Quiz: Mulder and Scully vs. Lois and Clark in an easter egg hunt in Mordor. Who finds the most?



The correct response is Krypto, obviously named after Kal-El's home planet of Krypton. Before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which substantially reduced the number of characters in the DC Universe, Krypto was a regular character who had many of Superman's abilities. After the Crisis, Superman was the only survivor of Krypton--or so it was believed. Krypto has appeared in several publications since the Crisis in the 80's. It just goes to show that you can't put a good dog down.

I would also like to apologize for the new header. It seems Alfonso may have misunderstood me when I asked him to add some new graphics to the site. We'll have that cleaned up in a week or two--so long as Alfonso understands my directions this time.

Enjoy the rest of your break!


Prof. Sci-Fi




I hope you all had a good winter break. Now that the next semester is beginning, I'm sure you are all looking forward to classes and homework.

I wanted to inform you about some changes that will be taking place in the next few weeks in our class, "Sci-Fi: A Narrative to Live By" or AWSM 101. First, I'd like to introduce you to a new member of our class, Alfonso, our TA. You will see him posting occasionally to keep you updated about changes to the syllabus, assignments, and other administrative things that help make the class run smoothly. It was necessary for me to hire Alfonso due to yet another change.

I am teaching a new course--some lectures of which will be appearing on our class website as supplementary material. The class is called: "Practical Skills for Sci-Fi Environments." This course is largely designed for people who will be doing field research in Sci-Fi environments and will cover topics such as safety tips for encounters with the Borg, guidelines for operating DeLoreans, and the many uses for Kryptonite. Check this space often for new material in this course.

Obviously, my busy schedule required me to hire Alfonso as an aide. I will also be participating in several conferences this semester, and so we will be having guest lecturers from all over the Sci-Fi universe. This semester, guest lecturers will come exclusively from the Star Trek mythology. Their lectures will be available as video blogs on the class website. The first lecturer will be Cowboy Worf and he will be visiting on Jan. 11. The topic will be forthcoming.

Because I will be out of the classroom so much, I believe it will be beneficial for you, the students, to have more direct access to me in case of any questions. Of course, as this is a class about Sci-Fi and morality, feel free to send me any questions regarding our class topics. You can reach me at . You can also contact Alfonso if you have any questions about grades or administrative things. Alfonso: . If the questions pertain to the whole class, I may answer them on the class website--with your permission, of course.

Of course, also keep watching this space for your homework assignments and weekly quizzes. The quizzes will be explained at the end of each week in order to better facilitate your learning.

It has been a great semester, and I look forward working with you in the new year, 2010. Sounds like something out of Sci-Fi, doesn't it?


Prof. Sci-Fi



There will be changes coming to the website. Stay tuned to find out how the timeline is about change.

Prof. Sci-Fi


Homework #4: Time

Time travel is a common plot device and theme in sci-fi. Usually in a sci-fi movie, ep, or book, the timeline gets distorted somehow and the job of the heroes is to fix it.

Of course, "distorted" is a pretty loaded term. In a story, we see the timeline as being "distorted," but in reality there's no "right way" for events to unfold. This leads me to a question:

Why does time travel intrigue us so much? And in the absence of even the possibility of time travel, why do we dream about it? Before sci-fi was invented, did people dream about changing the past or the future?

Feel free to answer any of these questions--or all of them.


Homework #3: Dark Side

Why is the Dark Side of the Force so appealing? Why do people turn to it? Would you?


We never really understand our own experience. Yet our experience is what defines us and what guides our decisions. And that's living. I learned that from Buffy.

Angel's experience is a conundrum (whose isn't?). He is a vampire--a monster who took great pleasure in torturing and inflicting pain on others. But he also has a soul--which means his own conscience tortures him with guilt for what he has done. And one Christmas, Angel's experience was almost his undoing.

Wracked with the suffering of those he killed, Angel decides to kill himself by standing on a hill, waiting for the sun to rise. But then Buffy finds him.

