From Robots to Star Trek: Politics in Science Fiction

Month: February 2014

Red Planets Cover

From Robots to Star Trek: Politics in Science Fiction

Have you ever thought about robots? I mean really thought about them. They are so prevalent in science fiction that it is easy to take the existence of robots for granted. But someone had to invent robots at some point, and for some reason. The answer can be found partially in the etymology of the word: the English robot comes from the Czech robota, meaning forced or compulsory labor. The term “robot” in its original use would be unfamiliar to modern audiences; it was first used by Karel Čapek in his work R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), a science fiction play from 1920.

Science Fiction TV Dinner: Red Dwarf Highlights

Check out the discussion that followed the Science Fiction TV Dinner screening of the cult classic science fiction comedy Red Dwarf. Steven Desch, an astrophysicist and professor at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, and Don and Alleen Nilsen, ASU emeritus professors and co-founders of the International Society for Humor Studies, join CSI director Ed Finn to discuss whether or not humor and science fiction make a good mix. This event was co-sponsored by ASU’s Project Humanities.

Oryx and Crake

Science Fiction and Personal Narrative

Like any genre, science fiction has changed over the years. Just as romance novels evolved from sociopolitical fairytales to the popular, racy stories of today, so too science fiction has transformed. In the Golden Age, science fiction stories were mostly forays into the fantastic, the unreal: they were sweeping epics; they were grandiose space operas; they were explorations of sublime worlds, outlandish technologies, futuristic and expansive societies. Characters in this kind of science fiction were often merely vehicles for traversing strange narrative universes, the author’s intricately-fashioned galaxies and dreams.

Future City

Science Fiction and Thoughtful Optimism: A Manifesto

Contemporary science fiction storytelling is dominated by gloomy, dystopian narratives. The Thoughtful Optimism and Science Fiction project at the Center for Science and the Imagination is an attempt to uncover an alternative history of the genre that focuses on more hopeful and inspiring visions of the future that are still thoughtful, critical and complex. A group of student researchers has been hard at work since 2013, laying the foundation for a public database and a series of essays, reflections and comments about the history of thoughtfully optimistic thinking.

Science Fiction TV Dinner: Star Trek Highlights

Check out the discussion that followed the Science Fiction TV Dinner screening of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Evolution,” about space exploration and synthetic life. Phil Plait, an astronomer and blogger for Slate, and Karmella Haynes, a synthetic biology researcher at ASU’s School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, joined CSI director Ed Finn to discuss the ethics of synthetic life and the surprising scientific realism of this particular Next Generation episode. This event was co-sponsored by SpaceVision, the largest student-organized space conference in the U.S.

Project Hieroglyph Trailer

Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination, describes the mission of Project Hieroglyph. Hieroglyph is a platform that unites scientists, engineers, artists and authors to create ambitious, thoughtfully optimistic, scientifically-grounded visions of the near future.

Technology, Craft and Spirituality: Building a Gyroscopic Mandala

Our friend Thad Trubakoff, an MFA student in Woodworking at ASU and a contributor to our recent Cautions, Dreams and Curiosities anthology, just let us know about a cool new project, which he calls “Gyroscopic Mandala.” Check out the demo video and read Thad’s guest post about the project below. To learn more about ASU and Mandalas, which have been popping up around here a lot recently, visit our Emerge 2014: The Carnival of the Future website:


Emerge is a creative, playful and challenging approach to the future world we want to make.

Science Fiction TV Dinner: Quantum Leap Highlights

Check out the discussion following the screening of the Quantum Leap episode “The Wrong Stuff,” about the early days of the Space Race and using animals to test spaceflight safety. Juan José Diaz Infante, artist and mission director for the Mexican Space Collective, and Micah Lande, Assistant Professor of Engineering at ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation, join CSI director Ed Finn to discuss imagination, ethics, STEM education, DIY satellite launches and more.

Wonder Dome

The Wonder Dome: Embodied, Interactive Stories in an Immersive Environment

Humans tell stories; how we tell them changes.  Wonder Dome is a touring performance platform that brings traditional storytelling into the 21st century by inviting audiences of all ages into

5 Burning Questions: Dr. Sha Xin Wei

In this episode of 5 Burning Questions, we talk with Dr. Sha Xin Wei, the new director of Arizona State University’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering.