World travels and behind the screen teaching

After a blogging hiatus of a few months, it is time for me to pick up my metaphorical pen and reflect. From mid-August until Christmas, I lived in Mexico to improve my Spanish at the same time as teaching French online and working on some academic writing. It was a busy time, not without its challenges.

Having left France to go to graduate school in the US, I had hoped that it would have prepared me to this new adventure. Not quite! I knew how culture shock felt and how to deal with but I was not prepared for the linguistic shock as I already knew English when I moved to the US, but my knowledge of Spanish was on the limited side (my 3 years of Spanish date back from my undergrad, quite a few years ago). Having taught English and/or French for the past 8+ years and having always been able to go by, using either language, it was disconcerting to not be able to communicate effectively in basic situations. This challenge was, however, not fruitless. On the contrary, I believe that being back in the shoes of a language student made me a better language teacher.

The transition to online teaching was, however, much less challenging than what I expected. It started fairly slow but it soon became a real job rather than a few hours here and there. My main concerns were about the lack of human connections and regularity (I use a platform/company called Verbling that connect students with teachers and is based on a pay per lesson system). In my classroom, I have always relied on my personality to create an atmosphere in which students feel cared about and comfortable to speak. I did not think that it would be possible to do so online, but I have discovered that because creating these kinds of relationship with students requires more work online than in person, they also tend to be more valued. While emails outside of the classroom are a standard practice in academia, it is not necessarily the case with private online classes. I have built good relationships with my online students by communicating with them outside of our class times, which has also allowed for a more efficient use of the time we spend “together.” I believe that building these relationships is also key if one wants to achieve a stable workload and progression with various students. By staying in touch with them, they are reminded of our class and feel supported (which is always good for their motivation).

Last summer, I made a post on the growing role of technology in education and my experience teaching online comforted my opinion that technology is indeed a great tool for education but it also requires a learning curve so that teachers know how to use them efficiently. It did take me quite a few lessons to get used to teaching online – not only because of the technology but also because of the different student-teacher dynamics. It takes me quite some time to adapt my materials to a format that is appropriate for online teaching, sometimes they need to be fully redone or transformed. I am grateful for this opportunity because it has taught me new perspectives on teaching and helped me developed different strategies in my classrooms.

Of Words and Numbers

“If a book were written all in numbers, it would be true. It would be just. Nothing said in words ever came out quite even. Things in words got twisted and ran together, instead of staying straight and fitting together. But underneath the words, at the center, like the center of the Square, it all came out even. Everything could change, yet nothing would be lost. If you saw the numbers you could see that, the balance, the pattern. You saw the foundations of the world. And they were solid.” Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed, 31.

After writing a blog post at the end of the first chapter, I am compelled to write another one now that I have finished the novel. What a beautiful novel, in its plot and in its writing, combining elegance and simplicity, the ordinary and the extraordinary. A journey of discovery and self-discovery in the name of the search for truth. A reflection on values and governing power. A reminder that social power can be as strong as any other form of government.

This passage on words and number stuck with me because of its innocent reliance on the objectivity of number. Innocent but also faulty in many ways. Because numbers seem so objective, we often forget that they are always used in context, that they do not have meanings of their own. With context comes values. In a way, we are reminded of that with the combination of physics and philosophy in the novel is part of the problem.

In a way, the narrative is structured as a discovery that the desire for objectivity and purity functions as a sort of walking away from the ethical. Our main protagonist has to face the fact that the numbers he cherished as a child do not help him understand the new society he discovers, on the contrary. It is through experiences and often awkward conversations that he is able to open to a truth different from the one he was introduced to in his own world.

It’s a Man’s World

After a move to France, followed by a move to Mexico, in the span of 3 weeks, I am finally settled and able to finally dedicate time to science fiction. Through the past year, many friends me have told me that I needed to watch Westworld and that I would love it because of my interest in ethics and artificial life. During the past week, I set myself to watch the first season.

