New Research Project on the Language of Computers in Science Fiction, 1975-1995 is Underway


This semester, I am using course release time to focus on a research project that I am tentatively titling, “The Language of Computers in Science Fiction, 1975-1995.” Most of my readings come from SF magazines, but I’m finding some material in anthologies, too. More to follow…stay tuned.

2015 Science Fiction Research Association Conference Wrap-Up

Stony Brook University, Charles Wang Center

The Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) held its forty-sixth annual conference on June 25-28, 2015 at Stony Brook University in the Charles B. Wang Center. Our theme this year was, “The SF We Don’t (Usually) See: Suppressed Histories, Liminal Voices, Emerging Media.”

As I detailed in a previous blog post, I presented on the SF that we don’t see (any more) on the Apple Macintosh computing platform and Voyager’s Expanded Books of the early-1990s.

Other voices that stood out in my conference-going experience included keynotes by Vandana Singh on Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Tho Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” and climate change, and M. Asli Dukan on “the white fantastic imagination” and “the invisible universe.” Jessica FitzPatrick and Steven Mollmann presented on postcolonial superheroes and SF. Lisa Yaszek, Isiah Lavender III, and Gerry Canavan gave excellent presentations on Afrofuturism. Keren Omry, Alan Lovegreen (my colleague from City Tech), and Hugh Charles O’Connell  questioned the relationship of capitalism and the future. Alexis Lothian (who tweeted much of the conference with me and others with the #sfra2015 hashtag) gave us a compelling view into “Queer World Building, Digital Media, and Speculative Critical Fandom.”Donald “Mack” Hassler chaired a session on gender with compelling papers by Marleen S. Barr and Rosalyn W. Berne.

Doug Davis gave what I thought was the best presentation of the conference on “The SF We (Usually Don’t Talk About but) Always See, or Can We Use Science Fiction Genre Theory to Read Canonical Literary Texts?: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s “The Displaced Person.” Doug’s co-panelist Brad Reina presented a different tact on approaching eBooks in his paper: “Electronic Literature in The Diamond Age: Neal Stephenson and the Present and Future of eBooks.” I learned a lot (and took a lot of pictures of slides/names) in the China SF session on Saturday afternoon featuring interesting papers by Hua Li, Cara Healy, Quiong Yang, and Nathaniel Isaacson.

The SFRA Awards Banquet on Saturday night ended what I consider to be a very successful conference. While some of us encountered challenges to reaching Stony Brook on Long Island (the Long Island Rail Road, Newark/JFK/La Guardia Airports, ferries, car rentals, traffic problems), I think that sharing of ideas and the valuable conversations made the difficulties recede far into the background. The warmth of the camaraderie and the welcoming inclusivity at SFRA overcomes any hurdle. Additionally, Stony Brook–a sprawling campus surrounded by trees and populated by bunny rabbits–has a surprisingly science fictional side in some of its buildings’ architectures, including the Charles Wang Center (pictured above) and the Stony Brook University Hospital (pictured below).

After the conference was over, I caught a ride back to Brooklyn with Mack and Sue Hassler and Adam Frisch. We had lunch together after Y joined us at Wilma Jean’s Restaurant. We all squeezed back into the rental car, dropped Adam off at the airport to fly back to Sioux City, and then, Mack, Sue, Y, and I drove to Coney Island to enjoy walking along the boardwalk and sharing each other’s company.

Next year, we will cross the Atlantic Ocean for the forty-seventh conference and meet to discuss “Systems and Knowledge.” Forming a joint event with the Current Research in Speculative Fictions at the University of Liverpool, we will meet on June 27-30, 2016 in Liverpool, England. For me, it will be like going home, and I can’t wait!

Stony Brook University Hospital

Minireview: The Reconcilers Graphic Novel Volume 1

The Reconcilers Vol. 1.
The Reconcilers Vol. 1.

While Y and I were sitting for several hours in an airplane–on the ground, I had the pleasure of meeting the writer, actor, and director Erik Jensen. After I mentioned to him that my specific area of training is in Science Fiction, he gave me a graphic novel saying, “here’s some Science Fiction for you.” I was thankful for the gift and thankful for the time on the tarmac to read it!

The graphic novel that he gave me is volume one of The Reconcilers (2010) co-created by R. Emery Bright, Jens Pil Pilegaard, and Jensen. Volume one is written by Jensen and drawn by Shepherd Hendrix. Neal Adams created the cover art.

The narrative takes place in 2165 after the ascendency of religion-like mega-corporations and the gradual establishment of elaborate gladiatorial matches fought by “Reconcilers” to decide disputes between corporate entities. The story  follows Sokor Industries attempting an extra-legal takeover of Hansen Engineering’s claim to the motherlode of exotic, energy-rich “liberty ore.” Hexhammer, Hansen’s miner who discovered the the vein, leads their underdog team against Sokol’s seasoned fighters to keep what they had earned. However, Hexhammer’s past choices threaten his ability to overcome his final confrontation with Sokor’s best Reconciler, “Masakor.”

The megacorporations of Fredrik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants and William Gibson’s Neuromancer, as does Weyland-Yutani of the Alien film series also, inform The Reconcilers.

The Reconcilers has a lot of interesting material for thinking through the convergence of corporate personhood, entertainment, religion, capital, and rule of law. I believe that it would be informative to research and engaging to students.


Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Teaching College Writing, Annotated Bibliography of Teaching SF Resources, June 29, 2008

This is the fifty-third 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.

Before I could accept my teaching fellowship at Kent State University, I needed to take the graduate seminar, “Teaching College English.” I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take this class from Professor Brian Huot. At the time, I thought my primary concern was putting together my first syllabus, but through the seminar, I learned the importance of meeting student needs, considering outcomes, meeting students on the page, helping students improve their command of rhetoric and multimodality with a portfolio, and considering student work holistically (something that I continue to do with the Georgia Tech WCP’s WOVEN modalities and programmatic rubric).

This second of four Recovered Writing posts from Teaching College Writing is a brief annotated bibliography of teaching science fiction resources. Professor Huot asked us to do research in our specific discipline and report back what we found. This kind of work has become an integral part of my professionalization as an educator (research+pedagogy) and reflective practitioner (how did this other person do that–how can I incorporate/modify/adapt their approach into mine–what worked/didn’t work and how can I make it better?).

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Brian Huot

Teaching College Writing

29 June 2008

Teaching Science Fiction Annotated Bibliography

Attebery, Brian. “Teaching Fantastic Literature.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 406-410.

Instead of focusing his course on Science Fiction, Attebery combines fantasy and SF into one course under the umbrella of the fantastic. Again, this is a literature, and not a composition course, but the important lesson to take away from his essay is that students with fantasy/SF backgrounds, which are not necessarily the same thing, as well as students without an inkling of experience with the fantastic all have something to bring to class discussion. Also, some fantastic literature carries more cultural or historic baggage than students may already be acquainted with, which may break down discussion, or require more lecturing or assigned reading in order to prepare students for engaging a particular text.


