Monday, April 25, 2016

Paper #4: Science Fiction as Metaphor: Due May 5th!

For your fourth and final paper, I want you to take a creative leap: find an article in a newspaper (the ECU journal?), magazine, or on-line (but it MUST have an author) that discusses some important modern-day problem. It could be anything, but make sure the article clearly defines the problem and some of the issues affecting it (for example, the budget crisis in Oklahoma). You must include a copy of the article with your paper, since I want to read it alongside your paper.

THEN, I want you to write a short science-fiction story (or the beginning of a story) that takes the issue and re-imagines it in the future. How can we see the issues more clearly if we set it in 2066 (for example)? Or among a society of clones and robots? Or on Mars? As with all science fiction, the setting is a metaphor to help us relate to our own world and its problems. The problem you choose can be made worse, or can have completely gone away, or might have changed into something else entirely. Whatever you choose to do, make sure we can see why this is a problem today, and how changing the perspective can help us understand why it’s a problem and what we might consider doing about it...before it’s too late!

Look at some of the stories from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 to see how they did this. For example, “The Thing About Shapes to Come” discusses what we define as normal (particularly with autism) by creating shape children. Or “Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable” shows us the moral complications of cloning if it became a service like Use these stories as models and note how they cleverly take modern ideas and make them seem strange and futuristic to help us ‘see’ them clearly.

  • No page limit: As long as you think it needs to be
  • You must base it on the issue and ideas of an existing article. You are responding to this article, so don’t just write about some topic off the top of your head. Read first, then respond. Include the article with your paper.
  • Due by Thursday, May 5th by 5pm (hard copy only)  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

For Thursday: Last Two Stories/Questions for Class! (see below)

For Thursday: Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015

Wilson, “The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever” (pp.202-211)
Rustad, “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” (pp.314-329)

Answer two of the following:

Q1: Both stories are about people who are somewhat robotic/artificial in how they experience life. Why would someone not want to be human in how they think/feel/experience the world? If the most important thing for most of us is humanity, what else do they find meaningful in life?

Q2: In Wilson’s story, he remarks as the world is falling apart around him: “The world is made of change. People arrive and people leave. But my love for her is constant. It is a feeling that cannot be quantified because it is not a number. Love is a pattern in the chaos” (211). How do both stories come to some understanding about being imperfect in a world of logic and perfection?

Q3: In Rustad’s note about his story, he says, “It took years before I could understand, growing up, why I felt different and why it was (and is) so hard to interact in a world when your programming doesn’t match what everyone tells you it should be.” What is the “program” the main character doesn’t seem to have or understand in the story? What is normal for everyone else and not for her?

Q4: Both stories are also about trying to protect something helpless and innocent—a robot and a child. While we can understand the protagonist of Wilson’s story trying to save his daughter, why is Tesla trying to save the K-100? Why does she think she’s in love with it?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

For Thursday: Best American Science Fiction Writing 2015

For Thursday: Best American Science Fiction Writing 2015

Stories:      Russell, “The Bad Graft” (34-53)
                 Castro, “The Thing About Shapes to Come” (168-180)

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: On page 178, Castro writes, “For all of us, meaning arrives in installments. It might be actual and it might be wishful thinking. We can only report the facts and hope that they provide closure.” What do you think Monica learns about the shapes, or her own child, by the end of the story? What ‘closure’ does she receive as a mother?

Q2: In most science fiction stories, aliens are from other worlds, out to conquer the world or blow it into smithereens. How does “The Bad Graft” offer a twist on the typical alien invasion story? Why is it ‘invading’ in the first place?

Q3: In “The Bad Graft,” Russell writes, “One of the extraordinary adaptive powers of our species is its ability to transmute a stray encounter into a first chapter” (52). What do you think this means, and how does it relate to the qualities that make us human? How do these qualities ultimately defeat the plant (or do they)?

Q4: How might the story “The Thing About Shapes to Come” be a metaphor for what it means to be normal, and human, in our society? Though we don’t have to deal with triangles and trapezoids in our nurseries, what ‘shapes’ challenge our understanding of humanity in the 21st century?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

For Thursday: Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015

For Thursday, read the following two stories from our anthology:
* Walton, Sleeper (pp.124-133)
* Boyle, The Relive Box (pp.297-313)

There are no questions for these stories, though I will make you write about them in class on Thursday (so be sure to read both!). Something to think about is this line from "Sleeper": "We make our own history, both past and future" (133). If this is so, what might the danger be of trying to record or re-experience the past? Is there one past? And if we make the past able to be seen by everyone, will it be our past they see? Are there as many pasts as there are futures? Hmm...

Be sure to start thinking about Paper #3 (posted two posts down!). See you on Thursday. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

For Tuesday: Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy Writing 2015

Read these stories: Samatar, “How to Get Back to the Forest” (pp.1-13); Rambo, “Tortioseshell Cats are Not Refundable” (pp.24-33)

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: How does the title “How to Get Back to the Forest” relate to the story itself? Who is trying to “get back”? What is the “forest”? Is it a literal forest (where the camps are)? Or a metaphor?

Q2: Samatar writes “Forgetting isn’t so wrong. It’s a Life Skill” (6). What does she mean by this? How does forgetting relate to the story, and perhaps the purpose of the camps themselves?

Q3: In the story, “Tortoiseshell Cats are Not Refundable,” what do the scientists look for to rebuild a subject’s personality? While biology all comes from DNA, what makes the ‘inner workings’ come to life? Do you feel these details are accurate—or are they missing something?

Q4: What does the main character mean when he says, “No. Decide whether or not to begin” (33)? Since Mindy has already been cloned by this point, what decision is he allowing her to make?

Friday, April 1, 2016

Paper #3: Software Update--due Tuesday, April 12th

Paper #3: Software Update

“Decide whether or not to keep things as they were?”
“No. Decide whether or not to begin.”
--Cat Rambo, “Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable”

In The Stepford Wives and several of the stories we’ll be reading in The Best American Science Fiction 2015, the idea of altering human beings to make them longer-lasting, more desirable, more tame, and less individual is a common theme. What is the future of the human race in a world where anything can be changed, altered, or improved? Can a person who can be completely rebuilt and reprogrammed still be human? Or will he/she simply be Human 2.0? Is that the next logical step in human evolution, aided by science (and inspired by science fiction)? After all, once we take the first step (as Cat Rambo suggests above), there’s no going back…

Your Response: How much should we improve human beings? At what point do humans become androids, more machines than men and women?  
Should we simply give people the ability to overcome genetic diseases, heal faster, and learn more efficiently? Or should we go further, allowing people to clone their loved ones, weed out undesirable traits (and foster desirable ones), and ‘reprogram’ people with antisocial behaviors? OR, should we simply introduce a new species (robots) that can do all our dirty work, and become the happy, helpful wives, mothers, soldiers, and customer service workers we all need—but don’t want to be? Where should the line be drawn between improving our lives and re-writing our existence? ALSO, is it already too late…have we already crossed the line into a computer/virtual existence?

#1: Respond to some of the ideas about gender, behavior, society, ethics, and humanity in The Stepford Wives and the stories I assign from Best American Science Fiction Writing 2015. Choose the ideas that most interest you and you feel most impact our future as human beings in an increasingly synthetic world.

#2: Find 2-3 sources that can help you discuss this issue. These sources can be articles on robots, AI, virtual reality, cell phones, cloning, behavior-modification, etc. You can also use at least one film/show that discusses these science fiction issues.

#3: Be sure to incorporate quotes from both the stories and the articles/shows into your paper. Don’t forget to use MLA citation (or other); for questions on this, see

DUE Tuesday, April 12th by 5pm