Talking Science Fiction with Neil deGrasse Tyson on StarTalk Radio

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jason Ellis in Dr. Tyson’s Office at the AMNH Planetarium.

I had the distinct honor to join the conversation about science fiction and society on Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio Show on May 30, 2019 (season 10, episode 22). The episode is about Creating Science Fiction, with Gale Anne Hurd, the producer of The Terminator and The Walking Dead. I shared some thoughts on Hugo Gernsback’s formula for “scientifiction,” H.G. Wells and Sir Ernest Swinton’s legal fight over the modern battle tank, the power of SF to engage social issues and debate, and my personal, lifelong relationship to SF. You can listen to the episode here or embedded below:

About the episode from the StarTalk website:

The Terminator, The Walking Dead, Aliens, and a lot more. Those are just some of the producing credits for this week’s main guest on StarTalk Radio. Neil deGrasse Tyson sits down with producer-extraordinaire Gale Anne Hurd to explore what it takes to bring great science fiction to life. Neil is joined by comic co-host Chuck Nice, science fiction expert Jason Ellis, PhD, and volcanologist Janine Krippner, PhD.

Because science fiction comes in many different forms and through many different avenues, there are many ways to get into it. You’ll learn how Gale’s childhood love of Marvel comic books and science fiction novels translated into a career “making what she likes to see.” She tells us how she served as a science fiction consultant to her local library to make sure their stock was up to date. Jason shares why not being able to see Star Wars in the theater sparked a rebellious love for science fiction.

You’ll hear about the history of science fiction and how it combines the STEM fields and the humanities. We debate if science fiction informs the future of every technological invention. You’ll find out about a lawsuit H.G Wells brought upon military figureheads because he claimed they stole his idea from one of his science fiction stories. Explore using science fiction as social commentary. Discover more about the famous kiss between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura, and how William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols purposely flubbed takes to make sure it stayed in the episode.

We take a deep dive into Dante’s Peak as volcanologist Janine Krippner stops by to share her take on the film. She explains why she thinks it’s still the best volcano movie even with its flaws. Gale gives us a behind-the-scenes look on how she fought for even more scientific realism to be in the film but encountered pushback from the studio. Neil also confronts Gale on the famous scientific inaccuracies of Armageddon. Chuck shares his love for The Expanse, we discuss Interstellar, and Neil tells us about his involvement in The Europa Report.

Lastly, you’ll also find out the differences between creating science fiction for television and film. According to Hugo Gernsback, the father of science fiction, sci-fi should be 75% romance and 25% science – is that still the goal? All that, plus, Jason caps it off with a story on how he was criticizing the film Sunshine right in front of director Danny Boyle’s family.

“Creating Science Fiction, with Gale Anne Hurd.” StarTalk Radio, 30 May 2019,

Georgia Tech SciFi Lab Radio Show Information Sessions, Clough 441, Mon/Feb 17 at 6PM or Tue/Feb 18 at 11AM

The SciFi Lab Wants You!
The SciFi Lab Wants You!

Georgia Tech’s Sci Fi Lab is recruiting new members!

The Sci Fi Lab will hold two recruiting sessions next week:

Monday 2/17, 6-8 pm, 441 Clough
Tuesday, 2/18, 11-12, 441 Clough

If you are a Georgia Tech student, like Science Fiction, and want to be on the radio, you should attend one of the information sessions.

Oct 4, 2012, Science Fiction Lab Radio Show Photos and My 2-Minute Madness from the “Reboot” Episode

The Science Fiction Lab Radio Show [web and Twitter] had its first episode of the season tonight on October 4, 2012 at 7:00pm-8:00pm. Tonight’s episode was hosted by Justin Ellis and Adam LeDoux, and Paul Clifton worked the board. SF Lab members included Ariel Cohen, Matthew Guzdial, Sharena Taylor, Brendan Cecere, and Xavier Culver. The theme of the show was “Reboot” for our 2-minute madness, and our special guest from the Atlanta Radio Theater Company was David Benedict. Following our 2-minute madness round, David played a Lovecraftian episode of “Rory Rammer, Space Marshall,” and he answered SF Lab members about his experience developing radio dramas.

I’m not in the pictures included above, because I played photographer with my iPhone 4S. Next time, I will have to bring my Canon t1i.

For the 2-minute madness, some of the SF Lab members talked about Battlestar Galactica, RoboCop, Superman, and the reboot of SF. In my 2-minute madness response, I talked about how science fiction is fundamentally based on the idea of the “reboot”:

My name is Jason Ellis. My life at Tech is a reboot of sorts. I graduated from Tech with a bachelor’s degree in 2006. Now, I have rebooted my Tech experience as a Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow. I began as a student. Now, I am a teacher. It is an exciting, yet cognitively estranging experience. I am also the Vice President of the Science Fiction Research Association.

Some argue that SF derives from the utopian story. Utopias are in a sense a reboot of earlier utopias. From this perspective, SF is a genre born of reboots and it continues that reboot tradition. For example, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been rebooted many times. Fred Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet is a futuristic reboot of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Jules Verne’s fantastic voyages [I meant to say, “les voyage extraordinaires”] have gone through multiple reboots. H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds (perhaps most famously) have been rebooted a number of times.

What I find interesting about the SF reboot is that it re-establishes the source material to the present cultural and historical context. This was my argument in my MA thesis at the University of Liverpool in which I explored the relationship between Glen Larson’s Battlestar Galactica and Ronald Moore’s recent re-imagining of the series.

