Science Fiction, LMC3214: Cyberpunk, William Gibson, and Retrocomputing Demo

After my students took their second exam yesterday, I lectured on cyberpunk to accompany their readings: William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” and Bruce Sterling’s “Preface” to Mirrorshades. I talked about its historical and cultural moment, proto-cyberpunk examples in the SF genre, and the movement itself. In particular, I contextualized the cyberpunk movement in terms of postmodernism and post-industrial society. We ran out of time while I was talking about Gibson’s contributions to the development of the cyberpunk movement. Besides my enjoyment of talking about cyberpunk, I was happy that my former professor Dr. Carol Senf was in attendance to observe my teaching.

Today, we watched the William Gibson and Tom Maddox penned episode of The X-Files, “Kill Switch.” Released approximately 16 years after “Burning Chrome” in 1998, it is one of the best examples of cyberpunk in a visual medium–especially in the fact that it takes place in the here-and-now instead of the near future.

Then, I lectured on The X-Files and cyberpunk film/television before returning to my notes on Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Pat Cadigan.

After the lecture, I launched into a retrocomputing demonstration with emulation and my personal collection of resurrected computer gear. I showed my students how to use the http://www.virtualapple.org website to see what cutting edge computing looked like in the early 1980s. Most of my students were born in the early to mid-1990s, so I wanted them to experience first hand how much extrapolation was being done on the part of the cyberpunks and Gibson in particular (of course, telling them about his Hermes 2000 typewriter and its celluloid keys and his recollection of getting inspiration for the cyberspace deck from the Apple IIc–something that his memory likely colored due to the fact that the IIc was released the same year as Neuromancer). Also, I brought in an Apple Powerbook 145 with Gibson’s Voyager Company ebook of the Sprawl trilogy pre-loaded and a Pentium-I PC with old software including Neuromancer (for DOS), Star Wars: Dark Forces (DOS), and the Star Trek Interactive Technical Manual (Windows). I took the U-shaped sheet metal case off my PC so that they could see the insides.

I had to lug everything across campus in my carry-on sized suitcase with the PC strapped to the handle with nylon straps. I felt like Case in Neuromancer returning from his shopping expedition.

Tomorrow: Taiwanese SF and review for the third exam.

Science Fiction, LMC3214: Revised Schedule for Last Week of Class

This is the last week of my Science Fiction class. I decided to make some changes to the final week of class to cover the necessary material and to strike out into new territory. Here’s the revised schedule for Monday through Thursday:

Monday: 9:20-10:20 Exam 2. 10:20-11:20 Lecture on Cyberpunk and short discussion of William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” and Bruce Sterling’s Preface to Mirrorshades anthology.

Tuesday: Begin with episode of the X-Files by William Gibson and Tom Maddox, “Kill Switch.” Followed by discussion and retrocomputing demonstration that looks at the computing origins of cyberpunk. Please bring your laptop today for the in-class activity.

Wednesday: Global Perspectives unit on Taiwanese SF. First part of class: lecture on differences of cultural/historical development and issues of translation. Second part of class: Active learning exercise looking at translations. The two readings for today’s class are on T-Square under Resources.

Thursday: 9:20-9:50 Exam 3. 9:50-11:20 Exploring your SF imagination with Lego. Think about your favorite trope, image, science, or technology from SF and how you might build it with Lego bricks. We will spend time in class building your creation and then sharing your creations with the class as a whole. If you bring your ideas to class, I will bring the bricks (and a camera to record your work)!

Science Fiction, LMC3214: Concluding Aliens and Feminist SF, Review for Exam 2

Exam 2 review notes on the chalkboard.

Exam 2 review notes on the chalkboard.

In today’s class, we finished watching James Cameron’s Aliens and discussed how it fits into our earlier discussions on feminist SF (Ripley as strong female hero, challenging stereotypes: Ripley, Vasquez, Ferro, and Dietrich vs. Gorman and Hudson, alternative modes of reproduction, the human role in alien reproduction–“impregnate,” remaking motherhood, what does it mean to be a mother, sexualized bodies of the aliens/HR Giger).

