User:MorganAtMGA/HUMN 4472 Journal

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August 20, 2019: Science Fiction

Science fiction is a genre. To label a book or movie as "science fiction" may mean that it will explore themes of space travel, alternate worlds, or futuristic technology. An example of science fiction literature is Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. Science fiction contains many subgenres, a personal favorite of which is cyberpunk. I'm looking forward to reading and learning more about science fiction in this class. It's one of my favorite genres of books to read, although I find the idea of writing it myself daunting.

August 20, 2019: Learning About Science Fiction

From the assigned video[1] I learned just how much science fiction has influenced technology. I'd always thought that of it as a coincidence that devices like spaceships and wrist-phones showed up in science fiction prior to their invention--that the authors and inventors were reading the same news and stories and happened to arrive at the same conclusions, but no--in many of those cases the authors dreamed it up and then the inventors built it.

From Ursula K. Le Guin's introduction to The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990[2] I learned that science fiction differs from the genre of fantasy by its avoidance of the supernatural, and from realism by the narrative value of its departure from reality. Her survey of the themes included in the book, as well as the genre, were new and interesting to me as well. It made me want to read the rest of the book she was introducing.

The most concise definition I've found for science fiction was Isaac Asimov's: "Science fiction is that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings."[3] That seems to encompass all of the diverse and complex themes that Le Guin touched on in the introduction above, as well as sum up what I think of when I think of science fiction. It's not about the scientific advances themselves, but their impact on us that has led to all the creativity, speculation, fear, and hope that can be found throughout science fiction literature.

@MorganAtMGA: I thought the same way about science fiction. I mostly thought it was just about aliens and space but it is much more complex than that. Science Fiction is shown to be a very interesting genre. Tami Marie 9:55 September 6, 2019

September 8, 2019: John Cheever's "The Swimmer"

I would argue that based on the definition of science fiction given in the last post I made, which involved the presence of scientific advances, that "The Swimmer" is not science fiction. There's nothing explicitly scientific in it. What is there to distinguish it from literary fiction? Are swimming pools being considered a scientific advance? What I thought when I was reading it was that it was a work of literary fiction, which could be interpreted many ways, but the primary meaning I took away from it was about persistence.

Neddy, the main character, persevered on his journey past the point of knowing why he was even doing it. This is most evident in the following quote, where the story breaks into second person point-of-view: "He could have gone back, back to the Westerhazys’, where Lucinda would still be sitting in the sun. He had signed nothing, vowed nothing, pledged nothing, not even to himself. Why, believing as he did, that all human obduracy was susceptible to common sense, was he unable to turn back?"[4] Here, Cheever's narrator asks us directly what the story is about. We wonder not only why he is unable to turn back, but why he went on the quest at all.

Blythe, Hal, and Charlie Sweet[5], however, assert that Neddy's journey is a "selfish search for his own youth." Their emphasis on youth lends a different perspective to the idea of turning back in the last paragraph. Perhaps he wasn't able to turn back physically in the road because time doesn't work that way. We can only move forward, and so we must move forward. Even when the journey itself doesn't make any sense to us or anyone else, we have to keep going.

@MorganAtMGA: Though it is true that science fiction can be defined as having the presence of scientific advances, I believe that does not mean it must. I think here the fact that there is almost a possible parallel universe, unexplained passage of time, or just a fantastical essence to it in general will suffice to help place w: The Swimmer (short story) into the genre of science fiction. Tprouty93 (talk) 23:17, 22 September 2019 (EDT)

September 8, 2019: Parallels between "The Swimmer" and La Jetée

Initially, these two stories have very different endings. The main character in "The Swimmer" seems to be facing old age at the end of the story, whereas the main character of La Jetée[6] dies younger and of unnatural causes. However, both main characters are confronted with their own mortality which they are helpless to stop.

