Shooting For the Stars

Posted May 16, 2012 in Arts & Culture

UCR’s science fiction symposium is prep work for a future degree

You’ve got a college degree in science-fiction . . . so what the hell can you do with it? Plenty, if the folks behind UCR’s upcoming Science Fiction and Technology Symposium are to be believed.

According to a university press release, the event, scheduled for Wednesday, ties in with a larger goal of establishing an undergraduate and graduate degree program in science fiction and technoculture, says Rob Latham, a professor of English and an organizer of the event.

The Weekly asked Latham about how he envisions the degree program and how it could prove practical or useful in our modern, faster-than-lightspeed world.

“Given that we live in a technologically driven world, science fiction is a form of popular culture that’s uniquely suited to offer commentary on the ethical and political implications of that world,” Latham tells the Weekly. “It can raise significant questions about the norms and values of such a world, leading potentially to critical perspectives on it.”

Latham says such a degree could be established within five to 10 years. But there’s still plenty of details to be worked out before we make the jump to hyperspace . . . in an academic sense.

“In terms of the department that would house and administer [the degree program], that isn’t yet clear,” Latham says. “It might be an interdisciplinary Designated Emphasis, which would feature cooperating faculty from numerous departments in the college. Right now, there are three dedicated faculty in the field of science fiction studies, all of whom have been hired over the past four years: me, in English (hired 2008); Nalo Hopkinson, in Creative Writing (hired 2010); and Sherryl Vint, also in English, though a specialist in media studies (hired in 2011, position to begin in Fall 2012). When all three faculty [members] are in place, we’ll probably empanel a task force to make specific recommendations. The symposium is designed, in part, to give us guidance on what issues we should bear in mind as we move forward.”

And speaking of moving forward, Wednesday’s symposium will feature three separate panels and several panelists, including nine American and Polish scholars of technology and science fiction.

The Science and Science Fiction panel will feature Colin Milburn, a UC Davis professor of English and technoculture studies who wrote “Nanovision: Engineering the Future.”

Another panel is the Trends in Science Fiction Criticism with panelist Lisa Yaszek, a professor of literature, culture and communication at Georgia Tech who wrote “Galactic Suburbia: Recovering Women’s Science Fiction.”

“Teaching Science Fiction” is the focus on a third panel, which will include Pawel Frelik, an associate professor of English at Marie-Curie Skudowska University in Poland and UCR’s Fulbright Scholar in Residence.

“[The panelists] are either renowned experts in the field of science fiction/technoculture studies or they are practicing writers of science fiction,” Latham says. “[The criteria used to determine the panelists] was the insights they could bring to the issues addressed by the three panels.”

For the science fiction illiterate—or those who can’t fathom why UCR would host a science fiction oriented event—let it be known that the campus houses the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction & Fantasy, which is the “world’s largest archive in the field,” Latham says. The collection includes over 100,000 hardback and paperback books, fanzines, comic books, posters, action figures, etc.

In other words, UCR’s got science fiction on lock.

UCR Science Fiction and Technology Symposium at UCR, Special Collections Reading Room, Rivera Library, 900 University Ave., Riverside;, Wed, May 17. Starts 10:30am. Free.



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