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



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.

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

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”

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”

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”

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

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

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


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 by Oct. 31, 2018.

The program will be announced by Nov. 12, 2018 on the Science Fiction at City Tech website here:

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:

Kent State English Colloquium, Literary Studies in the Age of Neuroscience

This afternoon I attended the last Kent State English Department Colloquium of the school year. Its neuroscientific subject matter was very interesting to me, because I am working on a similar problem to the ones highlighted in the talk, albeit from the trajectory of science fiction studies.

Today’s colloquium, presented by Professor Tammy Clewell and Lit MA Brittany Adams, was titled, “Literary Studies in the Age of Neuroscience.” Professor Clewell began the presentation by mapping out what has led to the new interdisciplinary approach that melds neuroscience with literary studies. It is in part a rearticulation of humanistic practices (as big as that term is), but it is perhaps more importantly a powerful rebuke to neuroscience as the arbiter of what makes us human. The claim is that there might be some parts of being human that cannot be understood or explored through a scientific framework. While pushing back against some claims of authority by neuroscientists over the humanities, the humanities may be able to learn some things from neuroscience, and in turn, enrich both fields of study. Ms. Adams then presented her findings on the neuronovel (novels in which the brain and its biology supplant the role in literature traditionally held by the psychological mind) and the presence of interpretive frames (in this case, Freudian and neuroscientific) beyond the novel itself. Most importantly, she questions how these interpretive frames define the human too restrictively as they appear to exclude certain persons with “deficits” from what is considered universally human traits. Afterwards, I enjoyed a vibrant discussion with Professor Clewell, Ms. Adams, and Caleb, an English Lit MA student.

Today’s presentation was very interesting, and it was refreshing to see public collaboration between faculty and students at the colloquium. At the University of Liverpool, I participated in their English department colloquium series, but I haven’t inquired about doing so here at Kent State. I will have to ask about this over the Summer for the next school year.

Intellectual Salon (and Great Eats) in Kent, Where Funding and Disciplinarity Is Discussed

Last night, I joined my friends at Bert and Robin Bellinson’s house to break bread and talk about life in the academy with fellow graduate students as well as faculty. These dinners have become a de facto salon in the semi-rural isolation of Kent State University. To top it off, Bert is a daring chef who heightens the experience of mundane foods. On this particular evening, he made a tasty combination of lamb, potatoes, and salad. My favorite food that Bert makes is barbecue, which in my opinion, is second to none (that’s why Y and I asked him to cater our wedding).

Two conversations remain with me today. The first has to do with budget cuts to Ohio education and in particular to Kent State University. According to D, faculty have been enrolled as ‘students’ to in an online class headed by the ‘teacher’, Provost Robert G. Frank. The ‘class’ is titled, “Let’s be Frank: Discussions with the Provost,” and its purpose is to invite faculty to suggest ways that spending can be reduced from their perspective within the university. Unfortunately, graduate students on appointment have not been invited to this conversation, so I have decided to provide my thoughts here.

Kent State could reduce its spending and simultaneously reallocate spending to departments in need through these suggestions. First, I agree with D that the first step in any kind of budgetary cutbacks can only be accomplished by prioritizing spending with the university’s mission–education and research–being the top priority. Everything after the fulfillment of our mission as a place of higher education would receive reduced spending priority. Second, the redesign, defacing, and alteration of the campus should stop immediately. There should be no more expensive, full color, movie screen sized pictures of students with catchy slogans put up on buildings around campus. What is the real purpose behind these tacky displays of largess? Are you trying to convince students that they are in the right place for their education, or are you hitting prospective students with more advertising than substance? Regardless, the money used on those signs could easily fund one, possibly two, associate professorships. Alternatively, that money could have been excised from our expenditures in the past. Unfortunately, they are there now, but no more should be erected.

Second, I believe that the administration, particularly the president, provost, and other top administrators, should volunteer to take a substantial pay cut. Would it not only save the university money if the administrators, who are among the highest if not highest paid persons at Kent State, slashed their paychecks to save the university money and signify their dedication to making the university succeed financially? Also, the administration doing this would send a strong signal to the faculty who some believe should take a pay decrease (remember: food stamps are an option to make ends meet).

Third, the school should not take money away from academics to support its underperforming sports teams. Irregardless of the success or failure of Kent State’s teams, the money for supporting a robust program should come from other means than detracting from the educational and research missions of a university. I understand that sports are a way to attract students and donations while providing a revenue stream to the university through ticket sales and merchandising, but there should be a public and strict adherence to a no-academic money for spots policy.

And finally, the administration should publicly reject the proposed clock tower or what looks tragically like a sniper’s nest. Some school administrator(s), wants to renovate the public parking area in front of the student center to reduce parking for a green space crowned with a stage and clock tower. Unfortunately, this clock tower, which will further cost the university money that it shouldn’t spend or should spend elsewhere, looks reminiscent of the observation tower at the University of Texas, which has experience student shooting tragedies in 1966 and 2010. Furthermore, Kent State has its own dark history with student shootings on May 4, 1970. Obviously, a single or all administrators with authority of this proposed project have no sensitivity or empathy toward the historic events and the people involved. We do not need a new structure on campus with no clear purpose that conjures images of these tragic events. Furthermore, it looks like a sniper’s nest with visibility over much of the central campus. I would feel uneasy walking in that large area with this much more dangerous Eye of Sauron watching over me.