Bengels, Barbara. “The Pleasures and Perils of Teaching Science Fiction on the College Level.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 428-431.

Bengels builds on examples from Science Fiction and criticism, both on teaching SF, “to address the inherent and unique difficulties of teaching a body of literature that is changing even as we attempt to examine it…to convey the excitement and sense of wonder that continues to set science fiction apart from any other form of literature” (428). Most importantly, she suggests that, “There’s a special sense of community in the sf world that finds its way right into the classroom; new ideas must be bounced off one another, making for very exciting classroom discussions: new words, new worlds, new concepts all to be explored together” (430).


Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Istvan. “The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 385-388.

Csicsery-Ronay begins his essay with this striking line: “Like being hanged, teaching introductory sf courses to undergraduates focuses the mind wonderfully” (385). He is addressing the teaching of Gunn’s SF genre course, but he provides a great framework for introducing students to SF through a handout titled, “WHAT MAKES SCIENCE FICTION SCIENCE FICTION?” (386). This handout, perhaps given after having students read an emblematic SF short story, would be a powerful tool for opening discussion about what constitutes SF and what our students think SF is. Furthermore, he responds to what is implicitly said in Bengels, Gunn, and others when he writes, “My sf texts must also introduce students to important philosophical, social, and literary ideas that they might not encounter anywhere else, given the state of contemporary higher education” (386). This significant accusation reflects the potential of SF to engage students in ideas and critical thought that they would not otherwise encounter.


Elkins, Charles and Darko Suvin. “Preliminary Reflections on Teaching Science Fiction Critically.” Science-Fiction Studies 6 (1979): 263-270.

There are some very practical and insightful contributions by Elkins and Suvin in this Marxist essay regarding the teaching of SF.          The authors propose that, “The main and the highest goal of SF teaching–as of all teaching–ought, in our opinion, to be a specific form of civic education” (267). SF is great for inculcating critical thinking, because SF often turns accepted systems upside-down. Introducing students to this and discussing what’s in the text and what the text leaves out should raise their ability to see beneath the surface of the text. Elkins and Suvin go on to suggest that, “Teaching SF…involves description and assessment, interpretation and evaluation; teaching SF is an act of literary criticism fused with the communication of that criticism” (268). In this passage, the authors are not literary saying that SF is literary criticism in the academic sense of an analysis of Shakespeare, but rather, SF is a critical literature that engages social issues. This is the power of SF that is useful for generating discussion in the introductory college writing classroom.


Evans, Arthur B. and R.D. Mullen. “North American College Courses in Science Fiction, Utopian Literature, and Fantasy.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 437-528.

Evans and Mullen compiled this list of SF, utopian, and fantasy courses complete with descriptions and book lists from colleges and universities all over the world. It also includes lists of works, authors, and films most often assigned.


Finch, Sheila. “Dispatches from the Trenches: Science Fiction in the Classroom.” Extrapolation 41:1 (Spring 2000): 28-35.

Finch writes that SF is a uniquely appropriate genre for stimulating student involvement and discussion, because it serves all the functions of other literature with, “the added distinction of being…a literature of ideas to think about in a peculiarly new way, what Albert Einstein called Gedankenexperimenten” (29). The thought experiment aspect of SF is indeed powerful for generating discussion, because it presents a new view to a (perhaps) mundane subject, and it begs the reader to critically evaluate the thought experiment on the surface narrative as well as what lies beneath. Like Bengels, Finch declares, “SF is a literature of ideas,” which can be employed as a useful tool in developing writing students skills at responding to things that they might not have considered before (31).


Gunn, James. “Teaching Science Fiction.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 377-384.

Gunn’s essay primarily concerns his own approaches to teaching SF as a genre course, and he makes the claim that of all of the SF courses available at various schools, “They seem to be as varied as the colleges and universities at which they are taught, and a number seem to address the question of what science fiction is and how to read it, that is, they are genre courses. But I would argue that there should be more” (377). In regard to his own various approaches to teaching SF, he identifies three course themes: 1) “the great books,” 2) “the ideas in science fiction,” and 3) “the historical approach.” He doesn’t address SF in the introductory writing classroom, but I believe his “ideas” theme is appropriate for generating discussion and leading into student essay topics without the course taking on a literature-laden mood.


Mullen, R.D. “Science Fiction in Academe.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 371-374.

This is a short history of the introduction of SF into the American college classroom. It includes early course descriptions and book lists.


Ontell, Val. “Imagine That! Science Fiction as a Learning Motivation.” Community & Junior College Libraries 12:1 (2003): 57-70.

This essay overflows with numerous examples of SF and fantasy stories, TV shows, and films, and how they may be used to engage our students’ attention and imagination. In addition to all of Ontell’s fabulous lists and contextualizations, she points out how the fantastic is an important learning tool: “Whether the students are in the elementary grades, middle school, high school, or higher, it is the function of teachers and librarians to provide the tools that enable them to question intelligently. Science Fiction provides many vehicles for inculcating those tools in a variety of subjects by stimulating the imagination and thus motivating students to learn” (57). In the writing classroom, building our students’ ability to “question intelligently” is essential to their success as readers and stronger writers.


Samuelson, David N. “Adventures in Paraliterature.” Science-Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov. 1996): 389-392.

Samuelson provides a plethora of author and work successes in his classes. Also, he notes the usefulness of group presentations on particular works or authors to share with the class, and he lauds the use of a “cumulative journal” or portfolio in the classroom.

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate SF Lab Project, “Development of AI in Science Fiction,” Fall 2004

This is the twenty-eighth 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.

In 2002, I took Professor Lisa Yaszek’s Science Fiction class at Georgia Tech. It was an important milestone in my life’s journey, but at that time, I had not yet looked beyond possible career paths in IT or UX design. Then, in early 2004, Professor Yaszek organized a symposium in conjunction with the Georgia Tech Library on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. She invited the SF writer Kathleen Ann Goonan to visit campus and give a reading. At the time, I was in Professor Yaszek’s Gender Studies class and we had read some of Kathy Goonan’s work. I was hooked, and I read more of her novels before her arrival to campus. Then, during the day of her visit, I had the good fortune to speak with her and she was kind enough to give me the gift of her time and conversation.

Later, during the symposium, I was able to speak with Georgia Tech’s former SF professor, Bud Foote. I had heard legends of him when I first started at Tech, but I was never able to take his SF class while he was still teaching. Luckily, I was able to hear him give a presentation for the symposium and talk to him afterward.

