Spring Recess 2015: Reading, Exploring, and Making

Spring Break reading list.
Spring Break reading list.

I had a fun and productive time during this year’s Spring Recess in our new home of Brooklyn. I read three brain-related books: Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid, Michael Moskowitz’s Reading Minds, and Antonio Damasio’s Looking for Spinoza. I took the subway to Manhattan twice with Y and Little My to visit Kinokuniya Bookstore, Sun Rise Market, Uncle Sam’s Army Surplus, the New York Public Library, and Washington Square. I picked up an M65 field jacket and put together an EDC kit. I walked to Microcenter twice–each time scoring a free 16GB flash drive thanks to a new coupon promotion. To cap the week off, I completed a draft of my PARSE documentation for advancement at City Tech and posted assignments for tomorrow’s classes on OpenLab. Now, I feel ready to see this semester through to the end.

A question for my students: how did was your week away from the college? Are you ready to see things through?

Science Fiction Writer Kiini Ibura Salaam Visits Georgia Tech Today: Thursday, Oct 24

Kiini Ibura Salaam's Website
Kiini Ibura Salaam’s Website

On Thursday, October 24, 2013,  science fiction writer Kiini Ibura Salaam will visit Georgia Tech’s Stephen C. Hall Building to give a reading, signing, and interview.

Lisa Yaszek, who organized the visit, shares more details about Salaam’s visit:

I’m delighted to announce that award-winning author Kiini Ibura Salaam will visit us next Thursday, October 24. She will do an author reading and book-signing at 11 am in 102 Hall, and then a WREK interview and public discussion from 1:30-3 in the same place. . . . Anyone interested in women’s literature, Afrofuturism, and/or fantastic fiction will enjoy Kiini’s work.

From what I have read of her work, I agree 100% with Lisa’s assessment. I am looking forward to meeting an accomplished writer whose work is the kind whose rich descriptions fill your nostrils as much as your mind’s eye and whose stories excite you as you fall down the rabbit hole without a handhold in sight.

Minister Faust, the Canadian Science Fiction Writer, Will Give Free Readings at Georgia Tech, April 1 and 2

Minister Faust Flyer
Minister Faust Flyer

I’m looking forward to next week. Minister Faust is making a special visit to Georgia Tech for two readings. These are free events. I highly recommend science fiction folk to attend. Details follow:

The School of Literature, Media and Communication presents
award-winning science fiction author

Minister Faust

Monday, April 1 2013, 3-5 pm
Tuesday, April 2 2013, 9:30-11 am
Ferst Room, Georgia Tech Library

Meet Minister Faust at a Q&A session and book signing to follow his readings.

Minister Faust is a long-time community activist, writer, journalist, broadcaster, public speaker and martial artist. A maverick novelist increasingly described as one of the finest voices of his generation, Faust refers to his sub-genre of science fiction writing as Imhotep-Hop: an Africentric literature that draws from myriad ancient African civilizations, explores present realities, and imagines a future in which people struggle not only for justice, but for the stars. His web page is http://www.ministerfaust.com.

________________________________________

Minister Faust’s lecture is part of the 2012-2013 LMC Distinguished Speaker Series, with support from the Office of Diversity. Visit http://www.lmc.gatech.edu for more information about Faust and other Speaker Series events.

English Language Reading Advice and Strategies for My ESL Students (and Native English Speakers, too)

Map to Literature in the Library

This morning, I met with an ESL student from one of my ENGL 1101 classes. She sought advice about how to improve her English reading speed and comprehension. We discussed various strategies for about 40 minutes. While we were talking,  I thought that our conversation might be useful for other ESL students (as well as many native English speakers wanting to boost their reading abilities). I have included the notes from our meeting below.