Buffy has had her own experience. But hers, like most of ours, is not nearly as cut-and-dry good-and-evil as Angel's. Hers is filled with nuance. She has a tendency to fall for guys who are likely to hurt her. Plus she has a calling: she is the Vampire Slayer. She never wanted to be the Slayer, and so her experience of living has been the tension between fate and free will, duty and liberty. Buffy's done some bad things, but she's mostly a good person. And she has come to talk some sense into Angel.

But Angel is just trying to make sense of his own experience. And he has a point.

"Am I thing worth saving? Am I a righteous man?" he cries.

Buffy doesn't buy it. She loves him and wants him to live. So she accuses him of being a coward for not fighting--for not dealing with the conundrum of his dual experience. Angel sees it another way: he thinks he IS dealing with that problem and solving it. He asks her to let him be strong.

But Buffy says: "Strong is fighting! It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day. It's what we have to do. And we can do it together."

The real beauty of this moment is that even though Buffy and Angel's experiences are so wildly different, she sees herself in him. That's why she helps him. That's why we help each other. Because our experience is the same on some basic level. We understand and know what others need--we know this from our own experience. It's all we can offer to people in need. Our own experience. And even though we can never be sure, we can hope that we share something in common. And that it will be enough.

Buffy's right. The only way we can get through and make sense of our own experience is if we do it together.

From the University of Awesome, Prof. Sci-Fi wishes you Happy Holidays.


Homework #2

Which sci-fi ideal do you aspire most to? What are you doing to achieve it?


Homework #1

One of the main themes of this course is the status Sci-Fi has in our literary tradition. My thesis is that Sci-Fi evolved out of the social-construct of myth and could ideally function in much the same way fairy tales do. Who knows? Perhaps we won't be telling Grimm Brothers' stories to our kids. Maybe we'll put them to bed with a little tale about how Buffy slayed the vampires.

Writing Prompt
What is your favorite fairy tale? What is your favorite bit of Sci-Fi? Are they similar? How?

Please submit your assignment via the comment button. This is out of a total of 10 points. Due date is Tuesday.


Belief and Doubt

Belief and doubt work in tandem. They are partners investigating this same strange world. And the conversation they hold never ends. I learned that from the X-Files.

Old conventional wisdom says you can't believe and doubt at the same time. But today, even priests talk extensively about how doubt is "okay" and "natural" and even "helpful" to the faith experience because, once you abandon those doubts, your belief is stronger. So ultimately, doubt is a means to an end--at least in conventional wisdom.

But belief and doubt really aren't all that different. In the X-Files mythology, this is shown through the relationship between two FBI agents. Mulder and Scully, the believer and the skeptic respectively, initially have their doubts about each other. The believer thinks the skeptic is out to sabotage his work by exposing his views as frauds. The skeptic thinks the believer is a little unbalanced. But only in the beginning. When they don't know each other. Only when the other person is still an unknown, a dehumanized collection of beliefs (or nonbeliefs) and assumptions, is it possible to think that belief and doubt are at odds with one another. But once they take on the same case, it's clear that they're on the same team. Hell, they even like each other. And they're really two sides to the same coin.

Ultimately, Scully was set up by higher-ups in the agency to expose Mulder and his beliefs as frauds. But by the end of their first case involving a potential alien abduction, Scully cannot bring herself to hand Mulder over as a crazy. Why? Does she feel sorry for him? Maybe a little. Does she think he might be onto something? Maybe a little of that too. But without Mulder, Scully is just one voice articulating something false: that everything has a logical explanation. And without Scully, Mulder is a lonely voice for another falsehood: that faith alone is enough. When the two get together and talk, that's when they find the truth that's out there.

But sometimes the truth is just a smudge on the lens. So make sure you clean your lenses properly.


Escaping the Past

We are the sum of our past, and one event can change us in ways we can never truly understand. I learned that from Smallville.

