Science Fiction, LMC 3214 at Georgia Tech, Summer 2013 Begins (Syllabus Attached)

SF vs Sci-Fi Brainstorming.

Today, I began teaching my first Science Fiction class at Georgia Tech (LMC 3214 SS2). It is a short-session class, so my students and I will explore the history of SF in only five weeks on a grueling 4 days per week, 2 hours per day schedule.

During our first class today, we introduced ourselves, discussed the syllabus and schedule [available here: ellis-jason-syllabus-lmc3214-summer2013], and discussed the difference between SF and Sci-Fi.

Following a short break after reading the syllabus, I conducted an interactive exercise where I wrote “Science Fiction (SF)” on the left side of the chalkboard and “Sci-Fi” on the right side. I sketched out the differences between the two terms and how we might use them to identify different types of SF. Then, I handed the chalk to a student who I asked to go to the board and write a type of SF that she liked in the spot that she felt best represented it in the SF/Sci-Fi continuum. As a class, we would discuss these examples. The other students and I would help point out how we might view these examples in different ways along the SF/Sci-Fi axis. Each student would hand off the chalk to the next student. We completed two rounds of this before running out of time in class.

I think that I have an excellent group of students. Most are SF fans invested in the genre in one media form or another. Some students are there for pragmatic reasons. I believe that as the class unfolds all of my students will find interesting and significant connections to their thinking, life, and work.

Tomorrow, we begin discussing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Register Now for My Science Fiction Class at Georgia Tech, LMC 3214, SS Summer Session 2013

Hallway poster for my first Science Fiction class.
Hallway poster for my first Science Fiction class. Photo of the Alien xenomorph captured at Seattle’s fantastic EMP Museum.

This summer, I will teach Georgia Tech’s Science Fiction class (LMC 3214). If you are a Tech student, you can take this class for Humanities credit. Read below for further details about the history of this class and specific information about registering for it.

Professor Bud Foote introduced Science Fiction to Tech some decades ago. When I first entered Tech, I wanted to take Professor Foote’s class, but it was always full before I had an opportunity to register for it. He and his class were insanely popular. After Bud’s retirement and passing away, Professor Lisa Yaszek and other faculty members continued to teach the history and cultural importance of SF to eager Tech students.

In 2004, I took Professor Yaszek’s Science Fiction class, which played a signifiant role in shaping my career path to this point as an educator at Tech. I am extremely happy to be a part of that tradition now with my own SF class.

My Science Fiction class, LMC 3214 SS2 (CRN: 56435) will be offered during the second short summer session on MTWR 9:20am-11:20am. Read below for my class description. Please note that this will be a reading-intensive class (primarily short stories with at least one novel), but there will be other media involved, including: TV shows, movies, and video games.

LMC3214 Science Fiction Ellis, J. (BF) SS2 MTWR 9:20-11:20am Skiles 368

This class will introduce you to science fiction (SF) and guide you toward a deeper appreciation of the genre’s historical development, cultural context, and technoscientific relevance. You will be given the opportunity to read, see, and experience a range of SF across different media, including novels, short stories, films, television shows, and video games, that share a common theme of “brains, minds, and computers.” While significant, this theme will lead our discussions toward other important themes in SF. In addition to these examples of the genre, you will learn about its origins and definitions, explore its mega-text of shared terminology, and develop a critical awareness of SF’s commentaries on the here-and-now veiled in future extrapolations and alternative realities. Students are expected to keep up with the extensive list of readings and to take part in discussion, active learning exercises, and presentations.

Second hallway poster for my Science Fiction class at Georgia Tech.
Second hallway poster for my Science Fiction class at Georgia Tech. Image taken from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

2013 SFRA/Eaton Conference Schedule is Available Online

The 2013 SFRA/Eaton Conference at the University of California at Riverside will take place from April 11 to April 13, 2013. The conference schedule is now online here.

If you are not committed to going for a presentation or panel, you should check out the awesome lineup of papers, panels, and author readings. If all of the special guests can attend, the awards banquet on Saturday night should be a blast, too. The SFRA/Eaton Conference is well worth your time and money, because it brings together the best SF scholars and fosters the best conversation, collaboration, and collegiality.

