New Cyborg Theory

 

This graduate seminar focuses on works of science fiction and fantasy that complicate conceptions of what it means to be human, what it means to be animal, and what it means to be technological by blurring the boundaries that have traditionally separated these categories.

cyborgs

Creative Writing Science Fiction

CRW4930 is a course on the writing of short, literary science fiction.  Although science fiction as a whole tends to exhibit certain generic patterns and honors certain conventions—Martians! Robots! Little green men!—writing literary sf means not succumbing to clichéd, formula-based writing that fails to pay attention to language and originality. Instead, writing literary sf entails learning to hone your creative craft all while paying heed to additional constraints. Class time is split between analyzing published work and workshopping student writing.

Still shot from Fiend without a Face (1958), a film based loosely on Amelia Reynold’s Long’s “The Thought Monster” (Weird Tales, 1930)  (aka what not to do when writing literary sf).

 

POP! Art

Last night we went to the Jaffe Center for Book Arts here at FAU and heard an amazing talk by Matthew Reinhart, the fiendishly clever paper engineer (aka pop-up *master*) and author of some of my favorite contemporary pops: The Pop-up Book of Nightmares, The Pop-up Book of Phobias, etc. The entire event was a treat.  In keeping with the theme, the folks at the Jaffe Center served popcorn, soda-pop, and m&ms in little boxes stamped with the word “pop!” on them.  Reinhart told us his story about how he came to be a pop-up master and showed us some of his techniques. It was mind-blowing.  I had no idea that everything was made by hand–all the way up to and through production.   Reinhart showed us how he drafts his works–first by sketching, then by making paper, then by tracing, folding, sculpting, and more sculpting.  It was fascinating to watch.  It rekindled my love of paper and books (as if this needed rekindling) and made me want to try making pop-ups of my own.  Fantastic stuff!

Enviropig

I’ve been re-reading Oryx and Crake for my Science Fiction and Environmentalism class at FAU. Atwood’s an amazing writer—lyrical, funny, smart. But I was more disturbed this time around by the Pigoons than I was the first time I read the book. Maybe because I’ve been thinking much more about animal intelligence these days. I’m not sure. But they horrified me on a visceral level, which is odd, because I remember thinking before that they seemed almost silly. And then this morning I read about the enviropig project in Canada, which aimed to genetically engineer a pig that would not produce as much phosphorous in its droppings as normal pigs do. The  funding for enviropig has just been cut, but I wonder how much press it got when Atwood was writing the book.

Jurassic Park Bill

I’m having a hard time getting my head around this weird, misguided proposal. As much as I love science fiction, the thought of giraffes, zebras, and rhinoceroses roaming through the Everglades due to some human error (happens all the time) or as a consequence of a natural disaster (again—this is Florida—it happens all the time) is an unwelcome one. When we were in college in Sarasota, a bunch of parrots got loose from Jungle Gardens during Hurricane Andrew. They did really well. And while it was oddly cool to see their bright green and yellow bodies take wing, they became a raucous and invasive airborne street gang. And let’s not forget the pythons. Oh boy.

Charles Burnes' illustration

“Monstrous Plants”

This year’s ICFA has been a blast. This is my third time at this conference, and I’m always blown away by how intelligent and friendly the attendees are. There are so many good papers that it would be impossible to mention them all, but there was one that was so smart and so much fun that it must be shared: Timothy Miller’s “Lives of the Monster Plants: The Revenge of the Vegetable in the Age of Animal Studies.” Miller connected monster plants to anxieties about Darwinian evolution and offered up some fantastic specimens. In addition to the usual green-leafed suspects (in, e.g., Little Shop of Horrors, Day of the Triffids, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) Miller excavated some real gems. My favorite was Paul Bunyan Fights the Monster Plants. I will be ordering this book immediately.  I also appreciated Miller’s linking of plant life to animal studies—a good reminder of the interconnectedness of all things.  Great stuff!

Monster Plants

Modeling Knowledge Conference

For the past few days I’ve been at the “Knowledge Organization and Data Modeling in the Humanities” workshop in Rhode Island. It’s been a treat to participate in a conversation about some of the most ancient and enduring questions we have as human beings: How do we model the world? How do we model models of the world? And how—and now we’re approaching the Borges parable “Exactitude in Science”—do we model our modeling of our models? This is all in the context of the digital humanities, of course, and therefore packaged up and explicated through xml and questions about ontological structures (both in terms of Aristotle and data schemata), but the conversation should be of interest to anyone interested in how it is we know what we know.

Pattern Recognition

Re-reading Pattern Recognition for my presentation at the ACLA in a couple of weeks. Although my presentation focuses upon the novel’s relation to film—in particular, Chris Marker’s La jetéePattern Recognition speaks to a vast and inter-related media ecology comprised of words, images, icons, fashion, adverts, watermarks, human labor, sigils, and typewriters (including, hilariously, “Stephen King’s Wang”). Published shortly after 9/11, and informed by the subsequent trauma of that event, the book remains a phenomenal read. Even though the rendering farm that makes the footage and therefore the F:F:F possible seems slightly antique ten years later, the theme of technological obsolescence and overlap is so expertly woven throughout the text that it doesn’t seem remotely out of date.


“a Wang…but not Mr. King’s”

Green Games?

Although video games have long provided a convenient scapegoat for environmental apathy, there is a strong trend, growing stronger all the time, of making use of digital technology in general and games in particular to promote environmental and social awareness, to aid in conservation, and to democratize activism.  The “Greening the Game” blog is geared towards classroom use. It serves as an educational forum for an ongoing conversation about how video games are already contributing to environmental awareness, activism, and conservation efforts, as well as how they have untapped potential to intervene even more–both positively and negatively–in the future of eco-critical discourse.

“Power Zoom”

In January 2012, the Graduate Student Digital Assembly at the University of Florida invited me to participate in their symposium, “Digital Platforms and the Future of Books,”  which turned out to be a rich and rewarding discussion about metadata, digital publication formats, augmented reality, and the future of the reading interface.  My talk, “Power Zoom: Reading the Future through the Lens of the Past,” is archived on the symposium website.

digitalAssemblyFlyer