Journals

Journal 1-2:

Please post your 400-500-word response by class time on Tuesday, February 7.  Discuss evil as a theme in science fiction.  Reflect on such ideas and questions as: Is the narrator of “Country of the Kind” evil?  Rappacini?  Weren’t at least some of his intentions good, such as his desire to protect his daughter? What about Loki in “Pure Product”? The Ticktockman? Evil is a metaphor for what?  A commentary on the human condition? Consider the banality of evil–and the potential for evil in science itself.

Note: These questions are not a checklist, but rather suggested starting places for your thinking.  You are not expected to answer all of them.  You could, for example, write about the presentation of evil in SF and mention some of the stories/characters that are named above–or discuss other presentations of evil–or just one. This is meant to be informal.

Please sign at least your first name to your journal response, so I can be sure to give you credit.

Journal 3:

Please post your response by class time on Tuesday, February 14, length: 300-500+ words. Choose from one of the options below:

1. Utopia: Consider the idea of utopia as the good society, the better society, particularly when it is compared to the writer’s own society. Remember “good” and “better” are relative terms and often a matter of belief. Also consider that that any utopian society has to be planned and intentional.  People choose to live there as opposed to mainstream society because they believe that living by a certain philosophy or belief or practice is better than the alternatives.

  There are numerous examples in American history, such as the Shakers, Brook Farm, the Oneida community, and the Mormons in Utah.  Presently, near Mineral, Virginia, there are two intentional communities, Twin Oaks (www.twinoaks.org) and Acorn (www.acorncommunity.org). Their philosophies include such beliefs as: nonviolence, egalitarianism, and environmentalism, cooperation and sharing.

So, your task: You are the leader or one of the leaders of a forthcoming planned and intentional community. Choose a social issue, such as gender equity and equality, poverty, education, or racism–or another issue of interest to you.  “Solving” this issue is one of the missions of your community. How might you fix things? Remember, in science fictional utopias, you can: change the environment, leave here, go there, and change people. In Woman on the Edge of Time/Piercy, men have been genetically altered to be able to nurse babies.  In Brave New World, people are produced to fit certain social niches and soma, a mood-altering drug is available to all ….

OR

Dystopia: the nightmare coming if we don’t do something different, the bad society, again in comparison to the writer’s society. These are relative, too. The Soviet Union was a planned society. The Nazis had a plan for how to improve society and humankind, which they believed to better. Your task: choose a social issue or problem.  Extrapolate: if this goes on, things will get worse and …. Or, now that I have taken over, I am going to fix things, as happens in The Handmaid’s Tale.  Under the new order, women lose almost all social rights and are subservient to men–“as things should be.” Brave New World is something of a nightmare.  1984 …

You get the idea.  Your response can be a discussion or a fictional episode that illustrates your utopian vision or dystopian nightmare.

Journal 4:

Please post your response of around 300-500 words by class time on Tuesday, February 28.  Choose one of the two options below:

Option 1: I have posted two  of Le Guin’s essays under Course Materials here on the blog and under Files on Canvas. You will need to have read one of the 2 Le Guin essays posted under Course Materials on this blog or under Files on Canvas.  These essays were written in the mid-1970s, but still are very useful in interpreting her fiction, especially in regard to her use of the mythic in science fiction.

If you read “The Child and the Shadow,” discuss how this essay relates to “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” or The Dispossessed.

If you read “Myth and Archeytype in Science Fiction,” discuss : how SF as mythology can be applied to The Dispossessed.

Option 2:

Urras or Anarres, choose one as a place to live and defend your choice, acknowledging the pluses and minuses of your choice.

Journal 5:

Please post your response by class time on Tuesday, March 20:

Compare the two utopias: Anarres and the Neanderthal Earth, evaluate, and make an educated choice as to which one you would choose and why.

Some suggested ideas, issues, themes, and such to consider: presentations of feminism, gender roles, ecology, the role of the elderly, sexuality.  Of course, you are NOT expected to consider all of these–and you might choose another focus. These are just suggestions for you use as potential starting points and/or as a focus for your response.

Around 300-500 words.

Journal 6: Please post your response by class time on Tuesday, April 3:

This is an open journal, sort of.  Contemplate on the idea of science fiction as social commentary or critique, noting the examples of utopian and dystopian stories, how feminist science fiction comments on such issues as sexism and gender roles, the way African-American writers have commented on racism, and so on.

Your task: Please comment, react to or against, rant or rail, praise–choose your verb–on how successfully SF does this, using one or more of the stories we have read so far. Use one of the above issues, or choose one of your own. Why use SF to commet on a particular issue? 300-500 words.

This is meant to be informal. Riff on the idea (choose ONLY ONE), meander, ruminate, Please sign at least your first name to your journal response, so I can be sure to give you credit.