After that day of talking with Kathy Goonan and Professor Foote, I told Professor Yaszek that I had made up my mind–I was going to make a career out of studying SF. Ten years later, here I am–an SF scholar doing postdoctoral work at my alma mater!

I noticed that Professor Yaszek had a number of student researchers who helped with the Frankenstein symposium. In addition to organizing the event, they put together some cool research material on a website. I thought that was impressive, and I wondered if I could get involved with that kind of work.

I can’t remember if I asked Professor Yaszek about this or if she told us about it in the Gender Studies class, but I learned that she was planning on a new PURA (Presidential Undergraduate Research Award) funded endeavor for undergraduate Tech students: the SF Lab. The goal for each student in the group would be to contribute 1) an introduction to a specific SF topic, 2) a linked bibliography on the SF topic selected, 3)  an annotated bibliography of important works featuring that topic found in the Georgia Tech Science Fiction Collection (formerly the Bud Foote Science Fiction Collection), and finally, 4) related resources at Tech being developed in the real world. I jumped at this opportunity and proposed to write an entry on artificial intelligence.

After winning a PURA award for my project proposal, I worked with several other students to workshop our individual projects. We had weekly meetings for workshopping each part of the project. The introduction took longer than the other parts, because it involved more writing and integrated research. Each SF Lab researcher would bring printouts of his or her work to circulate with the others and Professor Yaszek. We would take the feedback, revise for the next week, and return with a new draft. It was a streamlined process that involved a lot of revision work, but I cannot thank Professor Yaszek enough for helping me integrate that kind of rigor into my revision processes. It has repaid me in spades over the years.

The following is my SF Lab project on AI. Please note that the links might be outdated and/or dead.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Lisa Yaszek

SF Lab Independent Research Project for

Fall 2004

Development of AI in SF

Part I – Introduction

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is intelligence and self-awareness demonstrated by a physical but inorganic artifact.  AI researchers include experts from a coalition of diverse disciplines including computer science (software written for computer hardware) and psychology (unraveling the human software running on biological hardware).

John McCarthy is credited as first coining the term “artificial intelligence” in the August 31, 1955 paper he coauthored, “The Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence.”  This research project took place in the Summer of 1956 and its proposal states in the first paragraph that “The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it” (1).  McCarthy’s definition continues to be the accepted broad definition of AI.  Science fiction (SF) authors internalized this definition in their works that involve AI.  Patricia S. Warrick explicitly states the human focus of AI built into McCarthy’s definition when she writes in her 1980 book, The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction, “Artificial intelligence…attempts to discover and describe aspects of human intelligence that can be simulated by machines” (11).

SF is the primary literature field in which authors explore stories about AI.  SF authors are generally concerned only with “strong AI” or self-aware, intelligent machines that mimic human cognition.  However, there are a few stories that address “weak AI” which are programs that act as if they are intelligent, but not self-aware.  SF authors have written about the possibilities of AI as well as the issues surrounding artificial intelligence.  There are three main types of AI stories:  analog dystopic AI (1872-1930), digital utopic AI (1930-1950), and digital dystopic AI (1950-Present).

Analog dystopic AI stories first appear in the late 19th century and they are characterized by anxieties about the dangerous nature of analog machine intelligences (built of gears and cogs instead of transistors).  The first reference to machine intelligence occurs in Samuel Butler’s satire Erewhon (1872).  Butler accomplished his goal of satirizing the theory of evolution by applying evolution to machines.  These machines become self-aware and come to control man.  Other stories from this period involved automatons (mechanical men that displayed intelligence) that were built for an intellectual purpose such as playing chess.  An example of this is Ambrose Bierce’s “Moxon’s Master” (1894) which had a dystopic ending that involved the mechanical chess player killing its creator after being checkmated.  These dystopian stories of analog AI continued to dominate the first three decades of the 20th century.  Karl Capek’s R.U.R. (1921), which introduced the term “robot” to the English language, is a another prime example of this storytelling.

American SF ignited in the 1930s with a shift to digital utopian stories that feature digital machine intelligences (e.g., positronic brains, transistors, and integrated circuits).  John W. Campbell’s story, “When the Atoms Fail” (1930) is the first to describe a machine that is unquestionably a digital computer (though not self-aware).  His next computer story, “The Last Evolution” (1932) is about a machine that has independent thought.  In the 1940s Campbell helped Isaac Asimov create the Three Laws of Robotics in his robot stories and Asimov establishes himself as “the father of robot stories in SF” (Warrick, 54).  These digital utopic AI stories present machines as predictable reasoning beings that follow rules that allow them to live and work with humans.  They do not explore the philosophical ramifications of the creation of artificial life.  Additionally, Asimov’s 1950 publication of I, Robot, which is a collection of his first robot short stories, can be said to be an end point to the digital utopic AI era.

After World War II, SF authors wrote digital dystopic AI stories to explore questions concerning the ethics of a science and technology that produced the nuclear bomb (and the first digital computers).  Two notable works from the early part of this era are Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey (1968) and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968).  These authors place an emphasis on the philosophical and ethical conflicts that may develop when humanity creates new life in the form of artificial brains that mirror the human mind.  More recently, depictions of self-aware AIs have become extremely elaborate as the real world entered a much more computerized and inter-networked era.  William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) in particular and cyberpunk in general further expand the scope of digital dystopic AI stories by interlinking AI, cybernetics, and global capitalism.

Thus, AI is a historically embedded concept in SF literature.  The science and technology behind AI has evolved from mere conjecture to a closer possibility.  Authors of AI stories take the science and technology of their historical moments and extrapolate the forms that AI might take.  Furthermore, AI authors discuss, both implicitly and explicitly, the philosophical and ethical issues that inevitably arise with new technology and more specifically with the creation of self-aware machines.

Part II – Linked Bibliography

A.  Theory and Criticism

i.  Theory

Kurzweil, Ray.  The Age of Intelligent Machines.  Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 1990.

Link to:

McCarthy, J., M. L. Minsky, N. Rochester, and C. E. Shannon.  “A Proposal for      the       Dartmouth Summer     Research Project on Artificial Intelligence.”  August 31,       1955.

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Minsky, Marvin.  The Society of Mind.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1988.

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Neumann, John von.  The Computer and the Brain.  New Haven, CT:  Yale University          Press, 1958.

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Turning, A.M.  “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”  Mind 59: 236 (1950):


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ii.  Criticism

Clute, John and Peter Nicholls, eds.  The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.  New York:         St. Martin’s Press, 1995.


Lem, Stanislaw.  “Robots in Science Fiction.”  SF:  The Other Side of Realism,      ed.       Thomas D. Clareson.  Bowling Green, KY:  Bowling Green University Popular      Press, 1971.

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Stork, David G.  ed.  HAL’s Legacy:  2001’s Computer as Dream and Reality.          Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 1996.