  • Takeaway ideas: If you want to improve your English reading ability and reading comprehension, you need to read and think about the reading on a daily basis. Improvement comes through applied practice over time. If you track your progress with a journal written in English, you will be surprised by the advancement after a semester, a year, or longer. Practice and reflect–then, repeat.
  • Three substantial hurdles to advancing your reading skills are grammar, vocabulary, and confidence. More exposure to English grammar and syntax through reading and writing in English will lead to improvements in those areas. Building your English vocabulary will improve your comprehension and the speed of your reading (i.e., if you spend time figuring out meanings by context or looking up words in a dictionary). Accomplishing more reading (“Yes, I just finished another novel in English!”) will improve your confidence in your English comprehension abilities.
  • General reading strategies can be found on this site: <http://www.nclrc.org/essentials/reading/stratread.htm>.
  • The important things to try is build your confidence by reading everyday and writing a note in English about what you read in a journal. This writing practice reinforces your English reading practice the expression of your ideas in written English. Over time, you will find your ability improving based on reviewing your notes.
  • Don’t be frustrated by the difficulty some texts might present. It usually takes about 30 pages before you “learn” the author’s writing style. If you can make it through 30 pages, the book will generally become easier to read. Other texts might simply be difficult to anyone–ESL or native-English speaker alike.
  • Don’t be afraid to skim or skip parts of a text. When you hit a word that you do not know, underline it and keep reading. You might figure out its meaning by its context, or you can come back to the underlined words after finishing the section or chapter. Look up the word in the dictionary, and re-read the sentence or paragraph to capture its meaning.
  • While it does take extra time, it is extremely useful to re-read sections and chapters in order to gain a better understanding of the text. I do this regularly even though I hold a PhD.
  • Skim the section headings before reading a chapter (if it has these), because these headings provide clues to the topics covered in the chapter’s sections.
  • A trick for growing your vocabulary is to write down a list of words that you hear or read during the day that you do not know. At the end of the day–before you go to bed–look up those words, read the definition, and write down a sentence using that word. Putting the word in context will improve your brain’s remembrance of that word.
  • Instead of aiming for greater reading speed in the short term, you should focus on the quality of your reading. Consider this analogy from weight training: Before you begin lifting heavy weights, it is important to learn the proper form and technique of lifting. By spending time in the short term to improve your form and technique, you maximize the effectiveness of your workouts in the long term. Similarly, by spending time now to develop your English reading skills and effective reading comprehension, you will increase the effectiveness of your reading over the long term. Connected to this technique is the necessity for patience. Improvement will come through practice over time.
  • Make an appointment for a one-on-one consultation with Georgia Tech’s Language Support Center: <http://www.esl.gatech.edu/language-support-center>. They have trained tutors who can give you advice on a number of topics important to ESL students. The Georgia Tech Language Institute has a number of online resources here, too.
  • Reading novels is a great way to build your reading skill. If you find a novel that thematically interests you (campus narratives, romance, science fiction, everyday life, etc.), you will be more engaged with your reading than if you read something that does not interest you as much. Building your reading ability through enjoyable novels will make reading less enjoyable things easier.
  • Participate in a book club. I found this one, the Midtown Book Club, which meets once a month to discuss a book at the Georgia Tech Bookstore/Barnes and Noble: <http://midtown.patch.com/events/midtown-book-group>. Book clubs generally pick interesting books to read. Members have one month to read the book. After everyone has read the book, they meet to discuss its story, meaning, and interpretations.
  • You can find many new books in the Georgia Tech Library on the first floor (see map above). There are other books in the stacks located upstairs.
  • Young adult novels (a literary genre in which the story usually involves young people and might be perceived as easier to read–though this is not always the case) are a great place to read entertaining and exciting stories as practice in English reading. Very popular examples include the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games series, and the Twilight series. Some of these can be found in the GT Library (see map above), or they can be easily purchased at the GT Bookstore/Barnes & Noble at Tech Square or Amazon.com.
  • Here is a large list of Young Adult novels with reviews: <http://www.npr.org/books/genres/10121/young-adults/>.
  • Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer and promoter of open culture, shares his novels (some of which are Young Adult–Little Brother is one example) online for free: <http://craphound.com/?cat=5>.
  • You can find many classic (and public domain novels on Project Gutenberg for free! Click here to find the most recently downloaded books from Project Gutenberg.
  • For more technical kinds of reading, you likely will have to do research in your field. This will involve reading journal article abstracts, or short summaries of the research presented in the article. Noah Gray, senior editor of the science journal Nature, gives advice about how to break down the abstract into its component parts for easier understanding: <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/noah-gray/abstract-science_b_1923214.html>.
  • Good luck with developing your mastery of the English language!

Thanks to Y (my wife) for helping me think about some of the strategies presented above. Thanks to my student for making good use of my office hours and for presenting me with a question that led to new pedagogical thinking.

A Few Reading Strategies for the Science Fiction Novice

Underlying many definitions of science fiction is the fact that reading science fiction requires some level of apprenticing and learning of the key concepts, tropes, and concepts that appear in much of the genre’s works. Damien Broderick formalized this in his book Reading by Starlight, in which he argues that there is a ‘science fiction megatext’ that authors borrow from and give to that science fiction readers learn over time. Thus, reading science fiction can be a daunting task for someone not yet accustomed to the genre and its many elements.

However, this is true of any literature that you may read whether it be mainstream fiction from one particular historical period versus another, or another genre such as detective fiction or the western. Any reading requires a certain amount of heavy lifting on the part of the reader to engage the story and its characters. Perhaps with science fiction there is an additional attendant requirement to figure out the science, technology, and estranging qualities of the story, but the reader’s success at figuring these things out is part of the joy of any kind of revelation.

Below, I have written out some strategies for reading science fiction that can equally apply to other literatures. If you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

  • Read slowly and carefully. Reading is not a race to the finish. You may have to read something more than once to completely understand the story, and you may have to read it a further time in order to uncover any greater meanings lying beneath the surface.
  • Keep a notebook handy as you read. Jot down ideas with the page numbers that attend those ideas.
  • Diagram the characters and actions in a flow chart or story outline to better make sense of a complex narrative. Who are the characters? Where do characters go? Who do they encounter? What happens to them? What do they do?
  • Keep a web browser open with two tabs: one for your favorite search engine and the other for dictionary.oed.com. Search terms that you have not encountered before.
  • Be smart with your reading. If you don’t have the time to read and re-read something, you should search the Lexis Nexis database for reviews of the novel. Wikipedia also has a number of plot summaries. However, I cannot warn you enough that these serve as a guide or introduction only; you should read the work at hand in order to fully understand it and experience the novel itself through the act of reading.
  • Don’t always think literally, and vice versa. When you come across something like, “She turned on her right side,” it could have more than one interpretation. She could turn over onto the right side of her body, or it could mean that she powered up the right side of her body (cybernetic implants, computers, etc.).
  • Pause during your reading to imagine what it is you are reading. This can be hard work, but it does get easier as you encounter it more often.
  • You only build new and powerful connections in your brain through challenging and unique experiences. The readings in my classes are intended to be just that. If you don’t do the heavy lifting though, you won’t get any of the long term benefits of engaging and surmounting these challenges.

Read My Chapter on Nomadology and Student Digital Lives in McFarland’s Writing, Reading, and Teaching Science Fiction

Writing, Reading, and Teaching Science Fiction, the first collection that I have contributed to, has been handed over to McFarland for publication. You can find my chapter “Revealing Critical Theory’s Real-Life Potential to Our Students, the Digital Nomads” in the first section on Teaching Science Fiction. The publisher doesn’t have a page up for orders yet, but they have given permission for us to post the abstracts, which you may find below. There is some additional information available on editor Karen Hellekson’s website here. I will give a link to the official McFarland page once it goes live.

Writing, Reading, and Teaching Science Fiction

Edited by Karen Hellekson, Craig Jacobsen, Patrick Sharp, and Lisa Yaszek

McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010

Part 1—Teaching

1. Teaching with Science Fiction

Section edited by Craig Jacobsen

2. Grokking Rhetoric through Science Fiction: A Practical Examination of Course Construction

Jen Gunnels

Traditional teaching methods and materials for core curriculum all too often leave the student disengaged, or worse, confused. A text’s placement in the Western canon does not automatically make it accessible or engaging. It can leave the students bored and unconnected, and it can give them an inaccurate perception of rhetorical thought and the writing process. That is not to say that the canon is not important—it is—but often undergraduate core courses, especially mass courses such as rhetoric and composition, fall back on the same few texts. A reliance on canonical material—canonical to the instructor, but often unfamiliar to undergraduates—splits student focus between understanding the materials used to illustrate the concepts and the concepts themselves. A more accessible literature has the potential to free the student to concentrate on the new, often complicated, ideas being presented, and science fiction in particular can engage students who are studying core subjects by providing exemplar texts that clearly and compellingly illustrate major fundamental points. Here, I examine the use of science fiction in teaching basic undergraduate rhetoric and composition, and I reenvision its implementation. I include basic rhetorical elements that a course should cover, and I analyze a sample assignment, a brief rhetorical analysis of Tom Godwin’s 1954 story “The Cold Equations,” to illustrate basic rhetorical tools and wider arguments affecting rhetorical choices.

3. Incorporating Science Fiction into a Scientific Rhetoric Course

Michael J. Klein

Many of the scientific and technological achievements of the past century were prefigured by writers of speculative or science fiction. The scientific and technological achievements we view as commonplace (e.g., the Internet, wireless communication, advances in reproduction) were often discussed by literary authors decades before their “discovery.” Conversely, advances in science and technology drove authors to further their speculations and logically extend the discoveries of the day in their writing. In that spirit, I decided to expand the traditional canon of works I used in a scientific rhetoric course to include works of science fiction. The students in the course compared and contrasted the representation of science and scientists in fictional and factual accounts, examined the ways in which texts become important to a culture and a discourse community, and identified the means by which science informed science fiction, and vice versa, during the past century. I found that for undergraduates, the addition of literature made the concepts of scientific rhetoric more accessible and fostered greater conversation between students studying different subjects. The students in the humanities and social sciences used the literary works as a stepping stone to understanding the discourse within the scientific community. Conversely, students in the sciences and engineering recognized and appreciated the humanistic elements of science by seeing parallels in the works of fiction. These results speak to the benefits of increased dialogue among disciplines that address the concepts of science and technology.

4. Revealing Critical Theory’s Real-Life Potential to Our Students, the Digital Nomads

Jason W. Ellis

I propose a reading of Mike Resnick’s science fiction novel, Ivory: A Legend of Past and Future (2007), that engages critical poststructuralist theory and postcolonial theory for the purpose of providing a way to advance these theories in relation to the here and now of college undergraduate students. Ivory simultaneously promotes and challenges the practices of Orientalism, but my purpose is to engender further discussion regarding potential solutions to the problem of Orientalism presented in the text. Nomadology and rhizomatic resistance may provide a means to solve the problem represented in the novel. Ivory represents these concerns by showing how the fictional problem and its solution in fact epitomize our everyday digitalized and online existence. The novel explores models and provides examples of the online technologies that digital nomad students may use for self-empowerment and personal protection from the encroachment on their lives by the state and by global capital.

Part 2—Reading

5. Reading and Writing SF

Section edited by Patrick Sharp

6. Reading/Writing Martians: Seeing Techn{emacr} and Poi{emacr}sis in The War of the Worlds

Charles Harding

From its opening lines, The War of the Worlds is concerned with seeing, or comprehending, through reading and writing. Wells’s novel emerges from a cultural environment in which a lack of foresight and illiteracy mark future-war stories and scientific discourse. Wells interrogates this cultural blindness and fosters competency by presenting his narrator as a scientific—that is, a knowing—spectator of the Martian invasion. The narrator strives to distinguish himself from those who exhibit nescience in relation to the attack. His insight proceeds from his ability to read—to comprehend and translate—what emerges from the Martian cylinders. The Martians figure as a prevision of a technologized future, and the narrator’s scrutiny of their features and annihilative machinery reveals a potentially dangerous element in humanity’s relationship to technology. This danger manifests in the Martians’ degenerate techn{emacr}, their transformation of the world into a totally mechanized and depersonalized system. Despite the forbidding nature of this futuristic world, the possibility remains that it may be averted. This possibility lies in poi{emacr}sis, or artistic producing, which in The War of the Worlds culminates in the narrator’s rewriting of the invasion. According to Heidegger, poi{emacr}sis constitutes a space for an essential reflection on the danger for humanity in technology. Wells’s novel offers an opportunity for reflection on future humankind, embodied in the Martians, and its relationship to advanced technology by inviting readers to see alongside the narrator as he scrutinizes the Martians and their techn{emacr}. With The War of the Worlds, Wells suggests that science fiction must be knowing fiction.