Journal 7-8: please post your response by class time on Thursday, April 12. 500+ words.

Choose from one of the following first lines, chosen from various science fiction novels and short stories. Don’t choose one you have read, if possible. Free-write what happens next.

1. Dr. Lovell says I have writing talent, so I have to enter this stupid contest, so I’m stuck with a bunch of extra hours at the werp–and with my Full Adult exam less than six months away, too.

2. All my life I’ve wanted to go to Earth.

3. No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely  by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise  the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

4. Twenty-six months before her second birthday Maia learned the true difference between winter and summer.

5. Four men, two by two, had gone into the howling maelstrom that was Jupiter and had not returned.

6.  The enormous fuzzy balloon bounced from Jannine’s fingertips, rose in an eerie, slow curve, and touched its destination.

7.  Connie got up from her kitchen table and walked slowly to the door. Either I saw him or I didn’t and I’m crazy for real this time, she thought.

8. I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

9.  We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

10. And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light. (This is the last line of #9)

Journal 9-10: Please post your response by class time on Tuesday, April 24. 500+ words.

Contemplate the SF fan.  Are you one?  Would you rather die than be accused of being one?  Gamers–are they same, or worse? Do some reading on what it means to be a fan–and who they are.  Wikipedia might be a good place to start. Visit a few websites, such as:

http://www.intrinsicspeculation.com/ (keep in mind this one includes horror and fantasy, too).

http://www.myouterspace.com/

http://www.scifan.com/

http://scifi.about.com/

http://www.sf-fandom.com/

http://sf-fandom.blogspot.com/

http://www.fiawol.demon.co.uk/who/

Now, speculate on why–and why science fiction (and, yes, fantasy, too) creates this passion.

12 Responses to “Journals”

  1. samjackson says:

    Journal 6

    I think that science fiction does a great job critiquing racism. I believe racism is a fear of people that are different. People are afraid of change and do not accept it easily. This causes them to stop the change in any way possible. People will be given lower pay, given un-desirable jobs, and treated poorly in order to stop them from gaining power. Science fiction loves to introduce ‘the other’ into a society that is used to their normal way of life. This often strikes fear into the people that live there and causes them to mistreat these aliens to their society.

    In the story “Black No More” the African American people are given the opportunity to become white through a three-day treatment. They are so afraid of the way that they are mistreated that they are willing to forever change themselves to become a white person. They are willing to give up their past lives entirely in order to be treated equally. This really makes people think about how badly the African American people were treated. They were willing to give up so much to have freedom and equality in the story and I am sure that was true in real life too.

    A movie that I believe does a great job of introducing an alien race into a society is District 9. An alien ship becomes stranded above South Africa and the aliens become refugees in the country. They are forced to live in their own society fenced away from the rest of the world. They live in shacks, are treated like animals, and given little to no rights by the government. This is a very good representation of how people of certain races or cultures were kept in ghettos and given minimal rights.

    –Samuel Jackson

  2. samjackson says:

    Journal 5

    If I were to choose to live on Anarres or the Neanderthal world I would easily chose to live on the Neanderthal world. Anarres and the Neanderthal world are similar in some aspects but vastly different in many others. What I think is the most obvious difference between the two worlds is the difference in their environments. Anarres is a barren desert-like planet while the Neanderthal world is lush and full of life. This is one of the largest factors that draw me to the Neanderthal planet. The world is lush and pollution free. The homes that people live in are even grown out of the ground itself. They are connected to their environment in ways that we could never be because of their heightened senses.

    On both Anarres and the Neanderthal world there is minimal crime. However if a crime does take place on the Neanderthal world there is a guarantee for the person who commits the crime to be caught. This is thanks to the Companions. Many people would argue that these would take away the privacy and freedom that people seek, but I do not think any of this would be taken away. Someone is not watching the recordings taken by the Companion. They are only being recorded to the Alibi Archives. The only time the recordings can be viewed is if you want to view your own or if you are being prosecuted for a crime. There is no privacy being taken away by these. And on the plus side if you have a horrible memory like myself you will not ever be able to lose anything thanks to the recordings.

    Overall I think that the Neanderthal planet would be a wonderful world to live on. The pristine environments and 100% security are perfect for me.

    –Samuel Jackson

  3. samjackson says:

    Given the choice to live on either Annares or Urras I would chose to live on Annares. While Urras has a lush environment and diverse ecosystem, the power that the government has over the people ruins any of the advantages the planet has. That is one of the largest problems in our country today. Our government tries to control the people and takes away our rights, e.g. abortion laws and drug laws. The amount of freedom one has on Annares is exactly what I want in life.