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Telotte, J.P.  Replications:  A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film.  Urbana, IL:        University of   Illinois Press, 1995.

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Warrick, Patricia S.  The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction.  Cambridge, MA:         MIT Press, 1980.

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B.  Primary texts

i.  Analog Dystopic AI

Bierce, Ambrose.  “Moxon’s Master.”  1894.

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Butler, Samuel.  Erewhon.  1872.

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Capek, Karl.  R.U.R.  1921.

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Merritt, Abraham.  The Metal Monster.  New York:  F.A. Munsey, August 7, 1920 (serialized over 8 issues in Argosy All-Story Weekly).

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ii.  Digital Utopic AI

Asimov, Isaac.  I, Robot.  New York:  Gnome Press, 1950.

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Campbell, John W., Jr. “The Last Evolution.” Amazing August 1932.

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iii.  Digital Dystopic AI

Clarke, Arthur C.  2001:  A Space Odyssey.  New York:  New American Library, 1968.

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Dick, Philip K.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  New York:  Doubleday, 1968.

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Ellison, Harlan.  “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.”  If March 1967.

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Gibson, William.  Neuromancer.  New York:  Ace Books, 1984.

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Herbert, Frank.  Destination:  Void.  New York:  Berkley, 1966.  Revised edition, 1978.

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Lem, Stanislaw.  The Cyberiad:  Fables for the Cybernetic Age.  New York:  The Seabury Press, 1974.

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C.  Films

i.  Analog Dystopic AI

Metropolis.  Dir. Fritz Lang.  Paramount Pictures, 1927.

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The Phantom Empire.  Dir. B. Reeves Eason.  Mascot, 1935.

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The Wizard of Oz.  Dir. Victor Fleming.  Metro-Golwyn-Mayer, 1939.

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ii.  Digital Utopic AI

Forbidden Planet.  Dir. Fred M. Wilcox.  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1956.

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Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  Paramount Pictures, TV series 1987-1994.

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Star Trek:  Voyager.  Paramount Pictures, TV series 1995-2001.

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Star Wars.  Dir. George Lucas.  20th Century Fox, 1977.

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Tank Girl.  Dir. Rachel Talalay.  United Artists, 1995.

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iii.  Digital Dystopic AI

2001: A Space Odyssey.  Dir. Stanley Kubrick.  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1968.

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A.I.:  Artificial Intelligence.  Dir. Stephen Spielberg.  DreamWorks, 2001.

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Colossus:  The Forbin Project.  Dir. Joseph Sargent.  Universal, 1969.

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Dark Star.  Dir. John Carpenter. 1974.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Dir.  Robert Wise.  20th Century Fox, 1951.

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Logan’s Run.  Dir. Michael Anderson.  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1976.

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The Matrix.  Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski.  Warner Brothers, 1999.

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Star Trek:  The Motion Picture.  Dir. Robert Wise.  Paramount Pictures, 1979.

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The Stepford Wives.  Dir. Bryan Forbes.  Columbia Pictures, 1975.

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The Terminator.  Dir. James Cameron.  Orion Pictures, 1984.

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Tron.  Dir. Steven Lisberger.  Buena Vista, 1982.

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WarGames.  Dir. John Badham.  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1983.

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Westworld.  Dir. Michael Crichton.  MGM, 1973.

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D.  Websites

i.  Theory

American Association for Artificial Intelligence.  2004.  September 7, 2004  <;.

“Artificial intelligence.”  Wikipedia.  September 8, 2004.  September 12, 2004.         <;.

Association for Computing Machinery.  2004.  September 7, 2004    <;.

Winston, Patrick.  6.803/6.833 The Human Intelligence Enterprise, Spring 2002.  MIT        OpenCourseWare.  September 9, 2004, <           Engineering-and-Computer-    Science/6-803The-Human-Intelligence-            EnterpriseSpring2002/CourseHome/index.htm>.

ii.  Literature Resources

Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections, Combined Edition.

William G. Contento.  2003.  September 7, 2004        <;.

Internet Speculative Fiction Database.  Ed. Al von Ruff.  August 22, 2004.  September 7,      2004 <;.

Isaac Asimov Home Page.  Edward Seiler.  2004.  September 7, 2004           <;.

iii.  Film Resources

Science Fiction Films.  Tim Dirks.  2004.  September 7, 2004           <;.  Science Fiction Cinema.  2004.  September 7, 2004              <;.

iv.  Link Collections

AI on the Web.  Peter  Norvig and Stuart Russell.  January 31, 2003.  September 7, 2004     <;.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database.  Hal W. Hall.  June 24, 2004.         September 9, 2004 <;

Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide.  2004.  September 15, 2004     <;.

Part III – Resources in the Bud Foote SF Collection

Part III (1 of 4)

Karl Capek – R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)

Karl Capek’s 1921 play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) is an example of an analog dystopic AI.  This work introduces the term “robot” to the English language, but the Robots (Capek’s capitalization) in R.U.R. are more like androids than robots.  The Robots are shaped like humans, but the character Domin says that they are made “from a different matter than we are.”  These Robots have perfect memories but they are not self-aware.  Memory is divorced from self-analysis.  Using industrial chemical processes, the Robots’ individual pieces (arms, legs, organs, etc.) are cooked up from “batter” in “kneading troughs” and “mixing vats.”  Then, those components are mated into a whole Robot in an assembly line operation.  Thus, gears and cogs are not present in Capek’s Robots, but the means of its creation are partially mechanical as well as chemical.

The leaders of R.U.R. are attempting to create a utopia for humanity by pushing off the drudgery of work onto the many Robots that it creates.  Dr. Gall, who is in charge of the “physiological and research divisions of R.U.R.,” modifies a few robots to be more human-like, and in doing so, “they stopped being machines.”  These modified Robots incite the other robots to destroy all of humanity, their collective oppressor.  After all of the humans save one are destroyed, the Robots begin to fear death.  The last human, Alquist, who is the constructor of R.U.R., is told by his captors to rediscover the lost science of creating Robots.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter that Alquist fails.  When he witnesses the beginning of love between two modified Robots, Helena and Primus, he exclaims, “Now let Thy servant depart in peace O Lord, for my eyes have beheld…Thy deliverance through love, and life shall not perish!”  It doesn’t matter that Alquist is unable to build new Robots because somehow things have changed (either through Dr. Gall’s undisclosed modifications or through some other process) so that the Robots are capable of being human (e.g., feeling emotions of love, fear of death, and being able to procreate).