7. The Creation of Heinlein’s “Solution Unsatisfactory”

Ed Wysocki

Robert Heinlein’s short story “Solution Unsatisfactory,” which appeared in Astounding Science-Fiction in May 1941 under the pen name Anson MacDonald, is well known for its presentation of a precarious world situation after the development of a nuclear weapon. This story appeared well before the establishment of the Manhattan Project for the development of an atomic bomb. Knowledge of the state of nuclear physics in the time before the story’s creation is presented to show that its concept grew from an uncertainty regarding the means by which an atomic bomb could be constructed. The source of basic premise of the story, the use of radioactive dust rather than a bomb, is identified as Astounding’s editor, John W. Campbell Jr. Development of the story, while retaining the basic weapon concept, was then taken by Heinlein in a different direction than had been originally suggested to him. Possible sources of technical information available to Heinlein are then considered, and a connection shown to a friend of Heinlein who had just received his PhD in the field of nuclear physics, Robert Cornog. The dust idea presented in the story occurred shortly before the same idea appeared in a report developed to suggest possible military applications of atomic fission. Although the close timing between the work of fiction and the report has been noted previously in the literature, no effort had apparently been made to establish a connection. In this essay, I propose a definite connection.

8. Entropy, Entertainment, and Creative Energy in Ben Bova

Donald M. Hassler

Even though Ben Bova is discounted by some as an “easy” writer or, perhaps, even because of this fact, his usefulness as a representative of the genre has impressed me. Further, I like his storytelling both for its ease and for its consistency. So this essay is one of several I have written attempting to account for genre effects in SF. I discuss several recent Bova novels, each dealing with the extrapolation of what we know of one of the planets in our system; and I find, in fact, some rich resonance of what I call “genre effects” in these books. I write in part as a fan, as well as an academic who hopes to set enthusiasm into the larger context of literary study. Many of Bova’s storytelling techniques seem outdated because they appear in the same milieux as postmodern experimentation, and I evoke the family romance metaphor from Freud—we tend to seek out and to feel comfortable with the “generation” of our fathers. Much of my point, then, about Bova’s effects is captured in what I label in the title as “the entropy” of reading and genre. I argue that the vigorous generation, or family sense, in these science stories allows us to see beyond.

Part 3—Media

9. Media and Science Fiction

Section edited by Karen Hellekson

10. Investigating the Postmodern Memory Crisis on the Small Screen

Susan A. George

In this analysis of the importance and reliability of memory in the context of postmodern SF, I use close readings of two exemplar episodes ( “Adam” and “Sleeper”) of the television program Torchwood (2006–9) to explore the fundamental nature of humanity. Torchwood asserts that some essential qualities escape quantification. These qualities define the human and separate the human from the nonhuman. Memory is the locus of these qualities, not some metaphysical or religious construct called the human soul.

11. Text’s Resistance to Being Interpreted: Unconventional Relationship between Text and Reader in Watchmen

Ho-Rim Song

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel Watchmen (1986–87) experiments with postmodern literary devices, forms, and style to problematize the conventional concept of interpretation. In particular, the text deconstructs the conventional relationship between text and readers as the interpreted and the interpreter, and by doing so, it calls into question readers’ perception of their own reality as well as that of the text. Watchmen ultimately claims that interpretation, or the act of finding truth or meaning, is meaningless for our postmodern reality.

12. ”Breathe, baby, breathe!” Ecodystopia in Brazilian Science Fiction Film

Alfredo Suppia

This analysis of four ecodystopian Brazilian SF films—Claudin{ecirc} Perina Camargo’s 93{deg} Tunnel (1972), José de Anchieta’s Stop 88 (1978), Roberto Pires’s Nuclear Shelter (1981), and Marcos Bertoni’s Armadillo Blood (1986)—demonstrates that ecodystopia is one of the most structured and long-lasting manifestations of science fiction in Brazilian cinema, offering critical and speculative visions at the crossroads of social, political, and environmental issues that continue to remain strikingly relevant today. These films shed light on Brazilian anxieties regarding modernization in the atomic era that reflect greater world ecological concerns that are only becoming more compelling.

