Meeting V - April 8, 2012  1PM

For our fifth (& perhaps final) science fiction study group meeting, we'll be looking at New Wave & post-modern short stories. New Wave authors made explicit attempts to distance themselves from traditional science fiction, and bring the formal experimentation of Modernism into genre writing.


The Distance of the Moon from Cosmicomics

by Italo Calvino

First published in 1965, English translation 1968, 6 pages

Calvino is a great fantasist. In Cosmicomics, every chapter begins with an epigraph describing something that actually happened in science (as far as we know). Calvino takes this scientific fact as a basis for a bizarre, imaginative story in which nature is a matter of perspective, a phenomenological construct. He takes a fact of science and understands it in thoroughly human terms—myth, love, & loss.

Epigraph for "The Distance of the Moon"

At one time, according to Sir George H. Darwin, the Moon was very close to the Earth. Then the tides gradually pushed her far away: the tides that the Moon herself causes in the Earth's waters, where the Earth slowly loses energy.


Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown from The Atrocity Exhibition

by J. G. Ballard

1967, 4 pages

Ballard is probably the most prominent New Wave author, with numerous notable works: Crash, The Crystal World, The Terminal Beach, The Atrocity Exhibition, & (non-SF) Empire of the Sun. He wanted to write SF exploring  "inner" space—psychological fictions. As a teenager, Ballard devoured Frued's writings, and considered a career as a psychiatrist. "Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown" begins with an 18-word sentence, followed by 18 corresponding footnotes. A fragmented, obsessive approach to a traumatized modern psyche.


I Have No Mouth, and I must Scream

by Harlan Ellison

1967, 15 pages

This fast-paced, shocking short story was written in a single night in 1966, and won the Hugo award in 1968. Earth is covered by ever more computers which link up, create a totalizing intelligence, and encapsulate the world in one big computer called AM— Allied Mastercomputer. Like Frankenstein's monster, AM is furious with his creators, and keeps the last 5 surviving humans forever in his bowels so he can torment them.

Meeting IV - Philip K. Dick

Ubik, by Philip K. Dick, 1969, 212 pages

If you watch movies, you have probably seen an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's work: Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau, etc.

Exactly 8 years before Blade Runner's release & Dick's death, a french filmmaker made the first attempt to produce a Ubik film. Dick himself wrote the screenplay. After almost 40 years of failed production attempts, the rights to Ubik are once again in the hands of a french filmmaker, Michel Gondry — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. So, we've decided to read this soon-to-be-adapted book, without the distractions of Harrison Ford's voice over, or Keanu Reeves rotoscoped acting.

Named by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest English-language novels of our time, Ubik is a unique story that wipes out the boundry between life & death. It is 1992, it is the future, and something has happened -- an explosion. People reach into their pockets and pull out money with different faces, each reflecting different realities. Dick often problematizes the relations between the world & the individual who perceives it. Many science fiction stories raise this issue because science is about knowing. Get past the first few inept* chapters, and you will be rewarded with a comic, horrific tale that examines the uncertainty that arises from living in a technosphere.

Meeting III - Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin, 303 pages

Meeting II - Pulp Culture & The Golden Age of Science Fiction

Bradbury, Ray. "December 2001: The Green Morning" and "October 2026: The Million-Year Picnic" from The Martian Chronicles (1950)

(14 pages total)

"It is good to renew one's wonder," said the philosopher. "Space travel has again made children of all of us."

  -- Epigraph from Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, a composite novel seamed together from previously published short stories.

Lyrical, frontier fairy tale about the exploration & colonization of Mars by Earthmen. Soft SF, bridges short-form pulp fiction & the subtler SF novels that followed.

Asimov, Isaac. "Reason" (1941) from I, Robot (1950)***

(20 pages)

"Reason" is a previously published short that was included in Asimov's 1950 composite novel I, Robot.

Each chapter is a puzzle based on Asimov's 3 laws of robotics, which underscore his hope of perfectible technology leading to eutopia (like when Aristotle said something about when the looms can operate themselves, all men will be free). This chapter addresses Descarte's famous exploration of a supposed logical basis for religion.

Heinlein, Robert A. "All You Zombies—" (1960)***

(12 pages)

Time travel paradox short story by an author who epitomized American SF from the Golden Age. Showcases his focus on the individual & his Twain-like affinity for American culture.

Clarke, Arthur C. "The Star" (1955)*** & “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953)

(12 pages total)

The master of hard SF. If you have limited time, just read these 2 stories, or watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. 


Lem, Stanislaw. "Science Fiction: A Hopeless Case—With Exceptions" from Microworlds

(25 pages)

A disdainful look at SF by Stanislaw Lem, one of the most critically acclaimed SF authors, especially when he's the critic.

Scan includes parts 1-5 of this famous essay. I omitted part 6, in which Lem offers condescending praise of Philip K. Dick for 35 pages.

"1984 and Beyond"

1963 Playboy interview series with the most famous science fiction writers of the time: Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Budrys, Heinlein, among others.

Fun. Underscores the all-male author line-up of this meeting.

Ellis, Edward S. (1840-1916, pen name "Noname"), The Huge Hunter: or, The Steam Man of the Prairies (1868)

Stereotypes abound in this story about a steam robot invented by a hunchbacked boy. The steam man triumphs over "savages" and "bad men."

Clarke, Arthur C. “The Sentinel”

Considered the precursor to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

*** Available in Science Fiction: A Historical Anthology edited by Eric S. Rabkin.

Meeting I - Emerging Science Fiction

The Emergence of Modern Science

Introduction to Science Fiction: A Historical Anthology

Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655)

From The Other World: The States and Empires of the Moon (1657)

Dinner with Two Philosophers: Youth, Age, and Vegetables

Dinner with Two Philosophers: Bodies Great and Small

The Sand-man (1816) by E. T. A. Hoffmann

The Star (1899) by H. G. Wells


Gallery Study Information

Sci-fi Study Group

Syllabus provided by Laura Mackin

"The literature of (science fiction) is vast and diverse, associating in one section of the bookstore gloriously self-indulgent mass gratifications with thoughtful and difficult social commentaries, vigorous tales of adventure with quiet ruminations on the difficulties of defining oneself in the world. The subspecies include Sword-and-Sorcery, alternate time streams, utopian and dystopian literature, speculative fiction, lyric romance, and doomsday fiction. The novels and short stories offer power fantasies, mystic experience, intellectual challenge, and always excitement. This wealth seems almost beyond definition."

Eric S. Rabkin, from Science Fiction: A Historical Anthology