SF Study Session

May 1st, 2012

Hello everyone! I just wanted to send out a quick note to see if anyone would be interested in attending a special SF study session in the library tomorrow night at either 6 or 7. If you are interested please contact me, Ashley A. Gaston, at my umw e-mail, Agaston@mail.umw.edu. Also send which time would be best suited for your schedule. We will most likely go with the time that works the best for the most people. I will make sure to send out the finalized time to everyone who expresses interest. GOOD LUCK on finals!

Thought You All Would Appreciate This:

April 30th, 2012

The Hunger Games! Another review. You’re probably tired of these by now.

April 29th, 2012

So I saw The Hunger Games awhile back. To begin, I read the book before seeing it, which undoubtedly helped in my enjoyment factor. I was more aware of things that others would not have been as immediately aware of: for example, they never really explained the three finger salute thing, among others. Nor do they explain who “Foxface” actually IS in the movie, but I digress.

In terms of science fiction, The Hunger Games is certainly an interesting specimen. The primary tropes that I saw when watching it were dystopian elements, elements of natural resource/food conservation (kinda like how ecology was everpresent in Dune), and just general futuristic technology and settings.

For dystopia, most of North America has undergone a holocaust (or so it seems). This resulted in “The Capitol” reigning in the outlying areas that revolted and controlling them afterwards with an iron fist. The twelve districts that previously revolted are awful, terrible places to live. The main one that viewers (and readers) get to see is District 12, which is where Katniss Everdeen (the main character) grows up. District 12 is a coal mining district, and so the audience gets to see everything in shambles: most people live in tiny little shacks, and nearly everyone struggles to get by. To further show the class disparity, agents from the capitol enforce life in these districts. These agents are armed with superpowerful weapons and have the capability to snatch people up with hovercrafts on demand.

Audiences get to see the element of resource conservation primarily when the actual games begin. The contestants start out empty handed upon their entry to the playing field. There is a cornucopia in the middle, but everyone has to fight to the death in order to acquire resources. This carries over into the rest of the arena: the contestants are abandoned, and thus they have to hunt for water, food and shelter wherever they go.

For the trademark trope of marvelous machines and technology, the audience primarily sees this during the scene at the capitol. Katniss undergoes a metamorphosis from a paltry girl from the coal mining district to “The Girl On Fire” as her designers and makeup artists. Likewise, the audience can see the “game makers” (those who run The Hunger Games) creating obstacles for the contestants in the form of spontaneous fireballs flying toward whatever they desire, complete control over the weather, and a freakish method of transforming the dead contestants into mutations.

The Hunger Games is first and foremost a “gladiator” esque movie, and so this takes the center stage. The science fiction elements are left aside and only used for context, but I think it works better this way. This allows the movie (and book) to capitalize on character development and story telling without going into too much detail about every machine and every happenstance that contributes to the futuristic setting.


April 24th, 2012

Given this suggested definition of science-fiction fandom, I would have to say that I probably don’t belong.  Don’t get me wrong, if I look to my right now at my book shelf I can count over a dozen sci-fi titles, which constitutes around 1/4th of my (admittedly limited) library.  If I look at the DVD shelves above, I see the same trend towards the genre.  I have spent hours reading analyses of Watchmen, searching for opinions on Nobusuke Tagomi  (The Man in the High Castle), and gushing over Mustapha Mond (Brave New World) to my friends, but I have never visited one of those linked pages listed in the journal instructions.  I have never been to a convention nor do I discuss sci-fi on any internet forum.  I think my genre-exposure is too narrow, and my level of participation too private to be considered a ‘true’ sci-fi fan.

There should be no source of shame in sci-fi fandom.  It is simply one of a many, many things people find of interest.  However, ‘everything in moderation’ still pertains.  I would be embarrassed to admit I had spent years of my life converting my pad into a bridge from Star Trek, just as I would be embarrassed to admit that I had spent thousands of dollars on steroids for the sake of a muscle building competition.  Everything in moderation.  Of course, most of us occasionally break that rule throughout life… but hopefully not to the extent represented by my examples.

