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Sunday, August 26, 2012


Space elevator on the moon!

Spiders in your ears!

Make $28,000/month through vanity publishing and writing your own glowing reviews!

(These exclamatory remarks may be read with different tones.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Breakaway, Backdown by James Patrick Kelly -- Reader’s Guide

Asimov’s June 1996

The story opens “You know, in space nobody wears shoes.

“Well, new temps wear slippers. They make the soles out of that adhesive polymer, griprite or griptite. Sounds like paper ripping when you lift your feet.” How does this description match the narrator? Come up with at least three.

Kelly, the author, does not directly say where the story takes place. Are there enough clues that suggests where? How does that affect the story and narrator?

Cleo, the narrator, equivocates. Why might she do so here: “I had ... have this friend, Elena.”

What about her name, Cleo? How does it fill in some aspects of her character, considering how she reacts at the end?

How does the narrator describe space? Is it all positive, all negative, or a mix?

Why is the narrator using “personas” or imprinting? Look up imprinting.

When talking of her mentor’s theories, Cleo speaks negatively of high heels, yet wears them. What does that tell of such a character?

What does Cleo say the night and space have in common?

Cleo goes on for a page describing the difficulty of exercising in space, but ends saying how she can’t talk about it. Why?

How does Cleo feel about Elena? Use various passages in the text.

After finishing the story, look up any mention of appearances. How does appearance figure into how people choose whether to break away or back down?

After answering these questions, tackle what the narrator means about the heart shrinking in space.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm -- Reader’s Guide


Summary: A plague prevents human reproduction. So a group of scientists clone themselves--a group that grows to see themselves as superior to their “parents.”

Biology: What is cloning? How does it work? What have been some of the major breakthroughs in cloning? Can we clone humans?

Ethics: Should we clone humans? other animals? Make a list of pros and cons.

Why is the opening somewhat ironic: “What David hated most about the Sumner family dinners was the way everyone talked about him as if he were not there.” How does the “family” at the end differ in their concern for David than the first?

What are some other ironies? Consider the effects of the breaking the dam to protect the clones as well as what David finds when he returns home.

David’s interest in his cousin Celia is shocking to our society at least for reasons of biology, yet how is the shock of biology later trumped, yet following another biological impulse, we feel it necessary?

Why do Walt and David want to stop the clones? Are they overreacting or acting as they must? Explain.

When the accident occurs, the clones seem to know and respond faster than the originals. Why might that be? Think about what people say that fraternal twins can do.

What does the title mean?

How did you feel about the ending? Write your reasons why. If you agreed with David, try writing why you think the clones chose correctly, or vice versa.

Read the last four paragraphs again. What do you think they are suggesting? It can probably be read in more than one way: A celebration of life that’s returning, where humanity (as a part of life) will triumph or because lack diversity they will not survive as the trees, insects and birds. Choose one and support your answer from the text.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Big Guy by James Patrick Kelly -- Reader’s Guide

Asimov’s June 1994

Murph lives both online and in his apartment, and that’s about it. He watches through the internet as a security guard. Some sexual situations suggested.

Why did Murph delete his nipples?

What might it feel like, after wanting to meet a girl in person, to encounter two live people together (Dr. Bertrand and his hired girl)?

What does it mean to “live fast?” Use text to support your answers. Does Murph live fast? Is it what he wants?

What is it about being cut off from his workmate that’s so disturbing to Murph? What does that suggest?

Why does Dr. Ghatak’s confession disturb Murph when that’s exactly what he wants to do?

Is what Murph’s walking into--his new, in-person relationship with Cat--a good thing? Support your answer with the text. (In-person vs. virtual, limited vs. fluid identity, life vs. death, paid vs. voluntary companion )

Monday, August 6, 2012

Best Christmas Ever by James Patrick Kelly -- Reader’s Guide

Sci Fiction 2004

Albert Paul Hopkins, the last man in the world, experiences what Aunty Em, his biological robot wants to be the best Christmas ever. All he wants for Christmas is a Glock 17.

Questions: If Aunty Em is Albert’s robot, who probably name it? What famous book and movie is it from? What did the protagonist in that book want with Aunty Em (or what was she a symbol of)? If Aunty Em is that symbol for Albert, does he have that with her? Explain.

How is his smell described? Look it up in the dictionary. What else does it describe?