@MorganAtMGA: This is a great start. Where's the rest of your post? Citations? —Grlucas (talk) 13:03, 9 September 2019 (EDT)

September 15: William Gibson's "The Gernsback Continuum"

In William Gibson's short story "The Gernsback Continuum," the narrator is a photographer who sees through his camera lens a future that was promised by early science fiction stories like the ones collected by Hugo Gernsback. That future is clean, metallic, mostly white, and completely impossible. Elements of its futuristic design, though, are left over as "semiotic ghosts" which accumulate as crumbling architecture and come to haunt the narrator. Only a diet of "bad media"--dirty, and realistic to the times--will help him overcome what he's seen and link him once again to the future that actually came out of the thirties, which the narrator prefers.[7]

Critical response

Andrew Ross responds to Gibson's criticism of Gernsbackian futurism in his journal article "Getting Out of The Gernsback Continuum." In it, he defends some of the progressive notions that Gernsback and his colleagues believed in and refutes the idea that bad media is always the best medicine. In his words, "cyberpunk literature [such as Gibson's], film, and television express well the current tendency to [...] disconnect technological development from any notion of a progressive future. In doing so, they leave the field of futurology open to those for whom that connection is still a very profitable idea."[8]

@MorganAtMGA: Good source, but discuss what you find interesting about it. Don't just summarize the plot or a critic's main point. You need to analyze and comment. —Grlucas (talk) 11:58, 16 September 2019 (EDT)

Personal response

I was fascinated by the idea of semiotic ghosts as Gibson uses it, to think there's a whole layer of collectively imagined futures, just over the one we're living in, that we can be haunted by. It reminds me of cargo cults in how people can erroneously link cause and effect. What role, for better or worse, has science fiction played in creating the future we're living in? What role should it play going forward, and how can we best accomplish that? Whatever the answer, I appreciate Gibson asking the question in "The Gernsback Continuum."

September 15: Parallels between "The Gernsback Continuum" and "Blink"

Both William Gibson's "The Gernsback Continuum" and the Dr. Who episode "Blink" address multiple points in time and the potential human futures for the events that lie between them.

Gibson's story takes place in his present day of 1981. The narrator immerses himself in architecture representative of "The Tomorrow That Never Was,"[7] based on visions of the future in early science fiction stories. The distance between the future they imagined and the one he finds himself in causes him to become disoriented and hallucinate.

In "Blink," an episode of Dr. Who which received a Hugo (named after Hugo Gernsback) award[9], the distance between the future a person might have had and the one they ended up with is represented through the Weeping Angels, the villains of the episode. As Dr. Who puts it, if they attack you, "you die in the past, and in the present they consume the energy of all the days you might have had, all your stolen moments. They're creatures of the abstract. They live off potential energy."[10] In this way, the episode links to Gibson's ideas through their shared discussion of "stolen moments."

@MorganAtMGA: You make some interesting points I did not really think about. You mention that both stories refer to stolen moments. While I understand that for the “Blink” episode, I don’t quite see it for “The Gernsback Continuum.” Can you elaborate on how it does?--Daisja30 (talk) 22:47, 15 September 2019 (EDT)

@Daisja30: Sure! I was thinking along the lines of moments from their future. Specifically, in Gibson's case, the shiny and perfect future that early science fiction promised but didn't deliver. It was stolen from them by the cold war, corporate interests, and environmental concerns, among other things. Gibson touches on some of that in the story, and the journal article by Andrew Ross talks about it some too. -MorganAtMGA (talk) 00:24, 16 September 2019 (EDT)
@MorganAtMGA: That clarifies things! Now I understand exactly what you meant. Thank you.--Daisja30 (talk) 22:57, 16 September 2019 (EDT)

September 22: "Jose Chung's From Outer Space"

I've actually seen this episode before and it's one of my favorites. Actually, it's my best friend's favorite. I like "Humbug," another episode by the same director (Darin Morgan) where the main characters investigate a sideshow community.

"Jose Chung's From Outer Space" is funny to watch, but it also makes you think. Before watching it critically in this class, I hadn't paid attention to the ending, nor what it meant. The episode follows two teenagers, FBI agents, the government and military, an author, and some townsfolk, all giving different points of view on a possible alien abduction. Some viewpoints irreconcilably contradict each other. Others are ludicrous, humorous, or easily dismissed as crazy.[11]

After the frame story ends, and X-Files' Agent Scully finishes telling her side of the story to the author Jose Chung, the viewer still can't be sure they know what really happened at the so-called alien abduction. However, the story keeps going for one more scene. The teenage boy that may or may not have been abducted shows up outside the window of his girlfriend's house, or what would've been his girlfriend before the event, and after everything that's happened--including undergoing hypnosis twice and remembering different things each time--she sends him away. Their relationship, the one real thing he thought he could count on, was--whatever really happened--a casualty of what did or didn't happen. Her memory is gone, and as the AV Club puts it, "to a real degree, we are our memories."[12]

September 22: Parallels between "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" and "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"

Both the The X-Files episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" and Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" involve elements of unreliable memory and perception. They ask the viewer to think about what the truth is and how we can be sure of it. In "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," this works because the "entire approach of this episode is to call attention to its own constructedness and to undermine any notion of the ‘truth.’"[13]

In "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," a teenage girl named Chrissy is repeatedly hypnotized in the attempt to recover her memories of a supposed alien abduction. The first time she remembers it, she recalls being questioned by gray aliens. The second time, she remembers being questioned by military personnel instead.[14]

Whereas in "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," the main character Douglas Quail is injected with "narkidrine"[15] by a company he paid to implant false memories of a trip to the planet Mars. On his first visit, he reacts to the drug by remembering that he was once an assassin for the government. When he goes back, his reaction to the narkidrine is to remember meeting a warlike alien race as a child, a memory that, "without depth and drug therapy, [he] never would have recalled."[15]

So in the episode, the aliens were a cover-up story by the government, and in the short story it was the other way around. The government uncovered the aliens. Because of how they both handled the characters' points of view, when either watching the episode or reading the short story the watcher/reader is frequently as disoriented as the main characters, and it's difficult to be sure of what's really going on. If our perception and memories are unreliable and can be altered, where does that leave us?

@MorganAtMGA: It is interesting how this element of unreliable memory that you mentioned impacts our own view of what is happening since no concrete answers are given. We are left to interpret the story the same as the characters as the information is presented to us. -Atallent (talk) 09:40, 23 September 2019 (EDT)
@MorganAtMGA: Some good points. Please see my feedback that I will be updating through the day on 9/24/19. —Grlucas (talk) 07:36, 24 September 2019 (EDT)

September 29: "The Girl Who Was Plugged In"

"The Girl Who Was Plugged In" is about a disabled girl named P. (Philadelphia) Burke and the flesh-and-blood female avatar named Delphi that she controls with her consciousness[16]. Although, as Melissa Stevenson points out, the title is unclear as to whether the "girl" in question is P. Burke or Delphi, and it's also unclear whether she plugged herself in or someone made that choice for her.[17]

In the beginning of the story, P. Burke is shown trying to kill herself. When that doesn't happen, a company offers her the chance to have the life she's dreamed of, being beautiful, even though her new body can't feel things the same way. In the end her supposed love kills her by accident, and the avatar dies soon after. She has accomplished what she wanted in the beginning, to die, but would it have been better for her to have died before having gone through all that she did? Was the experience with technology worth it?

I believe that it was worth it for her. Without the technology, she had nothing to look forward to. It didn't make her disfigured or cause people to ignore her; they were already doing that. When the girl was plugged in, she found love, even though it was shallow. The technology just showed her humanity from another angle. So the second time she faces her death without hope, it's not because she is ugly but because humans are superficial. It's still a horrible end, but at least she knows it's not her fault.