What does bother me is how members of sci-fi and fantasy fandom sometimes push their passions onto their children.  It is almost natural… they want their children to like what they do, so they buy movies and toys which correspond to their idea of what’s good.  But when parents limit their children’s exposure to a handful of select franchises, it acts practically as an indoctrination into the parent’s fandom.  I think people should be less inculcating when it comes to parenting.  These people remind me of the sports-obsessed parents who constantly hound their children throughout practice and games, and complain when/if their kids are ever benched.  Just be aware of the effects your actions have on those susceptible to them.  That being said, damn straight the SW prequels won’t be allowed in my house, and my child will be seeing The Iron Giant fairly early into their movie-watching career.

Speculative fiction often offers an escape that is more escapey than most escapes (worst sentence ever).  The settings and characters, while usually relatable in some key ways, are also usually wildly different from our own lives.  You can go to a different universe with different physical laws and learn about cultures who’ve sometimes never heard about humanity.  It can take you places.


April 24th, 2012

I’m definitely part of fandom. Many of them, actually. Ever since I was a kid I rewrote stories with my own ‘better’ endings, and as soon as I was able, I made an account on mugglenet and harrypotterhaven. I was a scifi kid from the earliest of ages. My dad told me UFO stories at bedtime, I grew up on cartoons like “Biker Mice from Mars” and as a high schooler, watched my way through Firefly, Serenity, and every movie with laser guns that I could get my paws on. I’ve considered myself a fan forever, and unlike a lot of people who never considered WHY they were part of a fandom, I know exactly what drew me in. It wasn’t quite the escapism; I never pretended nor hoped that what I read about and watched was or would one day be real. Though it was a fun way to pass the hour, it was more about the passion of the creators and collaborators. Especially with a show. A book is mostly a one-man operation, though it might have a supporting cast of editors and publishers and such. The author is the star. With a television show, like Supernatural, which is mostly fantasy and, well, supernatural/speculative, there’s a HUGE cast and crew, team of writers and producers and directors… a huge creative maelstrom. Being part of fandom lets you sort of recreate that. I was a BNF in the How I Met Your Mother fandom for a while, or at least, I like to think I was. I played in and helped run the HIMYM RPG, I was on staff for and a recipient of our annual Legendary Awards for excellency in fanart, including fanfiction, vids, playlists. It’s a huge creative outlet, and it’s not a solo flight.


What causes this passion, this collaboration? I’m not sure. I mean, think about those old renaissance salons, where people got together to wax philosophical or read poetry. Isn’t this the modern take on it? Of course, we’re discussing and debating whether the robot is a metaphor for true love on a 20 minute sitcom, but the modern variation is on a theme that’s centuries old.  I’m pretty glad to be a part of it.

Journal 9-10 by Ariel Dantona

April 24th, 2012

As strange as it may sound, prior to taking this class I never really deeply considered whether or not I was a member of any one fandom in particular, as my interests have always spanned a vast array of genres when it comes to movies, literature, and the like. However, after having focused upon science fiction novels and stories and discussed various other mediums in this class, I now feel that I can certainly call myself a fan of science fiction without any disgust or fear of social stigma. Just as it is in any fandom, there is a great range of dedication, and I see myself as a more casual fan, who may be more inclined to experience something because it is labelled as science fiction and collect action figures or comics here and there.

Now that I consider it, I actually have had an affinity for science fiction films from an early age, primarily due to the fact that my father, who was raised in the 1940s, exposed me to the black-and-white films of the early 20th century that focused upon aliens, robots, distant worlds, and scientific oddities. Also, in conjunction with that, when I was about six-years-old, I would hide behind the couch in order to watch the R-rated films that my brother viewed, which exposed me to one of my all-time favorite movies: Alien. From that age on, I collected almost all of the available Alien action figures and comics, and have since had a bit of a tendency to collect small, (typically) inexpensive trinkets from various science fiction films and TV shows, such as Star Wars, Dr. Who, Predator, and Ghost in the Shell.