How does Aunty Em behave toward Albert? What kinds of movies does she want him to watch? How does he respond?

What are biops? How does the text let you know?

Other names are important. Some of the biops are pals. How well does Albert know them? How well does Albert’s attitude toward any creature match what it’s supposed to be?

When Aunty Em cooks, what does she use? How does that mirror her ability to reach Albert?

Why does Albert want to know the date (what were they talking about earlier)? What would it tell him if he knew it? Why doesn’t Aunty Em simply tell Albert the date?

How does this passage fit into the story: “hemlock sprouted from the ruins of the town”?

Most of the biops behave in as helpful, servant-like manner possible. What about Kathy? How is her behavior similar yet different?

When Aunty Em thinks Albert’s catching the Christmas spirit, is he? What tells you that?

How does Ellen behave? How might her behavior affect Albert? Why do his eyes go misty? Can it be for more than one person?

Albert is sometimes described as “the man”? Why? How might that affect relationships even if it’s never spoken?

Why is Aunty Em’s reaction to Spicy Adventure Stories hollow?

When Albert receives the Glock, what is his reaction? Why, then, does he want it? Check his dialogue.

How does Aunty Em see this Christmas? Do you agree? Explain.

Have you met anyone like Aunty Em, Kathy and Albert? Do they have real life counterparts? How do you feel toward them? Which makes Albert more human or humane?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cruelest Month by James Patrick Kelly -- Analysis

Summary: Nell, a corporate lawyer, left her daughter in a play area while Nell ran off to take of an emergency, but the daughter fell off a cliff. Nell asks if the father were to blame, and she ends up in a divorce. Now she has had spooky visitations from her dead daughter. Her tricycle appears in her mother’s bedroom, the daughter’s dolls on the living room couch, and her telephone rings with a message of absolution.

Analysis: What’s interesting are the main character and her reliability--not in any overt way but in small, subtle self-deceptive ways. First is that she is good at her job, high on the corporate ladder, knowledgeable of how flowers will be read in the company, and the president’s desire for keeping her around and concern for her health. Second her recounting of events seem largely sane and the reactions of the other characters seem indicate they agree (unless she conveniently leaves that out); however, the company president might indicate this might be in question, but in such a case, he might not have handled as he had.

The foremost self-deception, however, is her knowledge that she was the last to take care of her daughter, yet she asks her husband later if he were the last to have seen her. Next, she claims not like certain men--former husband and psychiatrist--but she also wishes they were still around after she rejects them. Massinger she rejected immediately for a relationship before he even initiated personal overtures. What and how we see Massinger, through her eyes, leads us to agree with her rejecting Massinger although it might give her exaggerated amount of pleasure to reject him. Nonetheless, she immediately calls him up when she needs a psychiatrist when trouble arises soon after. Later, she claims she’d seduced him first, but we don’t see that evidence. Did she suppress it? Or did she make that up to protect her interest in him? Either way, it’s self-deception.

Third, she’s doing something at work that’s undermining her progress to get the company president to talk her into a long vacation. Fourth, she claims Massinger’s furniture is “too slick and insincere,” which seems as likely a critique of Massinger as his furniture. Rather, he may be a little slick (although more likely clumsy in the bumbling way he handles her--creating personal connections when he ought not to and the bedroom) but otherwise too sincere, for he acts keenly interested in both his pursuit of her and his maintaining his client even when she’s soundly rejected him--in a manner that suggests she could sue him if she so desired. (Again, why did she willing enter into a relationship that she knew would violate his code of ethics?)

The case for this being a psychological ghost: The clear case of self-deception. Yet why? She wants to be absolved of her guilt. If her daughter’s ghost had returned, why would it be in the mother’s bedroom? It seems an unlikely place for a child to play (although children are curious about their parents’ things, it remains unlikely).

The case against: Is there evidence that she would try to make herself insane? Would she pull this mental game on herself? It seems unlikely. Yet she is undermining her own work on the job, and she does go out with Massinger even when she suspects it will not be her thing. However, are these evidences any different from what many sane women might do?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dark Side of Town by James Patrick Kelly -- Reader’s Guide

Dark Side of Town by James Patrick Kelly -- Reader’s Guide

Summary: Talisha discovers mechdream pills in her husband’s underwear drawer. She suspects it’s a pricey, sick sex dream, upsetting her because she wants to live in a better place. To get revenge, she asks Ed, an expensive and popular consultant what she should do. He advises her, if she still loves him, to take a pill to see what it’s all about. When he gets home, she tries to rile him, but he is unmoved. She takes the pill and discovers he’s built a new world for them, full of cars and a better home.


