under the floor of the barn.  It is not so much an interest in new technology, but a rediscovery or a return to technology because of these people’s needs.

c)         Verity is a riot chick and a net chick all rolled into one.  This links back to her identity as a mestiza.  These Third Wave Feminist identities are based on women grabbing the new technology and using it for their own purposes.  Verity didn’t pick up a guitar, but she did have the Gift of Dance.  The importance of Dance for Verity and her family at Shaker Hill is different than our concept of Dance.  Dance was integral to the religious beliefs of the neo-Shakers.  Verity had a skill of Dance that was unrivaled by any of the other inhabitants of Shaker Hill.  It relates back to technology because of the way she gained the Gift of Dance and the purpose for which it was used.  She was able to get others to dance with her, the way that she did.  Her skill of Dance was necessary for her later destiny to become the new Queen Bee of Cincinnati.  She used this ability with her family on Shaker Hill and she used her Dance to become the new Queen of the Hive in Cincinnati.

Her status as net chick rose from her yearly calling to the Dayton Library which had a cocoon that she could interface with to get information and maps.  She did not always remember the things that she learned but they were stored in her mind to be accessed when the necessary chemical pathways were laid down when she went to Cincinnati.  Her ability to handle the burden of information when she gave herself over to be the Queen of the Hive illustrates her power and abilities.

Her control over these gifts and her decision to use them might not have been as conscious as a woman picking up a guitar or building a website, but these were things that were built into her, Verity, a young woman.  They were not abilities given to a male character.  A woman had to have these abilities to save the City.

3)         Sons Who Become Bad Fathers

Abe Durancy was the primary architect of the nancity of Cincinnati.  Following parallels with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, he leaves the city on the eve of the vote for conversion to nan just as Victor flees his creation when it comes to life.  Also, the humanity of Abe is lost to some strata far beneath the surface of the city.  Dennis Durancy (who looks and acts like Abe, but is not Abe) is the creation of Rose as a mechanism to try to save the city.  There was an interplay between Abe and Rose about saving the City.  Abe would make one move to have the city his way and Rose created another mechanism to combat that.  Each time Abe won the upper hand until Verity came along.

Abe tried to save his mother from death by integrating her into the City.  Unfortunately, India died during the process of transferring her mind (her “self” and memories) into the City.  They captured her youthful self without the overlay of maturity and superego.  India was the Queen of the City to do with it as she pleased.  When the pain of her past intruded she would wipe the city clean and start over (conversion/surge).

Abe was the father of the City but he gave birth to a city that was ruled by his insane mother (she had literally lost most of her mind) and the Bees.  The people of the city lived their lives like stage actor robots who read their lines for the benefit of the Bees who collected and disseminated pheremonal memories.  Memories were the “junk” that got the Bees off.  India ruled the City so that she could relive the past through the present by creating a landscape of the books and people that she enjoyed in her youth.

Verity was designed by Rose to be the random factor that could throw the system off kilter.  Anyone who lived a life (which was uncoupled from age) in the City was easily controlled by the Bees and the pheremonal information network.  Verity lived an age linked life outside the city with her neo-Shaker family.  Her experiences and the information given to her in the Dayton Library cocoon shaped her in a way that was unknown to the Bees.  She had been given choice (to a certain extent).  As much as this story is about self-awareness (memories are what make us human) it is also a story about destiny.  Verity was designed to become the new Queen Bee, but there were some things that had to be done that were outside her control to get her to become what she was destined to be.

4)         Verity’s choices to save the people of Cincinnati are examples of Radical Feminism.  Verity tries to save the inhabitants of Cincinnati by giving them a choice to leave.  Because of their connection to the city merely giving them the choice to leave would not have been feasible.  Instead, she choose to infect everyone with the Territory Plague that Blaze had before he was shot by John (the nanwraps and lockers in the terminal in Edgetown had arrested the Territory Plague).  The plague changed the people in ways similar to the way the City could change a person through conversion, but it only targeted the mind.  The people wanted to leave for Norleans by rafting down the Ohio River.  Some decided to stay in spite of the plague.  Sphere, who had been initiated by Dezaray to interface with the City, decided to stay because he was changing in ways that he wanted.  He wanted to become infused with music and his ideal could only be accomplished by staying in the City.

