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Scholars and scientists gather at Memorial Union to discuss sci-fi writing

Panelists discussed the impact of classics like "Brave New World"


Sha Xin Wei, director of "Space and Culture: International Journal of Social Spaces," talks about how people perceive reality at the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts Conference in the Memorial Union on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017.  

Members of the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts met to discuss the social impact of science and other social issues during its 31st annual conference. ASU’s Department of English hosted the conference in the Memorial Union from Nov. 9 to 12.

Science fiction in film and literature reflects people’s admiration and fear of science. It also reflects the environments and political climate of its authors’ societies. 

The theme of the conference was “Out of Time,” and the majority of panels focused on how science fiction depicts the future. The event's panelists also reflected on what influenced the authors' imaginations.

Panelist Brandon Jones, a graduate English student at the University of Illinois, said that sci-fi books, like many other fiction-based works, are made to question reality. 

“Literature and all fiction really traffics in posing what-if propositions about reality, whether it's future-oriented or not,"  Jones said. "What if these certain events occurred, and what can we learn from that? I think that offers us insights that we wouldn’t have through just scientific analysis of the way things are.” 

Although they are also considered science fiction, critics also source works such as "Brave New World," "The Bladerunner" and "1984" as social and political commentary. And with a polarizing presidential election in 2016, sales for books like these have gone up on Amazon.

Christine Maria Skolnik, an adjunct professor at DePaul University, said these works act as a way for writers to voice their opinions in eras of oppression.

“As we know from the study of Soviet literature or literature under any oppressive regime, literature is the space where you can say what you think and not be prosecuted," Skolnik said. "We can experiment with ideas and reflect on our own doubts."

It's not the job of literature to explain science, but it can be used as a reflective tool that expresses people's feelings about issues, Skolnik said. She also said it's an especially important tool in a politically polarized environment like the current day U.S.   

Beyond film and literature, the conference also held panels on how video games are increasingly being developed with narratives on par with the best books and movies. However, because video games are a  relatively new form of storytelling, their narratives still have room to improve. 

Video game developers face many of the same challenges as film producers. James Malazita, a video game design professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said video game developers are faced with constraints like production deadlines and budgets that limit the amount of time that can be spent developing the narrative of the game. 

While film producers also face time constraints, developing a story isn’t a video game developers' only goal. The challenge is embedding a thought-provoking narrative into a game that's also visually engaging and entertaining.  

“It's not an argument of (if video game engines) can and can’t do this," Malazita said. "It can do it, but it requires a lot more time, a lot more effort and a lot more labor to hack the system to what you want."

Reach the reporter at or follow @sonic_429 on Twitter. 

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