With nearly 100 registered attendees and more unregistered, the 2nd Annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium on Extrapolation, Interdisciplinarity, and Learning on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 was a great success! We were honored to have Samuel R. Delany give the event’s keynote address, and we had excellent presentations and panel discussions from scholars, graduate students, and undergraduates! Below, I’m embedding video of all of the presentations from the symposium. Visit this site for a copy of the program.
I delivered this presentation at the James Madison University Pulp Studies Symposium on October 7, 2016. The video above shows my presentation’s images, and the script of my talk is included below.
The paper is about introducing new audiences to old ideas for the benefit of two different City Tech audiences: 1) frame the historical publication context of science fiction short stories for students, and 2) illuminate the deep history of technological ideas for faculty fellows in the NEH-funded “Cultural History of Digital Technology” project.
[UPDATE: The symposium was a great success! Thank you to everyone who had questions and comments during our session. I posted photos taken by colleague Caroline Hellman over at the Science Fiction at City Tech website.]
Engagement, Learning and Inspiration in SF: Use Cases for the City Tech Science Fiction Collection
Jason W. Ellis
In the first issue of Amazing Stories dated April 1926, Hugo Gernsback writes:
By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story—a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision … Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading—they are always instructive. (Gernsback 3)
According to Gernsback, the literary genre that would become known as science fiction combines romance, scientific fact, and prophetic vision. The romance engages the reader in an interesting story. The facts instruct the reader in science and technology. The prophetic vision extrapolates from what is known into the not-yet-known and simultaneously inspires readers to realize that vision. I believe that Gernsback’s vision of SF is fundamental to arguments for SF collections at colleges with a pedagogical and community-serving commission like City Tech. Our college occupies several buildings in downtown Brooklyn and serves the educational needs of over 17,000 students. Historically a trade and vocational school, it has over time and by design developed into a senior college of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. Nevertheless, the students it serves and the fields it attempts to prepare them for are primarily focused on STEM career paths. While not all stakeholders recognize the importance that the humanities have to STEM graduates’ success and overall outlook, the administration’s support of the City Tech Science Fiction Collection signals at least one way in which the humanities—in this case via SF—is seen as supportive to the otherwise STEM-focused educational work of the college. In effect, SF and the collection serves as a source for engagement, learning, and inspiration for students who have much to gain from it as a literary genre that reveals the inextricable linkages between STEM and the humanities. While I cannot within the scope of this presentation explore all of these functions of SF, I will restrict myself to discussing how I have used the collection to support my teaching and pedagogical work at City Tech.
Teaching Science Fiction from a Historical Perspective
For students, my SF syllabus takes a historical approach to the genre. Following Brian Aldiss, I point to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the genre’s beginning, because its plot pivots upon on an extrapolation of science and technology. Following this novel, I have students read a chronological progression of short stories that correspond with the movements in the genre: proto-science fiction and SF’s influences, H.G. Wells and his scientific romances, Jules Verne and his Voyages extraordinaires, Hugo Gernsback’s scientifiction and the pulps, John W. Campbell, Jr. and the Golden Age, the New Wave, Feminist SF, Cyberpunk, and contemporary SF. Looking at my current syllabus, which draws on readings from the Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction and a few stories in PDF form that are not in the anthology, over half appear for the first time in magazines held in the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, including: Isaac Asimov’s “Reason,” Astounding Science Fiction, April 1941; Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations,” Astounding Science Fiction August 1954; Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies—,“ The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1959; Harlan Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman,” Galaxy Magazine, December 1965; Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction April 1966; James Tiptree, Jr’s “The Women Men Don’t See,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction December 1973; William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome,” Omni July 1982; and Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds,” Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Mid-December 1983. In addition to discussing each story in its historical context and its addressing Gernsback’s tripartite definition (along with other definitions, too), I show students photos of the magazines and their contents. I relate how these magazines were a big deal that introduced readers to engaging stories, new science and technology, and inspirational ideas via the haptic and tactile experience of reading printed magazines. Furthermore, the contents of a given magazine add an anthropological context to the magazines via editorials, letters, fandom, and advertising. Finally, the magazines help situate the readings for students, because they empower me to point at the library and take the readings out of the abstract realm of anthologization.