She could not work within the system of patriarchy which was ruled by India.  It was a patriarchy because it was built by a man, Abe Durancy.  He was the “mad scientist.”  He worked mostly alone and he constructed a system that was very complex.  It was filled with his ideas about how things should be.  Did the people who voted for conversion really know what Abe had in mind for them?  Rose had reservations about Abe’s plan for a Bee City.  That is why she decided to build-in systems to put his machinations in check.  Ultimately, Rose’s plans, through Verity, saved the inhabitants of Cincinnati by giving them the ability to leave before the next conversion came.

I.          Verity is a mestiza/hybrid

II.        Elements of Third Wave Feminism

A.        Coalition Politics

B.        Emphasis on New Science and Technology

C.        Roles of the Riot Grrl and Net Chick in Verity

III.       Sons Who Become Bad Fathers and Mothers Who Become Bad Queens

IV.       Verity’s Solution – Radical Feminism


Notes for Final Paper

Abe had convinced his mother to be encoded in the City archives before she passed away.  He had promised her eternal life to enjoy her books and stories that had brought her joy in life.  Because of Abe’s love and adoration for his mother, he had placed her at the head of the Bee hierarchy that controlled and mediated the processes of the City.  She was the Queen Bee.  Using nanotechnology assemblers and DNA and pheromonal encoded information, she ruled over the City to make it the landscape for her own memories and the stories that she loved.  In life, she was probably a good mother to Abe.  Abe followed in her footsteps regarding his love for books.  India might have been a little overbearing and too vocal in her scorn for Rose (and Rose’s mother).

Why is Abe Durancy not present when Verity enters the City?  Before Conversion took place, Rose was killed on her way back to Cincinnati after leaving the family house on the lake.  India had died from a nanplague while her memories were being transferred to the City archives.  When Verity returns to India’s home on the hill overlooking the City, she confronts the core memory.  She rips down the wind chime that was the source of the resonating Bell that had guided her whole life.  Below, in the garden, she witnesses a crisis between Dennis Durancy and the young India.  Dennis says to India, “You’re not her…and I’m not him.  We’re both imperfect, incomplete, insane” (Goonan 365).  He pulls a gun out of his jacket and he first points it at India.  He then brings it up to his head and he kills himself.  Verity is a witness to this in a way that Rose and India could not have been in real life because they were both dead.  Dennis, reacting to his inability to “live” and act in the way that he wanted to, he shot himself to resolve the frustration.  The young India thinks of Dennis as her Abe.  She reacts violently toward Verity because India believes that Dennis had brought Verity/Rose there to save himself.  India blames Verity for the loss of her son, Dennis/Abe.  Abe might have killed himself at some point before Conversion.  He had not included himself in his program that controlled the development of the City.  He had placed all control in his mother, the old Queen.

The people of Cincinnati choose to “buy into” conversion of their city to a utopian Flower City.  Abe Durancy recalls about the illegal memory sponges that he had implanted in his head, “they interfaced directly with the brain, and could hold an infinite variety of assemblers and pheromonal analogs.  They terrified and exhilarated me.  Encyclopedic information flooding into the brain–but whose information, and under whose control” (Goonan 281)?  The memory sponges come part and parcel with Cincinnati once it becomes a flower city.  This is part of the mechanism that allows information to be passed by the Bees and the City through corner interstices.  It could also be perverted into a dangerous weapon because malevolent assemblers could be unleashed in a city to change how a person thinks or to cause injury to the person’s body or mind.  Durancy’s own concern about the memory sponges and implications of the pheromonal information network are pushed aside in his mind when he asks himself, “was I any better than those imagined fascists” (Goonan 281)?   Durancy proceeds with his plans for a Flower City.  He doesn’t try to stop the vote.  Clearly he must consider himself to be better than those who would do evil.  His ideas were good because they were to better humanity in the City of Cincinnati.  He was a fascist, but he did not perceive himself to be so.

