Monday, April 24, 2017

Paper #4/Final Exam: Brave New Worlds

“I notice that capable men are still at a premium in our society; we still need the man who is intelligent enough to think of the proper questions to ask. Perhaps if we could find enough of such, these dislocations you worry about…wouldn’t occur” (“The Evitable Conflict,” 265).

INTRO: We already live in an age of science fiction: an age where we can watch a live video feed from Mars, as well as track asteroids as they sail past Earth. We also live in a world of global warming, virtual reality, artificial technology, and self-driving cars. What’s next? Or perhaps the better question to ask is: how is the future being shaped in the news today? What happened in yesterday’s news feed which will affect how you raise your kids tomorrow?

REPONSE: I want you to find an article on-line, or from a journal, or in a magazine (Best American Magazine Writing 2015, for those who took Comp 1 with me, perhaps) which discusses some important contemporary issue. It can be about anything, as long as it’s current and of national importance. Print this article out and include it with your paper (and be sure to read it carefully!). Then I want you to write a short science fiction story (maybe 3-4 pages double spaced) that takes this article into the “future.” Take the same issues, problems, and concerns and place them in a new setting—a future Earth, or another planet, or among aliens, or robots, or on a starship. If science fiction is a metaphor for our own world, help us see the problems and debates of this issue in a different time and place. Remember, it’s often hard to see why we should care about something in our own time: but if you can fool us into seeing it in a different context, we might finally understand why our 21st century problems matter.

FOR EXAMPLE: The Star Trek episode we watched in class, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969), was released during the Civil Rights Movement, at a time when you couldn’t really discuss race or equal rights on a television show...but you could talk about aliens with the same issues. At the end of this episode, with their planet in flames and their hatred intact, Lt. Uhuru asks, “do you suppose that’s all they ever had, sir?” And Captain Kirk responds, “No...but that’s all they have left.” A fitting epilogue for a country that was tearing itself apart over age-old prejudices when they might have united in brotherhood.

DUE: Thursday, May 4th by 5pm in my box or office

Saturday, April 8, 2017

For Tuesday: Asimov, I Robot: “Escape!” and “Evidence”

The robot eye of H.A.L. from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In trying to ascertain whether or not Byerley is a robot or not, Dr. Susan Calvin remarks, “To put it simply—if Byerley follows all the Rules of Robots, he may be a robot, and may simply be a very good man” (221). How might this statement allow Asimov to use Byerley as a metaphor for how a “cleaner, better breed” should act like in society? Where do we see Byerley functioning like this in the story?

Q2: Dr. Susan Calvin remarks in “Escape!” that a robot’s brain “is built by humans and is therefore built according to human values” (177). Why is this a significant statement, and how does it help explain why the Brain acts as he does? Why would Calvin argue that the Brain acted the way a human would act, rather than the way a robot would?

Q3: Byerley refuses to submit to X-ray tests and other investigations which he considers a violation of his personal rights, even if they would immediately expose the lies about his robotic identity. As he tells Quinn, “You have little concern with the rights of the individual citizen. I have great concern. I will not submit to X-ray analysis, because I wish to maintain my Rights on principle” (230). Why might this also be a political statement on Asimov’s part, one that raises concerns about due process in the 1950’s—as well as in our own age?

Q4: In both stories, it initially seems like the robots are breaking the First and the Second Laws of Robotics. However, it later turns out that to truly obey these laws requires a fair amount of deception, secrecy, and creativity. Do you think this is justified? Are these merely the “white lies” necessary to save humanity? Or are these robots taking too many liberties in deciding what is good for us—and what isn’t?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival Assignment (optional)

Remember, no class on Thursday: instead, you can go to the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival. Here's a link to the schedule for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday:

You can go to 1 or 2 sessions for extra credit. But for each one you go to, make sure to answer the following 4 questions (just like our blog responses, except you have to do all 4!) in a short paragraph--a few sentences each. As long as you give a thoughtful, honest response, I can excuse 2 absences or 2 missed blog responses--or 4/4 if you do a good job on two. But remember, this is extra credit, so if you just give me hasty, one-sentence responses or try to BS about sessions you didn't attend, I can't give you credit. 


Q1: Which of the authors interested you the most and why? Why did you respond their poems and/or story and why might you read more from this author?

Q2: Which piece (if any) did you find difficult to follow or understand and why? Is is simply not your kind of material, or was it too vulgar, or depressing, or confusing? 

If you liked all the pieces you heard by each writer, answer this instead: how did each author's reading work together as a whole? Why did these 3 (or 4) writers work well together? Was there any common themes or ideas that seemed to link them together?

Q3: Discuss briefly how the authors presented their material: their reading style, introductions, gestures, and other details that helped you appreciate the stories/poems. In other words, how did the authors help you understand their work through their performance?

Q4: How did the audience react to these authors/works? Did certain works get more response than others--and if so, why? Did people laugh? Were they completely silent. Did people seem to 'get' these writers, or did some leave them scratching their heads? How could you tell? 

Hope to see you at the Festival!