Part III (2 of 4)

Isaac Asimov – I, Robot

Isaac Asimov’s short story collection, I, Robot (originally published by Gnome Press, 1950) is primarily representative of digital utopic AI.  The collection contains nine of Asimov’s early robot stories.  The stories are tied together as an interview with the retiring robopsychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin.  She is the best choice for this narrative because she is there from the beginning, literally.  She is born in the same year that U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. is founded and later, after she obtains her Ph.D. she is hired by U.S. Robots as a “‘Robopsychologist,’ becoming the first great practitioner of a new science” (I, Robot xii).  She bridges the physical sciences with the science of the (robot) mind.  Also, all of the stories are linked by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics which are supposed to control the way that a robot reacts and reasons.  These Laws, as listed in the short story “Runaround,” dictate that:

(1) A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

(2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

(3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

A strong example of digital utopic AI appears in “Evidence.”  This story introduces Stephen Byerley, who is running for the mayor’s office.  The problem is that his opponent believes that he is a robot.  The circumstantial evidence points to the possibility of Byerley being a robot, but even if he is, then he would be the best person for the job because by following the Three Laws he would be the perfect caretaker for his constituency.

Most of the stories in I, Robot are utopic because the robots are depicted as being humanity’s helpers and caretakers, but there is one dystopic story, “Little Lost Robot,” in which a Nestor robot tries to run away and, when he is discovered, to kill Dr. Calvin.  Asimov’s carefully crafted Three Laws provide stability in robots’ positronic brains.  The Nestor robot featured in this story has a shortened version of the First Law which is stated as, “No robot may harm a human being” (I, Robot 143).  The weakened First Law allows this robot to develop a superiority complex, which leads to its attempt to kill Dr. Calvin when she discovers him.  Thus Asimov uses even his dystopic robot stories to demonstrate the significance of a robot’s programming upon its relationship to humanity.

Part III (3 of 4)

Arthur C. Clarke – 2001:  A Space Odyssey

Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey is an example of a digital dystopic AI story.  A select few humans learn that mankind is not alone in the universe after an alien artifact (the Monolith) is discovered buried under the surface of the moon.  When the Monolith is exposed to the Sun, it emits a brief, but intense radio signal that is directed toward Japetus, one of Saturn’s moons.  The spacecraft, Discovery, is sent to Japetus carrying one AI and five humans.  The AI is a HAL 9000 computer system, known simply as Hal.  Of the five humans aboard Discovery, three are in hibernation.  The two who are awake, Dave Bowman and Frank Poole, maintain the ship with Hal.  Eventually, a conflict develops in Hal’s “subconscious” because it cannot reveal the true nature of the Discovery’s mission to Bowman and Poole.  This leads Hal to make mistakes that Bowman and Poole interpret as threats on their lives.  After Hal kills Poole, Bowman chooses to “disconnect” (i.e., kill) Hal in order to regain control of the ship.  Bowman goes on to Japetus where he finds a larger Monolith.  This Monolith is actually a “Star Gate” that transports him far from our solar system.  When Dave reaches his final destination, the aliens transform him into a being without physicality, but as a child with eons before it in which to grow.

Although the story as a whole addresses human evolution, the sequence with Hal is both the longest and most gripping, demonstrating Clarke’s specific interest in the similarities between human and machine evolution.  Evolution manifests itself through human and machine programming.  The monolith programs early humans and modern humans program Hal.  Hal appears to be crazy and intent on murdering his crewmates.  This is why Bowman chooses to disconnect him.  However, Hal is an AI whose identity is built on software and hardware that is too complex for one person to comprehend the whole system.  There is a reason to his madness and no reasonable amount of prior testing might have elicited Hal’s behavior aboard the Discovery.  He was ordained with priorities and mission objectives that acted as a program that must be run to completion because that is what computers do–run programs.  Because Hal’s “mind” is modeled after the human mind, the symptoms and actions that Hal exhibits are similar to the way in which a neurotic human might act.  Despite what Hal has done we feel sorry for him by the end because, like humans, he fears death.

Part III (4 of 4)

William Gibson’s – Neuromancer

William Gibson’s 1984 novel, Neuromancer is a more recent example of digital dystopic AI and a prime example of the cyberpunk movement in SF.  The story is set in Earth’s future where an AI called Wintermute who has a compulsion to connect/merge with another AI called Neuromancer.  Wintermute orchestrates his liberation by bringing together several carefully chosen humans who can beat the failsafe that keeps him caged in the Berne AI mainframe.  Case, the net cowboy, works with a construct and a military grade virus to break through the ICE security around the Berne AI mainframe.  Molly is a razor girl who protects Case and she interacts with the physical world while Case jacks into the matrix.  Armitage serves as a physical presence for Wintermute in the same way that a computer construct in the matrix works on behalf of a human operator.  After the ICE is broken with the help of Case’s associates, Wintermute is able to merge with Neuromancer to become an entity greater than anyone could have imagined.

The story involves several instances of AI designed by humans for human ends.  The lowest form of AI is the Braun, a small spider like work robot that Wintermute uses to guide Molly and Case inside the Villa Straylight.  One of the highest forms is the construct, Dixie Flatline.  A construct is a limited form of AI based on the memories and experiences of a dead human being, in this case the famous hacker, McCoy Pauley.  The two primary examples of course, are the strong AIs present in Wintermute and Neuromancer.  Wintermute is a calculating AI that is explicit in its manipulations.  Neuromancer is more personality based and he uses subtle manipulation.  Wintermute is located in hardware in Berne while Neuromancer is running on hardware in Rio.  These two AI entities are two halves of one whole.  The mega-corporation, Tessier-Ashpool, which gave birth to these AIs, had them separated with safeguards imposed by the Turing police.  They both have limited citizenships as individuals because of their self-awareness, but the extent of their knowing and understanding has been limited due to the division.  As the reader learns, Marie-France, the matriarch of the Tessier-Ashpool clan, probably implanted the drive within Wintermute to break free and unite with his “brother,” Neuromancer.  Not surprisingly, these AIs use the products of capitalism (e.g., hiring “mercenaries” and using information as power over others) to shuck their chains binding them to Tessier-Ashpool.  Thus, the AIs use human beings for AI ends.

Part IV – Other related resources at Tech

(divided into three sections:  Portals, Labs, and People)

A) Portals

Artificial Intelligence at Georgia Tech

This interdisciplinary website links together the different major schools and research teams that are involved in AI at Georgia Tech.

Innovations @ Georgia Tech

This is a PR multimedia site that details the work in robots and intelligent machines being done at Georgia Tech.  There are interviews with Dr. Ron Arkin and Dr. Tucker Balch of the BORG Lab.

Robotics at Georgia Tech

This website is a clearinghouse of links to faculty involved in robotics at Georgia Tech as well as courses offered such as, “Computational Perception and Robotics Seminar.”

Cognitive Science @ Georgia Tech

This website supports the interdisciplinary field of cognitive science at Georgia Tech.  It includes links to research websites and abstracts as well as faculty publications.