NEH-sponsored “Cultural History of Digital Technology” Project
While my students’ experience of SF is enriched by the historical materiality of our readings, City Tech’s faculty, who are engaged in pedagogical planning that bridges STEM and the humanities, share some of the same needs as my students. I have learned that my STEM-focused colleagues are experts in their fields, but many do not conceptualize SF on one level as a literary genre that addresses Gernsback’s tripartite definition: romance, scientific facts, and prophetic vision, or on another level as a literary form built on interdisciplinary STEM methodologies (i.e., building assemblages of ideas and constructing extrapolations) and focused on the effects of science and technology on humanity and vice versa (e.g., Asimov’s concept of “social science fiction” or Philip K. Dick’s epistemological and ontological adventures). Professor Anne Leonhardt of Architectural Technology and director of the NEH-funded project titled, “The Cultural History of Digital Technology: Postulating a Humanities Approach to STEM,” asked me to join and contribute my humanities-focused perspective. The project’s goal is to create six interdisciplinary pedagogical modules—on maps, fractals, robotics and sociality, geotagging, topology, and finally, robotics and the workplace. We do this by inviting speakers, holding reading groups, and participating in pedagogical workshops. The student-facing modules will integrate readings, classroom lecture and demonstration, and a hands-on activity. Initially, I helped with finding readings for two modules—fractals and topology, but as I describe below, I have leveraged the City Tech Science Fiction Collection’s magazine holdings and demonstrated that humanities folks can do more than find interesting readings. Also, I will use Gernsback’s definition as a measure of each considered story’s usefulness to the module’s goals.
The first module that I contributed readings to is called “Fractals: Patterning, Fabrication, and the Materiality of Thinking.” Its purpose is to bridge students’ understanding of mathematics to the natural world by using fractal geometry—the notion that Benoit Mandelbrot introduced as the process and principle of order and structure underlying the physical world. We teach students the underlying principles of fractal geometry, help them create a workflow using open-source tools to generate a 3D printable STL, or STereoLithography model, and finally, have them print their model using one of City Tech’s powder or plastic 3D printers.
Initially, I did not consider the City Tech Science Fiction Collection’s holdings, because everything was sitting in 160 boxes stacked floor to ceiling in my office and my former colleague, Alan Lovegreen’s office. Rudy Rucker’s “As Above, So Below” (1989), a story not widely anthologized but available on the author’s website, first came to mind, because I knew that both sides of his professional work touched on this topic. Rucker, a cyberpunk SF writer and mathematician, had written this story after his own attempts at discovering what is now called a “Mandelbulb,” or a three-dimensional plot of the Mandelbrot set, the recognizable image based on a simple iterative function explored in the work of Benoit Mandelbrot. In Rucker’s story, a mathematican hacks together a program that creates a three-dimensional Mandelbrot set that breaks out of his computer screen and takes him on a trippy voyage away from life and into a crabmeat can in his pantry where he can code and enjoy energy drinks for the rest of his life—as long as no one get hungry for canned crab. While it is an interesting story and Rucker’s work on the Mandelbulb is noted in the module, his story is more romantic and possibly prophetic, but less instructive.
Shortly thereafter, Alan and I finished moving and shelving the City Tech SF Collection, and I began searching for a better story in the collection’s magazines—a story that fulfills the Gernsbackian requirements and connects to both of the module’s topics: fractals and 3D printing. One such contender was Robert Heinlein’s “Waldo,” which tended to capture the materiality-emphasis of the module better than Rucker’s much later story. Published in August 1942 in Astounding Science Fiction as by Heinlein’s pseudonym Anson MacDonald, “Waldo” features on the cover with art by Hubert Rogers and story illustration by Paul Orban. The story is where the term for a remote manipulator system is coined—a waldo. However, the story is about a man named Waldo Jones who invents remote manipulators to enable his weakened body to act on the world. With his invention, he sets out to make smaller ones and smaller ones until they were capable of manipulating microscopic neural tissue and investigate the cause of his physical handicap. The idea then is that waldoes could be used to build up matter in the same way they were used to build smaller versions of themselves. Heinlein’s story fulfills Gernsback’s requirements—romance (intrigue and revenge), scientific fact (cybernetics), and prophetic vision (what possibilities might waldoes enable), but it does not fulfill both module topics as strongly.
Eventually, I found the story that is credited as the first SF describing 3D printing in detail: Eric Frank Russell’s “Hobbyist,” in the September 1947 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Unlike “Waldo,” “Hobbyist” is not as widely anthologized, so having access to it in its original magazine was a bonus. If you are familiar with the contemporary video game, No Man’s Sky, then you have an idea about what “Hobbyist” is generally about. Astronaut Steve Ander and his companion parrot Laura crash land on a distant world and are in need of nickel-thorium alloy for fuel, which will hopefully get them a little closer to home. While scavenging around the crash site, Ander notices unsettling patterns of repetition in the world around him and discovers a structure that houses what amounts to a collection of life forms created in a 3D printer of sorts and maintained by an omnipotent being. The narrator describes it thus:
It was done by electroponics, atom fed to atom like brick after brick to build a house. It wasn’t synthesis because that’s only assembly, and this was assembly plus growth in response to unknown laws. In each of these machines, he knew, was some key or code or cipher, some weird master-control of unimaginable complexity, determining the patterns each was building—and the patterns were infinitely variable. (Russell 56)
“Hobbyist” satisfied the Gernsbackian requirements—romance (escape the planet), scientific fact (small scale engineering, iterative and fractal growth), and prophetic vision (might this technology make us gods?) and united both module topics. Capturing “Hobbyist” with my iPhone and Scanner Pro app, I shared the story with the other NEH Fellows— the story’s text and in-story illustrations by Edd Cartier and cover art by Alejandro de Cañedo. During meetings, I related the history of the magazine and how that adds to the importance of the story as a nodal point of STEM ideas expressed through SF long before 3D printing was first innovated in the 1980s, and even before it was described in theoretical terms by Richard Feynman in his well-known December 1959 American Physical Society presentation, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.”