If SF is always about the present, SF creators might feel compelled to imprint the present through reboots or re-imaginings. The reboot connects what is an otherwise great concept to the technoscientific and social changes that have taken place since the original production. This hopefully engages the audience, but irregardless, it is culture working its compositional magic through writers, producers, directors, actors, etc. Viewed this way, culture, in general, seems to be expressing itself through a series of reboots.

I Will Be On Air for SF Lab Radio Show Reboot, Thursday evening, Oct 4, 7:00-8:00pm

If you live in Atlanta or have a reliable Internet connection, you can hear me and the other Georgia Tech Science Fiction Lab Radio Show folk on WREK 91.1 FM (tune in or stream live from on Thursday, October 4 from 7:00pm-8:00pm.

This week’s theme is “reboots.” We will begin with introductions and a round of “2-minute madness,” which gives all SF Lab members a chance to talk about reboots for 2 minutes each. Then, we will have special guests from the Atlanta Radio Theater Company join us on air for a discussion about radio dramas and a preview of something they have been working on.

Our future shows will be on Oct. 11 (theme: robots/interview with Robot & Frank creator), Oct. 18 (theme: cyborgs/wearable computing), and Oct. 25 (theme: zombies, interview with James T. Warbington, director of The Black Earth).

We will maintain a Twitter backchannel with the hashtag #sflab.

The SF Lab Radio Show is on Thursday evenings from 7:00pm-8:00pm on WREK Atlanta 91.1 FM.

SF Lab Radio Show June 2008

The Georgia Tech SF Lab Radio Show was on tonight (Sunday), and I submitted an introduction for an interview with Paul di Filippo by way of a mini-review of his excellent racing short story, “Neutrino Drag.” Listen to the whole program on under the “Sunday Special” section, or download it soon from here.

Here’s a transcript of my piece:

Hey everybody. I’m Jason Ellis, formerly of Georgia Tech and the University of Liverpool, and currently a PhD student at Kent State University. I fancy myself a Science Fiction scholar, and tonight, I’m introducing one of my favorite SF authors: Paul di Filippo.

I first met Paul di Filippo in 2005 when he visited Georgia Tech as a guest of honor at the Monstrous Bodies Symposium held by the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture, and organized by Professor Lisa Yaszek. On the first night of the symposium in an already sultry March, a group of us took Paul out to a local bar-be-que joint in the lesser-seen heart of Atlanta. Sitting along the bench tables, elbows sticking to the greasy, checkered tablecloth, we were all having a great time talking between sucking down ribs.

At one point in the conversation, I was telling Paul about my folks in Southeast Georgia. In their lives before I was born, my dad was a regional drag racer, and my mom participated in Scrambles, or what’s now known as motocross, or off-road motorcycle racing. I told Paul that I’m always looking for new stories to engage my family and friends in Science Fiction beyond the big screen blockbusters, and something related to their loves might get them more involved. Paul grinned. His eyes reflected an rpm surge, and his cage-like teeth meshed like Kevlar wrapped around a swiftly rotating tranny. Between combustive rushes of horsepower (was that a Diesel truck engine braking outside the single pane windows of the diner?), he told me about one of his own racing stories called, “Neutrino Drag.”

“Neutrino Drag” is a fantastically extrapolated short story that juxtaposes the origin of 1950s drag racing culture with post-war, nuclear era UFO mania. The central race of “Cosmic Chicken” between the narrator, Obdulio Benitez, and the alien visitor, Spacedog, has vast repercussions. Obdulio’s story is, in part, about a California team of Latin American racers, known as the Bean Bandits, encountering the alien Other out on the race flats. Also, his story is about racism and acceptance of the Other. But most importantly, it’s about blowing the doors off the competition with the most obscene, hazardous, and otherworldly racing hardware ever unleashed by the green light on the starting line Christmas Tree.

The story pits Obdulio, the thirty-ish “old man” of the Bean Bandits, and the unspoken, yet subconsciously acknowledged, alien, and latest addition to the Bandits, Spacedog. Obdulio and Spacedog have a race to the death after Spacedog’s knock-dead main squeeze, Stella Star Eyes, who is described as a “Crypto-speciated quasi-conjugal adjunct. Exteriorized anima and inseminatory receptacle,” finds herself in need of “bonding” with another male in the absence of Spacedog–namely, with Obdulio. Spacedog challenges Obdulio to a race of chicken with our solar system’s primary, or Sun. Spacedog’s alien logic makes an odd kind of sense that results in the most awesome rubber laying in our star’s corona that no one’s ever heard about!

All of Paul’s stories are similarly injected with one half nitro and one half weird. This mixture is injected into a strange supercharger strapped to the most gruesome engine of undulating tissues and vulgar metals. He’s well known for his Steampunk trilogy, and the Ribofunk collection of stories. He’s a prolific short story writer, and you can often find his work in magazines such as Fantasy and Science Fiction and Interzone. If you enjoy authors that push the striated envelop one step further, then you’ll love Paul di Filippo. He’s done it with cyberpunk, steampunk, and the New Weird, and I bet he’s not willing to let off the throttle any time soon.

SF Lab Radio Show Special – Movies

Catch the latest installment of the Georgia Tech SF Lab Radio Show on FM91.1 in Atlanta, Georgia or online at tomorrow night, Sunday between 7-9 PM. This episode focuses on SF film, and I’ll be reading an 8 minute review based on my “Forced Deep Throat in AVP2” blog post.

Mark your calendars that the third Sunday between 7-9PM is the new time slot for the SF Lab Radio Show.  Here’s a sneak peak at the upcoming episodes:

  • March 16th – SF and Environmentalism
  • April 20th – Gaming
  • May 15th – TBD
  • June 15th – TBD

Tune-in and enjoy!