The 2007 animated short film Flatland: The Movie featuring the voices of Martin Sheen and Kristen Bell appears to be a popular teaching tool in math classes because it includes angles and other math concepts, but I have found it also works well in science fiction classes [see film website for more information]. Its short running time (around 30 minutes) allows it to fit into a normal class session with plenty of time for questions and discussion. It is based on Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884) by Edwin A. Abbott and set in a society known as Flatland, a two-dimensional world. The graphics and pace are good, the themes are still relevant today, and there is a delightful irony in one of the characters who brings wisdom to others yet still cannot break free from his own limited worldview. It offers a nice break from the norm toward the end of the semester while still being a science fiction film that allows students to compare their world to the one in the film.
Activity for Flatland: The Movie (2007) featuring Martin Sheen and Kristen Bell
Based on Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884) by Edwin A. Abbott
Which character did you identify the most with?
What are the rules of Flatland society? How does your shape affect your status?
Who makes the rules in this society?
What does heresy mean? What kinds of things are considered heresy in your society?
Why can’t the King of Lineland see the square? Why does Spherius resist the idea of a 4th dimension?
Compare our society to Flatland’s society. What are the similarities and differences? Which would you prefer to live in?
Do you think science fiction as a genre helps people understand their world better than more “realistic” fiction? Why do you think science fiction movies have become so popular?
*Some questions are from a math teacher’s wiki; others are my own. The possibilities for more science fiction questions are many!
One of the main issues in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) is ethnography and its limitations. The main character Genly Ai is an ambassador for the Ekumen confederation who is conducting a mission on the planet Gethen and making reports about its population, cultures, customs, etc. He especially has trouble understanding the androgynous nature of the people. To try to start students thinking about the practice of ethnography and the potential drawbacks before we began our discussion of themes in the novel, I created a short list of generic questions they were to ask a classmate. They then shared their findings with the class, and we all learned how different people’s everyday lives were, even in the same city attending the same university. One student decided to alter their fellow student’s responses because they seemed too boring; although it was obvious they were making up information by the tone of their voice, it provided a good opportunity to discuss how accurate these kinds of records are and what motives the interviewer might have for changing information. A lot depends on what questions are being asked or what is being studied — someone might not know to even ask about a custom that their own culture lacks, for example.
Ethnography Activity for The Left Hand of Darkness
Ethnography is the study and systematic recording of human cultures (Merriam-Webster).
Take turns being the ethnographer and the person being interviewed.
You may wish to take notes so you can present a summary of your findings to the class.
Could you describe a typical day for you in your home city?
Could you give an example of a typical meal (breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack) in your city/country? How is it prepared and who prepares it?
Could you describe an important holiday or festival?
When you meet someone for the first time, how do you greet them? Is there a difference in how you interact with women and men?
I am very excited to announce that my article on Frank Herbert’s Dune entitled “Epic World-Building: Names and Cultures in Dune“ has been published in Names: A Journal of Onomastics!
The above link shows you two options for accessing the article (yes, you can download the pre-print PDF version for free!).
The article looks at how names can evoke particular settings and cultures, how they helped Frank Herbert create his epic world of Dune on a scale similar to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings, and how they also serve to juxtapose West and East. Examples include Bene Gesserit (Jesuit), Atreides (Atreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus), Leto (mother of Artemis and Apollo), Sayyadina (female religious leader), and Shai-Hulud (immortal thing).
It is part of a special issue on names in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery, so you might be interested in other articles as well (one of my favorites, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, is represented, for example). I know that I pay more attention now to authors’ choice of names in their science fiction stories, and I hope you will too!
I’m looking forward to discussing altmetrics in a future post, so please share the official journal link with Frank Herbert Dune fans around the world and we can see where it travels.
A year into my PhD studies near the bottom of the world, my mind feels full to the brim of information from conversations, conferences, news, research, travel, and more. It is now to the point that I feel compelled to join the academic blogging community and share my thoughts and processing of some of this information.
My hope is that at some point, I will be able to articulate the points of intersection between my main academic interests: science fiction literature, feminism and feminist theoretical approaches, and Digital Humanities (which I only recently discovered existed — I’m so glad to now be ‘in the know’).
The crown jewel of science fiction to me will always be Frank Herbert’s Dune.
To this I dedicate my academic toil.