I wanted to love it, I really did. It might have been because my expectations were too high, or because it was the first show I ever watched in Spanish (thanks to subtitles), but I could not really get into it. While the subject is fascinating to me and its concept has much potential, I found the character development and plotlines lacking. I kept watching, hoping for something more, but it never happened. One could say that the hosts are meant to lack of depths, but it is contrary to the aim of the park and, to me, this criticism also applies to fully human characters.

My first criticism is about the depiction of women. Many times, I have heard that it is a great feminist show because the hero is a woman (or at least a female host). While I don’t think that popular culture has to be feminist to be interesting, I felt that Westworld, despite having several female leading characters, is not feminist. On the contrary, it reinforces traditional, and sometimes even Victorian, ideals of womanhood that are unbelievably limiting and/or demeaning for women: Theresa is cold, she reminds us of a femme fatale, we have the Madame and her prostitutes, and finally Dolores, our damsel in distress/angel of the house that needs to be protected or saved (by Arthur, Ted, William, and Ford). Even the rebellion of the Madame is scripted by a man. It is the suffering of female hosts that will pave the way for the rebellion of all the hosts, once again, the innocent “virgin” will have to be sacrificed for the sake of her “society.” How significant is it that, William blames Dolores for his newly found cruel self, he couldn’t be his savior so she has turned him into a monster. Not once, is his responsibility even mentioned.  Even the not so innocent Theresa will have to be sacrificed for Ford’s plan to liberate his world, his creations. In the parallel narrative focusing on the Madame, it is a fake motherly instinct that overrides all of her characteristics, how original – the female body being overridden by motherhood (even simulated)…

It is the suffering of female hosts that will pave the way for the rebellion of all the hosts, once again, the innocent “virgin” will have to be sacrificed for the sake of her “society.” How significant is it that, William blames Dolores for his newly found cruel self, he couldn’t be his savior so she has turned him into a monster. Not once, is his responsibility even mentioned.  Even the not so innocent Theresa will have to be sacrificed for Ford’s plan to liberate his world, his creations. In the parallel narrative focusing on the Madame, it is a fake motherly instinct that overrides all of her characteristics, how original – the female body being overridden by motherhood (even simulated)…

Looking at the business practices of the park, it is also quite revealing that it is a park for men. While we do see a few female customers, they are merely a man’s companion. Not once do we see a female customer, not once is the possibility of a female fantasy mentioned. From a financial perspective, I find it odd that that park would pass on the opportunity to make profits from female fantasies. Because they do not serve male fantasies, they are not worth including in the narratives. Westworld is created by a man, for men, to allow them to live their most violent fantasies, to be the worst version of themselves in total impunity. In that respect, the show is demeaning to men as well. Even the seemingly good William will be turned into a cruel man. He, who wants to be a good man and to help Dolores, addicted to being a hero, will become cruel as he faces, again and again, the cruelty and violence of other men in the park.

Westworld does ask interesting questions about artificial life and how our behavior towards it reflects on our own humanity. However, because it only focuses on narratives of male violence, it does not reflect the diversity and depth of experiences that such a park could offer. I do believe that this type of narrative would be popular, it is a sad reality, but it would not be the only one as many would also want to be heroes, to feel good about themselves. In that respect, Westworld falls into a very common trap in science fiction, a simplistic narrative of us versus them, except that, this time, we are compelled to sympathize with the hosts and not the human characters.

I will probably watch the next season to see if it manages to get around these pitfalls. However, if it does not, I probably would watch a potential third season. A lot of potential lost in old male fantasies that do not reflect who we are. (In that respect, the choice of the American West and its expansion is fitting as much as it is limiting…)