The second module that I contributed to is called “Topology: Behind Escher’s Wizardry, A Look at the Development of Modeling and Fabrication.” Unlike the earlier fractal module, the topology module would involve programming to create each student’s 3D printed model. In addition to my role as the humanist on the team, I made this a personal challenge to relearn Wolfram Mathematica, a symbolic computation program that supports a relatively easy-to-use programming language, because I wanted to demonstrate how its could satisfy all aspects of teaching, coding, and modeling. I began by creating a Mathematica workbook that demonstrated topology concepts, such as points, lines, polygons, and dimensionality, and easy-to-follow programming tutorials of topological surfaces. Additionally, I showed how Mathematica exported 3D printable STL files of the topological models students would create.
Initially, we considered Edwin Abbott’s Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884), but Professor Satyanand Singh, a colleague in the Mathematics department, suggested that we show a video based on Abbott’s story instead. This created an opportunity.
While performing serious play with Mathematica, I recalled Robert Heinlein’s “—And He Built a Crooked House” from the February 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Featuring cover art by Hubert Rogers and story illustrations by Charles Schneeman, the story is about an ambitious architect who designs a house in the shape of an unfolded tesseract, or a four-dimensional cube. Unfolded means to create a geometric net or the interconnected, component elements of the object. For example, a three-dimensional cube unfolds into a net composed of two-dimensional squares arranged in eleven different configurations. On the other hand, a tesseract, which is four-dimensional, unfolds into a net of connected three-dimensional cubes with 168 possible configurations! The architect’s innovative design is such an arrangement of three-dimensional cubes, which in this case, resembles the Cross of St. Peter. Unfortunately, having been built in California, there is an earthquake and the house collapses into itself forming a nondescript house-like cube. The incredulous architect and his nonplussed clients enter the domicile to investigate and become trapped within the structure’s weird, higher-dimensional geometry. It is an improbable story, but it captures the strangeness of higher dimensions and introduces topics for discussion. “—And He Built a Crooked House” fulfills Gernsback’s definition—romance (escape the counter-intuitive house-turned-maze), scientific fact (higher dimensionality), and prophetic vision (let’s use math to build innovative buildings), and it tangentially fulfills the module’s focus on topology.
The NEH project is on going, so there are opportunities to locate other stories and materials in the SF magazines held in the City Tech Science Fiction Collection. In my SF class, I hope to bring my students to the archives for special projects pre-arranged with the librarians. Professor Jill Belli is doing this now, and some of her students’ work will be features in a special session of the upcoming Symposium on Amazing Stories: Inspiration, Learning, and Adventure in Science Fiction on November 29 at City Tech, which I hope that you all will consider presenting or attending. Thank you for listening.
Gernsback, Hugo. “A New Sort of Magazine.” Amazing Stories April 1926: 3.
Heinlein, Robert. “—And He Built a Crooked House. Astounding Science Fiction, February 1941, 68-83.
Russell, Eric Frank. “Hobbyist.” Astounding Science Fiction, September 1947. 33-61
Symposium on Amazing Stories: Inspiration, Learning, and Adventure in Science Fiction
Date: Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 9:00AM-5:00PM
Wednesday, November 30, 2016, 9:00AM-5:00PM
Location: New York City College of Technology, 300 Jay St., Namm N119
“By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story—a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision … Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading—they are always instructive.”
-Hugo Gernsback, 1926.
When the widely recognized “Father of Science Fiction,” Hugo Gernsback first coined the term that captured the essence of the genre we now call science fiction (SF), he envisioned SF as a new form of literature that inspired with prophecy, taught with scientific and technical facts, and engaged with adventure. These traits unique to SF have launched many of its readers on trajectories into the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) fields.
Join us for a one-day symposium exploring SF as a medium for engaging imagination, a means for exploring STEM/STEAM fields, and an instrument for discovering interdisciplinary connections, and also celebrating the new City Tech Science Fiction Collection held in the Archives and Special Collections of the Ursula C. Schwerin Library.