What are two ways of reading Werefolk? You will probably read one way on your first reading and a different way on the second.

When Talisha asks if Ricky thought she was stupid and lists evidence to the contrary, are these good evidences?

In terms of philosophical debates, “everyone said that” is a what? Name and define it. How does “everyone said that” play out this time?

Explain the undermining of Talisha’s understanding of Werefolk through the images here: “Just before the camera could reveal that the beautiful young man wasn’t wearing any pants either, the ad cut away to an older roundish woman in a daisy-print dress.

Describe the irony here: “Who was doing for Talisha? ‘Call Ricky,’ she said.”

Why doesn’t Ricky react to Talisha’s anger?

How does the quote from Hegel tie in thematically?

Make a list of how Talisha in her anger sees Ricky and how his actions show something else. For example, Ricky and his beer might suggest to some he is a lush; however, Talisha notes that it only takes three to get him going. Also, how does Talisha feel about Ricky, despite her anger-colored vision.

What is the point of the title?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Barry Westphall Crashes the Singularity by James Patrick Kelly -- Reader’s Guide

Infinite Matrix

When you want to excite students about science, sometimes it’s fun to pull out the strange if less certain futures that might be out there, such as the Singularity. If your student likes the odd, the strangeness of the presentation and subject matter in this story should bloom like a wild flower in the student’s mind.

Summary: Barry Westphall visits different times of his own life, but it turns out he’s in the future, his mind compartmentalized to keep each memory as real as possible although a certain unreality glazes the background.


What does coffee do? Alcohol? What does it mean that this character drinks both at the same time?

What is the key feature of an armadillo? What does that do and how does that play into what the character is trying to do with his life? Is he successful?

Why mirrors the link between Barry’s selves?

Why the desert?

An empty glass with ice in it. Why is it empty? Is it empty if it has something in it?

Why is the knotty pine a “nightmare?” Or is it the pine, or the close 3rd person’s consciousness?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Heroics by James Patrick Kelly -- Reader’s Guide

Asimov’s November, 1987

With a title like “Heroics,” what might you expect the story to go into?

What do you think of a hero who takes off his new Nikes first?

Three hours pass before commenting that Mike was going to get up. What might Mike have been thinking about?

What does it mean that Mike reminds himself of the price of his Nikes? List at least two. $39.95 in 1987 probably would have been a good shoe, especially considering that Mike is a runner.

Considering Peg’s interest in astrology and palm-reading, explain her blaming Mike’s sleeplessness on spices in the chili.

When Mike tells himself he’s given up secret ambitions, has he? What in the text says why or why not?

In terms of heroics, discuss why Mike reminds himself of his state record in high school running, and how Duffy can swell up his friend’s pride after recounting Mike getting up after falling and winning the race, even twenty years later. Yet Mike says he isn’t ashamed of not fighting in Vietnam.

While we don’t know how Mike acted earlier, in terms of what we do know, why might Peg’s superstition make Mike so angry? Incorporate his reaction to the foretelling of Peg’s second happy marriage.

What about Jamie’s talk of superheroes? Why might Mike note the son’s eating GI Joe Action Star?

Each time the dream appears, the readers aren’t sure if it’s a dream. How does that make us feel when the real thing occurs? What might the author be trying to evoke in the reader?

In the dreams, Mike hesitates in his heroism. Does Mike make any mistakes in his acts of heroism at the end? What does it mean that the “big kid” dies?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hubris by James Patrick Kelly -- Reader’s Guide

Realms of Fantasy, April 2002

Look again at the definitions of “hubris” the author provides. Come up with at least four examples in this story. Consider all characters and persons who give the text meaning.

How is the unnamed protagonist’s arc in the story like the description he provides in the first paragraph? How is the reader similar?

Why the muse of history?

What is ironic about how the protagonist identifies the other workshop participants by what they wear?

How are all characters like the severed heads (see protagonist’s explanation)? How is the protagonist not like the severed head? What then do these contradict itself? Is contradiction necessarily a bad thing in fiction?

What is the protagonist trying to do by breaking down age into such broad categories (see ending and opening)?

Is the protagonist’s fate horrible?