Posts Tagged ‘Kim Stanley Robinson’
* A nice endorsement of Octavia E. Butler from Steve Shaviro. Some bonus Shaviro content: his favorite SF of 2016. I think Death’s End was the best SF I read this year too, though I really liked New York 2140 a lot too (technically that’s 2017, I suppose). I’d also single out Invisible Planets and The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, both of which had some really good short stories. In comics, I think The Vision was the best new thing I’ve seen in years. There’s a lot I bought this year and didn’t have time to look at yet, though, so maybe check back with me in 2019 and I can tell you what was the best thing from 2016.
* Duke warns professors about emails from someone claiming to be a student, seeking information about their courses — many in fields criticized by some on the right. Some Michigan and Denver faculty members have received similar emails but from different source.
* I don’t think Children of Men was ever actually “overlooked” — and I’m shocked it was considered a flop at a time — but it certainly looks prescient now.
* From Tape Drives to Memory Orbs, the Data Formats of Star Wars Suck. Remembering Caravan of Courage, the Ewok Adventure Star Wars Would Rather You’d Forget. Anti-fascism vs. nostalgia: Rogue One. How to See Star Wars For What It Really Is. And a new headcanon regarding the Empire and its chronic design problems.
* The seduction of technocratic government—that a best answer will overcome division, whether sown in the nature of man or ineluctable in capitalist society—slides into the seduction in the campaign that algorithms will render rote the task of human persuasion, that canvassers are just cogs for a plan built by machine. And so the error to treat data as holy writ, when it’s both easier and harder than that. Data are fragile; algorithms, especially when they aggregate preferences, fall apart. Always, always, power lurks. The technocrats have to believe in mass politics, believe for real that ordinary people, when they organize, can change their own destinies. Whether that happens depends on the party that gets built, and the forces behind it.
* Four Cabinet nominations that could blow up in Donald Trump’s face. Fighting Mass Incarceration Under Trump: New Strategies, New Alliances. Why Donald Trump Might Not Be All That Good for Art. How Journalists Covered the Rise of Mussolini and Hitler. This all certainly seems on the up-and-up. And today in teaching the controversy: Nuclear diplomacy via Twitter is a bad idea.
* The arc of history is long, but Google Search will not longer return Holocaust-denying websites at the top of page one.
* It wasn’t just your imagination: more famous people did die in 2016.
* “Whoa,” said the gangster/minotaur, awed at how close he’d just come to losing his forearm. He was beginning to understand that this wasn’t the relatively straightforward world of street-level dope dealing anymore; this was Dungeons and Dragons.
* I’m glad somebody finally paged KSR: “Why Elon Musk’s Mars Vision Needs ‘Some Real Imagination.'”
* “People worry that computers will get too smart and take over the world, but the real problem is that they’re too stupid and they’ve already taken over the world.” This is how computer scientist Pedro Domingos sums up the issue in his 2015 book The Master Algorithm. Even the many researchers who reject the prospect of a ‘technological singularity’ — saying the field is too young — support the introduction of relatively untested AI systems into social institutions.
* One teaching artist sees it differently. “There will always be bad artists with a lot of money who want to go to art school,” she said. On the Future of the MFA.
* There’s More to Life Than Being Happy: On Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning. Relatedly: The World’s Happiest Man Wishes You Wouldn’t Call Him That.
* Degree programs in French, geology, German, philosophy and women’s studies are suspended, effectively immediately. Eight additional majors within existing departments, six teaching programs and four graduate programs have been shut down. The university is planning a teach-out program for currently enrolled students. Tenured faculty members in affected programs will be reassigned to different departments. The future of the campus’s nursing, dental education and medical imaging programs is still under discussion. Degree programs in environmental geology and environmental policy were cut previously, in July.
* Advice for how to use Twitter as an academic. Of course, as everyone knows, the only winning move is not to play.
* From David M. Perry: “My non-verbal son communicates through ‘Hamilton.'”
* Dylan, Christ, and Slow Train Coming. Teaching the controversy: Kurt Vonnegut in 1991: “Bob Dylan Is the Worst Poet Alive.” Imperialism-in-Artistry: Bob Dylan’s Nobel Win Is Proof Adichie Is Right about Beyonce. Local Boy Makes Good. But not too good: The Nobel Prize Committee Have Given Up on Trying to Get in Touch with Bob Dylan.