We invite presentations of 10-15 minutes on SF and how it fulfills learning, inspiration, and fun in STEAM-focused environments. Possible presentation topics include, but are not limited to:
• SF inspired STEM careers (or what SF inspired you to enter your field?)
• SF as a teaching tool (or what SF have you used or want to use in your classes?)
• SF’s imaginative functions (or Gedankenexperiment, considering ethical issues and unintended consequences, visualizing the influence of science and technology on society)
• Bridging STEM and the humanities via SF (or SF as an interdisciplinary cultural work that embraces STEAM)
• SF and place (or SF’s deep roots in Brooklyn and New York City)
• The fun and learning in archival work in SF collections (or making the City Tech Science Fiction Collection work for faculty, students, and researchers)
Please send a 100-word abstract, brief bio, and contact information to Jason Ellis (jellis at citytech.cuny.edu) by Oct. 31, 2016. Schedule will be announced Nov.15, 2016.
Organizing Committee: Jason Ellis (Chair), Aaron Barlow, Jill Belli, and Mary Nilles.
This is the thirtieth 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.
Almost nine years ago, I gave my first academic conference presentation at the Monstrous Bodies Symposium—a continuation of Science Fiction-focused initiatives at Georgia Tech by Professor Lisa Yaszek. In addition to presenting, I organized the academic track of the symposium and recorded the sessions for the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture (now, Literature, Media, and Communication). After my presentation below, I am including a press release for the symposium that describes it in more detail along with our special guests: Paul di Filippo and Rhonda Wilcox.
My presentation, “Monstrous Robots: Dualism in Robots Who Masquerade as Humans,” continues the work that I began in the SF Lab the previous year and continued in my undergraduate thesis later. These ideas figured large throughout the close of my undergraduate degree and my MA in Science Fiction Studies at the University of Liverpool. By the time that I was well into my PhD at Kent State University, I began thinking along parallel lines in terms of human-computer interaction and its effect on human brains and the “minds” of computers. Instead of thinking of doppelgängers and opposition, I reframed my thinking around co-evolution, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience of mind, and human-computer interaction. This presentation is another step in the development of my thinking and self along these lines.
Later, I will post another version of this essay that was revised for my first SFRA Conference in White Plains, NY in 2006.
Jason W. Ellis
Monstrous Bodies Symposium 2005
31 March 2005
Monstrous Robots: Dualism in Robots Who Masquerade As Humans
Robots who masquerade as human in science fiction (SF) are monstrous bodies because they are humanity’s created doppelganger of itself and as a result they reflect the best and the worst of what it means to be human. These technological appropriations of what it means to be human are important because they are a space within SF where issues about the encroaching of science and technology on the borders of the human body after the end of World War II.
In order to explore these issues, I want to begin by defining the terminology that I will be using. I define doppelganger as an unnatural double of a person or of humanity. Human-like robots are the doppelganger of humanity because they mimic what it means to be human. They appear human and they must perform themselves accordingly. This doppelganger is haunting because its existence challenges what it means to be human. If someone acts human and looks human why is there any reason to question the validity of that person’s humanity? The answer is that: the existence of human-like robots makes the very concept of humanity suspect. Robots are the product of their creators. The double mirrors its creator by reflecting an extreme of human behavior. This reflection is called dualism. I define dualism as a doubled status such as good and evil or organic and synthetic. Human-like robots are either very good or very bad and this is determined by the nature of their creators. Therefore, these robots tell us a great deal about the nature of their creators.
I will be examining two examples of human-like robots in SF literature and film. The first is Isaac Asimov’s “humaniform” robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, from the Robot, Empire, and Foundation series of novels. Daneel is best described as an android because he is a robot made in the appearance of a man. His outer skin is not organic in nature. The second human-like robot is James Cameron’s original Terminator from the film of the same name. The Terminator is best called a cyborg because he is a fusion of man and machine (organic skin and hair covering a robotic interior). The former is an example of a good android and the latter is an example of a bad cyborg. These characters are doubles of humanity in their respective stories and they are also mirrors of one another.
Asimov began writing the robot novels that feature R. Daneel Olivaw in the 1950s, during the first phase of the Cold War. The novels take place in a far future where humans have colonized a significant portion of the galaxy. Although the robots are instrumental in the process of colonization, humans remain fiercely divided on whether or not robots should exist at all. Given that Asimov himself was very much in favor of the promising new technologies of his day (e.g., automation in manufacturing and computers), it is not surprising that he picks the robots in his novels to be utopic in nature. His robots are the embodiment of these new technologies. In order to make his robots “perfect people,” he constructed his robots with the Three Laws of Robotics that he first made explicit in his short story, “Runaround:”
(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. (I, Robot 44-45)
The Three Laws provided each robot with an ethical system that must be obeyed because it is hardwired into its positronic brain. Therefore, Asmovian robots represent the best of what humans can be, but at the same time they reveal what we are not.
R. Daneel Olivaw is what Asimov termed a “humaniform” robot. Daneel has the appearance of a human from one of the fifty Spacer worlds (i.e., worlds originally populated by Earth people during a period of expansion in our future). Daneel’s partner in the novels The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn is Elijah Baley, a detective from Earth. In The Caves of Steel, Baley describes Daneel as appearing “completely human” (83). He later says, “The Spacers in those pictures had been, generally speaking, like those that were occasionally featured in the bookfilms: tall, red-headed, grave, coldly handsome. Like R. Daneel Olivaw, for instance” (94). Baley even suggests that Daneel is secretly Dr. Sarton, the Spacer found dead in The Caves of Steel. This however is not the case. Daneel was modeled after Dr. Sarton’s appearance. This revelation leads to Daneel revealing what lies beneath. In Dr. Han Fastolfe’s office, “R. Daneel pinched the ball of his right middle finger with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand…just as the fabric of the sleeve had fallen in two when the diagmagnetic field of its seam had been interrupted, so now the arm itself fell in two…There, under a thin layer of fleshlike material, was the dull blue gray of stainless steel rods, cords, and joints” (The Caves of Steel 111). As Baley passes out from the shock, the fact that the “R.,” which stands for “Robot,” in front of Daneel’s name is in fact deserved!
The broadest doubling that involves Daneel is that he is a mirror for humanity. When a character becomes aware of Daneel’s true being, it destabilizes that character’s understanding of the difference between robot and human. Most of Asimov’s robots are very metal and very plastic. They are the epitome of synthetic. Daneel’s construction sets him apart from the apparent synthetic robots because he appeared to be human. Elijah Baley first greets Daneel at Spacetown thinking that he is a Spacer. Later Baley says to his superior, Commissioner Julius Enderby, “You might have warned me that he looked completely human” and he goes on to say “I’d never seen a robot like that and you had. I didn’t even know such things were possible” (The Caves of Steel 83). Elijah and most other humans are not aware that a human form robot was a possibility. Although Elijah comes to terms with Daneel, other characters are driven to destroy humaniform robots. Elijah’s wife is secretly a member of the Medievalists, a group that wants to do away with all robots, including Daneel. Commissioner Enderby, also a Medievalist, murders Dr. Sarton, not because he wants to kill Sarton, but because he mistakes him for Daneel.
Daneel is also the double of his human partner, Elijah Baley. Before Elijah meets Daneel, he is confident in his own abilities as a detective. After he partners with Daneel, however, he begins to call into question his own abilities and talents. Robots are meant to be superior to humans and Elijah extends this to his own profession that is now being intruded on by an android. Baley is narrating at the beginning of The Caves of Steel:
The trouble was, of course, that he was not the plain-clothes man of popular myth. He was not incapable of surprise, imperturbable of appearance, infinite of adaptability, and lightning of mental grasp. He had never supposed he was, but he had never regretted the lack before.
What made him regret it was that, to all appearances, R. Daneel Olivaw was that very myth, embodied.
He had to be. He was a robot (The Caves of Steel 26-27).
This anxiety is one of the motivating factors behind The Robots of Dawn, when Elijah is brought in to investigate the murder of a humaniform robot like Daneel. If Elijah fails, he will loose his job and be declassified. The fear of declassification is dire to Elijah because he had seen his own father declassified when he was only a boy. Therefore, the existence of humaniform robots creates the situation that elicits this fear in Elijah. Eventually Elijah warms up to his robot partner, but along the way Elijah often finds ways to make himself feel superior to robots by making Daneel follow unnecessary orders or by calling other robots by the derogatory label, “boy” (The Robots of Dawn 34).
James Cameron’s Terminator is a cyborg character that is born of a different cultural moment than Asimov’s robots. The Terminator was originally released in 1984 while the Cold War was still in full swing and Ronald Reagan had been reelected President of the United States. Even more significantly, The Terminator was riding the wave of office computing and robotic manufacturing. Whereas Asimov viewed technology in utopic terms, Cameron only sees these technological advances as dystopic. The Terminator would have been a film that the Medievalists of Asimov’s Robot novels would have lauded.
After the opening scene of the future wasteland of 2029, the Terminator arrives naked in Los Angeles of 1984. J. P. Telotte writes that the “film’s title implies that its central concern is the technological threat, embodied in a killer cyborg which, for all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s excess muscularity, disconcertingly blends in with the human: speaks our language, crudely follows our basic customs, acts in roughly effective ways. In fact, the film emphasizes just how easy it is to ‘pass’ for human in a world that judges that status so superficially” (172). The Terminator has been given instructions to kill Sarah Connor in 1984 in order to prevent the birth of her future child who will lead humanity to victory over the machines. He goes about doing this in a militarily calculated manner. He obtains the weaponry and clothes that his mission requires. The Terminator uses his human appearance and voice to blend into mid-1980s California. Despite his robotic core, he is able to perform himself as human effectively enough to maintain the belief that he is human to those who passively interact with him. Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, the man sent back in time to save her, are the only persons that know what the Terminator really is.