B) Labs

Experiment Game Lab at Georgia Tech

The EGL explores the edge of game design with AI being one of the technologies focused on for game design.  The lab’s website offers links to current and past projects, happenings, and links.

Intelligent Systems and Robotics

IS&R works toward increasing autonomy of computer controlled systems by making those systems more intelligent.  This website includes links to publications, seminar series, and courses offered at Tech.

Georgia Tech Mobile Robot Lab

The Georgia Tech Mobile Robot Lab is involved in developing intelligent mobile robots.  Their website has links to current research, publications, software, and a gallery of video and images of their work.

GVU Center @ Georgia Tech

The GVU (Graphics, Visualization, and Usability) Center pushes the envelope of technology involved with the interaction between humans, computers, and information.  This website offers links to current research, education resources at Georgia Tech, and upcoming events.

The BORG Lab at Georgia Tech

Using the idea of the collective consciousness of the Borg from Star Trek, these researchers are developing collaborative agents and systems for humans and machines.  Their website has links to research, publications, courses, and software.

Intelligent Machine Dynamics Lab at Georgia Tech

This lab develops intelligent machines for many different roles and applications.  The lab is research oriented by the target is to develop real world applications.  Their website offers links to current projects, publications, and sponsors.

Georgia Tech Aerial Robotics

This team develops an entry for the International Aerial Robotics Competition which involves building a flying machine that has sensors and intelligence enabling the machine to complete an assigned task.

C) People

Ronald Arkin, Regent’s Professor in College of Computing at Georgia Tech

His website has links to his work in AI and robotics as well as links to the labs that he is involved in at Tech.

Michael Mateas, Associate Professor in LCC at Georgia Tech

His home page has links to his work as well as a definition of “expressive AI.”

Grand Text Auto

This is “a group blog about procedural narrative, games, poetry, and art.”  Michael Mateas, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, Andrew Stern, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin contribute to the blog.  Some of these researchers study AI applications in their work.  There are also many links to related blogs and web resources.

Aaron Bobick, Director of GVU Center at Georgia Tech

This website has links to his current research, publications, and to the Computational Research Lab.

Tucker Balch, Assistant Professor in GVU Center at Georgia Tech

His website has links to his work in the GVU Center and the Borg Lab.

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Astronomy Class, PHYS 2021, Sunset Observation Project, Fall 2004

This is the ninth 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.

My “Sunset Observation Project” was a semester-long project in Professor James Sowell’s PHYS 2021 class in Fall 2004. Originally, I tried taking this class from Professor Sowell when I was having a lot of trouble  in school in the late 1990s. So, when I returned to Georgia Tech after a stint in the business world, I made a point to complete Professor Sowell’s class. I wanted to prove to myself that I could succeed in this class, and I wanted to prove to Professor Sowell, who I considered an engaging and interested instructor, that I could succeed in his class. Ultimately, I did well in this class and the second Astronomy class on large-scale astronomy that Professor Sowell also taught.

This project helped me begin getting back into shape, because I choose to do it the hard way: instead of observing the sunset from campus, I went to the best observation place outside the city on top of Stone Mountain. This meant that I had to hike up to the top with my tripod and camera on a regular basis.

I used Adobe Photoshop to create a line-drawn skyline and to measure my observations consistently by using layers.

While I am posting my Sunset Observation Project as-is (meaning all of the mistakes contained below are mine), I continue to tell my students today that Professor Sowell was one of the professors who helped me with my writing, because I read his comments and listened to his advice. The takeaway for my students is that we can improve on our writing, communication, and composition anywhere and anytime–even in a class about our great solar system.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor James Sowell

PHYS 2021

Fall 2004

Sunset Observation Project



The Sunset Observation Project is designed to use long established techniques to chart the progression of the Sun across the horizon over the course of one school semester. It allows the student to become more aware of the motion of the Earth, both on its axis as well as its orbit around the Sun.


Over the course of the semester each student will make a number of observations of the Sun setting.  Each observation must be made from the same location and a point of reference should be chosen along the horizon so that the Sun’s change in location can be measured using the hand and fingers as angular measuring devices.  Each observation should be about a week or more apart so that a discernible change can be observed.

I made my observations from the same spot west of downtown Atlanta on top of Stone Mountain.  I expect smog and weather to cause some problems with observing sunsets, but Stone Mountain provides an excellent view of the horizon due to its height and distance away from tall buildings.

Observational Data

Date of Observation

Time of Sunset

Degrees from Reference Point

Place of Observation

Weather Conditions

Aug 30, 2004

8:05 pm EST

0 deg

Stone Mountain

Cloudy and Hazy

Sep 9, 2004

7:51 pm EST

5 deg S

Stone Mountain


Sep 18, 2004

7:39 pm EST

10 deg S

Stone Mountain


Oct 15, 2004

6:51 pm EST

26 deg S

Stone Mountain


Oct 31, 2004

5:45 pm EST

30 deg S

Stone Mountain

Cloudy and Hazy


August 30, 2004

image005This was my first solar observation of the semester.  It was also the first time that I had climbed Stone Mountain.  I learned a lot on this first trip about giving myself enough time to hike the 1.4 miles to the top as well as bringing some Gatorade along because the outside water fountain wasn’t working.

image007The cloud cover and haze was a problem that I encountered all semester.  It was difficult to arrange times to hike to the top of Stone Mountain that took into account my school schedule, work schedule, and the weather.  If I had considered these logistical problems beforehand, I would have chosen to make my observations from a window in one of Tech’s buildings.

September 9, 2004

image009This was a good day to hike to the top of Stone Mountain.  Unfortunately, there were distant clouds which obscured the setting of the sun so I had to take my picture while the sun was still above the building tops.

image011The sun moved approximately 5 degrees South of the building that I used for a reference point during the semester of observations.

September 18, 2004

image013There was only a slight haze in the distance when I made this observation.  By this time, I had begun to enjoy hiking to the top of Stone Mountain.  I brought a friend along on the first observation, but no one would join me for any of other observations.

image015The Sun is approximately 10 degrees South of my first observation.

October 15, 2004

image017The Sun had moved a great deal since my last observation.  Weather (i.e., hurricanes) and a busy schedule makes these observations difficult to make because of the time involved going to Stone Mountain and hiking to the top.

image019The Sun is about 26 degrees South of my first observation.

October 31, 2004

image021This is the last observation that I made for this project.  It was a hazy evening which made it difficult to get a good picture of the setting Sun.

image023The Sun is now 30 degrees South of where I began observing it in August.  It has moved across the horizon of a good deal of metro Atlanta.