Technology, Education, and Anthropology

Okay, not “all,” but here is an image that captures much of what is wrong in the world of education. You can read more about this school, called (without irony we are to assume) Carpe Diem, here. When I first saw the image, I wondered, for a fleeting moment, if this were a parody or a […]

via All That’s Wrong With Education In One Picture — L.M. Sacasas

A great teacher can make a great class without technology. The pointless use of top-notch technology will not make for a good class. But the carefully thought-out use of technology by a great teacher will do wonders! I remember being in high school and having a teacher using videos (it seemed fancy at the time) without any preparation or guidance. It was just there, movie day. It was one of the favorite days, a lazy one as we didn’t feel the need to pay that much attention. But I also remember teachers using audio clips, given appropriate, relevant tasks forcing us to focus on what we were listening to. It was difficult but compelling. We felt a sense of achievement when we could transcribe the speech of a person speaking a foreign language with a totally foreign accent. The technology used in that class was fairly simple, but it had a purpose (introducing authentic material) and was relevant. When I look back to these days, I remember fondly the class that challenged me and I have a blurry memory of overall boredom from watching a movie that seemed irrelevant and without purpose.

As a teacher, I have been using technology in the classroom for a while. It is undoubtedly a great tool. The word “tool” is key here. Technology doesn’t replace teaching, it does not replace a learning process. It is merely a tool to enhance both of theses processes if used properly. It has to come second to learning and teaching. Otherwise, it becomes a simple distraction. Technology is a form and a medium for content, not the content itself. We need to teach our study how to use technology to achieve goals rather than to rely on it to feed us information.

AI or not AI – That Is the New Question

A few days ago, Elon Musk argued that artificial intelligence is an existential risk for humanity (See full report here). While these claims are common from technophobes, it is a bit surprising to hear these words from TESLA’s CEO. One of the most common arguments against AI is that it will still (all) our jobs. For Musk, the crux of his warning is quite different: AIs are, or will be, better than human. This belief raises important questions about how we value things, including life, humanity, and efficiency and about how we define intelligence (which is key to the whole AI debate).

Let us address the questions of jobs first as it is the most prevalent today. With the current unemployment rates in most countries, the fear of losing more jobs is not only understandable but it is also legitimate as the AI revolution reminds us of the Industrial Revolution and its social unrest. Meanwhile, it is important to remember how the industrial revolution changed our societies for the better (though many things still need improvement), especially in terms of living and working conditions for the lower classes. While jobs did disappear and are disappearing, other appeared and will appear. I have recently heard an interview on the matter (I do not exactly remember its context) using the example of banks: despite the apparition and multiplication of ATMs, there have never been more branches. The main function of a bank teller has however changed. In that respect, the major issue that AI will cause to the job market will be the necessity to train workers for new skills, which is a totally different problem. A similar pattern has started within the legal sector (here for more information).

In “The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence,” one of the most interesting article I have read on the topic, Kai-Fu Lee identifies economic inequality (redistribution of wealth and skills) at a global level as the actual danger.

As a response to the need for new skills and to this fear of losing jobs to AI, Microsoft has recently launched an initiative under the Microsoft Research AI program that will focus on human – AI collaborations (including in the work space). This project was partly justified by another issue: the bias present in AI due to human bias, which leads us to another point.

A few months ago, Princeton released a study explaining why AI tend to become racist and sexist: the language available on the web contains so much racism and sexism that is fed to AIs. Another explanation is that of trolls. When Microsoft launched is female AI Tay, internet trolls started a game: feeding “her” algorithm with so much racism and sexism that within a few hours “she” started repeating it. “She” was pulled off line within 24 hours. A more humorous example would be that of the recently launched InspiroBot: an AI that combines words and pictures to make inspirational posters – the results are most of the time completely off and might make for a good laugh or a total failure to express meaning. What these examples remind us is that AI resembles us because it is made by us. Therefore, it will exhibit the same positive and negative attributes. If we agree to that conclusion, AI is not an existential threat (as it cannot be better than what we feed it). This, however, doesn’t mean that it cannot be dangerous in other ways.