@MorganAtMGA: That's such a positive perspective to have on a fairly dark story. Kinda going along the lines of "better to love and have lost than never have loved at all." Science fiction feels so dark sometimes, and it's nice to read something with a silver lining. Anyway, I just wanted to say I appreciate your interpretation. --Cavaliergirl96 (talk) 02:18, 30 September 2019 (EDT)
@Cavaliergirl96: Thanks for the comment! There's definitely a lot going on in that story, and a lot to interpret. Sometimes you've just gotta take what you can get though, haha, that's what I took away from it. -MorganAtMGA (talk) 12:03, 30 September 2019 (EDT)
@MorganAtMGA: Begin where you end. Avoid summary. Do not link to firewalled sources. —Grlucas (talk) 12:13, 30 September 2019 (EDT)
@Grlucas: Thanks a lot for the feedback. Could you please be more specific? What did you mean by "begin where you end"? Thanks! -MorganAtMGA (talk) 17:22, 30 September 2019 (EDT)

September 29: Parallels between "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" and "The Entire History of You"

The protagonists of both the novella by James Tiptree Jr. and the Black Mirror episode were both "plugged in." P. Burke had her whole nervous system attached to electrodes, and Liam had an implant behind his ear that connected to his eyes and brain.[18]

Unlike P. Burke, I think Liam's being "plugged in" had a net negative effect on him. Without the technology in the Grain, the implant that let him relive his memories over and over, it would have been easier for him to forgive and forget instead of obsessing over the details of others' words and actions. His connection to the technology let him relive the moments of his life, but while physically in them he was often mentally detached, "re-doing" things he'd already done.

P. Burke, on the other hand, was brought closer to others by her connection to technology. Before she was plugged in, she could only dream of the beautiful human "gods" that walked past her.[19] Her connection let her have everything they had and everything she had dreamed of, even if it was only for a short time.

@MorganAtMGA: I think the technology was bad for the both of them. As you mentioned, Liam used his to obsess over the past, which led to his divorce. On the other hand, P. Burke used hers to live a false life which ultimately led to her death.--Daisja30 (talk) 23:49, 29 September 2019 (EDT)

October 6: Octavia Butler's "Bloodchild"

In Octavia Butler's Afterword to "Bloodchild," she says that one of her goals for the work was "to write a story about paying the rent."[20] The humans in the story are not native to the planet they're on, and instead showed up to find the Tlic, a many-limbed alien species, already there. The humans incubate the Tlic's young like parasites inside them in exchange for their protection on the planet, effectively "paying rent" with their own bodies.

María Ferrández San Miguel reads the main character's incubation as "accommodating the posthuman," which then "recovers a form of agency for himself and his species."[21] In this way, the parasitic infestation of humans in the story functions as a kind of evolution of the species. Humans are not the conquerors of the cosmos here: their move off-planet is not a revival of colonialism like many science fiction authors seemed to point toward, but nor is the species lost. It simply adapts, as it always has.

The excision of the parasites in the story is horrifying, but Butler gives the reader the chance to see the aliens' point of view as well: "We saw them as people and gave them the Preserve when they still tried to kill us as worms."[22] The humans felt entitled to kill the aliens even when they saw them as people and not animals. In exchange for living on the aliens' planet, under their protection, after having tried to kill their ancestors--the price the humans pay may still be gruesome, but is it really reasonable to expect more? I think it's a good idea to keep in mind that when venturing out into space, we may face more than we bargained for... the aliens might even treat us like we treat each other.

October 6: Parallels between "Bloodchild" and "Far Beyond the Stars"

Both the main characters of Octavia Butler's "Bloodchild" and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond the Stars"[23] are oppressed throughout the stories. Butler's Gan is being used to host alien parasites, and Star Trek's Benny Russell is held back by his publisher and the racism pervading the 1950s where he works. However, they both want more and make choices for a better and less oppressive future.

Watching another man undergo the traumatic removal of alien parasites is horrific enough to make Gan consider killing himself. With the gun in his hand, he could have chosen to kill T’Gatoi instead, but he doesn't. He's also given the choice of letting his sister host the parasite, and almost takes the opportunity, but in the end he doesn't do that either. He chooses survival, he chooses cooperation, and he chooses to take an active role in what happens to himself and his family. Because T’Gatoi is a politician, agreeing to carry her children may eventually help him to have a hand in guiding the future of humans on the planet as well.[22]

Benny Russell wants to be able to write about Black men like himself in science fiction, but even though he writes good stories, he is told the publisher won't print them and he loses his job for even trying. Like the street preacher tells him to, though, he keeps writing anyway. He keeps dreaming, keeps writing, and doesn't give up. We know that he is successful at the end of the episode, where Captain Sisko comments that it's possible the show itself exists because of his story. Because of writers like Octavia Butler and those that worked on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Benny Russell's dream of Black men in science fiction became a reality.