For Clark and Lana and a dozen other people, it all goes back to the meteor shower. In 1989, a massive meteor shower all but destroyed the town of Smallville, Kansas. And there were consequences. Lana's parents were killed when a meteor fell on their car causing it to explode. Lex, who was out in a cornfield, was nearly hit by one of the rocks and lost all his hair. And, of course, Clark came into the lives of Jonathon and Martha Kent.

That moment changed their lives forever. The lives they were living before the meteors came were definitely not the same lives afterwards. Some moments are like that--they alter things so much that you find you're heading in a different direction than what you thought you were going.

As humans, we experience time as a line--and some points on that line are more significant than others. Those points shape the direction of the line afterwards in ways we can't fully comprehend until years later. Or perhaps we'll never understand. We all have those moments in our lives: it's part of our human experience. But how each of us deals with those moments differs from person to person. Just look at Smallville.

Many years after the 1989 Meteor Shower (it's funny how the moments that shape us get names--like they're a person we met, or a moment bigger than a date on a calendar), a spot of tornadoes hit Smallville. Lana was nearly killed as was Clark's father, Jonathon. After the worst of the disaster was over, Lana visited Clark at his barn:

"I just can't wait for things to get back to normal," Clark said.

"It won't," Lana replied.

"Why do you say that?"

Lana explained, "Nell used to tell me that after the meteor shower. But these events change you. It wipes out your illusions. You discover things about yourself."

Sometimes the things you discover are good, sometimes they're bad. But after your world is shaken, the only positive thing you can do is try to find a new direction to go. If you stay stuck in that moment, it may be a comfortable misery, but you'll keep reliving the same mistakes over and over. If you try to act like the moment never happened, you're a fool and will never be able to accept reality or responsibility. Either way, you're living in illusion. So the best thing to do is to walk through the fire--'cause where else can you turn?

It may be scary treading out onto new terrain. But you can face it. There's nothing you can't face...

Well, except some people have problems with bunnies. But I don't really get that.


Fear and Love

You don't need to be harboring a deep, dark secret in order for your fears to sabotage love. I learned that from Smallville.

She’s the girl next door. Spiderman’s Mary Jane. Charlie Brown’s Little Red-Haired Girl. And for Superman, it’s Lana Lang. Perhaps not unrequited, but at least unrealized, the Lana-Clark-ship has always been postponed. If it wasn’t Clark making out with another girl (as seen in Season 2’s “Red”), it was Clark’s fear that Lana would find out his secret identity. And that would endanger her. When it comes to why Clark and Lana never seemed to work out, the blame has always been placed squarely on the shoulders of the Last Son of Krypton. And we all know why. But what about Lana?

While Clark’s fears kept him from pursuing Lana any further than the “friends zone,” Lana herself had her own demons to deal with. And at first glance, it seems like Lana’s problem is Clark’s problem: the secret. Trying to sort things out in her head one day at the Talon, Lana ran into Helen Bryce, the soon-to-be-wife of Lex Luthor.

“If you knew that Lex was keeping secrets from you, but that he was being truthful about the important things like the way he feels about you, would that be enough?” Lana asked.

Helen turned the question back to Lana. “I guess you have to decide: is the part of themselves they’re willing to share with you better than not having them in your life at all?”

What it comes down to with Lana is fear. Fear that she won’t be able to handle a relationship full of secrets. Fear that the problems will become insurmountable. Fear that she’ll never really have all of Clark that she needs. It’s fear.

And, incidentally, that’s exactly what Clark’s problem is too. Fear. But fear and love dance together all the time—you don’t have to be an alien with a dark secret to struggle with this conundrum. Every act of love is a risk. The risk that the love you show might be rejected. We can put on a strong face and say that we don’t care what others think, but we’re just kidding ourselves. Love may be brave, but it would much rather be shared. That’s because when we love, we have to take off the mask of indifference towards others. Love is about the other person. It’s about how you feel about them. And it’s about putting them first.