We also spent some time reviewing for their second major exam, which will take place during the first half of Monday’s class. I recommended students to build a new set of notes that consolidates important information, dates, lists, etc., because it will make their studying over the weekend easier. I also recommended for them to chart connections between the themes and characteristics of SF eras and the stories that we discussed in relation to those eras. The idea is that making the information more meaningful through interconnections will improve their use and recall of course material.

Next week, we conclude the class. There will be units on cyberpunk, global perspectives/Taiwanese SF, and maybe something creative–this is a fun surprise that I am still working on. I will have a busy weekend planning these things out, but I believe that it will lead to an exciting and fun conclusion of my first SF class!

Science Fiction, LMC3214: Alien, Aliens, Giger

Today, we began watching James Cameron’s 1986 film Aliens, and I lectured on Ridley Scott’s earlier 1979 Alien and how these figure into feminist SF via their characters, themes, and source material: H.R. Giger’s “Necronom IV.” I shared pictures of my visit to Gruyères with the class, too (for the juxtaposition of quaint, medieval Swiss town with the Giger Museum and Bar). I asked the students to take notes about the film and identify how it exemplifies feminist SF as discussed during Tuesday’s class.

We will conclude Aliens during tomorrow’s class, discuss the students’ findings relating to it being feminist SF, and review for the second major exam.

For further learning, I found this interesting documentary about Giger’s Necronomicon and his influence on the first Alien film on YouTube:

Science Fiction, LMC3214: Lecture on Feminist SF and Readings by Zoline, Russ, and Tiptree, Jr.

For today’s class, my students came prepared to discuss three readings: Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” (New Worlds, July 1967), Joanna Russ’ “When It Changed” (Again, Dangerous Visions, 1972), and James Tiptree, Jr’s “The Women Men Don’t See” (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Dec 1973).

Before discussion, I treated the class to a lecture on terminology (sex, gender, sexuality, sexism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and feminism), a short history lesson on Feminism (bringing it full circle with Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792 and covering First, Second, and Third Waves of Feminism), and a history of Feminist SF (building on our earlier readings by female writers, Dr. Lisa Yaszek’s rediscovery of “women’s SF,” and the New Wave/Second Wave/Feminist SF boom).  We also discussed some of the major figures, including Margaret Cavendish, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Joanna Russ, Pamela Sargent, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, Pamela Zoline, and James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice B. Sheldon). Learn more about Feminist SF on the Encyclopedia of SF entry here and in Ritch Calvin’s Feminist SF 101 article in SFRA Review #294 here.

Following lecture, my students engaged in another energized debate on the readings that brought up a lot of issues that I could only gloss over in the lecture. I was fortunate to have some students offer personal experiences with their families and others who played devil’s advocate. I believe that our discussion facilitated a much deeper exploration of the stories and the issues surrounding them.

Tomorrow, we will begin our viewing of James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). I consider this an example of feminist SF film, because unlike most SF film, it revolves around a strong female hero character who charts her own path based on the challenges of her future, corporatized society. However, it was made possible by the earlier work of feminist SF in the 1960s and 1970s. It also accomplishes interesting things with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), because she is the strong hero who rediscovers her lost motherhood by destroying the mother of the xenomorphs–the Alien Queen. We will watch this through Thursday’s class, discuss it, and review for the second exam (taking place next during Monday’s class).

Science Fiction, LMC3214: Concluding New Wave SF with Philip K. Dick and Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever”

In today’s class, I lectured on Philip K. Dick’s life (2-3-74) and work (characteristics: ontological, epistemological, entropy, empathy, religion, and the “little man”) to conclude my discussion of New Wave writers began in the last class. Then, I lectured on Star Trek and used Harlan Ellison’s “The City on the Edge of Forever” as a bridge between the New Wave and popular, mainstream SF.

