Showing posts from February, 2014

Short Story #59: The Business As Usual by Mack Reynolds

Title:  The Business As Usual Author:  Mack ReynoldsSummary A time traveler arrives in the future quite excited to be there and looks to talk to someone.  He encounters a pedestrian whom he tries to explain his situation.  The pedestrian listens but continues to interrupt to clarify things.  The traveler has only fifteen minutes before he goes back and the pedestrian explains to him that when he goes back, he will forget everything because of the way the timestream works.  He then tells the traveler that the only way to prove he went to the future would be to bring something back like his knife.  The traveler agrees but then the pedestrian haggles for something exchange.  Eventually, the traveller offers everything on his body in exchange for the knife and the pedestrian agrees.  Just as the traveler strips and takes hold of the knife, he dissolves but the knife just drops to the ground because physical goods can't be brought back to the past either.  The pedestrian picks up the kn…

Short Story #58: Sail on! Sail on! Philip Jose Farmer

Title:  Sail on! Sail on!Author:  Philip Jose FarmerSummary Friar Sparks serves as the communications officer aboard the Santa Maria with Columbus.  He is part of the order of Roger; that is, Roger Bacon.  In this alternative universe, the Church took in Roger Bacon and pushed forward with science.  As a Rogerian, he communicates on a machine with the other Friar Sparks on the Nina and the Pinta as well with the homeland.  After transmitting what he needs for the night, he goes up on deck and chats with two men he finds there.  They begin to ask him about the nature of the machine he uses to communicate with the other ships and how and why technology is used through the eyes of the order.  Sparks engages in discussion but not without swindling their alcohol from them.  The next day, Columbus convinces them to keep going one day longer and they agree.  They find birds flying about--but these birds are odd in that they do not appear to have the ability to land.  It shortly after this, th…

Call for Papers - Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association

For about 5 years or so, I served as Chair for the Comics & Graphic Novels Panel for the Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association.  This meant doing calls on different listservs for people (typically academics) interested in presenting their research on different elements of comics.  Last year, I switched to chairing the Teaching Popular Culture panel which is focused on research on and overall approaches and strategies for teaching popular culture.  So here is the latest call for our conference this October.  

The NEPCA is a great conference to attend because it is local (for people in the northeast, that is), it's highly affordable, and it's a good opportunity to try out some ideas and perspectives with a friendly audience that will provide (respectful) feedback and questions.  I highly recommend it for new faculty, part-time faculty, graduate and even undergraduate students.  
2014 CALL FOR PAPERS: Northeast Popular/American Culture AssociationThe Northeast …

Short Story #57: Of Time and Third Avenue by Alfred Bester

Title:  Of Time and Third Avenue Author:  Alfred BesterSummary A man calling himself Boyne shows up at a bar and spends $100 to rent the backroom.  The barman is skeptical but he is happy enough with the money. Oliver Knight and his partner show up and Boyne brings them into the backroom because he wants to talk with them. Once he has them there, he explains that he is from the future and that it is imperative that he takes the book that Knight purchased earlier that day.  Knight believes he purchased the 1950 almanac but Boyne knows it to be the 2050 almanac.  What ensues is a discussion about why it would not be advisable for Knight to keep the book (Boyne cannot forcibly take it without irreparable harm).  There is a rational discussion and finally, Knight gives over the book, but not without Boyne explaining that Knight would be repaid in some way.  Upon leaving the bartender raises a fury about the $100 bill that Boyne gave him because it is a fraud.  When Knight looks closer at t…

Short Story #56: But Who Can Replace a Man? By Brian Aldiss

Title:  But Who Can Replace a Man?Author:  Brian Aldiss SummaryWhen the field minder reports to pick up more materials, the machine is met with another machine who can perform his duty.  Because he has a level-three brain, he is able to investigate why robots all around the farm are incapable of performing their tasks.  Eventually, another machine comes along that is level-two; even smarter than the field minder and they set off to the city to find humans or a level-one robot.  Other machines come along but eventually, they learn that the city is filled with war, so they set off for the mountains to create their own city and take care of themselves.  They even believe that they should stay clear of men because they are dangerous too.  As they make their way up the mountain, they lose at least one of their members and at the top, they find a man.  They approach the man and he orders them to find him food to which they obey.  

ReflectionThe story's (mild) tension was interesting as yo…

Short Story #55: Reason by Isaac Asimov

Title:  Reason Author:  Isaac AsimovSummary Two men put together a new type of robot to take over administration of the spaceship they are on because it's a tedious job being stranded for long stretches on the ship just to be in the right position to protect Earth from harmful rays.  When they assemble the QT1, the robot perceives itself as a higher being than the two humans and stops listening to them, believing that the control center of the ship is the true "master."  Despite the arguments that Powell and Donovan make, the robot finds them highly irrational.  Eventually, QT (or Cutie) takes command of the other robots and takes control of the engine room, prohibiting the two men from anywhere near them.  They are isolated while QT and the others worship the control center.  Despite Donovan and Peterson's worries about QT being able to run the ship, his methods worshiping actually fall in line with the tasks the ship has to perform in order to protect Earth.  As the…

Short Story #54: Sentiment, Inc by Poul William Anderson

Title:  Sentiment, IncAuthor:  Poul William AndersonSummary Colin Fraser falls for a gal named Judy.  The courtship is slow and steady but Judy is clearly interested in him, though they continue to date other people.  One day, when Judy professes her sincere interested in Colin, she goes off on a date with someone else, largely to break it off with that person.  Shortly thereafter, Judy is speaking of her true dedication to this person and breaking it off with Colin.  Colin grows suspicious when he learns that Judy has been several times to Sentiment, Inc as part of a supposed study.  As he investigates Sentiment, Inc, he discovers the owner of Sentiment, Inc, Dr. Kennedy has stolen a machine that can strongly influence people to do what he wants within reason.  Fraser gets Kennedy to confess his plan to him but only because Kennedy has used the machine to make many people willing to listen and protect him.  As a compromise to Fraser, he gives Fraser the opportunity to use the machine …

Short Story #53: Ship of Shadows by Fritz Leiber

Title:  Ship of ShadowsAuthor:  Fritz LeiberSummary Spar awakes from a nightmare about witches and vampires and meets a talking cat named Kim who may or may not be a witch-cat..  He has trouble remembering where he is from, he has no teeth, and really bad eyesight.  He works in a bar that's on a spaceship called the Windrush and believes as many others do that it is in fact, the universe.   With the help of the cat, he swears off moonmist, an intoxicating drink.  The bar is a popular place for drunks and some other questionable folks like Crown who has his harem of women and is constantly  abusing people around him.  Spar eventually gets mixed up in some events surrounding the disappearance of a bag that belongs to the Doctor but that Crown is claiming to be his.  Spar returns the bag to the doctor and the doctor helps him by providing him with fake teeth and glasses.  All the while, he's finding out that things are not what they appear to be--with the bar, with Crown and his h…

Short Story #52: Well Worth the Money by Jody Lynn Nye

Title:  Well Worth the MoneyAuthor:  Jody Lynn NyeShort Story #52 out of 365Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)

Date Read:   2/18/2014
Source:  Cats in Space and Other Spaces, edited by Bill Fawcett, Baen Books, 1992.

SummaryBalin Jurgenevski along with two others volunteer to take an experimental spaceship to deliver and pick up goods at a space colony.  The spaceship was a dual project between humans and a friendly alien race but it's not quite clear how easy or likely it will work so the 3-person crew is being offered a whole lot of money to try it out.  Once aboard, the three find that the ship practically takes care of itself and they have little work to do besides take care of the ship cat, Kelvin.  The ship's operating system has user profiles for each person and thus, prepares, delivers, and checks in on the specifics of each person.  One day, they decide to create a user profile for Kelvin and sure enough, the ship's adaptive program begins caring for and working with Kelvin.…

Hybrid Fluxed #02: That's Why We Call It a Pilot

I'm one month into teaching an American Literature I course using hybrid flexible pedagogy.  It's going good overall but I'm already coming up with a list of things to tweak and improve in the next rendering of this course. Before going into what needs fixing and what is working great, I thought I would provide more detail about how the course is running to better understand what's been done (and in the next post, a clear explanation of how to fix it).  
The Readings for American LiteratureThe readings are the centerpiece of a literature course.  This course is no different.  However, in this course, I changed up the approach to readings.  Several semesters ago, I redesigned the text order into a more thematic structure.  My old approach was to move through the course chronologically but I found the students had challenges around keeping track of it all and making sense how the different texts related.  I switched to breaking the course into four writing styles to explo…