Part 4—Women

13. Women and Writing

Section edited by Lisa Yaszek

14. Hail the Conquering Campbellian S/Hero: Joanna Russ’s Alyx

Eileen Donaldson

For many theorists, both feminist and not, the figure of an archetypal, active female warrior hero has been problematic. Many feminists believe it is gender stereotyping to suggest that women are unable to possess the force of the archetypal warrior hero and that this archetype is ultimately available to both men and women. I briefly define the nature of the archetypal hero and an argument is made for the active female s/hero who possesses the “masculine” powers of the hero and thus allows the archetypal power of the active warrior hero to pass to women. Joseph Campbell’s work on the archetypal hero of myth is drawn on extensively. One of the genres that allow an exploration of the s/hero is SF. I explore the s/hero in SF, particularly as she is evoked in Joanna Russ’s Alyx stories, published as short stories first and then collected in 1983 and published as The Adventures of Alyx.

15. Essentialism and Constructionism in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling

Kristen Lillvis

Although critics have argued that science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler confines her heroines to biologically determined sex and gender roles, in this article, I look beyond genetic predispositions and explore the influence of social and material conditions on her characters’ beliefs and actions. I use Butler’s final novel, Fledgling (2005), to investigate acts of sexual violence, demands of heterosexual sexual practices, and traditional notions of maternal roles as they affect the novel’s human and vampire species as well as Butler’s protagonist, a genetically engineered being whose biology aligns her with both species but whose amnesia frees her from a socially constructed consciousness. I posit that although biological tendencies may exist in the novel, Butler uses her heroine’s atypical beliefs about and responses to female behavioral norms to demonstrate that sex-specific characteristics become unavoidable truths only for the individuals and societies that choose to accept them as such.

16. Joanna Russ and the Murder of the Female Child: We Who Are About To{3.}

Rebekah Sheldon

In this essay, I investigate the violation of the rescue of the female child theme in Joanna Russ’s 1977 novel We Who Are About To{3.}. In stories like “The Second Inquisition” (1970), Russ positions the reader as the double of the child in the plot and rescues both by engendering the story as a hero. I assert that We Who Are About To{3.} rends open this closed loop through its refusal of proper narrative structure and its murder of the female child. I interpret this murder as an interrogation of the metaphysics of presence implicit in the rescue thematic, a move to a deconstructive writing practice and a liberation of the child from service as the site of future redemption.

17. Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn: The Taoist Way in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Telling

James Thrall

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Telling (2000) is more than simply a novel steeped in Taoism. It is, in fact, an attempt to make a political point by imagining a novel in a Taoist mode. Her protagonist moves beyond merely studying the Telling, a way of life modeled on Taoism, to becoming a practitioner herself. Le Guin contrasts her construction of the Telling’s grassroots system of communicating life wisdom through story with hierarchical systems of domination and control. By emphasizing the importance of properly engaged listening, which she sees as a key aspect of both Taoism’s and the Telling’s feminist principle, Le Guin advocates an alternative politics that embraces “peaceful anarchy” rooted in cooperation and discernment rather than conflict.

Neil Gaiman in Cleveland, October 4

James just gave me a heads-up on Neil Gaiman’s visit to Cleveland on October 4, 2009 as part of the Cleveland Public Library’s Writer and Reader series. Here are the details from Gaiman’s website:

Cleveland Public Library’s Writers & Readers series presents Neil Gaiman

Sunday, 2:00pm

FREE

Where:

Cleveland Public Library’s Main Library Building

Louis Stokes Wing Auditorium

According to the Writers and Readers Series website, Neil will be joining a number of other authors in the series. Read the full list of authors here.

See you there!

Cleveland Public Library’s Writers & Readers series presents Neil Gaiman
Sunday, 2:00pm
FREE
Where:
Cleveland Public Library’s Main Library Building

Louis Stokes Wing Auditori