When it comes to literature, I can honestly say that my interests narrow a bit, and I tend to prefer satirical short stories like ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman, and dystopian novels such as Brave New World, 1984, and Fahrenheit 451 and graphic novels like Watchmen. I suppose my main problem with a lot of science fiction literature is that I simply feel that I cannot relate to the characters, even if I try to think fantastically — for example, I simply could not care what became of Shevek in The Dispossessed or Ponter in Hominids. I am not entirely sure why this is, despite the fact that I have since tried on many occasions to explore the possible causes and look deeper into the characters.

I feel that, as far as gamers go, they are similar to science fiction fans in that they are more wont to have conventions and seek others with similar interests in order to compare notes and gain new interpretations and/or skills. Just as science fiction stimulates people to talk with one another about the contents of various sci-fi works, video games stimulate people to want to play with one another and share in a medium that is challenging in its own ways. I also think that science fiction fans and gamers tend to blend because video games, especially the ones today, tend to have various sci-fi elements (robots, aliens, scientific advancements, etc.) and even present challenging stories and satirical points. Bioshock, for example, focuses heavily upon an underwater utopia in which people are corrupted by scientific advancements that grant them power, even at the expense of others, a plot that can be very appealing to science fiction fans. The same can be said about Arkham City, Mass Effect, and Halo.

Overall, I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of in terms of enjoying science fiction or video games, just as there is nothing shameful about being a fan of any other genre or activity. Science fiction can, after all, be incredibly intellectually rewarding and stimulating in all of its forms.

Journal 9-10: Proudly a fan

April 24th, 2012

Am I a fan?

I think that to be a fan, one should enjoy something sufficiently that it creates a certain degree of excitement in the person enjoying. Being a fan may include such additional traits and activities as cosplaying, writing and reading fanfiction, purchasing associated merchandise, and otherwise attempting to immerse oneself in the world of which one is a fan. Databases such as SciFan.com compile books, authors, and series for the sci-fi reader to make it easier to find science fiction he or she will enjoy. This tells a great deal about the role of the fan and the importance of fans in the success of the genre.

Nothing creative that requires monetary investment from the public can exist without a certain number of fans. For instance, the recent Hunger Games film cost $80 million. One stipulation of continuing the franchise for Lionsgate was that the film had to bring in at least $100 million. This influx of money depended exclusively on fans, as they are the ones spending their money to see the movie. The domestic total of Hunger Games was $356.9 million at its fourth weekend. Clearly, the fans pulled through.

In that alone, fans had the power to see future Hunger Games films produced or, conversely, to tank the film and destroy its chances of success. Fans are integral to the success of a franchise, and their influence should not be underestimated.

Gamer fans have the potential to be worse, I think. Books and films are captivating and easy to immerse oneself into, but not to the level of some of the best-made video games of our time. For instance, some of my friends have found themselves sucked deeply into games such as Skyrim and Mass Effect. They spend most of their spare time in the world of the game rather than engaging with the world around them. Books provide this escape to an extent, but a book is much more finite than a game. Both sets of fans, however, seek similar things: escape, a different world, to stretch their imaginations, to name a few.

Science fiction and fantasy create entire new worlds for readers to inhabit, worlds they may not be able to imagine on their own. In these worlds the possibilities are different. The limits are different. We are fascinated by the differences and the similarities we can use to anchor ourselves. We love the ability these genres give us to access the unknown, that which we could never fully realize on our own. Fantasy and science fiction alike provide escape from worries, problems, trivial things we can’t get away from within our world. They give us an outlet. Fans have an investment in these worlds because they’ve become so dear to them. They often become safe havens. When a film version doesn’t do justice to a novel, fans lash out in anger at the disparity. They cry that it’s not right, that it’s not true to the book. Something they’ve taken as their own, as dear to them, has been meddled with. It is similar to the anger people experience when a valued childhood retreat is torn down or changed in a way deemed negative.