    Another fact that I find appealing on Annares is the sense of community. You live as a community helping each other. If there is a problem, such as a famine or another sort of disaster, you work together to solve the problem instead of waiting for someone to solve it for you. The fact that there is such a strong bond between people in their community is one reason that makes Annares so appealing to me.

    As for relationships between men and women on Annares I have mixed feelings. I do want to get married at some point in my life so I dislike the fact that there is no marriage on Annares. But what really is marriage other than a bond between two people similar to the bond Shevek and Takver made. I do not think there is anything wrong with taking advantage of being able to have fun with the opposite sex. And if you want to make a more permanent relationship with someone you can do that as well.

    Overall I think that Annares would much better suit me as a place to live. Even without the lush ecosystem of Urras the freedom provided on Annares is much more appealing to me.

  4. Warren Rochelle says:

    There was a YA novel written about creating only tan humans some years ago. It caused problems with human diversity. Would that be a problem in your utopia?

  5. samjackson says:

    Journal 3:

    Thousands of years have passes since the times of race plagued the human world. Long ago people were mistreated for looking different than others. People thought that because someone had a different skin color they were worthless and weaker. But after all these years there are no different skin colors. Everyone looks the same. All people have a tan pigment to their skin. This is due to the fact that man has mated and reproduced until skin color became a universal constant. Thanks to this fact we are able to live in a world without these differences and we have been able to focus on more pressing matters.

    Without the worry of discrimination, humans were able to solve the many differences that they had. Wars were still fought for years but it was not long before the problems were solved. Violence was eventually gone completely and peace reigned throughout the world.

    As the human race advanced socially we also advanced scientifically. Without having to pay for war and crime protection, people were able to put more money into scientific research. With this increased focus, after hundreds of years relying on fossil fuels man finally found a way to produce clean and nearly free energy. This is thanks to the work of the great scientists that mastered cold fusion. Because of how cheap it was reactors were placed in cities around the world. And without the risk of nuclear meltdown there were no ecological worries. With the worldwide availability of this incredibly cheap energy, economies around the world rose exponentially.

    People have now lived in peace for years. Crimes are no longer committed and people do not have to worry about their safety. No one thought it could be possible. But after all the years of conflict between humans we now live in what was once just a dream. We live in a utopia.

  6. Warren Rochelle says:

    It’s okay. Sometimes pasting in from Word does strip out the formatting.

  7. aeames28 says:

    Well that came out as a wall of text… I guess copy/pasting from word isn’t the best choice for this?

  8. aeames28 says:

    Of the slew of short stories we’ve read thus far, John Kessel’s The Pure Product exhibits the most fascinating exploration of evil for me. As has been mentioned in this blog several times already, ‘evil’ is rarely just that, if ever.
    Initially, the protagonist (Loki from now on) in The Pure Product appears to be striving for the purest form of evil. Often, when analyzing historical figures who are commonly considered evil, we find that their motives were ultimately well-meaning or that they were subject to some perverse circumstances during childhood, or… you get the idea. Things are never as simple as black and white, essentially. But since we are deprived of nearly any context for most of the story, we witness acts of violence which seem as close to evil as might be possible to portray. His transgressions all display a remarkable lack of empathy and a disturbing focus on gratuity. But even before we consider his possible motivations, it is probably more accurate to label his random acts of violence as the actions of a psychopath rather than an ‘evil’ entity. Can someone who is a few cards short of a full deck be blamed for their inability to empathize? If we could somehow subject Loki to a brain scan or an autopsy, I’d be willing to lay down a lot of coin on the odds of finding either a damaged or developmentally stunted temporal lobe.
    Upon completing the story, it is possible to deduce that Loki is probably a time traveler (though it’s entirely possible he’s just a paranoid schizophrenic). But still, Kessel doesn’t leave us with much of a ‘why?’… a brilliant move which creates an effective comparison between us and the story’s investigative police. Since we have so little sense of the future that Loki comes from, we are fairly limited in our ability to write off his acts of violence as some indirect symptom of a sick society. Kessel does drop a few hints, though, the most compelling of which is probably when it is mentioned that Francis Bacon “foresaw the utopian world that would arise through the application of experimental science to social problems.” As we know, utopia and humanity are mutually exclusive. Regardless, when writers attempt to portray some futuristic utopia, they commonly depict it as a place without war, crime, poverty, hunger, etc. If we assume that Loki comes from a future where society has found a way (via technology) to control humanity to the point of eradicating violence, then suddenly we have some context and even a motive. Sprinkle in some displacement issues, and Loki’s ‘evil’ acts suddenly become acts of confused rebellion.
    Of course, humans try and find meaning in everything, and maybe that’s what I’m guilty of above. Maybe the point of this story is that sometimes it’s just impossible to find the ‘why’.
    Andy Eames

  9. smcdermo says:

    I think there has been some kind of “evil” in many of the science fiction stories I have read, whether it was one person, a society or some kind of force or ideal. Regardless of the debate of what is good and evil, science fiction definitely has a variety of evils, each having their own definition.
    In “Mimsy Were the Borogroves”, none of the characters themselves were evil. The children, Emma and Scott, were curious and intelligent. Their parents were kind and wanted to protect their children. Their psychologist was just as curious as the children in regards to the toys. What would be considered the evil in this story is the parents view of the time/space machine. This type of evil is in the perspective, not a person or society, but how adults viewed the unknown as an evil. They believed the toys were destroying their children’s minds, but the toys were in fact expanding their minds and shaping them in a way they did not understand. The toys were evil to the parents, but this is somewhat a tale of not to be scared of the unknown, to try to understand it.
    A more obvious evil would be the narrator in “Country of the Kind”. While people can argue what is good or bad, moral or immoral all day, this character was evil. He would kill, cause harm, burn places down, etc., just because he could. He was socially shunned from society due to the fact he had killed a girl, which shows that he was capable of evil acts from a young age. He did not begin killing because he wanted to act out due to his isolation, but because he was inherently bad. He was born with an evil instinct. In this tale there is also a less obvious evil- the society which shunned the narrator. Instead of attempting to rehabilitate him or jail him, they put him through a torturous life of loneliness and isolation. While this society was trying to protect their citizens, they discarded one without a second glance.
    In “Rappacini’s Daughter”, there is more of an underlying theme of evil. It is the consequences of experimentation with lack of ethics. Rappacini may have wanted to protect his daughter from society, but he did not think of how it could affect her throughout life. Instead, his daughter was killed because of the “monster” she became as a result of her fathers experimentation. Rappacini never thought of what his daughter could miss out on or learn from the world, which is a lesser evil in itself.
    Evil is a shape shifter theme in science fiction. It can easily take on any definition an author wants to put with it, and even from these few short stories one could see the variety.

    – Sarah McDermott

  10. Robin Goodfellow says:

    @ Ragdoll:

    Could Hitler be considered “evil”? He ordered the deaths of over a thousand people, but he was only doing what he thought was best for his country and the world. As far as we can tell, German society was not such to have warped him as they did in Country of the Kind, but he also was not only looking out for his own interests. I would argue that “evil” is absolutely arbitrary, being in the eye of the beholder.

  11. Warren Rochelle says:

    Murderous chickens, eh? Good work.

  12. Ragdoll says:

    I don’t think evil is black and white in any story, let alone science fiction. Evil often begins with good intentions and results in a nasty backlash. This is a theme science fiction and other media forms explore extensively, and one that is a fundamental human question.

    “Country of the Kind” is a spectacular example of a story that blurs the line between good and evil, moral and immoral. At first glance, the narrator is the evil one. He kills, he torments people, he destroys things without any seeming reason why he wants to destroy them, he steals, and overall engages in illicit activity which, in today’s world, would be considered deserving of the death penalty or at least imprisonment. But in his world, there is no imprisonment, and there is especially no death penalty. He kills, and then is terrified that the people of his world will kill him as he has killed another. When they do not, he finds himself freed…or so he thinks. In “Country of the Kind,” a greater villain than the narrator is the society itself. They refuse to put him out of his misery or try to help him and instead isolate him, locking him in a prison in which he cannot socialize with other human beings in any healthy way. He is twisted and warped, yes, but not evil. He has been shaped by the society which raised him, and he was drugged for several years of his life. He is warped, twisted, but not evil, and I think this distinction is what the author hoped to shed light on when the story was written. “Country of the Kind” explores the difference between overt evil and subversive evil. The society is subversive, and thus a greater threat than the single individual, hardly able to function on his own, and so lonely that he desperately pursues the chance for a single companion.

    On the opposite hand, I would argue that Rappacini could be considered evil. He showed only a base human desire to protect that which he held close while holding the rest of the world in contempt and disregard. He cared to protect his daughter, but he had no respect for the rest of human life, merely for the science. Rappacini used the world around him and its inhabitants for his own means, and he chose to follow this path of his own free will. The narrator in “Country of the Kind” had no such choice; he was offered no other option. Rappacini could have been anything he chose to be, and he chose to pursue science with no regard for the rest of the human race. This in and of itself is often seen as evil.

    The difference between these two stories and the deciding factor on whether or not the characters can be seen as evil is the intention behind their actions. Rappacini intends to disregard human life in favor of science. The narrator in “Country of the Kind” does not intend to be the way he is, and he is offered no alternative. He is trapped. Rappacini makes his decision of his own volition.

    This presentation on evil brought to you by Julie Allbeck, whose primary experience with such deadly evils as those encountered in science fiction stories has been limited to murderous chickens.

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