Verity uses many different skills to figure out what she must do to correct the cycle of Conversion in Cincinnati.  She is a strong example of someone who steps up to the plate when she is needed by others.

Goonan uses Verity not only to end the rebirth cycle of the Flower City, but Verity also gives voice to those that that have none.  Through Verity we hear Abe Durancy.  We “see” her before she is sent out of the city.  We hear Verity’s thoughts concerning where she fits into the complex game that is played out between Rose and Abe.

The story seems like the progression of destiny.  For example, the characters are travelling down train tracks.  But there are points where the tracks set off in another direction and it is the choice of the character to make the engine jump the tracks in the other direction.  This is the concept of choice in Goonan’s novel.

Abe said in one of Verity’s flashbacks, “some of us, you see, never learn” (Goonan 290).

Rose’s program had been designed to match, play by play, Abe’s program.  Rose’s final action was the creation of the hybrid girl who would be born from nan, be left outside the City to live and experience life that was different from the City, and then be called back to save the City and its inhabitants.

After the Flower City is created and it has undergone (possibly) several iterations of conversion, what has become of Abe Durancy?  What happened to Rose?

Verity interacts with a creation of Rose called Dennis Durancy.  He looks and acts like Abe did, but he is a physical construct.  Dennis is and of the city.  He was never a real person.  Verity contains many of Abe’s memories.  In a sense, Abe Durancy is a part of Verity.  Before the conversion, “Rose, unbeknownst to anyone, had quietly kept herself fully updated in the City archives, as had Durancy” (Goonan 403).  Their memories and experience was encoded in a storage medium.  The life cycles that the City had gone through since Conversion were a game of chess, or a game of tag-you’re-it between Rose and Durancy.  Durancy had built the City to perpetuate his ideas of how the City and its people should be.  Rose had introduced herself to play against Durancy’s narcissism.  Dennis Durancy was a program designed by Rose.  “Abe’s program–perhaps his living intelligence, hiding deep within the Hive, so deep that it no longer had any vestige of humanity” had moved beneath the surface (Goonan 403).

He is like Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein in that he secludes himself when attention is most needed.  Abe has a certain responsibility regarding the creation of the Flower City as did Frankenstein to his creation of the monster.

Verity’s role as mestiza is rooted in the ideas established in Third Wave Feminism.

Verity, a 16 year old young woman, in Kathleen Ann Goonan’s novel, Queen City Jazz, is structured around

Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Queen City Jazz is a novel that is rooted in Third Wave Feminist ideas.  It is also about the mestiza, Verity, who is a hybrid that returns to the city from which she came to unravel its unending cycle of rebirth.  Goonan also uses the mestizos, Blaze and Sphere to augment Verity’s destiny.

Choice is a theme that runs through out the book.  Verity has a choice to become or not to become the Queen Bee of the nancity Cincinnati.  But she was built to fulfill a particular role.  The likelihood of her success was slim (and had been failed by her sisters that tried before her).  The architects of the city (Abe Durancy and Rose)

Science Fiction, LMC 3214: Concluding Frankenstein and Learning Exercise on the Sublime and Beautiful

Frames and science saturation.
Frames and science saturation.

In today’s class, we finished discussing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by discussing Volumes II and III and coving some major themes.

To begin class, I wanted to have all of the students think about the sublime and the beautiful to better understand Mary Shelley’s engagement of those ideas in the settings and characterization in Frankenstein. First, I asked all of the students to quickly read summaries of the first three sections of Immanuel Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime on Wikipedia here. I also briefly described these sections to provide a rough sketch of what they would be reading. Then, I split the class into two halves: one half would find a picture or photo that represented Kant’s ideas of beauty and one half would find a picture or photo that represented Kant’s ideas of the sublime. Once they found an appropriate image, they would email a link to me with the subject “beauty” or “sublime.” This took about 10 minutes. Finally, I showed these images in front of the class and I invited the students to tell us why they choose it and then as a class we discussed how these worked or not as examples. I also found some examples that represented beauty and sublimity (I choose something technological to introduce a curveball to our discussion). We also looked at some of my photos of Mont Blanc and Chamonix from 2011.

Some of the themes that we covered during the discussion of the last half of the novel included:

  • Epistolary and narrative frames
    • Issues of voice, authenticity, and mutual understanding/misunderstanding.
    • Rhetoric and empathy.
  • Science saturated novel
    • Victor, the Creature, and Walton are all scientists of a kind.
    • Victor chooses rationality/science cover irrationality/alchemy, his research leads to new discoveries, his research is reproducible. He learns the scientific method, applies it to a new hypothesis (creating life/reanimating tissues), and discovers new knowledge/techniques with real results (albeit without considering his responsibility to his creation).
    • The Creature uses rationality to figure things out and learn. He uses observations to learn language, which in turn allows him to learn about social and global relationships. His observations of the De Lacey family is almost like a sociological lab report. He uses deductive and inductive reasoning.
    • Walton is on a “voyage of discovery.” Search for knowledge (source of Earth’s magnetic field and geography) and acquisition of fame/wealth from discovering a passage to the Americas through the North Pole.
  • A Critique of the Age of Enlightenment
    • knowledge from science and rationality can have positive and negative effects on society (Victor waffles on this point in his thinking and conversations with Walton).
    • Connected this to the horrors of the 20th Century: World War II > Germany (weapons and genocide) and the United States (the atomic bomb)
  • Power of the novel from its ambiguities and tone (tension between positions)
  • Influence of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin
  • Different interpretations of doppelgangers in the novel and issues of surface/appearance and psychology/inner self.
  • Issues of community, social responsibility, and isolation.

I am fortunate to work with this dedicated group of students. They have raised exciting points and asked daring questions. If the first week is any indication of the following four, we will share many more interesting discussions on SF. Next week we will discuss Influences of SF, Voyages Extraordinaires, Scientific Romances, and the Pulps.

Science Fiction, LMC3214 Continues: Frankenstein Vol 1 and Active Learning

My notes on what my students taught the class.
My notes on what my students taught the class.

During today’s Science Fiction class, we began discussing volume 1 of Mary Shelley’s 1831 edition of Frankenstein. After a brief lecture on Mary Shelley, her family, and the fateful June 1816 trip to Switzerland, I wanted to talk about how historical and cultural forces made it possible for a work like Frankenstein to come into existence. However, instead of lecturing about the Age of Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, Industrial Revolution, and Romanticism (and the Gothic), I decided to roll out an active learning exercise to facilitate peer learning. I divided my students into teams of three based on where they were sitting in the class. I reminded them to swap contact information with each other for sharing notes, studying, etc. Then, I explained the exercise to the class as a whole: I would assign each team a topic to research for 20 minutes using Wikipedia and EDU TLD sources on their laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Of course, I said that they could also rely on any knowledge that they already have, but they will have to share that knowledge with their team mates. While researching and talking about their assigned topic, they should compile a list of the most important ideas and/or figures and teach the class those topics. I walked around the class and told each group their assigned topic from the list above. After about 15 minutes I saw that the teams had completed the task, so I asked them to wrap it up and I called for a team to volunteer to present. Each team gave a superlative summary that I could add to, build on, and reference during our discussion of Frankenstein. I asked the students if they liked the exercise. There was no response, and my question was probably not a fair one to ask. Next, I asked if they learned something from the exercise, and they unanimously said, yes! Now that I’ve seen active learning work in my classroom, I will definitely think of other active, peer learning exercises to keep my classes dynamic and engaging for my students.