Prompt (group 2 and last): Media, media everywhere

How does Lagoon reflect on its own relationship to other media? All semester we have emphasized the specific qualities of science fiction in print. But Lagoon is full of representations and allusions to visual and digital media. Choose a particular example and write a short paragraph about how this particular Okorafor’s writing might help us think about how this science-fiction novel works in a multimedia world.

You may certainly discuss Lagoon in relation to District 9, but you need not.

Since this prompt is going up late, you will receive blogging credit for it if you post any time before class on Tuesday.

Supplements: Lagoon

Okorafor, Naijamerican Eyes on Lagos: text and photographs from a talk about Lagos Okorafor gave earlier this year, archived on her blog. I showed some of the images in class.

Okorafor’s own web site, with some biographical information about her and publicity materials for her various books (which gives a sense of the range of genres she works in). There is a video interview in which Okorafor talks, among other things, about how she chose writing as a career.

David Smith, Crisis in Nigeria as President drops out of view. A report from the London Guardian on the 2010 absence of then-Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua. Six years have since passed, and Lagoon, published four years since this event, is quite self-conscious about choosing this particular moment for its setting.

Nathaniel Bivan and Risqah Ramon, “Nigerian writers shouldn’t focus on fame, money – Nnedi Okorafor,” Daily Trust (Abuja), September 24, 2016: a recent interview, with some remarks on genre that we’ll talk about in class.

David Esizimetor and Francis Egbokhare, Naijá (Nigerian Pidgin): A descriptive article about the language, from the Language Varieties site, which also has good concise definitions of the linguistic terms “pidgin” and “creole.”

Blogging prompt: Gibson and the plot (group 1)

A hard exercise for group 1 bloggers: summarize the plot of Neuromancer in three sentences or less. Now reflect, in a brief paragraph, on the significance of the plot, thinking particularly about the relationship between plot and the other kind of plot (conspiracy). What kinds of things get left out, when you boil down the story? What kind of plotter is Gibson, by comparison with other novelists we’ve read (for example, Le Guin)?

I can’t stop you from referring to the plot summary you’ll find on Wikipedia, but if you do so, I expect you to comment interpretively on that document as well as give your own much more concise summary. It is very characteristic of Wikipedia that the summary is very long—nine paragraphs!

Prompt: Butler (group 2)

On Tuesday we will continue our discussion of Butler. Our main focus will be “Speech Sounds,” but we will also compare the three stories of Butler’s we are reading in light of her personal essay “Positive Obsession.”

In reading “Speech Sounds,” I highly recommend using a mapping site (like Google Maps) to get a sense for the geography of the story. For example, if I have done this right, Rye’s journey begins around the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Virginia Road. Search for other locations mentioned in the text. I’ll invite everyone to talk about city geography in the discussion.

I would like Group 2 bloggers, however, to write comparatively. Think about Philip Dick’s vision of life after World War Terminus (or, if you like, Ridley Scott’s): there are many resonances with the broken-down society envisioned in “Speech Sounds.” Choose a specific moment in “Speech Sounds” to compare to Dick, but rather than comparing the settings or circumstances, compare effects. Does Butler’s use of the post-disaster world allow for the same responses as Dick? Or if not, how does the Butler passage you are choosing indicate what is different.

Write only a paragraph. Group 1 bloggers are welcome to fill in an extra entry (opportunities for this are running out!). Entries are due as usual on Monday at 5 p.m.

Extra: Butler left her papers to the Huntington library in Pasadena. The library has a web page with some material on her, including some images from her notebooks. Especially striking are her self-motivational notes, one of which is reproduced here and worth thinking about as evidence of Butler’s relationship to the field of publishing.

Prompt: Dick, filmed (group 1)

Watch Blade Runner (1982) via the Films link on the course Sakai site. You may have to install the Google Widevine Media Optimizer plugin for your web browser. If you’d rather not watch on your computer, the film is also on reserve at the Douglass Library media center, where there are viewing rooms.

Watch with the same attentiveness you bring to reading for the course. This means keeping notes, preferably with time codes so you can refer to specific scenes in discussion. Pay attention to the way the film is made and not just what is happening in the story: the movement of the camera, the composition of shots, the timing of cuts, the use of sound and music, and so on. This particular film is celebrated for its visual effects (which are not computer-generated: 1982!), so think about how the science-fictional world is visualized, and, in particular, what difference it makes when SF moves from the print medium to a visual medium. (We can equally say: when SF moves from the marginalized medium of the cheap Ace paperback to the mass medium of the Hollywood film.)