The Terminator is a chillingly evil double of humanity. Through the first part of the film the audience does not yet know exactly what lies beneath his skin. We are treated to his superior strength, but only later in the film, after he has sustained damage, do we really begin to understand what lies beneath the surface. The hard metal robot body that is under the soft organic skin is the true nature of the Terminator. Without the skin he looks like the killing machines that greet the audience at the beginning of the movie. The shining flying machines and the bone crunching treads of the tank are siblings of the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Terminator. The Terminator is the result of the military-industrial complex losing control of Skynet, a computer network of control and command systems that were integrated into the implements of American war making. After Skynet becomes self-aware, it views humanity as its only threat. Skynet then acts in its own best interest by appropriating humanities’ weapons of war in order to eliminate its creator. In contrast to Asimov’s robots, the Terminator seems to be the direct result of machine rather than human construction. In the movie, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, smaller versions of the flying Terminator and tank Terminator are revealed to have been developed before Skynet launches its nuclear attack. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that the cyborg Terminators were developed by Skynet for the purpose of infiltrating pockets of human habitation to wreak havoc by undermining the belief that what appears human actually is. Again, the cyborg Terminator, like R. Daneel Olivaw, threatens what it means to be human by destabilizing the criteria used to determine human from machine. But Cameron’s view is diametrically opposite Asimov’s in respect to machine agency. Asimov’s robots are dedicated to helping humanity, but Cameron’s Skynet becomes self-aware on its own without any safeguards in place. In Cameron’s look at the future, humanity loses control to the machines and must take that control back.
Another doubling is between the Terminator and Sarah’s protector, Kyle Reese. The most obvious difference is that Reese is much smaller than the Terminator. Additionally, Reese feels pain and he can be injured. The Terminator sustains damage but it unrelentingly follows it programming. Because of the limitations placed on time-travel, neither Reese nor the Terminator can bring any weaponry with them into the past. The Terminator takes his weapons indiscriminately from a gun shop and in turn kills the proprietor. Reese takes his first weapon, a revolver, from a police officer and then he takes his second, a shotgun, from a parked police cruiser. The other weapons that Reese and Sarah use are hand made explosives. Reese uses ingenuity and resourcefulness to match the brute force onslaught of the Terminator. In effect, the Terminator itself is a weapon.
An interesting mirroring in The Terminator is between the machines and Sarah Conner. On one level, the Terminator is the destructor. Its mission is to go into the past and eradicate any instance of a “Sarah Connor” in the Los Angeles area. Sarah, on the other hand, is told that she will give birth to John Connor, the future leader of the human resistance. The Terminator tries to kill the woman who is capable of creation. On a broader level, Skynet is capable of creation through production. Skynet must have a means for building Terminators (cyborgs, airplanes, and tanks) and it must also have some creative capabilities because it created the mechanism for traveling into the past. Thus, Skynet and Sarah follow parallels in that each stand for their species and point toward the future. Skynet wants to maintain its existence and the existence of its machine armies. Sarah wants to live and know that humanity will continue with the help of her yet-to-be-born son, John. The Terminator, as a creation of Skynet, is the means by which Skynet can strike at Sarah because Skynet and Sarah’s futures are mutually exclusive. Within the frame of the movies, machines and human beings are not meant to live together in harmony. Another doubling between Sarah and the Terminator is that they are both covered in some way. Telotte points out, “If the gradual stripping away of the Terminator’s human seeming warns us not to judge an android by its cover, the gradual emergence of Sarah’s character and potential as she responds to this threat reminds us that it is no more reliable to judge the human self by its various cultural trappings” (173). His true robotic interior is revealed throughout the progression of the movie. This is done “by seeing for ourselves how he sees…for the point-of-view shots reveal that the Terminator does not “see” images but merely gathers ‘information'” (Pyle 232). Additionally, the Terminator’s flesh is stripped away through gunfights and explosions that eventually reveal the cold metal of its endoskeleton. Sarah’s cultural coverings are removed as well as she shifts from clumsy waitress that freezes at the sight of the Terminator to technologically adept mother of the future who triumphantly crushes the machine in a hydraulic press.