Tomorrow, we will begin our unit on Feminist SF and we will discuss readings by Pamela Zoline, Joanna Russ, and James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice B. Sheldon).

Science Fiction, LMC3214: New Wave Lecture and Three Story Discussion

Today’s class was like an exclamation point in two ways. First, there was the long stroke of lecture. I lectured on the origins of the New Wave in New Worlds, Judith Merril’s England Swings SF, and Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions. I gave my students background on semiotics, modernity/postmodernity, and modernism/postmodernism to anchor the New Wave (alas, arguing for a grand narrative while saying there ain’t such a thing). I talked more in-depth about the writers whose work we had read for today: J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, and Samuel R. Delany. It was a long lecture, but it was material that I felt was important. Then, the hard dot fell after the pen raised from that long stroke! Students loved, “Repent Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman.” Other students hated it. Students loved, “The Cage of Sand.” Other students hated it. We had a knock-down drag out discussion. It was a beautiful conclusion to a week of lectures, readings, and film viewings. Next week, we continue the New Wave. I will talk about other New Wave writers and we will watch the original Star Trek episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Looking further ahead next week, we will discuss Feminist SF and watch James Cameron’s Aliens (1986).

Science Fiction, LMC3214: Forbidden Planet

Today, I showed my Science Fiction students the Fred M. Wilcox classic film from 1956, Forbidden Planet. Afterwards, I lectured about the tension that I see in the film between Golden Age emphasis on hard SF (space travel, harnessing atomic power, computers, chemistry, and metallurgy) and New Wave focus on inner space (cognition, mental power, exploration of the Freudian mind: id/ego/superego). This is one of my favorite films, and I hope that the students enjoyed the visual/auditory experience, too.

Tomorrow, we begin our module on New Wave SF with a lecture on New Worlds, England Swings SF, Dangerous Visions, and the assigned readings: J.G. Ballard’s “The Cage of Sand,” Harlan Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman,” and Samuel R. Delany’s “Aye, and Gomorrah. . .”

Science Fiction, LMC3214: Golden Age, Part 2 and SF Film Lecture

In today’s class, I covered large swaths of background material on Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, and Tom Godwin. Then, I gave the class a rough sketch of the development of SF film through the SF-film boom of the 1950s as preparation for tomorrow’s viewing of Forbidden Planet. After lecture, we discussed the readings from Monday and Tuesday: Asimov’s “Reason,” Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” Heinlein’s “All You Zombies–,” and Godwin’s “The Cold Equations.”

I was glad to hear that Godwin’s story connected emotionally with some students despite it being “hard SF.” There were also a number of students  who preferred “All You Zombies–” and were already familiar with time travel narratives, which supported my lecture argument about Heinlein’s reliance on reader’s experience with the SF mega-text. One student on Bradbury’s story said, “This was the first story that made me feel sorry for a house.” After class, I had a great conversation with two students about Cold War anxieties and the shifting experiences of SF in film and television via new media.

Science Fiction, LMC 3214: Exam 1 and Lecture on Golden Age SF Part 1

Today, my students bravely wielded their pens and Blue Books to endure their first exam in our Science Fiction class. The exam covered Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein through the early SF film serials. The exam had twenty short and long answer questions. A few students completed the exam in the allotted 60 minutes, but I gave the rest of the class an additional 15 minutes to complete the test. I made it very clear that I could not give credit to illegible responses, so I think that the writing component slowed some students down. I will take this into consideration as I plan the second exam while making my lecture notes for the upcoming two weeks of class.

After the exam, I delivered the first part of my lecture on Golden Age SF. I covered a rough sketch of the Golden Age, John W. Campbell, Jr., and Isaac Asimov. In tomorrow’s class, I will lecture on Robert A. Heinlein, Tom Godwin, Ray Bradbury, and the maturation of SF film. We will discuss the readings for Monday and Tuesday, too: Asimov’s “Reason,” Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” Heinlein’s “All You Zombies–,” and Godwin’s “The Cold Equations.”