Bloggers: choose a single scene in the film that in some way bears comparison to something specific in Do Androids Dream. Try to think not just about plot details but about some of the questions we’ve discussing that relate to the way the book works. Locate the scene in the film, describe briefly what you notice about it, and write a single paragraph relating it to Dick’s novel.

Entries are due at 5 p.m. on Monday. Group 2 bloggers are of course welcome to join in if they choose.

From class today: images of Edvard Munch’s paintings Puberty (1894) and The Scream (1893) from the Norwegian National Museum.

Prompt: Dick (group 2)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, like much of Dick’s work, is particularly interested in experiences of suspicion, doubt, and paranoia: the anxious sense that things are not what they appear to be. Choose a moment from the first half of the novel that describes (or creates) such an experience. Quote it and write a short paragraph about how the text works to produce suspicion. What is cast into doubt and why?

Group 1 bloggers may of course choose this as an “off” week to blog on as well. Everyone should read all the blog entries, but remember, you never know who might lie behind a pseudonym.

Prompt: interpreting Le Guin interpreting Le Guin (group 1)

Everyone is reading Le Guin’s “Is Gender Necessary?” For group 1 bloggers, my prompt is: what kind of interpretation of The Left Hand of Darkness is this? That is, what elements of her own work is Le Guin emphasizing? Cite a particular passage from the novel that seems significant in light of this commentary. Then write a paragraph on how you interpret the passage in response to Le Guin. She doesn’t get the last word on her book! Think about her own later commentary might be leaving out (or adding) to the text that you understand in your own way.

Try to keep things specific—and concise. I will check the blog after Monday at 5 p.m.; everybody should read the blog on Monday evening. Group 2 bloggers are free to use this as one of their off-week entries.

P.S. for more Le Guiniana, her web site has many fascinating leads. You might particularly browse around in the long selection of interviews. I recommend one conducted for the BBC by the SF writer China Miéville (whose essay on Lovecraft we read) in 2009.

Awards and Conventions

A few sources related to science-fiction conventions and the Hugos, as a supplement to our discussions yesterday. The discussion handout is on Sakai, as are the excerpts from Franson and DeVore’s History of the Hugo, Nebula, and International Fantasy Awards. Fans have also created a long list of Hugo winners and nominees. (Some features of the latter list to think about: what is the significance of the later creation of “retro Hugos”? What is the significance of the changing categories for awards?)

The dates and locations of the World Science Fiction Conventions (Worldcons) can be found in an impressive table compiled by a committee of science-fiction convention organizers. Of particular interest are the approximate attendance figures and the lists of guests of honor, which give hints about the nature of one big organized SF community of the time.

The Big Time won its Hugo in 1958. Program pages and other information about that year’s Worldcon, called Solacon, can be found on This is a personal site run by someone who organized a more recent convention. Fans have often been their own historians.

Newspaper coverage of early SF conventions is often quite revealing about the way newspaper reporters responded to (or thought readers wanted to think they responded to) fandom. Here are a few selections from searches of the digitized national papers Rutgers has access to:

  1. New York Times coverage of the 1950 New York Science Fiction Convention: “Invasion from Mars,” July 1, 1950.
  2. Washington Post coverage of the 1950 Disclave (that is, the D.C. convention): Lee Grove, “Pen Pals Meet at a Scientific ‘Disclave’ Here,” May 1, 1950.
  3. NYT on the 1956 Worldcon (the list of Worldcons above notes that fans objected to “Newyorcon” and rechristened it “Nycon II”): “800 Writers Here Air Science Fiction,” September 1, 1956.

The national newspapers do not cover Hugo awards in the 1950s, as far as I can tell. In the 1960s, the awards are still not reported on, but publishers’ ads in the book pages start to mention them. Here is an example, an ad for Robert Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky:


G.P. Putnam’s Sons, “The New Heinlein!,” New York Times Book Review, May 24, 1964: 43.

What is going on here? Two facts to think about: unlike the inexpensive-paperback publishers who put out most SF in book form in the 1950s and 1960s, Putnam was an old-established American publisher. And Heinlein had had a “breakthrough” bestseller–that is, a book that sold far beyond the specialist SF audience–with his Stranger in a Strange Land (1961).

Leiber: Reading assignment and prompt for group 2

A new week, a new decade, a new magazine. We are reading Fritz Leiber’s novel The Big Time in its two-part serialization in Galaxy magazine. Once again this will require you to locate the appropriate magazine issue in a digital collection, download the PDF files, and read with attention to the kind of thing you’re reading. The collection this time is the Internet Archive’s Magazine Rack, a wonderfully wide-ranging body of scanned periodicals, which includes the run of Galaxy.