Finally, Cameron’s Terminator is the doppelganger of Asimov’s R. Daneel Olivaw. The Terminator works toward the domination of machines over humanity whereas Daneel works cooperatively with humans such as his partner and friend, Elijah Baley. The text at the beginning of The Terminator states, “The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present. Tonight.” The machines (i.e., Skynet and the Terminator) mean to “exterminate mankind.” On the other hand, Patricia Warrick writes, “The…robot detective novels…illustrate Asimov’s faith that man and machine can form a harmonious relationship” (61). Both have their robotic selves hidden under a layer of flesh. They perform themselves as human in order to fit in with the cultural surroundings in which they find themselves (e.g., 1980s Los Angeles or Asimov’s Earth encased in “caves of steel”). The Terminator means to destroy humanity while Daneel wishes to work along side humanity.
Both R. Daneel Olivaw and the Terminator are doppelgangers of humanity, other characters in their respective works, and each other. They maintain a human appearance and performance in order to pass as human to the casual observer. R. Daneel Olivaw is given his “humaniform” appearance in order to work with humans (both Spacer and Earth person alike). The Terminator uses his appearance as a sort of disguise in order to infiltrate humanity in order to kill from within. Daneel represents the very best of human nature through cooperation and a moral imperative. The Terminator represents the very worst of humanity through death dealing and a lack of moral standing. Despite the best intentions of Daneel, who was built the way he was, he is still viewed as a threat by some. The Terminator, who also had no choice in his appearance, is a real threat to humanity because he uses his appearance to get closer to his prey. Therefore, the bodies of R. Daneel Olivaw and the Terminator are examples of monstrous bodies in SF because they assume an appearance and identity that destabilizes what it means to be human and in so doing they each have a unique nature that is dependent on that of their creators.
Asimov, Isaac. The Caves of Steel. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1954.
—. I, Robot. New York: Gnome Press, 1950.
—. The Naked Sun. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1957.
—. The Robots of Dawn. New York: Doubleday, 1983.
Pyle, Forest. “Making Cyborgs, Making Humans: Of Terminators and Blade Runners.” Film Theory Goes to the Movies. Ed. Jim Collins, et al. New York: Routledge, 1993. 227-241.
Short, Sue. “The Measure of a Man?: Asimov’s Bicentennial Man, Star Trek’s Data, and Being Human.” Extrapolation 44:2 (Summer 2003): 209-223.
Telotte, J.P. Replications: A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1995.
The Terminator. Dir. James Cameron. Orion Pictures, 1984.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Dir. Jonathan Mostow. Warner Bros., 2003.
Warrick, Patricia S. The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1980.
Monstrous Bodies Press Release
What: “Monstrous Bodies in Science, Fiction, and Culture: Celebrating 25 Years of the Fantastic in the Arts at Georgia Tech”
When: March 31-April 1, 2005
Where: Bill Moore Student Success Center and the Skiles Building, Georgia Institute of Technology
From March 31st through April 1st the School of Literature, Communication and Culture (LCC) will host a two-day symposium in which participants explore the meaning of monstrous bodies in science, fiction, and culture. The symposium, which will take place in the Bill Moore Student Success Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is free of charge and open to all interested parties.
The symposium celebrates both LCC’s ongoing commitment to the study of the fantastic in the arts and, more specifically, the pivotal role that LCC Professor Emeritus Irving F. “Bud” Foote played in shaping this commitment. Foote taught the first accredited science fiction class at Tech in the early 1970s and over the course of the next two decades brought a number of science fiction writers to Tech including Frederik Pohl, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Upon his retirement in 1997 Foote donated 8000 science fiction-related items to the Georgia Tech Library, and the Bud Foote Science Fiction Collection was born. With additional gifts from Georgia Tech alumni and science fiction authors such as David Brin and Kathleen Ann Goonan, the Bud Foote Collection is now one of the twenty largest research collections of its kind.
The Monstrous Bodies symposium will commemorate both Professor Foote’s legacy and LCC’s continued dedication to the study of the fantastic in the arts by featuring student research on and creative writing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the gothic. The symposium will also include art and film exhibits as well as presentations by local scholars, science fiction writers, editors, publishers, and artists from Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s late-night cartoon programming for adult audiences.
Our special guests of honor are two leading figures in fantastic art and scholarship: science fiction author Paul di Filippo and popular culture expert Rhonda Wilcox. In 2004 Di Filippo received the Prix L’Imaginaire for his short story “Sisyphus and the Stranger”; other stories have been nominated for Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Philip K. Dick, Wired Magazine, and World Fantasy Awards as well. Wilcox is the author of the forthcoming book Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Television and coeditor of Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies.
If you have any other questions or comments, contact conference coordinator Prof. Lisa Yaszek or conference assistant Amelia Shackelford.
For more information
On the symposium, please visit http://monstrousbodies.lcc.gatech.edu;
On the Bud Foote Science Fiction Collection, please visit http://sf.lcc.gatech.edu;
On previous student work in the Bud Foote Collection, please visit http://sciencefiction.lcc.gatech.edu.