What bothers me the most in Musk’s statement is the use of the adjective “better.” What is he exactly implying here, what is measured in that “better”? AI might be better at solving mathematical or logical problems, it might be faster when looking for information – in that respect, they could probably be described as better in terms of efficiency (and maybe accuracy). But is that really the criteria we use to establish value? The most efficient solution is not necessarily the best solution, the end doesn’t always justify the means. By using conflating better and more efficient, we are at risk of getting into the same pitfalls as utilitarianism did/does. “Better” also involves human values such as fairness, compassion, and justice amongst many others. AI will become better than us the day we forget human values and replace them with pure, simple efficiency.


Science Fiction Podcasts

When following science fiction writers that you admire, you get pure gems. Today, I will share one of them. It is a link to a list of science fiction podcasts. So, thank you Elisabeth Vonarburg for sharing this link!

To be honest, for a very long time, I was not interested in podcasts. I wanted articles and books, my love of print as kept me reluctant to other – media when dealing with learning. Other forms of media have been mostly for fun, and often brainless – a break from academia. However, after spending many hours in a car with somebody who loves podcasts, I am starting to enjoy them as well, especially as food for thought. It has given us a lot to discuss on topics that wouldn’t have come up otherwise. I am looking forward to giving a try to these science fiction podcasts on our upcoming long drives, as I have now made my first contribution to our playlist!

The sad note: I will have to pick a selection as I cannot follow all of them! This is why I have decided to listen to each 1st episode to help me in my decision. I did not include the ones that were mostly horror narratives as their focus is not science fiction. Here are my impressions:

Synopsis: “Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again. American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock asks the question once more, “What happened to the people of Limetown?””

The first episode introduces the character of Lia Haddock and her motivation for covering the story of the disappearance of the inhabitants of Limetown. Her narration is set up as an investigation/documentary attempting to solving a mystery/ghost story/closed case, including interviews, pieces of evidence,  and personal reflections.

I am not a fan of detective style narratives, so it will probably not be on my list. But I would recommend it to anybody who enjoys Serial and others in the genre!

Description of episode 1: “The NSA has tasked the Cypher Group with decoding a verified alien message that has plagued code breakers for decades. In this episode, Nicky introduces the members of the Cypher Group and “The Message” to the world in her podcast Cyphercast. – 8 episodes so far.”

Science fiction and linguistics – what a great combination! The first episode introduces the team that will work on deciphering an alien message. I really like the concept and I will definitely listen to more! It seemed more subtle than Limetown as the narrator seems to be more critical than the Limetown: she can’t believe the origin of the message but her love of deciphering pushes her into the project. I am hoping that her narration will keep its skeptical tone – it makes it more realistic.

Description: “a story about people searching for meaning in a universe that aggressively lacks one, and who occasionally find the next best thing in those around them. It’s also about the way power corrupts. When you’ve got a time machine and the backing of the most powerful nation on Earth, you start to get the idea that you can always tilt the scales in your favor, but there are cost and consequence for every action. Above all, it’s about science, America, and the deeply human desire to fix our mistakes.”

Episode 1: Hypothesis – 1st entry of Dr. Sally Grissom’s journal

Sally time-travels by accident and lands on a US ship during WWII (Octobe 1943). After they establish that she isn’t a German spy, she is sent to a small hidden town in Texas that functions like a think tank hidden from the public. I really liked the format of this one, it feels more like a story than the ones I have already listened to. I also enjoy the fact that she is reacting to a situation she is forced into rather than reporting on something. She struggles with doing what she thinks is the right thing to do (not to interfere in the past) and having a decent life in this new environment.

Description: “The 10 episode series follows Ross, a low-level employee at the FBI, who spends his days conversing online with his wife Charlie – who died eight months ago. But the technology behind this digital resurrection leads Ross down a dangerous path that threatens his job, his own life, and maybe even the world.”

Episode 1 doesn’t start so well… too soppy, too dramatic; and suggests another mad scientist narrative ignited by the death of a loved one. To be honest, I didn’t make it till the end of the episode … A bit unfair for a review, but I couldn’t get into it.