Please prepare to discuss this in class by keeping notes and printing out at least three passages of interest from the reading. If at all possible, bring your digital device to class with the PDF file on it as well.

Group 2 bloggers: among your chosen passages, choose one and discuss it in relation to the function of comedy in Leiber’s novel. If we have attended a great deal to how SF makes claims on seriousness, how does this text use humor? What kinds of humor are possible, and how do they relate to other problems or questions in the text.

Mini-essays will cause transtemporal chaos. Do not write them. A thoughtful paragraph is all you should write.

Group 1 bloggers: you are not required to post this week, but, as always, you may.

Asimov/Astounding: Guided exploration and blogging prompt

For Tuesday, October 4, everyone is to read at least the first three parts of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and to spend a little time with a sample issue of the magazine in which it first appeared, Astounding Science-Fiction.

The issues containing Foundation are not available on the Pulp Magazines Project, but the archive does hold a digital version of an early issue of ASF edited by John W. Campbell, whose influence was decisive in forming the writing of the so-called “Golden Age” of Science Fiction, including that of Asimov.

Read the short history of Astounding by Nathan Vernon Madison on the Pulp Magazines Project website. Then download the PDF file of the August 1938 issue. As we did with Amazing Stories and Wonder Stories, browse this issue, paying particular attention to (and taking notes on) its characteristics as a medium, and comparing it to the other media we have looked at, including the earlier pulps.

You are not required to read any of the stories in the issue. You are required to read the following texts:

  1. Campbell’s editorial, “Power” (111)
  2. “In Times to Come” (124)
  3. The first page only of Willy Ley, “Orbits, Take-offs and Landings” (125); page through the rest
  4. The whole of “Science discussions and Brass Tacks” (154–61), taking careful note of the authors of the letters from readers.

Blogging prompt (group 1)

Foundation envisions a long future history. What is history, according to this novel? Choose a passage (or at most two) that suggests some particular understanding of history: who the protagonists of history are, which events are significant (or which aren’t), what forces or decisions shape the historical process. Or you can think about how the narrative form and technique of Asimov’s text implies attitudes to history (how it should be told, what its purpose is). Either way, quote a passage and build your blog post from there.

Write a good paragraph, but mini-essays are right out. Group 2 members may optionally blog about this if they wish.

Please do not forget to read all the blog entries on Monday evening.

Prompt: Early Pulps (group 2)

First, follow the guided reading assignment. Now let’s think about how pulps might be linked to the other textual worlds we have considered in the course. Choose a specific moment in “The Conquest of Gola” or “The Man from the Atom” which you can usefully compare to Wells, Rokeya, or Zamyatin. Write a paragraph in which you develop the comparison, being as specific as you can about the two texts you discuss. Avoid evaluation (“X is really science fiction but Y is not”); compare how the two texts work. It can be fruitful to think not just about content but about form and style—or about the genre signals within and around the texts as we are studying them.

No mini-essays. I mean it. Group 1 bloggers need not write (but they may). I will check the blogs around 5 p.m. on Monday evening, and I cannot give credit for entries posted after I check.

All class members: if you make discoveries or encounter difficulties as you explore the databases or the scans of pulps, please post them on the blog so that others can share in what you know or want to know! I’ll check in on the site over the weekend. (E-mail works too, of course.)

Early SF Pulps: Guided Exploration

Required readings appear in boldface.

Amazing Stories, which began its run in 1926, is commonly called the first science-fiction pulp magazine. The pulps were a key institution in the formation of a literary genre called “science fiction.” The aim of this reading is to get a sense of what kind of institution an early pulp was. Thanks to the extraordinary Pulp Magazines Project, you can access good digital scans of many issues of many pulp magazines, including Amazing. (Cheap and ephemeral at the time, these are now rare collector’s items.)

Read the short history of the magazine on the site. Then download the PDFs of the first two issues: go to the Amazing page in the archive, and right-click (or control-click) on the “PDF” links for the April 1926, May 1926, and July 1926 issues, choosing to save the file to your hard drive (these are moderately large files). Do not use the “HTML” or “FlipBook” versions, which serve different purposes.

Carefully read all paratexts (that is, everything that isn’t a story!) in the April and May issues of the magazine. Examples of paratexts are ads, editorials, the italicized notes introducing stories, tables of contents, and so on. You will have to page through every page; this is why the PDF format is important. Think about what this tells you as you do it; keep notes. Also read Gernsback’s editorial, “Fiction Versus Facts,” in the July issue.