* The notion that American literature might have an imperial bent—that it might be anything other than a string of lightly co-influential works of “imaginative power,” and might itself reflect our national desire to dominate—is lost on its critics, both right and left.
* Another gerrymandering primer. I’m inclined to make a joke about Obama’s proceduralism even ruining his post-presidency but this really is a major issue worth throwing his weight against.
* Atlas Obscura: The Land of Make Believe.
* And then there’s this one: Earlier this October, at a ceremony at the Royal Courts of Justice, London paid its rent to the Queen. The ceremony proceeded much as it had for the past eight centuries. The city handed over a knife, an axe, six oversized horseshoes, and 61 nails to Barbara Janet Fontaine, the Queen’s Remembrancer, the oldest judicial position in England. The job was created in the 12th century to keep track of all that was owed to the crown.
* Thank god the Mac version isn’t ready yet: Civ VI is out.
* A dark, grittier Captain Planet: Leonardo DiCaprio wants to make a Captain Planet movie.
* Hungerford makes Infinite Jest represent how commercial publishers and their enablers in the mainstream media engineer a novel into a canonizable success. The market is corrupt, she says. But is it any more corrupt or distasteful than the publication and marketing of her university press book? “Post 45” is a scholarly association; Hungerford is one of nine Board members. Two other Board members are the series editors for the “Post 45” imprint. The “Advance Praise” for Making Literature Now includes effusive comments by two people whom Hungerford praises in the book, a blurb by a former colleague at Yale, and other comments so hyperbolic that they appear to have been written under the influence of laughing gas. Hungerford put out a misleading trailer for the book in the Chronicle, excising the misogyny charge that’s essential in her closing chapter, perhaps because she feared anyone who had read Infinite Jest would see through that charge and not order Making Literature Now. Her title is grandiose because her data is extremely limited. Rather than the survey that the title implies, Making Literature Now is literary tourism combined with two takedowns.
I’m teaching three classes this semester, ENGLISH 4615/5615 (“Infinite Jest”), ENGLISH 2010 (“Alternate History”), and HOPR 1953 (“Video Game Culture”) (one-credit, pass/fail, now with Pokémon Go!). I’m very excited about all three. The Infinite Jest course is one I’ve wanted to do for a very long time — I came up with the whole idea of adding the new 4615/5615 course number to the Marquette English just so I could do this course — and the alternate-history course has been puttering around in my brain as a pedagogical opportunity for just about as long.
I got a lot of help from folks on Twitter and Facebook with the alternate history novel course, both at the level of generating texts but also at the level of conceptualizing the course a little different so it could be more inclusive, and I’m really grateful for that. I was finally sold by Alexis Lothian on the idea that I was being silly by being resistant to stories like The Lathe of Heaven and “The Book of Martha,” for instance, and that the practical effect of that resistance was to make the class much whiter and much maler than it really needed to be. Now, the course is still pretty white and very male, but the genre itself is, and somehow or another that’s something I want to start to talk about as the semester progresses. The excellent suggestion of Karen Joy Fowler’s story “Game Night at the Fox and Goose” will really help me make that pivot, I think, as will In the United States of Africa (a great novel I couldn’t believe I forgot to include until it was pointed out to me I’d forgotten to include it, I think by Aaron Bady).
A few other things I was very sad to lose:
- I was originally going to do “an alternate history of an alternate history” thing to end the semester, Superman: Red Son, but it just didn’t make sense the way the course took shape. I held on to the idea way too long, and only cut the book two days ago. Sorry, bookstore!
- The whole original point of all this was to use the course as an excuse to teach The Years of Rice and Salt, a book I love which seems just too long too teach in any other context. And it still seems too long to teach (at least at the sophomore level). I had to give it up, and wasn’t able to include even any excerpts because I crammed in too much other stuff. Someday!
- Another thing that fell out of the course was a group presentation structure in which individual groups researched the actual history of the hinge point of each divergence and reported on it. I realized that with the newer, more expansive idea of the course this wasn’t going to work very well for at least half the books, and probably would have been reductive and overdetermined our conversations in practice, so it had to be abandoned as well.
- I really, really wanted to include a Ted Chiang what-if-religion-were-empirically-verifiable story like “Hell Is The Absence of God,” but, again, it seemed just a bit far too off the mark this time.