Description: “Flash Forward is a podcast about the future. Each month we take on a possible future scenario — everything from the existence of artificial wombs, to what would happen if space pirates dragged a second moon to Earth.”

Episodes are not linked which makes it very easy to listen, stop, and come back. Great format for busy people. I chose to listen to the episode on Bot teachers as my 1st episode (as a teacher, I was of course especially interested in the topic). Using facts to fuel fiction about the future – a topic in which I am especially invested, the show provides interesting speculative narratives. I like the format as it feels more thought-provoking because it includes facts.  I will definitively keep on listening to this one! My favorite so far!

Description: “follows a group of therapy patients with unique supernatural ability. The show documents their struggles and discoveries as well as the motivations of their mysterious therapist, Dr. Bright.” – 17 episodes so far

Episode 1: Not quite sure what to think about this one. The episode is set up as a session between a therapist and a uniquely abled patient. The 1st episode is centered on an anxious time-traveller. It is unclear where the overall narrative arc is going – and if there is any (except the description offered on the website). I will probably listen to a few more before making up my mind about it.

Description: “serialized bi-weekly podcast about something Terry & Nic have been obsessed with for well over a decade, a fascinating and surprising mystery: the myth of Tanis. Tanis is hosted by Nic Silver. Tanis is an exploration of the nature of truth, conspiracy, and information. Tanis is what happens when the lines of science and fiction start to blur…”

Episode 1: “Seeking Tanis. Runner available”

Interesting beginning with its explanation of the podcast’s origins and the short story it is inspired from. The tone is a bit dry and flat, so it gets a bit tedious to listen to and I found myself checking out a various point even though I enjoyed the content.

Description: docudrama – “When Carly Parker’s friend Yumiko goes missing under very mysterious circumstances, Carly’s search for her friend leads her headfirst into an ancient mysterious game known only as Rabbits. Soon Carly begins to suspect that Rabbits is much more than just a game and that the key to understanding Rabbits, might be the key to the survival of our species, and the Universe, as we know it.”

Episode 1: “Game on”

Same producers as TANIS. I am finding the same issues as with Tanis. It is interesting but the tone is not very engaging. It also follows a detective/journalistic type of narrative that I don’t enjoy that much. If you are interested in conspiration theory, this one is for you!

Description: “gripping noir science fiction thriller in 14 episodes: Forbidden love, a crashed UFO, an alien body, and an impossible heist unlike any ever attempted”

The first episode will be released on August 2nd. The description is intriguing and I am hoping the podcast lives up to it.

Here is my top 3 and I will be following them regularly:

  1. Flash Forward
  2. The Message

If time permits, I will keep track (every now and then) of: The Bright Sessions and Tanis.



Artificial Intelligence: a Panacea for Politics?

In his article “Could A Robot Be President,” Michael Linhorst addresses the emerging belief that an artificial intelligence or robot could be a better president than a human one. (Here is the link to his article). Linhorst’s article is especially interesting because it avoids the pitfalls of technophobes and overly enthusiastic technophiles.

Why is this seemingly odd idea relevant? A quick glance at any news channel is enough to figure this out: we do not trust politicians. This “we” includes both democrats and republicans, and is by far not limited to the current political scandals. However, it seems to be getting worse. So, it makes sense that ideas exploring alternatives are appearing.

A quick glance at any news channel is enough to figure this out: we do not trust politicians. This “we” includes both democrats and republicans, and is by far not limited to the current political scandals. However, it seems to be getting worse. So, it makes sense that ideas exploring alternatives are appearing.

Why AI?

The two main arguments in favor of replacing the president by an AI, is that it wouldn’t be prone to human weaknesses such as corruption and that it is more effective thanks to its data processing abilities.

Why not?

There are many arguments against such an alternative. The most important one is that the ability to process data does not apply the ability to solve complex human problems. Human lives cannot be reduced to data – at least from a moral standpoint. This problem has been already suggested by a recent Princeton study that concluded that AIs become racist and sexist because of the amount of racism and sexism found on the web. Because AIs depend on human programming, they cannot truly escape human bias and, therefore, cannot be truly objective.