In Amazing 1, no. 1 you will see some familiar names. Read “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” Then visit this page from the American Periodicals Series database of nineteenth-century magazines and click the tab reading “Page View – PDF” so that you know what this document is. We will discuss what this means in class.

Reading “The New Accelerator” is optional, but also take a look at this page in the HathiTrust database and figure out what you’re looking at.

Now read (still in the same issue) the first part of Wertenbaker’s “The Man from the Atom.” The second part (in the May issue) is optional.

The other required reading is in a different magazine, Wonder Stories, also run by Gernsback (though edited by David Lasser). Locate and read the Pulp Magazines Project’s short history of the title. Then read Leslie Stone’s short story “The Conquest of Gola.” The syllabus tells you all you need to know to download the PDF of the issue in which this story appears. As you read, continue to pay close attention to the paratexts.

Optional but fun: “The Man Who Evolved,” by Edmond Hamilton, in the same issue as Stone’s story.

Prompt: Zamyatin (group 1)

Our responses to dystopian texts are often heavily shaped by the represented setting: the category emphasizes the rules of the imagined world (e.g., everyone’s a number) rather than the way this world is represented. But of course there is no dystopic world without the representation. To focus your analytic reading, choose a passage in which the embedded situation of address strikes you as worthy of comment: who speaks, to whom, on what occasion, with what tone; what are the implicit rules of what can and cannot be said. (“Situation of address” does not mean dialogue in the text but the speaking situation of the narrative itself.) How do linguistic and formal cues shape our interpretation of the narrative?

To forestall too much grasping at the lowest-hanging fruit, I am arbitrarily decreeing that you must not use Records 1 or 2. Carefully quote and cite the passage you wish to discuss, then write a single paragraph on its details. If you notice that someone has already posted on your passage of choice, it will be most useful to our class discussion if you choose another passage. But it is also acceptable to respond thoughtfully to a foregoing discussion, provided you point to new details in the text. There’s no need to reach definite conclusions, and mini-essays are forbidden.

For credit, posts must be published by 5 p.m. on Monday. Group 1 is required to post, and group 2 members may take this occasion to do one of their two off-week posts.

Prompt: Wells in the Magazines

We read The Time Machine in book form, but this was not the only medium Wells’s novel appeared in. Like many long fictions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, The Time Machine began in serialized form in a periodical: that is, published in parts in a magazine. If we are thinking about this early scientific romance and the medium of print, we have to think about both the book form and these forms in parts.

There are two early periodical publications. The first full version of The Time Machine is not called that! It is a series of articles for the Edinburgh-based National Observer published in 1894.

Then Wells published a new more extended version, under the title The Time Machine, in 1895 in a different magazine, the London-based New Review. Shortly thereafter the first book edition appeared from Heinemann in London and from Holt in New York.

National Observer version

This can be found in the British Periodicals database. This thing is not that easy to use, but you can learn a lot from it.

  1. Time Traveling: Possibility or Paradox?” (March 17, 1894)
  2. The Time Machine” (March 24)
  3. A.D. 12,203: A Glimpse of the Future” (March 31)
  4. The Refinement of Humanity: A.D. 12,203” (April 21)
  5. The Sunset of Mankind” (April 28)
  6. In the Underworld” (May 19)
  7. The Time Traveler Returns” (June 23)

Choose any of these parts and read it. Then, follow the link in the database that reads “Back to issue” (near the top of the screen, above the article title), and spend just a few minutes looking over what else was in the National Observer with Wells that week. Think about what kind of magazine this is, and what that implies about the tale Wells is writing.

New Review version

This is bizarrely inaccessible in the British Periodicals database, but the HathiTrust database of book scans gives us images of the revised version.

There is no need to read any of the parts again (unless you want to)! There are some differences in the text. This time, choose any of these parts and then scroll a bit to see what kind of context The New Review was for this serialized novel.


Now, write a paragraph about any particular feature, large or small, of one or both of the magazine versions that you noticed and that seems significant to you. You might especially consider how our expectations about what kind of thing we’re reading are shaped by the magazine context; you can also think about how the novel itself might be shaped by this context, too. (It can help to think in contrast to the book version: here’s a link to the 1895 Holt edition.) Be specific about a particular journal item—cite your evidence!

This post is due for everyone in the class on Monday at 5 p.m. Mini-essays are forbidden. It is fine to note details and raise questions, or to speculate, and stop there. You don’t have to mention everything you noticed or respond to everything above. We’ll continue the discussion of these versions in class on Tuesday.

Read your classmates’ posts before class.


Review of The Time Machine [the book version!], National Observer 14, no. 349, July 27, 1895: 327.