Fans take something someone else has created and make it their own. They love it and cherish it and find solace in it. All of us are fans of something, whether it be a book, a film, a series, or a game. Science fiction, fantasy, and indeed any kind of artistic expression requiring money could not exist without fans save in the heads of the creators.

– Julie Allbeck

Journal 9: Fans

April 24th, 2012

The science fiction genre has always had a large fan base and is one of the highest grossing genres spanning television, film, music, art, literature, and even the video game world. But what is it about this genre that people find to be so irresistible? I would venture to say that it is the hope for possibility that makes this genre so popular. From space exploration, to first contact, to world domination, to romantic vampires, to intelligent life other than the human race, we find science fiction to be interesting to us because it challenges our minds to believe in something greater than us.  We all have our favorites, whether we choose to admit to them or not. But those of us who are true fans are proud to share our favorites with others and often find and confort in unity in our passion for these stories and characters/creatures. I find the unity in a fan base to be quite an interesting concept. If you think about it, there are often many different reasons why followers are passionate about any specific work. Though their own perceptions may not match those of the others around them, when they find others who are also passionate about the same work, even if for different reasons, they instantly form a bond. The stronger and broader the fan base, the more support they bring to their passion. In turn the more passionate fans a specific work has the better it does economically and the more they can produce from that work. Fans either unknowingly or knowingly help to perpetuate a cycle that in turn gives them more of what they want. The concept of the fan base can also be manipulated too.

We all have heard of those die-hard fans who riot and cause an uproar when something does not go according to plan, or even they way they expected for them to go. In fact, there are many television shows that have either been canceled or rebooted due to the fanbase’s response to certain choices. In many ways the fate of the entire cast including the writers and producers all rests in the fan’s hands. On the other hand, fans must be considered when producing a work. If the creator does not create with the fans in mind the work will inevitable suffer. As a fan myself it is interest to consider just how much power we actually do have. Though I may not be a die hard fan like so many others, I have always been a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Now that you know how much power you actually have, I encourage you to use it wisely.

Its been a great semester and I have thoroughly enjoyed taking this course with each of you.


Ashley A. Gaston

Self-proclaimed President of The Dune Forever: Save the Sand Worms Official Club

Journal 9-10

April 24th, 2012

I think it might be naive to assume that science fiction, fantasy, or even “gamer” fans are unusually passionate. If there’s something the Internet should have taught us by now, it’s that there are fanatics for everything. Case in point: I used to be a member of a forum based around bandwidth testing.

Bandwidth testing.

That’s right. Welcome to me in the mid-2000s, on a bandwidth testing site called TestMy.Net. I used to be an active member of their community, discussing, well, bandwidth testing. I made a lot of friends and talked about a lot of other stuff, too, but still. That friendship was based around bandwidth testing.

So I’ll repeat: There are fanatics for everything. It doesn’t matter what you’re talking about–there is a group of people out there fiercely dedicated to it. Science fiction fans are no different. They may feel isolated, but that’s because they’re one of the most mainstream niche groups. That sounds like a contradiction, but think about it: Who’s the general populous more likely to make fun of? The sci-fi fans they’ve heard a fair amount about, or the bandwidth testers who they never would’ve even thought existed?

Honestly, I think phrasing the journal prompt the way it is rings of the self-victimisation that you see of so many of these niche groups. They’ve been told by society that they’re weird and deserve to be made fun of, so instead of just owning their identity with a grin and a sense of shameless pride, they slink into the shadows and hiss at the mainstreamers that walk by.

Being submerged in the “gamer” culture as much as I am means that I have a unique insight into this question. Asking if “gamers” are “the same, or worse” than sci-fi fans means, in essence, that both are bad. Why are either bad? Recently, in “gamer” culture, like “nerd” culture, there’s been a movement to just abandon all stigma and own the identity. Hardcore “gamers” don’t seem to care as much whether or not they’re labeled as such. At least fiscally, the video game industry is now bigger than the movie industry and bigger than the music industry. There’s no reason for “gamers” to feel ashamed. At all.