- I am, indeed, doing literally just one page from The Plot Against America, fulfilling my perverse desire to do so.
- There were many other great suggestions for books that I wasn’t able to use. A few that I really struggled over:
- Life After Life: a Replay-style reincarnation novel about World War I;
- Replay itself, which is just too time-travel-ish for this (though I’ve always really liked it);
- I likewise ruled out some other really good alternate-timeline stories because they were really time travel stories, from my puritanical perspective;
- Something longer from Butler, perhaps Wild Seed (again, just too far afield generically for what I’m hoping to do);
- Something truly (“merely”) generic, like Turtledove or Bring the Jubilee;
- Lion’s Blood, Atomik Aztex, The Indians Won, The Bird Is Gone, The Heirs of Columbus, etc. I was so hung up on the idea of doing The Years of Rice and Salt that it crowded out this space for me (and then I added In the United States of Africa instead, to take on this question from a different direction). Next time.
- Swastika Night, 1984, Handmaid’s Tale, Battle Royale: all good suggestions but didn’t hit the sense of “pastness” required by my conception of alternate history as a genre, as they were all future histories in their original moment of production;
- District 9: only (re-)occurred to me at the last second because I was talking about it to somebody in another context, and didn’t have time to do it because the syllabus was (again) too crammed with too much other stuff. Someone had suggested Born in Flames to me as well, which also would have been great.
- I also really wanted to play some board games like Twilight Struggle, Risk, Axis and Allies, and Chrononauts, but it seemed like it would be unwieldy and pointless with 35 students in the room. I think Civilization could scratch the same itch, though…
All right, with all those caveats, apologies, and thanks, here’s the week by week schedule (and full syllabus with all course procedures)! Three papers, the first two “traditionally scholarly,” the third one with a creative option, as well as a few creative micro-assignments here and there. If there’s anything more I should explain or you have any questions about the decisions I made, feel free to ask in the comments!
|M||Aug. 29||FIRST DAY OF CLASS
in-class writing exercise: “What If…”
|W||Aug. 31||class discussion: “What If…”|
|UNIT ONE: ALTERNATE WORLD WAR IIs|
|F||Sep. 2||Kim Stanley Robinson, “The Lucky Strike”|
|M||Sep. 5||LABOR DAY—NO CLASS|
|W||Sep. 7||Kim Stanley Robinson, “A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions”|
|F||Sep. 9||FIRST PAPER GUIDELINES DISTRIBUTED
Star Trek: “The City on the Edge of Forever” (discussion only; watch it on your own!)
criticism: H. Bruce Franklin, “Star Trek in the Vietnam Era” [D2L]
|M||Sep. 12||Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, chapters 1-3|
|W||Sep. 14||Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, chapters 4-6|
|F||Sep. 16||Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, chapters 7-9|
|M||Sep. 19||Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, chapters 10-13|
|W||Sep. 21||Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle (whole book)|
|F||Sep. 23||The Man in the High Castle (2015 Amazon pilot) (discussion only; watch it on your own!)|
|M||Sep. 26||Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds (discussion only; optional screening date and time TBA)|
|W||Sep. 28||Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds (discussion continues)
· review: Ben Waters, “Debating Inglourious Basterds” [Web]
· review: Michael Atkinson, “The Anti-Blockbuster” [Web]
· review: Lee Siegel, “Tarantino’s Hollow Violence” [Web]
· review: Jeffrey Goldberg, “Hollywood’s Jewish Avenger” [Web]
|F||Sep. 30||Lauren Davis, “Quentin Tarantino’s Spin Through Alternate History” [io9.com]
creative writing: Draft a short flash fiction [500-1000 words] or create an artifact, document, or image set in the 2016 of the world of Inglourious Basterds
Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (excerpt) [D2L]
|UNIT TWO: OTHER HISTORIES|
|M||Oct. 3||FIRST PAPER WORKSHOP
Bring in at least your introductory paragraphs, main claim, and an outline of your paper.