So when you love, you’re saying, “I’m willing to be hurt.” That’s where the fear comes from. And it’s also where the love comes from. Because love is risk. Love is brave. Love may fear, but it is not swayed by fear. But if you don’t want to get hurt, then stay away from love. Stay inside your Kryptonian shell. Don’t open your eyes. Because once you do, you’ll see that the fears that alienate you are in every single human being. Even Lana Lang has a little Krypton in her heart.

So Superman, the man who can’t be hurt, pursues the one thing that can hurt him: love. What does that make him? Brave? Noble? A romantic? No, none of these things.

Just a dumbass like the rest of us.


Fathers and Sons

Fathers and sons will butt heads, hold their ground, and in the end gain nothing. True strength is having the confidence in yourself to have humility. I learned that from Smallville.

Early in his high school years, Clark Kent had a couple rough patches with his father. It was typical father-son problems—which is strange considering how atypical Clark was. But fathers love their sons; they’re proud of them when they do good things and happy just when they wake up in the morning. And with a little humility, a little repentance, the problems of even a Superman and his dad can get resolved.

A father-son fight seem like a simple exercise in letting go. But in the thick of it, that’s not what it looks like. Not ever. In the middle, it’s like you’re facing off with a bull. Clark had made a rather unconventional choice by befriending local tycoon and shady businessman, Lex Luthor. Clark’s father, Jonathan, had never trusted the Luthors and considered Clark’s friendship with Lex at least foolhardy and at most downright dangerous. When Jonathon found out Lex had been secretly investigating the Kents—and to make matters worse, found out that Clark had known and not told him—Jonathan was understandably angry. When he confronted Clark, the teenaged Superman uncharacteristically lashed out at his dad with the whole “I’m not a kid anymore” argument. Yeah, that one’s a classic.

So this is how it started. And in arguments, everything is always backwards. An argument seems like it’s about the thing it’s about, but arguments are never about what they’re about. Arguments are about a relationship. The next day, Clark talked to his mother.

“You two need to work this out,” she said.

“We will. First we’ll have a week of uncomfortable silence, and then we’ll start talking about something trivial, and then we’ll move on.”

And once again, the mess gets swept under the proverbial rug. You can never turn that rug over—it’s so disgusting under there, full of scars and still festering wounds. Grudges held on to for dear life.

But in the end, it’s the holding on that takes the living out of life. Lex’s father, Lionel, never let go of the deaths of his wife and younger son, Julian. And in the end, it destroyed not just his relationship with Lex, but kept Lex from becoming the good man he could have been.

That’s what Lex told Clark when he came to his friend for advice. And that’s how Clark found the courage to face the truth: that his relationship with his father was more important than “winning the argument.” And certainly the relationship was too important to be damaged by simply letting the wound fester. Both Jonathan and Clark had to be Superman—to themselves. Both had to face the truth and let go of the fight.

In the end, the relationship is the only thing that’s real. The argument is rhetoric; the relationship is life. And letting go is the only way it ever really works.

That’s when we finally, truly, see who we are and can embrace it with humility. Letting go.

Unless you’re holding up a space plane full of people from crashing into Metropolis. Holding on, in that case, is advised.


Conquering Fear

“The ability to recognize danger, to fight it or run away from it, that’s what fear gives us. But when fear holds you hostage, how do you make it let go?”
-Captain Katherine Janeway

All fear can and shall be conquered. I learned that from Star Trek.

During the Dominion War, Nog was shot and his leg had to be amputated. As he lay in the make-shift infirmary realizing that his life was never going to be same, the one thing that comforted him was a song playing over the speakers: an old Sinatra cover of “I’ll Be Seeing You” by a guy Dr. Bashir knew named Vic Fontaine. When Nog returned from physical therapy to his home on Deep Space Nine, he was put on indefinite medical leave and so didn’t have to return to his duties as an engineer for some time. He visited Vic’s lounge often just to hear the song. Outside of the lounge, he basically sat in his room and did nothing. Just played the song over and over.