And why should sci-fi fans be ashamed? Star Wars is one of the most lucrative and well-known film franchises of all-time. Star Trek is one of the most lucrative and well-known TV shows of all-time. If sci-fi fans are so ashamed of their genre, maybe they should look into making it more appealing to the mainstream. The recent Star Trek reboot movie by J.J. Abrams did a fantastic job of making Star Trek “cool.” Identify the differences between the show and the movie, and see if there is anything to take away from why the movie succeeded with the mainstream where the show did not, and why, and whether or not that hurts the core of how “science fiction” it is.

Watching the “gamer” community rise up against the stereotype and the stigma associated with that label has proven to me that there’s no reason that the sci-fi (or fantasy, or bandwidth testing) community couldn’t do the same. Stop playing the victim and be proud of what you like. Otherwise you’re just cheapening it.

Journal 9-10

April 24th, 2012

I am a science fiction fan.  I am a science fiction dreamer.  I am a science fiction creator.  I am completely unashamed of this, and if one were to accuse me of it (to make me ashamed of it) I would point out that without science fiction dreaming, we would still lack many of today’s marvels.  Just over 110 years ago, dreamers were told that human beings would never fly.  70 years later, man was on the moon.  So to be accused of enjoying science fiction, I would say “yes, yes I do!”

The science fiction fan is not painted in a flattering light.  The stereotypical fan is fat, smells funny (secondary to lack of showering,) and has no taste when it comes to science fiction; any and all things science fiction are things he (he because THAT is the stereotypical sci fi fan,) must like.  Allow me to show how this is not the case.

I will admit freely (and willingly if anyone wants to ask,) that I have made the pilgrimage: Comic-Con.  I have elbow to elbowed in the grandest of all science fiction crowds.  I have heard Bradbury speak.  I have seen the autographs of the entire starwars cast (I have Carrie Fisher’s) and I have thumbed through the ENDLESS pages of pulp comics and novels that are available at such a convention.  Doubtlessly I have inherited some of my science fiction preference from my uncle (a Marine veteran with a degree in history and a job in electronics,) in that much of what is out there is boring.  I NEED science fiction that has full worlds behind it and under it.  If a book does not have politics, flora, fauna, technology, and an extensive history, chances are it gets relegated to the “crap” pile that is ever accumulating titles.  The science fiction fan is dedicated to finding plots and stories that immerse them.  Some require fewer details than others, but many enjoy the “fully immersive experience.”  Star Wars and Star Trek have such extensive canon that this is the logical place for most SF fans to start!

Gamers are much the same way.  I will admit to have playing table top games in the form of Warhammer 40K as a teen.  It was not just a game however.  There is extensive canon (many novels, some movies, some computer games, even a prayer book that every good Imperial Guardsman must memorize and believe in.)  For this reason, every staged battle became a part of the story of our galaxy.  Every model on the table was an ancient warrior with many victories, or a terrified youth with no hope of ever experiencing glory.  Gamers are the same as SF fans.  They seek immersion.

Video gamers can be a bit different from table top gamers, but desire for immersive experience holds true.  Fallout 3.  HALO.  Gears of War.  Mass Effect (though the ending of this trilogy has unleashed an onslaught of fan wrath and hatemail.)  These games  have compelling stories, music, graphics, and feeling that all combine to make YOU the hero of a universe.  Who does not want to be a hero from time to time?

I will be blunt: Science fiction and fantasy, whether in the form of computer games, console games, books, table top games, comics, or graphic novels, entice people to be a part of strange and phenomenal stories.  I put down regular novels (yes I read them too,) and will thin k on them for a while.  When I put down a piece of science fiction that has mesmerized me, I continue to dream.