The second topic of discussion had to do with disciplinarity, or the adherence to discipline. One person at the table, who is not an English Literature PhD, was troubled by the tensions within the English discipline. Unfortunately, some of us English Literature folk did not feel that our discipline needed justification, but some folks rallied with a strong defense of the discipline and its historical development. As I have said to others, I believe the strength of English, or in my application Cultural Studies, is that it ties into other disciplines. It is an aggregator, diffuser, and processor. Our discipline ties together seemingly divided disciplines through the unifying network of culture.

The argument was made that English literature should be concerned with literature and nothing else. Literature, however, is dependent on everything within the human limit of the universe. What has been experienced, could be experienced, will be experienced finds its way into literature and other cultural works, or texts in the general sense. The social, psychological, and science all play a part in the construction of texts through the creative effort of people. It seems silly to think that we should agree to read literature divorced from the reality all around us as if literature itself was walled away from the rest of the universe. In fact, literature and texts are imbued with and by the universe and all that humanity knows and imagines about the universe. There is no one continuum of narrative possibilities that can be studied using antiquated concerns, but instead, narrative extends in all directions, in all dimensions. To worry only over the grammar, meter, or other nuts-and-bolts issue with literature and texts seems to tie the hands of intellectuals who obviously have much more to offer (as evidenced by the explosion of critical approaches to literature and culture) not only in regard to the historical contextualization of a text but also in regard to the many ways cultural works create meaning and categorize our understanding of the world. I don’t believe that English Studies or the broader moniker Cultural Studies needs to justify itself as long as its practitioners can each articulate in a meaningful way the pedagogical and research purposes of their work–particularly as the university continues to develop more interdisciplinary approaches to doing the work of an increasingly (or perhaps differently) complex world.

It was a stimulating evening, and I would like to thank B and R again for hosting these wonderful salon-like dinners.

Michio Kaku, Sci Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible, and My Early Readings in Physics

Another good show on the Science Channel is Dr. Michio Kaku‘s Sci Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible. In each episode, Dr. Kaku investigates a single science fiction idea (e.g., the technological singularity, Transformers robotic beings, or building your own solar system) and speculates about how humanity could achieve those plans. In the episode that is on right now, about solar system construction, he does calculations to show that you cannot built a Dyson sphere, a superstructure that encapsulates a star to harness all of its energy, with only the materials found in our solar system. On the surface (a pun?), I had not considered this as a limitation to the construction of such a structure. However, he then considers the possibility of using graphene, an allotrope or special molecular bonding structure of carbon that has a super strong honeycomb structure. Additionally, graphene’s strength allows it to be very thin, thus requiring less material. Therefore, graphene could be used to construct a Dyson swarm or sphere given that the planets in a solar system are carbon rich.

During the show, he interviews science fiction fans for ideas, and then, he works through these ideas with scientists at universitiesHis explanations are fascinating and insightful. I like the way that fans are engaged through brainstorming and opinions as Dr. Kaku arrives at his solution to the episode’s problem. This is one aspect of science fiction that goes beyond the stories themselves as prophetic visions. Fandom is the meta-level discourse that, in part, explores the what-if or is-this-possible aspects of science fiction. It is this meta-level discussion that Dr. Kaku’s show engages.

I have long been a fan of Dr. Kaku. In my senior year of high school, after reading Albert Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and General Theories, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and Kip Thorne’s Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy among others, I read his book Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension. This was when I was a physics-geek rather than a lit-geek. I had finished two interviews for MIT, and I had won my high school’s Physics prize in my Junior year. I was energized not only by the amazing science that Kaku described in his popularization, but I was also intrigued by his life leading up to becoming a theoretical physicist. While I was in my teens learning how to work on cars with my 1965 Ford Mustang and optimizing memory usage on my and my friend’s computers, Dr. Kaku in his teens had built his own particle accelerator in his family’s garage complete with electromagnetic confinement rings and vacuum pumps! I suppose the life of the scientist is almost as interesting to me as the science. Also, the writing was important for Kaku and other popularizers from Einstein to the present. I appreciated the way in which they and Kaku could present an engaging narrative that also told me about the advances taking place and the imaginative conjectures proposed in the physical sciences. Perhaps I should have recognized then that I might not have been pursuing the best career path when I tried out for the MIT and Georgia Tech physics programs.

At least now, I feel more comfortable with what I am doing as a English literature PhD candidate. In the way that I approach literature, I look at the relationships between science, technology, and culture, because I believe that our exploration of and engineering of the world is absolutely necessary to our understanding of ourselves. Our science shapes our understanding of the world, and our technology shapes our engagement and mediation of the world. Even the most mundane narrative, past or present, is indelibly marked by the traces of our science and technology. It is exciting to approach the humanities in this broadly interdisciplinary approach, because it reveals more ways to read and understand humanity than a limited or narrowly defined humanities approach. However, I am not advocating the erasure of those approaches, but I am saying that interdisciplinary approaches energize and expand our comprehension and appreciation of humanity and our work.