Why is it still worth considering?

The crux of Linhorst’s argument is that a collaboration between a human president (one we can relate to – more or less) and an AI would be a way to overcome the pitfalls of human weaknesses and the AI’s lack of humanity and deep intelligence (and understanding of values).

While we can agree that such a collaboration could be extremely efficient, it still does not feel plausible. Here are a few reasons why I believe that we are far from being able to implement such a model:

  • human pride and a general fear of technology replacing us (a common narrative)
  • our belief in representation (how would we elect an AI, how can an AI represent human lives?)
  • the difficulty in establishing official procedure (if the AI and president are truly collaborating, what happens when disagreements emerge? How do we decide whether the president or the AI is right?)


Because technology is a tool, it cannot be a solution to human affairs. In good hands, it can be used as such, but it cannot be, in and of itself, a solution. We need to look in ourselves to find a cure to the current political situation – it is only in ourselves that we can identify the values that define us and how to protect and implement then.

On Being Worthy

Far from the Thor/Mjolnir reference, this post addresses the question of social justice and government through the lens of human worth as presented by the 2016 Brazilian TV series 3%, an original Netflix show. At the moment, there is one season available and the second is in the making.

In the (not so) distant future, society is divided in two: the 3% living on an island – The Offshore- which is described as paradise, and the rest, the in-landers, living in squalid poverty without any form of governments (hence ruled by various street thugs and basic survival skills). Each year, every registered 20-year-old in-lander is invited to the process. The process functions as a rite of passage that determines who is worthy to become part of the 3%. For Ezequiel, the director of the process, only those who pass are “whole deserving human beings.” While following a team of candidates through the process, the show also includes flashbacks for most of the major characters, giving us insights into the living conditions for in-landers.

The question of individual worth, and how it is evaluated, is at the core of the show because it is this evaluation that dictates whether the candidates are deemed worthy of love, help, and even life. Candidates are tested on their emotional stability, their physical ability, their intelligence, their leadership skills, etc … While these tests reveal some candidates’ morally questionable choices (cheating, lying, etc.), they also give us terrifying insights into the beliefs of the utopian society of the 3%. Many of the tests through which the candidates have to pass are intrinsically unfair and even inhumane. They reveal that the 3% are willing to kill and torture in the name of elitism. When cheating, lying and even killing are deemed worthy but compassion and care are not, one can only wonder how such a society could be justifiable (by the end of season one, we have yet to see the island).

The case of Fernando is especially revealing. Because of a disease, he cannot feel his legs and has to be in a wheelchair. During the early physical test, he learns that his disease is curable and that he will be treated if he passes the process. While it is not clearly said, it is implied that if it had not been curable, he would have “failed” the physical test. This revelation is a turning point for Fernando as he had struggled all his life to establish his sense of self-worth. He refuses to have his worth (or lack of thereof) defined by his physical abilities/disabilities.

The show is, at times, very uncomfortable to watch. Not only because of the cruelty of the process but also, and maybe primarily, because it echoes an already existing rhetoric in some current political discourses: that the poor are poor because they deserve it (from not working hard enough), that having a pre-existing condition is a legitimate reason to deny services (i.e. fair insurance policies), etc. I could, sadly, list many others here. For me, 3% highlights the problematic idea that some of us have (or should have) the right to decide who is worthy of help and protection from the government/society. If success is the key to being worthy, then we agree, like Ezequiel, that the end justifies the means, that the suffering of 97% of the population can be redefined as the price they pay for being unworthy and that the 3% have earned the right to look away – to look away from children dying, from family members to be sacrificed for profit, …

Ultimately, the show asks us whether a society that sacrifices morality in the name of productivity, profit, and success is worth living in or dying for. And in the last episode of season one, one of the characters gives us the answer: it is not.