I really wanted to attend this year to revisit Riverside (a wonderful city with a great university and library collection) and see my many SFRA friends and colleagues. Unfortunately, I had to withdraw my paper prior to the deadline for personal reasons. Sadly, this will be the first meeting that I have missed since my first SFRA conference in White Plains, New York in 2006.

For everyone going to the SFRA/Eaton Conference, I wish you all a fantastic and energizing meeting, and I hope to see you all down the trail!

Sci Fi Lab Radio Show 10-18-2012 Photos

photo, originally uploaded by dynamicsubspace.

Paul, Brendan, Adam, Matthew, Justin, and I talked about cyborgs and enjoyed a special interview with Thad Starner and Clint Zeagler on the third Sci Fi Lab Radio Show since the reboot. I took this panoramic photo of everyone talking in the radio studio with my iPhone 4S. Click through the photo to find two other candid pictures from the show. Next week’s theme is zombies. We will air a special one hour interview with James T. Warbington, co-director of the upcoming The Black Earth zomcom (premiering on Nov 3 at the Plaza on Ponce).

The Postnational Fantasy Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction, Now Published and Available from McFarland!

UPDATE: The Postnational Fantasy now has its own page on here.

I am very pleased to announce the publication of The Postnational Fantasy: Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction, my first co-edited collection of essays with with my good friends and colleagues Masood Ashraf Raja and Swaralipi Nandi! Click here to purchase it directly from the publisher McFarland & Co or click here to purchase it from Amazon (they should receive copies soon).

Below, I have included the book jacket copy, editor biographies, and the table of contents.

The Postnational Fantasy: Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction

Edited by Masood Ashraf Raja, Jason W. Ellis and Swaralipi Nandi

Foreword by Donald M. Hassler

Print ISBN: 978-0-7864-6141-7

EBook ISBN: 978-0-7864-8555-0

notes, bibliographies, index

225pp. softcover 2011

Buy Now!

Price: $40.00

Available for immediate shipment

About the Book

In twelve critical and interdisciplinary essays, this text examines the relationship between the fantastic in novels, movies and video games and real-world debates about nationalism, globalization and cosmopolitanism. Topics covered include science fiction and postcolonialism, issues of ethnicity, nation and transnational discourse. Altogether, these essays chart a new discursive space, where postcolonial theory and science fiction and fantasy studies work cooperatively to expand our understanding of the fantastic, while simultaneously expanding the scope of postcolonial discussions.

Table of Contents



Part I: Postcolonial Issues in Science Fiction

1. Science Fiction as Experimental Ground for Issues of the Postcolonial Novel by MICHELE BRAUN

2. Truth Is Stranger: The Postnational “Aliens” of Biofiction by KAREN CARDOZO and BANU SUBRAMANIAM

3. Forms of Compromise: The Interaction of Humanity, Technology and Landscape in Ken MacLeod’s Night Sessions by ADAM FRISCH

4. The Language of Postnationality: Cultural Identity via Science Fictional Trajectories by CHRIS PAK

Part II: The Nation and Ethnicity in Science Fiction

5. The “Popular” Science: Bollywood’s Take on Science Fiction and the Discourse of Nations by SWARALIPI NANDI

6. Postcolonial Ethics and Identity in Mike Resnick’s Kirinyaga by JENN BRANDT

7. The Frontier Myth and Racial Politics by ÁNGEL MATEOS-APARICIO MARTÍN-ALBO

8. Dystopia and the Postcolonial Nation by SUPARNO BANERJEE

Part III: Towards a Postnational Discourse

9. Body Speaks: Communication and the Limits of Nationalism in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy by KATHERINE R. BROAD

10. Engineering a Cosmopolitan Future: Race, Nation, and World of Warcraft by JASON W. ELLIS

11. When “Nation” Stops Making Sense: Mexican and Giorgio Agamben’s “State of Exception” in Children of Men by STACY SCHMITT RUSNAK

12. Fantastic Language/Political Reporting: The Postcolonial SF Illocutionary Force Is with Us by MARLEEN S. BARR

About the Contributors


About the Editors

Masood Ashraf Raja is an assistant professor of Postcolonial literature and theory at the University of North Texas, and editor of Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies. Jason W. Ellis is an English literature Ph.D candidate at Kent State University and holder of an M.A. in science fiction studies from the University of Liverpool. Swaralipi Nandi is an English literature Ph.D candidate at Kent State University, whose research focus is postcolonial literature and theory.