Today, the Georgia Tech Writing and Communication Program and Bedford St. Martins hosted a symposium on Assessing Multimodality: Navigating the Digital Turn. I co-presented a workshop with Mirja Lobnik on Multimodality and Perception and I presented a poster during one of the day’s sessions. Many of us were tweeting our experiences at the symposium today, too. Click through the Storify embed below to virtually experience the symposium 140 characters at a time.
This morning, Mirja Lobnik and I will be co-hosting a workshop on “Multimodality and Perception: A Multi-Sensory Approach to Teaching Rhetorical Skills” at the Assessing Multimodality: Navigating the Digital Turn Symposium co-hosted by Georgia Tech’s Writing and Communication Program and Bedford St. Martin’s. Our workshop is about multisensory perception, multimodal composition, and cognition:
Associated with the use of various media to create cohesive rhetorical artifacts and the neurology of the ways humans process information through different sensory channels, multimodality has gained considerable ground in the composition classroom. Insofar as multimodal pedagogies emphasize the role of students as active, resourceful, and creative meaning-makers, it tends to enhance student engagement and, by extension, the teaching of composition and rhetorical skills. Focusing on sensory details of embodied, lived experience, this workshop centers on teaching that engages students both in mind and body. This approach not only promotes the students’ creation of multimodal artifacts but also encourages students to explore and critically reflect on personal experiences. Specifically, Lobnik focuses on aural composing modalities, including speech, music, and sound, and assignments that highlight sound as a rhetorical and creative resource: a transcription, audio essay, and a video. Ellis discusses cognition, metacognition, and curation and an assignment that integrates Twitter, Storify, ComicLife, and the written essay.
If you get to attend our workshop or the symposium’s other great sessions, please tweet using the hashtag: #AMsymposium.
Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Communication, and Culture is an important place for the study of science fiction. It began with Bud Foote’s science fiction classes and the donation of his extensive science fiction and fantasy collection, and then it was further developed by Lisa Yaszek through her research, teaching, and organizing events. LCC also includes Kathleen Ann Goonan, the award winning science fiction writer, as a visiting professor.
Later this month, LCC is hosting a one-day science fiction symposium that is open to the public (except for the lunch, which is only for symposium participants). If you are in the Atlanta area, I would highly recommend this opportunity to learn about the strong presence of science fiction research at Georgia Tech and to meet some renowned science fiction authors. I have included the overview and schedule below:
Science Fiction Symposium Hosted by LCC Thursday, November 17, 2011
On Thursday, November 17, the School of Literature, Communication and Culture will host a day-long symposium spotlighting science fiction as a signature intersection of science, technology, and humanistic studies at Georgia Tech. The symposium will feature a series of scholarly panels involving faculty members from various disciplines, showcasing their involvement in science fiction study across various media, as a cultural phenomenon, and as it relates to issues of scientific and technical development. The symposium will also feature a presentation on the Science Fiction Collection at Georgia Tech (recently cited by Science Fiction Studies as one of the twenty most important such collections in the world), a report on student activities in the Science Fiction Research Lab at Tech, and readings by award-winning and critically-acclaimed science fiction authors Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eugie Foster, J.M. McDermott , and Chesya Burke. All presentations will be in Skiles rm. 002. The Georgia Tech and Atlanta communities are invited to attend.*
9:30 am‐10:45 am: Science Fiction and Society
Jackie Royster (IAC/LCC), Tom Morely (MATH), Aaron Santesso (LCC, moderator), Richard Barke (PubP), Kristie Champlan Gurley (PubP)
10:45 am‐11:00 am: Coffee Break
11:00 am‐12:00 pm: Science Fiction Collection Presentation and Student Demos
Ryan Speer (LIB), Joshua Cuneo (LCC), Keith Johnson (LCC), Adam LeDoux (LCC), Paul Zaitsev (LCC), Lisa Yaszek (LCC, moderator)
12:00 pm‐1:30 pm: Catered Lunch for Symposium Participants with Author Reading
Kathy Goonan, This Shared Dream (LCC)
1:30 pm‐2:45 pm: Speculative Fiction in Literary and Cultural History
Peter Brecke (INTA), Carol Senf (LCC, moderator), Nihad Farooq
(LCC), Narin Hassan (LCC)
2:45 pm‐3:00 pm: Coffee Break
3:00 pm‐ 4:15 pm: Science Fiction Across Media
Michael Nitsche (LCC), Jay Telotte (LCC, moderator), Lisa Yaszek
(LCC), Nettrice Gaskins (LCC), Hank Whitson (LCC)
4:30 pm‐6:00 pm: Science Fiction in Atlanta: Author Reading and Book Signing
Kathy Goonan (LCC, moderator), J.M. McDermott, Eugie Foster, Chesya
*Except lunch, which will take place in Skiles 343 and is only for symposium participants.