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)

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)

References

  1. The Truth About Science Fiction (Documentary), retrieved 2019-08-21
  2. The Norton book of science fiction : North American science fiction, 1960-1990. Le Guin, Ursula K., 1929-2018,, Attebery, Brian, 1951-, Container of (work): Knight, Damon, 1922-2002., Container of (work): Smith, Cordwainer, 1913-1966., Container of (work): Sturgeon, Theodore., Container of (work): Bunch, David R. (First edition ed.). New York. ISBN 0393035468. OCLC 27382749.CS1 maint: others (link) CS1 maint: Extra text (link)
  3. Bretnor, Reginald, ed. (1953). Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future.
  4. https://loa-shared.s3.amazonaws.com/static/pdf/Cheever_Swimmer.pdf
  5. Blythe, H., & Sweet, C. (2003). Cheever’s Dark Knight of the Soul: The Failed Quest of Neddy Merrill. Gale. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.mga.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsglr&AN=edsgcl.H1420032077&site=eds-live&scope=site
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLfXCkFQtXw
  7. 7.0 7.1 Gibson, William, 1948-. The Gernsback continuum. OCLC 715187986.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. Ross, Andrew (1991). "Getting out of the Gernsback Continuum". Critical Inquiry. 17 (2): 411–433. doi:10.1086/448589. ISSN 0093-1896.
  9. Defendini, Pablo (2008-08-10). "Hugo Award Winners". Tor.com. Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  10. Template:Cite episode
  11. Template:Cite episode
  12. VanDerWerff, Emily Todd. "The X-Files: "Hell Money"/"Jose Chung's From Outer Space"/"Avatar"". TV Club. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
  13. The cult TV book. Abbott, Stacey. London: I.B. Tauris. 2010. ISBN 1848850263. OCLC 682882017.CS1 maint: others (link)
  14. Template:Cite episode
  15. 15.0 15.1 Dick, Philip K. (Philip Kindred), 1928-1982. (2001). We can remember it for you wholesale. Gollancz. ISBN 1857989481. OCLC 50597053.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. Tiptree, James, Jr., 1915-1987. (1989). The girl who was plugged in. Tom Doherty Associates. ISBN 0812545540. OCLC 25147495.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. Stevenson, Melissa (March 2007). "Trying to Plug In: Posthuman Cyborgs and the Search for Connection". Science Fiction Studies. 34: 87–105 – via EBSCOhost.
  18. "Black Mirror". Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  19. Tiptree, James, Jr., 1989.