Also read the announcement on Masood Raja’s blog here.

ONTAP 5 Minute Teaching Session – Sci-Fi or SF?

Today, I had to give a five minute lesson to my ONTAP group at Kent State University as part of graduate teaching assistant training.  We were asked to teach the class something that we were familiar with, it could be on any subject, and we could teach it anyway we wished.  I chose to teach everyone the distinction between sci-fi and SF.  I got some good comments from everyone in class, which ranged from “I watch a lot of Science Fiction movies, and now I have the language to talk to my friends about it more effectively,” to, “I didn’t really follow what you were saying.”  I tried to construct it to connect with everyone, but I guess Michael Berube was right and we’re “teaching to the six.”  Anyways, I’ve included my notes below (I would have included the video that they made, but it’s on VHS tape and I don’t have an easy way to convert it for posting on YouTube).  Enjoy!

ONTAP 5 Minute Teaching Session

Today let’s talk about Science Fiction, sci-fi, and SF.  Science Fiction, as the scholar Darko Suvin puts it, is the literature of “cognitive estrangement.”  What does that mean?  Science Fiction is estranging, that is it puts the reader in unfamiliar territory.  You might say that other literature such as the gothic or even postmodern literature does the same thing, and you’d be right.  However, what sets Science Fiction apart is the cognitive aspect of its estranging function.  The cognitive estranging aspect of Science Fiction is called the novum, which is the technological and scientific extrapolation from the here-and-now that is the kernel of the story, the techno-scientific kernel of the narrative that is essential to the story and sets it apart from mainstream or fantasy literature.  What are some novum examples?  One example of the novum might be robots.  Can you name some others?  Space ships, ray guns, aliens, and humans with a multiplicity of sexes rather than just male and female are a few other examples.

Okay, so now you roughly know what Science Fiction is, however did you know that Science Fiction is a little more complicated than that?  You see, for much of the history of Science Fiction, beginning with its naming by the pulp magazine publisher, Hugo Gernsback, in 1929, academic and journalist elites have often sneered at Science Fiction as marginal, low, or pop culture.  These Science Fiction detractors pointed to the weakest stories and worst movies as examples of the supposed overall low quality of Science Fiction.  An early response to this problem was offered by the Science Fiction author Theordore Sturgeon in the 1950s when he stated that, “ninety percent of everything is crap.”  That observation is now known as Sturgeon’s Law and is available in the Oxford English Dictionary.  Sturgeon’s point is that there’s a lot of good Science Fiction, but there’s a lot more bad stuff that people point to when they talk about Science Fiction.  Also, the implication is that ninety percent of mainstream literature is also crap, and canonical literature such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet isn’t derided because of the multitude of trashy Romance novels.

This state of affairs expanded with the widespread adoption of the truncated term, sci-fi.  Sci-fi became widely used to describe Science Fiction by journalists with an implied insult toward the genre as a whole. 

In the 1970s, Science Fiction scholars and critics decided it was time to distinguish hackwork from the 10% of good stuff.   The new term for the best work, which often received the most critical attention, was simply SF.  SF works are those based on a novum and are as well or better written than its mainstream counterparts.  Sci-fi was used to label works with a much less extrapolated novum, and a very low level of quality in writing or production in the case of movies or television. 

So, what are some examples of SF and sci-fi?  A recent example of SF film would be The Matrix.  It extrapolates from our world to create a reasonably plausible future based around computer simulation, autonomous robot beings, and a planet devastated by war.  An example of sci-fi would be George Lucas’ Star Wars movies.  Sure, there are space ships, ray guns, and aliens, but there’s also the Force, which is more fantasy than Science Fiction, and the laws of physics are violated egregiously in space such as having things slide off space ships in outer space as if it were an airplane in the Earth’s atmosphere.  What are some Science Fiction movies that you’ve seen, and what would you classify them as–sci-fi or SF?  Some other examples of sci-fi include Plan 9 From Outer Sapce, Back to the Future, Cloverfield, and Red Planet.  Other examples of SF include A.I. Artificial Intelligence, A Scanner Darkly, WALL-E, The Dark Knight, and Mission to Mars.

Now you’re all initiate Science Fiction scholars who know the difference between SF and sci-fi!