Short Story #51: Schrödinger's Cat by Ursula K. Le Guin

Title:  Schrödinger's CatAuthor:  Ursula K. Le GuinShort Story #51 out of 365Rating: 5 (out of 5 stars)

Date Read:  2/17/2014
Source:  Cats in Space and Other Spaces, edited by Bill Fawcett, Baen Books, 1992.  The story can be found at this website.
SummaryThe story begins with the narrator explaining a need for cooler and slower places and how a cat appeared and has come to sit on her lap.  She reflects on the nature of everything around her being in various ambiguous states or not doing the things that they are supposed to to be doing.  There is a clear instability and lack of clarity to the world around the narrator (who isn't even sure who she/he is).  She begins to focus on the cat and what it means to be a cat.  Someone knocks at the door and enters.  Though originally, she thought it was the mailman, she decided it was a dog--and it is a dog.  The man-dog sees the cat and says that it's Schrödinger's cat and the two proceed to explain who that is and why it matters…

Short Story #50: The Tail by M.J. Engh

Title:  The TailAuthor:  M.J. EnghShort Story # out of 365Rating:  2 (out of 5 stars) Date Read:  2/16/2014
Source:  Cats in Space and Other Spaces, edited by Bill Fawcett, Baen Books, 1992.
SummaryThis very short story is told through the first person view of a cat who tries to explain to the reader about the nature of a cat's tail.  He explains the different ways the tails work and are essentially a separate identity from the cat itself.  The two are in an eternal struggle with each other.  Shortly after this explanation, the cat recalls his most recent travails wherein the tail caught him off guard which led his humans to laugh and enraged him do battle with his tail and eventually subdue his tail.  However, he still eyes his tail questioningly.

ReflectionThe story was all right.  Again, like other cat stories in this anthology, it opens up some interesting views of cats and their tails but it wasn't particularly too engaging.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this …

Short Story #49: Space-Time for Springers by Fritz Leiber

Title:  Space-Time for SpringersAuthor:  Fritz LeiberShort Story #49 out of 365Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  2/15/2014
Source:  Cats in Space and Other Spaces, edited by Bill Fawcett, Baen Books, 1992.  The story can also be found on this website.

SummaryGummitch has a theory about himself.  As soon as he becomes mature, he will morph into his true human self and sit at the adult table with his true parents and drink coffee.  He is a genius but doesn't yet know how to speak human but once he does he will ascend to his proper place in the family.  His cat parents never learned to talk as such and therefore are left to be accepted as cats but his other siblings, the human baby and toddler named Sissy will eventually transform into cats.  But something's odd about Sissy and her repeated attempts to kill the baby and do other harmful acts.  Gummitch also believes in the mirror universe that he peers into every time he sees a mirror or reflective surface.  This world is fille…

Short Story #48: The Man Who Liked Dickens by Evelyn Waugh

Title:  The Man Who Liked DickensAuthor:  Evelyn WaughShort Story #48 out of 365Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars) Date Read:  2/13/2014
Source:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur.  You can find this short story on Scribd (for now).  Here is a link to the radio adaptation of the short story.
SummaryLiving far within the Amazon forest for sixty years, Mr. McMaster rarely encounters anyone that is not a native so when a disheveled white man arrives, he takes a keen interest.  Once given food, the man, Mr. Henty explains that he was part of the Anderson expedition, a curse adventure that started with and continued to have innumerable troubles until he was the only survivor, wandering through the Amazon entirely lost.  McMaster's is a generally agreeable man and says that he's happy to help.  He provides food and dialogue with Henty, explaining how long he has been there and that the local inhabitants treat him like a father.  He…

Short Story #47: A Cry from the Penthouse by Henry Slesar

Title:  A Cry from the PenthouseAuthor:  Henry SlesarShort Story #47 out of 365Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars) Date Read:  2/13/2014
Source:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur.
SummaryOn what must be the coldest night of the year, Chet Brander gets a call from Frank Coombs to come over because Frank finally has his money for Chet.  Unhappy about the hour and weather, Chet heads over to Frank's apartment.  Frank recently acquired a penthouse apartment in a new building that is still filling rooms.  Chet arrives and wants his money immediately but Frank wants to show off his lavish apartment.  He insists that Chet check out the balcony and so he does.  As he goes out onto the balcony, he sees Frank close the door behind him.  When he demands that Frank open it, Frank leaves and Chet realizes he has been set up to die out on the balcony in the freezing weather.  As he loses feeling in his body, he tries to find some way to get ba…