The Sun was observed to move in a southwardly direction.  From a top-down view, it would appear to be moving in a counterclockwise motion along the horizon.  The rate of change seemed to be larger at the beginning of the semester.  The first three observations covered equal times, but the amount of change increased from the 8/30-9/9 period to the 9/9-9/18 period.  This pattern changed for the last two observations, which covered a greater time between the two observations (16 days), but there was only a 4 degree change in the position of the Sun.  This is probably due to the Sun’s arc across the sky decreasing as the year progresses.  The Sun is lower in the sky so it does not have as far to travel across the sky later in the year.

The Sun should rise about 180 degrees from where it sets if it strictly rose in the East and set in the West.  The Sun does not do this because the inclination of the Earth causes the Sun to appear to be low or high in the sky during the course of the year.  This generates our seasons because the angle of light hitting the Earth’s surface changes as the Earth makes its way around the Sun during the year.  The length of the day gets shorter as the year progresses because the Sun cuts a smaller arc in the sky.  Less distance without any drastic changes in speed means that the Sun doesn’t spend as much time in the sky each day as the year progresses.

Noon is still the time at which the Sun is at its highest point in the sky, but this highest point changes during the course of the semester.  This point will get lower and lower until the Winter Solstice when the Sun will begin to move North again and its path across the sky will likewise get higher too.

Before this project, I had never been to the top of Stone Mountain.  Now I have been up to the top many times!  Observing the Moon and the Sun during the semester has made me more aware of the motions and orientations of the Moon, Earth, and Sun.  Before I had a vague awareness of how these things moved and were orientated, but now I have a much better grasp of the subject.

Some problems that I encountered had to do with the weather.  The barrage of hurricanes in late September and October caused a lot of bad weather here in Atlanta.  In addition, it is difficult to arrange times to hike to the top of Stone Mountain when you have school and work schedules to deal with.  I am pleased with the outcome of my Sunset Observation Project, but I wish that I had been able to make more observations.  Because of this project, I will continue hiking to the top of Stone Mountain to watch the sunset.

Georgia Tech Library Tours Promote Writing and Communication Success in ENGL1101/1102 and LCC3403

Georgia Tech Library's Main Entrance
Georgia Tech Library’s Rotunda Entrance

Last Friday, I brought my ENGL1101 (College Writing I) and LCC3403 (Technical Communication) students to the Georgia Tech Library for a tour of the facilities and services (and archives for LCC3403).

I believe that libraries are an incredibly important part of one’s on-going learning, personal development, and professional distinction. Libraries aggregate knowledge for its readers through books, journals, databases, and other media. Libraries make it possible for readers to build connections between sources of knowledge, visualize relationships between books on the shelf or articles in a database, and discover things chaotically, serendipitously, and orderly. Libraries, in their own right, are a university for the self-motivated, curiosity-fueled learner. It is the kind of place where people like Ray Bradbury earn a cap and gown.

For these reasons, I am a firm believer in taking my students to the library early each semester and reminding them of its virtues and possibilities throughout the semester. I tell my students that the library is one place where you can grow beyond your peers and become part of a larger conversation in your field of study (or in other domains of knowledge that might enrich their success in untold ways). Furthermore, the Library is the embodiment of interdisciplinarity, because it unites all the disciplines’ collected knowledge in one place for all students and faculty.

Practically, I encourage them to use the library early and often so that they won’t think that it is difficult or hard later on when it might count a lot more in their studies.

Librarian Sherri Brown
Librarian Sherri Brown

With the help of Sherri Brown, the reference and subject librarian for the School of Literature, Media, and Communication and the Writing and Communication Program, I easily reserved a time for each tour and she coordinated with the other librarians and staff to pull off a well-orchestrated, hour-long tour.

Inside the Rotunda
Inside the Rotunda

We began in the rotunda entrance of the Library for a brief introduction to the library and its computing resources.

Learning about the Multimedia Studio
Learning about the Multimedia Studio

Then, we walked downstairs into the basement to visit the Multimedia Studio and its terrific wide-format plotter.

First Floor East Commons near the Science Fiction Collection
First Floor East Commons near the Science Fiction Collection

We stopped by the first floor, east to see the circulating Science Fiction collection before going upstairs to the second floor, east to see the periodicals and microfiche area.

Second Floor East and Periodicals and Microfiche
Second Floor East and Periodicals and Microfiche

Then, Justin Ellis, Library Associate in charge of Gadgets talked with my students about the many technologies from cameras to laptops to tablets that can be checked out for fun or study (or both).

Justin Ellis
Justin Ellis
Gadgets, like books, are a technology to be circulated via the Library.
Gadgets, like books, are a technology to be circulated via the Library.

My LCC3403 students had a special treat on their tour, because we visited the Georgia Tech Archives where Jody Thompson, the Head of Archives, introduced institute-oriented holdings (e.g., the Technique or planning reports) and how to search them. They will be using the Archives as part of their final project to propose and implement a technical communication solution to a problem that they identify around campus.

Head of Archives Jody Thompson
Head of Archives Jody Thompson
Learning about the Archives
Learning about the Archives

Many thanks to Sherri, Justin, and Jody for helping my students navigate and use Georgia Tech’s incredible Library!

Down and Dirty Guide to Literary Research with Digital Humanities Tools: Text Mining Basics

2010-10-05 - IMG_2791
Miao and Jason get things done with computers!

As part of the final Digital Pedagogy seminar of fall 2012, Margaret Konkol, Patrick McHenry, Olga Menagarishvili, and I will lead the discussion on “trends in the digital humanities.” You can find out more about our readings and other DH resources by reading our TECHStyle post here.

As part of my contribution to the seminar, I will give a demo titled, “Down and Dirty Guide to Literary Research with Digital Humanities Tools: Text Mining Basics.” In my presentation, I will show how traditional literary scholars can employ computers, cameras, and software to enhance their research.

To supplement my presentation, I created the following outline with links to useful resources.

Down and Dirty Guide to Literary Research with Digital Humanities Tools: Text Mining Basics

  1. Text Analysis and Text Mining
    1. My working definition of text mining: “Studying texts with computers and software to uncover new patterns, overlooked connections, and deeper meaning.”
    2. What is Text Analysis: Electronic Texts and Text Analysis by Geoffrey Rockwell and Ian Lancashire
    3. Text mining on Wikipedia
    4. Text Mining as a Research Tool by Ryan Shaw (an excellent resource with a presentation and links to more useful material on and offline)
  2. Advantages to Digital Research Materials
    1. Ask Interesting Questions That Would Otherwise Be Too Difficult or Time Consuming to Ask
    2. Efficiency
    3. Thoroughness
    4. Find New Patterns
    5. Develop Greater Insight
  3. Types of Digital Research Materials
    1. Your Notes
    2. eBooks
    3. eJournals
  4. Digitizing Your Own Research Materials
    1. What to Digitize
      1. Primary Sources
      2. Secondary Sources
    2. How to Digitize
      1. Acquire
        1. Camera > high resolution JPG
        2. Scanner > high resolution TIFF or JPG
      2. Collate as PDF
        1. Adobe Acrobat X Pro (now XI!)
        2. PDFCreator
        3. Mac OS X Preview
      3. Perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to generate machine readable/searchable plain text
        1. Adobe Acrobat X Pro
          1. Print PDF to a letter size PDF
          2. Tool > Recognize Text
        2. DevonThink
        3. Use Google
        4. Others?
      4. Save As/Export plain text > .txt files
      5. Engage the “Text” in New Ways
        1. New Ways of Seeing “Texts”
          1. Keyword Search
          2. Line Search
          3. Word Counts
          4. Concordance
          5. Patterns
        2. Tools to Help with Seeing “Texts”
          1. AntConc
          2. BBEdit (“It doesn’t suck” ®)
          3. MacOS X and Linux: cat, find, grep, and print (use “man cat” and “man grep” to learn more from the Terminal. More info herehere, here, here, and here.)
          4. DevonThink
          5. Notepad++
          6. Mac OS X Spotlight/Windows 7 Search
          7. TextEdit
          8. Others?
Miao awaits digitization.

Back from Two Week Trip to UC-Riverside and the Eaton Science Fiction Collection

From February 5 to 18, I researched in the Eaton Science Fiction Fiction and Fantasy Collection the University of California, Riverside‘s Tomas Rivera Library. As I mentioned last year, I was very appreciative to have won an R. D. Mullen Fellowship to fund my travel and accommodations for the research-oriented trip.

Professor Rob Latham administers the fellowship and the science fiction work at UC-Riverside, which includes an annual SF symposium and the biannual Eaton Conference co-hosted with the library’s special collections. He is a gracious host, and I enjoyed our conversations while I was in Riverside.

UC-Riverside is building a strong constellation in science fiction studies. Besides Latham at the helm, the university recently hired the science fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson into the creative writing program. Now, the university is conducting a new hire for a science fiction media studies person (I applied, but alas, I didn’t make the short list). I suspect more the university will continue to grow in this direction–at least, I hope that it does, because it can grow the SF program around the significant holdings of the library.

The Eaton Collection is located on the fourth floor of the Thomas Rivera Library and its hours of operation are from 9:00am to 5:00pm Monday through Friday. I planned my trip so that I would have two full weeks to work in the special collections to conduct research for my dissertation chapter on Philip K. Dick, his 2-3-74 visions, and his health problems. In the event that I found as much material related to Dick’s work as possible, I also planned a contengency set of materials on the following chapter on William Gibson’s work.

I am very happy to report that I achieved both goals and went a bit beyond my original set of documents thanks to cross referenced connections as well as new leads produced by my readings. Additionally, Reference Library Gwido Zlatkes turned me onto the two boxes of Philip K. Dick archival materials, which included some very cool autographed materials along with a full run of the Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter and other rare magazines and fanzines (including the November 6, 1975 Rolling Stone article).

I began my research by reading the full thirty issue run of The Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter, which includes a double issue (#9/10) on cassette tape—one side being an interview conducted by Paul Williams with Dick and the other side Dick recording writing notes. The experience of fast-forwarding Dick’s posthumous canonization yielded more primary sources than I could have hoped for in letters and interviews. Interviews with Dick’s friends and former spouses also provide important corroboration and clarification of Dick’s sometimes-unreliable personal narratives.

References in the Newsletter, combined with other research done before my visit to Riverside, led me to other interviews, notes, and reviews in fanzines including: The Alien Critic (later Science Fiction Review), Algol (later Starship), and The Patchin Review, and magazines including: Locus, Vertex, Science Fiction Eye, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Analog.

After exhausting my leads in the collection related to Dick’s later fictions and personal life, I spent the last three days collecting research for the William Gibson chapter of my dissertation. I focused on the Locus reporting of Gibson’s success following the publication of Neuromancer in 1984 and later interviews with the writer in 1991 and 2003. I was pleased to find a fanzine co-edited by Gibson titled Genre Plat, but Gibson’s essay, “Blues for Horselover Fat” in the fanzine Wing Window provides the strongest evidence that I can use to bridge my chapters on Dick and Gibson.

To fill out the time that I was in the library, I also found photographs and reports of past Science Fiction Research Association meetings, including the one hosted at Kent State University in the mid-1980s where Samuel R. Delany was honored with the Pilgrim Award.

My UC-Riverside visit was punctuated with a weekend visit to see Patrick and Sharon Sharp in Los Angeles. They played hosts and guides to my first visit to the strange world of LA–a place that actually felt like another country to me. We visited the Little Tokyo area for lunch and snacks and then strolled through the Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MOCA) Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles photography exhibition (Weegee was doing amazing stuff with photography!). We also enjoyed the sunset from the top of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel (a fascinating hotel with interesting designs and spaces, but is it really postmodern? I think that a better case could be made for Riverside’s Mission Inn in that respect). I also got to meet their very friendly cat, Tonks.

I believe that the research trip (and my first trip to California for that matter) was a smashing success! I have many materials that I have notes on and many other materials that I need to review again. I also got to reconnect with friends and colleagues there: Pawel Frelik, Mark Biswas, and William Sun.

You can see my photos from around Riverside and Los Angeles on Flickr here.

New Venue for SF Scholarship: James Gunn’s Ad Astra

I received the following call for submissions for a new science fiction journal called James Gunn’s Ad Astra. It sounds very exciting, and I plan to submit work in the future. You should, too!

James Gunn’s Ad Astra is a new online publication dedicated to the study, advancement, and celebration of speculative fiction in the twenty-first century. Ad Astra will be edited by volunteers at the Center for the Study of Science fiction at the University of Kansas. Each issue will feature an assortment of stories, reviews, scholarly articles, and poems about science fiction, fantasy, horror and other genres of speculative art and literature.

The first issue of Ad Astra is scheduled for release on June 22nd, 2012.

The theme for Issue #1 will be Communication and Information.

We are looking for work from a wide variety of disciplines about how we speak with others, share information, and overcome obstacles to understanding. All submissions should have one eye cast toward the future, or one foot planted firmly in the world of the imagination. What would be the effect on human culture of ubiquitous mobile data streams? How might sapient colony organisms share information in the dark oceans beneath the ice of Europa? What conversation topics might be verboten on one’s first date with an artificial intelligence? Are orcs and goblins really as malevolent as they seem, or have they just been tragically misunderstood?

Papers up to 7,500 words in length should be e-mailed in .rtf or .doc format to Dr. Kathy Kitts at kittsscicoor at or Dr. Mark Silcox at msilcox at All submissions should be in APA format and prepared for blind review. Submit a separate cover page with name, word count and institutional affiliation. The tentative deadline for submissions to Issue #1 of Ad Astra is March 31, 2012. For more information, visit