All posts by AG

About AG

Associate Professor, Department of English, Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Prompt the Last

Group 2
Choose four texts we have read together, note their dates, arrange them in order, and make very short (a few words) notes about a specific connection you see among them—a device, theme, concern, or pattern. Then write a few sentences reflecting on the historical line you see in terms of these texts and that device: do you see development? sudden change? continuity? regression? Influence? Disputes? Diverging lines? If you find yourself writing a narrative of progression or teleology (it was all leading up to…), ask yourself whether that’s the only way to see it. If you find yourself talking about an unchanging stasis, again, ask yourself how it might work.

Group 1
This is optional but very strongly encouraged as a useful activity of synthesis and good fodder for creative discussion. I’ll be asking all of you to reflect on historical lines in class on Monday.

Blogging prompt: Gibson

Group 1
Are we in cyberspace now? Gibson is celebrated as the coiner of the word “cyberspace”: it has sometimes seemed that his imagined version of the world of networked computing, conceived in the early 1980s when using the Internet was a rare and specialized pursuit and the World Wide Web had not yet been invented, has come to pass—or is about to. He himself, as you’ll see in the non-fiction essays you are assigned, is far more reserved. Certainly Gibson would not embrace Gernsback’s slogan: “extravagant fiction today…cold fact tomorrow.” And yet… Consider the representation of computing and the digital domain in “Burning Chrome.” Write a paragraph in which you choose a specific feature of life with computers as represented in the story. What seems familiar or unfamiliar about it? What does Gibson emphasize?

Be careful, as you prepare to discuss “Burning Chrome” in class on Monday, not to assume that everyone has access to or experiences the digital in the same way, in 1982 or 2013. Use this as an occasional to reflect critically on your own cyberspatial experience: what seems smooth and what seems rough? where did you learn to do the things you can do? —But for purposes of blogging, focus on writing an analytical paragraph about Gibson’s text.

Group 2
Go 4 it.

Prompt (group 2): Media

Group 2
After watching Star Trek, write a paragraph or two reflecting on how the medium inflects the genre: choose one specific way the TV medium can be compared to (or used as a lens for) the print-medium SF texts we’ve been studying. Try not to generalize broadly but to isolate something medium-specific that you’d like us to think about more. Think in terms of formal elements (how the narrative is structured or presented) and not just thematic ones.

The Jenkins reading is meant to close the circle between television and print, so that you don’t think of the broadcast medium as an “advance” over print. Think instead in terms of a system of relations between SF media: they coexist, though not always happily.

Strictly forbidden: the word relatable.

Group 1
Comment as you wish. Relatable is still out.

Prompt: Le Guin, TVTropes (group 1)

Group 1
Spend some time reading and browsing around the entry for The Left Hand of Darkness on TVTropes. This gives one group of readers’ attempts to characterize the novel: there is both a summary and a catalogue of the “tropes” or recurring patterns the TV Tropes wiki contributors have seen in the novel. Comment on any aspect of this response that stands out to you—particular tropes that you surprised to see included; particular opinions or responses by the Tropers that seem to you intriguing or misguided or revelatory. Think, too, about the difference between the Tropers’ kind of analysis and the literary analysis I ask you to do in class and in your papers. You might especially want to note ways in which the TVTropes page speaks to the concerns of the 2010s in which it has been written.

Essays forbidden. Write a paragraph or two.

Group 2
Comment as you wish.

Look not just at the TVTropes page but at the revision history or Talk pages and point out an interesting aspect of the composition process for the entry.

spider is ahead of the game—check out spider’s entry below this one.

Prompt: Le Guin’s hand (style)

Group 2
The way in which The Left Hand of Darkness is written is certainly distinctive. But how do we trace the author’s hand amidst the novel’s multiple narrators and embedded texts? Choose an example passage which you think of as characteristic of the novel itself, and discuss the marked features you notice. What produces the atmosphere of this novel? The goal of this exercise is to stay away from plot and theme and focus on language instead. How does language itself matter here?

Group 1
Posting optional but encouraged. You may talk about plot and theme all you wish.

Prompt: Ballard vs.…

group 1 (N.B. change from syllabus)
Juxtapose two passages, one from Ballard and one from either Dick or Ellison. To what extent do they share a program for SF writing? Draw a specific comparison.

group 2
Anything you like, but you are strongly encouraged to comment (using comments or a post) on what group 1 is posting.

Essays forbidden.

Prompt: Critique (group 2)

Group 2

Choose a single passage in The Space Merchants that seems to you to offer a critique of the present in some way (either the present of 1952 or the present of 2013). Copy out the passage, and explain carefully what the critique is and how the novel carries it out.

Essays forbidden. A paragraph of commentary would be about right.

Group 1: you may write, or comment, in any way you like.

Bonus: link to, or include an image of, an ad which resonates with the world of advertising as Pohl and Kornbluth render it.

Prompt: Insiders (group 1)

How do images of the insider work in American SF at mid-century? Thinking about—for example—ideas of inside knowledge, expertise, secrecy, subculture, the elite, the code, the jargon, or the club, describe and analyze a connection between one of the texts we have read this past week and the opening chapters of Pohl and Kornbluth’s novel. The texts to think about include the newspaper excerpts as well as the three stories from the anthology. The connection can be microscopic, nanotubular even—or macroscopic, nebular.

Essays forbidden. Stop after paragraph number two.

Going mainstream (for Thursday 10/3)

For Thursday, we are considering the inner world of science-fiction readership through the reader-discussion columns in Astounding 21, no. 6 (check the syllabus for the link and page references. At the same time, we should consider not just the subfield of SF but the large-scale literary field.

I have culled some results from searching some historical databases for "science fiction" in the 1940s. Please read these excerpts, mostly from the New York Times, with an eye to the image of science fiction being presented to a large-scale, non-specialized newspaper-reading public by book reviewers and reporters. Bring to class a couple of notes on what you have noticed (I will print up some copies for class, so we can look at them together).

Read in chronological order:

Prescott, Orville. "Books of the Times." New York Times, June 7, 1946.

Lissner, Will. "Men from Mars Give Soviet Jumps." New York Times, May 14, 1948.

Parke, Richard H. "Street & Smith Giving Up ‘Pulps’." New York Times, April 9, 1949.

"Here is the World of Tomorrow." Advertisement. New York Times, October 30, 1949.

Prescott, Orville. "Books of the Times." New York Times, December 26, 1949.

Review of My Best Science Fiction Story, edited by Leo Margulies and Oscar J. Friend. Washington Post, January 15, 1950.

Pierce, J. R. Review of Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949, edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty. Science n.s. 111, no. 2872 (January 1950): 44-45.

Grove, Lee. "Pen Pals Meet at a Scientific ‘Disclave’ here." Washington Post, May 1, 1950.

Jackson, Joseph Henry. "For the Writer, California is a New Bucks County." New York Times, May 7, 1950.

Blogging prompt (group 2)

Lovecraft is campy, pulpy fun. But is there a sense in which we should take what he has to say seriously? Granting the obvious fictionality of the Cthulhu Mythos, speculate about a possible idea of serious import that you see in either of the two stories you have been assigned. Cite a passage as part of your discussion. Essays forbidden.

optional: Consider:

Possible Bubbles of Spacetime Curvature in the South Pacific. Naturally you will already need to be familiar with the basics of gravitational lensing and non-Euclidean geometry.