|W||Oct. 5||Sid Meier’s Civilization
videos: Civilization V timelapse gameplay videos [YouTube]
post: Trevor Owens, “Sid Meier’s Colonization: Is It Offensive Enough?” [Web]
thread: Lycerius, “I’ve Been Playing the Same Game of Civilization for Almost Ten Years. This Is the Result” [Reddit]
|F||Oct. 7||Sid Meier’s Civilization
criticism: Kacper Pobłocki, “Becoming-State: The Bio-Cultural Imperialism of Sid Meier’s Civilization”
|M||Oct. 10||FIRST PAPER DUE
SECOND PAPER GUIDELINES DISTRIBUTED
Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” [D2L]
|W||Oct. 12||Karen Joy Fowler, “Game Night at the Fox and Goose” [D2L]|
|F||Oct. 14||criticism: L. Timmel Duchamp, “Playing with the Big Boys: (Alternate) History in Karen Joy Fowler’s ‘Game Night at the Fox and Goose’” [Web]|
|M||Oct. 17||Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton|
|W||Oct. 19||Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
thinkpiece: Jennifer Schuessler, “Hamilton and History: Are They in Sync?” [Web]
interview: Rebecca Onion and Lyra D. Monteiro, “A Hamilton Skeptic on Why the Show Isn’t As Revolutionary As It Seems” [Web]
|F||Oct. 21||FALL BREAK—NO CLASS|
|M||Oct. 24||Terry Bisson, Fire on the Mountain, pgs. 1-66|
|W||Oct. 26||Terry Bisson, Fire on the Mountain, pgs. 67-119|
|F||Oct. 28||Terry Bisson, Fire on the Mountain (whole book)|
|M||Oct. 31||Abdourahman A. Waberi, In the United States of Africa (part one)|
|W||Nov. 2||Abdourahman A. Waberi, In the United States of Africa (whole book)
criticism: Justin Izzo, “Historical Reversibility as Ethnographic Afrofuturism: Abdourahman Waberi’s Alternative Africa”
|F||Nov. 4||CONFERENCES—CLASS CANCELLED|
|UNIT THREE: DREAMING OF DIFFERENCE|
|M||Nov. 7||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 1-4)|
|W||Nov. 9||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 5-6)|
|F||Nov. 11||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 7-9)|
|M||Nov. 14||SECOND PAPER DUE
FINAL PROJECT GUIDELINES DISTRIBUTED
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 10-13)
|W||Nov. 16||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 14-16)|
|F||Nov. 18||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (chapters 17-19)|
|M||Nov. 21||Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (whole book)
Martin Puchner, “When We Were Clones” [D2L]
|W||Nov. 23||THANKSGIVING BREAK—NO CLASS|
|F||Nov. 25||THANKSGIVING BREAK—NO CLASS|
|M||Nov. 28||Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven (chapters 1-4)|
|W||Nov. 30||Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven (chapters 5-8)|
|F||Dec. 2||Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven (whole book)|
|M||Dec. 5||Octavia E. Butler, “The Book of Martha”
creative writing: Imagine God comes to you with the same offer he/she/it brings to Martha. What one change would you make to the world, and why?
|W||Dec. 7||Octavia E. Butler, “The Book of Martha” (discussion continues)
creative writing: Draft a flash fiction [500-1000 words] or create an artifact, document, or image set in the world that exists sometime after the end of “The Book of Martha.”
Octavia E. Butler, “Afterword to ‘The Book of Martha’”
Gerry Canavan, Octavia E. Butler (excerpt) [D2L]
|F||Dec. 9||FINAL PROJECT WORKSHOP
LAST DAY OF CLASS
|F||Dec. 16||FINAL ASSIGNMENT DUE BY 12:30 PM|
* So what do I mean by claiming that there is no future to the study of culture in the 21st Century? My thesis is that we are (or should be) nearing the end of the study of culture, and that to continue to study it as we have will run the risk of irrelevance, or worse. In this talk I maintain that there is no future for the study of culture if it does not include the study of key concerns of the 21st century, including especially those ecological, geopolitical, and economic issues which threaten the existence of culture as we know it.
* I thought the first episode of Harmonquest was pretty promising. I’ve also been enjoying The Union of “The State” for the full 90s flashback experience. And why not wash it down with Dana Carvey’s Nano-Impressions?
* The parental misery index. Whenever I see this studies I really think that “happiness” is the wrong value to be trying to measure; being a parent is unquestionably the best thing I’ve ever done, whether it makes me quantifiably “happier” moment-to-moment or not.
* No more half measures: only the total elimination of the university can protect students and teachers from each other.