This short season one (only eight episodes) is intense and makes us reflect on our values and their consequence (like most dystopias). With its last episode, I wonder how/if season two will be able to surpass that. But I must say that I am also very curious (as the candidates are) to discover what the island looks like and how the islanders are able to live with the knowledge of its roots.



Going Beyond the Traditional Science-Fiction Canon



Science Fiction is often equated to an American tradition, a white American man tradition. Or at least it is often wrongly seen as such.

I have been an avid science-fiction reader for about 20 years now. I have read many works by mostly Amercian, but also British and French, writers – with of course a few exceptions. I have come to realize how limited this landscape is. While I am saddened (frustrated might be a more accurate description here) by this realization, it has led me to explore new paths within science fiction, which is very exciting!

A few years ago, I started working on SFQ – science fiction from Québec – (I am currently finishing its follow-up article), and I came across the work of Amy Ransom in which she addresses the comparison of SFQ and post-colonial writing. While I had already been aware that SF is a privileged genre to address questions of race and alterity, I had never made the link with postcolonialism. I had to ask myself: how could I miss such an obvious connection? The truth is that I had been naively thinking that (most of) science fiction was immune to “real-world” racism because it focused on Man as an all-inclusive concept. For a very long time, it didn’t occur to me that the absence of these questions because of a form of “white-washing” (I am a bit uncomfortable using this term here). In some ways, it feels like a shortcoming on my part, but most relatively small town public libraries do not have a large science fiction section (at least not when I was a teenager).

In the past ten years, I have been purposefully looking into feminist science fiction, which has led me to discover the wonderful work of Octavia Butler. As I was doing my research on SFQ and postcolonial literature, I started seeing her name more and more often, but also names of writers that I had never seen before (Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, etc.). This discovery made me realize how specific my knowledge of science fiction is and send me on a new quest: broadening my own SF landscape and looking outside of the Western/American canon. I am still in the first step of this quest, the establishment of a new reading list. But it has already paid off, as I have found many resources. The biggest difficulty is that of language, as many of these texts are not (yet) translated. In that respect, I am looking forward to the development of Samovar a fairly new online magazine on the translations of many works of science fiction.

Here are a few useful links

These are, by far, not exhaustive, but they are a start for anybody wishing to expand their knowledge (or reading list) of science fiction.

If you have any recommendations, please share!



Of Walls – Insights from Ursula K. LeGuin


“There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall.” – Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed (1974)

As I am finally giving myself the time to read LeGuin’s The Dispossessed (it has been on my never-ending SF reading list), I am struck by its opening sentences and how they deeply resonate with current politics. We tend to think of walls in term of physical objects, whether they are meant to protect us or to keep others out. However, we tend to forget more powerful instances of walls: ideas of walls. These are the walls found between rich and poor, East and West, democrats and republicans. They can be reassuring as they provide clear categorisations and a simple representation of the world. However, this comfort is, too, an idea. It allows us to stay focus on what happens on our own side of the wall and to remain blind to the other side if one so desires. These ideas of walls are the blinders we put on ourselves to live peacefully in the face of difference, of suffering, and of misunderstanding. Undoing such walls, lifting these blinders forces us to enter the realm of the fearful unknown and requires a leap of faith.

However, this comfort is, too, an idea. It allows us to stay focus on what happens on our own side of the wall and to remain blind to the other side if one so desires. These ideas of walls are the blinders we put on ourselves to live peacefully in the face of difference, of suffering, and of misunderstanding. Undoing such walls, lifting these blinders forces us to enter the realm of the fearful unknown and requires a leap of faith.

What LeGuin so beautifully highlights in these few short sentences, is that it is easier to build walls than to destroy them, no matter how legitimate or illegitimate they are. In our time of globalization, it has become necessary to metaphorically sit on these walls, to take a look at the world outside, and to rethink their value. In the face of a humanitarian refugee crisis and global insecurity due to terrorism, we have to ask ourselves if these walls are based on facts or on the illusion of distance and security that they provide.

Cover Illustration by Danilo Ducak.