Nog decided to move in with Vic in his apartment above the lounge. They made a business deal together, and the lounge and casino started to rake in the big bucks. Finally Vic realized what was happening: Nog was escaping his real life—his friends, family, and commission—in the lounge. So he did what was best for Nog: he kicked him out. Nog broke down.

“I’m scared,” he said, “If I can get shot… if I can lose a leg… anything could happen to me, Vic. I could die tomorrow. I don’t know if I can face that.”

Vic replied, “Kid, I don’t know what’s going to happen to you out there. All I can tell you is that you’ve got to play the cards life deals you. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose… but at least you’re in the game.”

Sometimes I believe that fear is unconquerable. And maybe some fear is. But the fear of living, I am certain, can be conquered.

Just kiss a random stranger.

Love and Letting Go

“Love is as strong as death.”
-Rich Mullins

We do not get to choose who we fall in love with. I learned that from Star Trek.

On the day before the wedding, the headstrong Worf and his headstrong bride-to-be Jadzia decided to call it off. As a propos to the situation, the best friends went to their respective pre-marital combatants and talked some sense into them. While Jadzia’s old friend Sisko talked some tough love to her, Worf’s brother-in-arms, General Martok, joined the groom in his quarters on the warship Defiant. Worf’s problem was his belief in the impossibility of the marriage working. “When she is laughing, I am somber… She makes fun of everything. I take everything seriously,” he laments. And Martok, in his old Klingon wisdom, responds that it doesn’t matter. He loves her.

“Love is as strong as death, my friend. Relentless as the grave.”
-Rich Mullins

It is perhaps one of the toughest conundrums of maturity that we both learn to love and learn to let go as we grow older. The problem is that love doesn’t let go of the people it truly inhabits. It is as strong as death’s hold. The similarities between death and love are abundant, but for the growth of the individual, the fact that love doesn’t let go is, quite simply, a bitch.

There must be something more to learn about love or about letting go. But I haven’t yet discovered how to let go of love.

Except for the too long process of time working on the memory. And maybe then we learn what was love, what was not, and what is worth letting go. And how much letting go is worth.

And at the moment, I’m going to guess it’s worth at least a buck o' five, plus tax.

To Boldly Go...

These words helped launch the idea of Star Trek. We are explorers. We find our identity in our insatiable thirst for the unknown. This isn't just what makes us human--it's what helps us become more human. The search leads us to discover new parts of our own world, hidden parts of our own selves, that we must somehow make sense of. In the past, we have seen the unknown and sought to conquer it. In the future, Star Trek dreams, we seek out the unknown to understand it and to better ourselves. Why? Because we've finally realized who we really needed to conquer: ourselves.

These words, and more like them, comprise the gist of this blog: a kind of reflective, moralistic commentary on the great mythology of the modern age: sci-fi. The definition of sci-fi in this blog is rather inclusive, not exclusive. I may occasionally dive into some fantasy or even a few ancient myths and fairy tales. But the main focus will be on the standard understanding of sci-fi--specifically the space opera and space sci-fi subgenres.

Why am I writing this? Because sci-fi isn't just about neat stories, what-ifs, and whatever action sequences Hollywood can conjure up to appeal to the mainstream. Sci-fi is primarily an extension of the human need for mythology to understand our world. And why do humans need mythology?

Why, to teach us how to live, of course. Sci-fi, ultimately, is about the fairy tales we grew up hearing as children. Our parents told us those stories to teach us how to live. Sci-fi is no different. Maybe a little more mature, but not different in its essential goal.

So I see this blog as an opportunity to open up the themes of my favorite sci-fi art and explore their meanings for our lives. Think of it as a weekly sermon from the Church of Modern Mythology. Or an evening lecture with Professor Sci-Fi.

That's it. Class is now in session. You've read the syllabus. Let's get to work.