@MorganAtMGA: Pretty solid readings. Did you not use sources for your comparison entry? —Grlucas (talk) 10:42, 7 October 2019 (EDT)
@Grlucas: Just the two primary sources. What specifically should I have done instead? -MorganAtMGA (talk) 11:48, 7 October 2019 (EDT)
@MorganAtMGA: You might see The Golden Rules again, especially the Hitchens’ quotation. Everything you will be adding to Wikipedia for your project will have to be sourced. You should be practicing that here. I feel like I’ve been a broken record stating this... —Grlucas (talk) 12:23, 7 October 2019 (EDT)
@Grlucas: I understand, I feel the same way about asking to know specifically what else you want me to do. I would suggest that simply reading the same words over and over is not an effective way to address a misunderstanding, as we've both seen. The answer to my question, then, as I understand it, is that I should have cited "Bloodchild" again. I will add that. -MorganAtMGA (talk) 13:39, 7 October 2019 (EDT)
@MorganAtMGA: No, actually, you should be citing secondary sources that help support and develop your analyses and interpretations. I've been stating this all semester in my feedback. Sure, citing the primary source is great, but it's not enough for this type of work. Do you understand the difference? —Grlucas (talk) 06:07, 8 October 2019 (EDT)
@Grlucas: "Your goal here is to find connections between the two texts. Again, be sure to support your ideas with at least one source, cited correctly." No, sorry, I still don't understand how I'm supposed to find someone else's support for an idea that I thought I was being asked to come up with. I'd think at that point I would be sharing someone else's ideas, which is certainly possible, but I didn't understand it as the mission statement. I thought "your" ideas meant my ideas, but I see now that you meant something else. Good to know, thanks! -MorganAtMGA (talk) 12:49, 8 October 2019 (EDT)

October 13: Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations"

"The Cold Equations" is about a space pilot that discovers a young woman has stowed away on his ship, and due to the limits of physics imposed by the situation he has no choice but to jettison her from the airlock.[24] However, as Cory Doctorow points out, the characters' situation is due not only physics but to the contrivances of the author's narrative design.[25]

Placing a child character in a life-or-death situation could create strong emotion in any story, but the death in "The Cold Equations" is not caused by factors like violence or disease that could be found outside the realm of science fiction. One could imagine an equation to predict, for example, the percentage of people in a population that are likely to die of malaria. Such an equation would be tragic, but would it be cold? I would argue that so long as there are people working to cure the disease and prevent it from spreading, the equation could be changed: with the addition of humanity, it could be improved, and thus (unlike the one in the short story) it is not cold.

What is cold about Godwin's cold equations are that they are presented as a hard limit on what people can do, yet the author submitted multiple rewrites that attempted to save the girl before the final version was published.[25] The confluence of variables that prevented the pilot from saving her are not based in realism but in service of telling a fictional story about the girl's death. The cold equations presented are not those of the universe, but those of the story's editor.

@MorganAtMGA: That's interesting that Godwin himself tried to save the girl in his story, but it seems like the genre itself prevented him from saving her within the confines of the story he created. Do you think saving the girl at the end would make the story stronger or do you think the existing ending is stronger? I personally wish she had survived, but I think the existing ending is a more visceral experience. --Cavaliergirl96 (talk) 02:57, 14 October 2019 (EDT)
@Cavaliergirl96: Good question, thanks. I'm not sure whether it would've been objectively stronger as a story one way or the other, and I think as it is it does a good job of effectively telling the story the editor wanted. My point was mainly the same as Doctorow's: that it's somewhat disingenuous to both artificially manufacture a situation and claim that it mimics the "cold" laws of nature, much less use that to draw conclusions about the world we live in or how we should treat other people based on that. Stories are powerful, and I believe they should be as honest as possible. I think in a more realistic situation she would have survived or never been there in the first place. The response and discussion around it are interesting though, at least. -MorganAtMGA (talk) 19:41, 14 October 2019 (EDT)

October 13: Parallels between "The Cold Equations" and "33"

In both the short story "The Cold Equations" and the Battlestar Galactica episode "33," the main characters are in conflict with a strict time limit that has potentially deadly consequences. Everything has a time limit, in a certain sense, but in both of these stories that limit is designed and dramatized for effect by its creators. In "The Cold Equations," the pilot is on a course to a planet and must jettison his stowaway passenger before he reaches a certain point in the flight path, or else he will run out of fuel and crash.[24] In "33," humanity is being pursued through space by a race called the Cylons, and every 33 minutes they are forced to fight them off and jump elsewhere, or else they will be killed.[26] Throughout the episode, "time is constructed as an oppressive and potentially destructive force second only to the omnipresent Cylon threat."[27]

@MorganAtMGA: The pressure of time can bring out who people truly are. It can make us see the destructive side, the fear people have, and emotions and empathy that they may not want to address in other situations. Even those who are tasked with the job to save others and are almost super human have to address the realest of emotions, and being on a time crunch and knowing that decisions have to be made then and there will only escalate these emotions. Tprouty93 (talk) 02:03, 14 October 2019 (EDT)
@Tprouty93: Good points, thank you! I agree, and I think it's often true in fiction as well as real life. -MorganAtMGA (talk) 19:41, 14 October 2019 (EDT)

October 20: Tim Pratt's "Impossible Dreams"

In "Impossible Dreams," the main character named Pete finds a video store from a parallel universe and starts a relationship with the woman that works there.[28] They bond over a love of movies, even though due to the different universes there are subtle differences in them. The short story by Tim Pratt won a Hugo award in 2007.[29]

Throughout the short story, there is a theme of maximizing limited time. The window of time that Pete is able to access the other universe gets smaller and smaller. He makes plans to give the clerk a gift of movies from his universe because he thinks he'll never see her again, but she unexpectedly strands herself in his universe instead of her own.

These two characters represent two different ways of approaching limited time. Pete is careful, but the clerk goes for what she wants, and from the ending it seems to work out for them. Although, the story ends before any more potential consequences could arise.

@MorganAtMGA: I really wish you would have elaborated more on the idea of how the characters approach time, because it is a good point. I think you even could have used the idea to compare both Pete and Captain Kirk. They both have a limited time on a universe that is not their own with people that they have taking a liking to. They both try to make the best use of their time by trying to spend as much time with their new love interest as well as gather as much information about the other universes as they can.--Daisja30 (talk) 22:47, 20 October 2019 (EDT)

October 13: Parallels between "Impossible Dreams" and "The City on the Edge of Forever"

Both "Impossible Dreams" and the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" take place partially in parallel universes. The parallel universe of the short story contains familiar movies that were almost made in ours, like "Total Recall, but directed and written by David Cronenberg, not Paul Verhoeven."[28] In the Star Trek episode, a crew member alters the past and changes the future, leaving the rest of the crew stranded in a universe where Germany developed nuclear weapons during World War II and they could no longer reach The Enterprise.[30] By exploring the consequences of acting on alternate realities, they beg the question: "Can one person really shape the destiny of the earth with his or her free will when so many other things appear to be in charge of our destiny[...]?"[31]

"The City on the Edge of Forever" presents a bleak view of what can happen when you meddle in other timelines and universes. Even though Edith Keeler had good intentions, like the pacifist movement she founded, when she was saved by the crew's interference with the past it led to terrible consequences and millions of lives lost.[30]

However, "Impossible Dreams" offers another view of parallel-universe-meddling: as a vehicle to find love. When the clerk leaves the shop and her universe with Pete, no possible negative effects are mentioned, but instead Pete says "I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."[28]


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