November 2 – Urban/Spaces

//November 2 – Urban/Spaces
November 2 – Urban/Spaces 2018-01-07T15:01:49+00:00


Miéville, China. 2007. Un Lun Dun. New York: Del Rey.


Okorafor, Nnedi. 2015. Lagoon. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Groening, Matt. 1999. Futurama. Season 1 Episode 1 “Space Pilot 3000,” Season 3 Episode 8 “The Luck of the Fryish,” Season 7 Episode 12 “The Mutants are Revolting.”  Available on Netflix.

Theory and Commentary (2 of these 3)

Childs, Mark C. 2015. Learning from New Millennium Science Fiction Cities. Journal of Urbanism 8(1): 97-109.

Kochin, Rob & James Kneale. 2001. Science fiction or future fact? Exploring imaginative geographies in the new millennium. Progress in Human Geography 25(1):19-35.

Milner, Andrew. 2004. Darker Cities: Urban Dystopia and Science Fiction Cinema. International Journal of Cultural Studies 7(3): 259-79.

Other Materials

L.A. 2013 (a view from 1988)


Essay 3 Due


  1. Johnathan McCauley November 2, 2016 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Futurama S1E1. In NYC, Fry laments his job as a delivery boy. In NNYC, Fry runs away in order to save himself from becoming a delivery boy. But, in outer space, he embraces the role of a delivery boy. What does this say about the impact of our environment on what we are doing? It seems to play such a prominent role in Fry’s acceptance of the role as a delivery boy.

    S7E12. Tons of questions pop up about the role of the body in this episode. Why does one’s appearance dictate one’s place in society? My favorite part was that Fry actually wasn’t a mutant but living inside the mayor’s body. Seeing as though Halloween just passed, what does this say about disguises? Is it wrong or dangerous to assume that someone is presenting their “most authentic” appearance? Should we even expect that? Taken a little further, the notion of outer appearance reflecting our worth or playing a role at all in determining our identity seems to fall into irrelevancy, yet we do it all the time. The twist at the end of this episode where the mayor un-swallows Fry was perfect. I also really liked the play on the Princess and the Frog classic.

  2. Matthew Dischner November 2, 2016 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    1) I often find that, when reading texts where there is an underground or opposite version of a city, there is some sort of marxist or classist interpretation or representation of the other society. I found it refreshing that “Un Lun Dun” avoided this trope. But conditioning is a hard thing to break, and so I wonder, what is the class structure like in UnLondon? We see some stratification between certain groups and Wraithtown is clearly a marginalized place, but is a system of class discernable?

    2) Can we compare UnLondon to New New York City? Both are presented to the audience as just familiar enough to be strange. While UnLondon is very clearly designed to be strange and uncanny, are the experiences of Fry and Deeba not dissimilar? Both struggle to understand the world around them, and are often thrown off the most by what is similar, but still very different. Take, for instance, the giraffes or the suicide booths.

    3) “Un Lun Dun” left me with many more questions, but here’s one. Moil. Does moil from UnLondon ever make its way up to London? We know that many London fashions are based on UnLondon fashions. What other things have be transmitted from the abcity to the city? It seems, with the exception of fashion, almost a one way relationship. Everything goes from London to UnLondon, but not so much the other way around.

  3. Sam November 2, 2016 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    1. In what ways do Futurama and Un Lun Dun exemplify the postmodern, post-industrial model of cities that Milner and Kitchen/Kneale describe? Does Futurama’s predetermination of occupation and its (literally vertically, as in Milner’s description, p. 267) underclass of disenfranchised mutants make it fit within this model? Do UnLondon’s moil homes, and its creation from London’s discarded objects, fit within Kitchin/Kneale’s model of an alternate city of ruins (p. 31), even though those who occupy UnLondon are not necessarily members of an underclass compared to London proper? Or is that better illustrated by the unfortunate ghosts of Wraithtown?

    2. Kitchin/Kneale citing Andrew Ross, note the criticism that Cyberfiction may be “a frightening fantasy of the inner city created by white mail gentrifiers; a fiction that is patriarchal, narrow in conception, and which fails to acknowledge oppositional forces to global libertarian capitalism…” (p. 32) And Milner also notes that all of the films treated in the article are problematic in their portrayal of women “in interesting contrast to the written form’s comparative openness to feminism during the last three decades of the 20th century.” (p. 270) Is/was Ross’s criticism fully deserved? These articles were written in 2001 and 2004, respectively. Have Cyberfiction, and Science Fiction in film become more intersectional over the intervening years?

    3. Why is UnLondon an ‘abcity?’ What does the way in which items are repurposed from London into homes or living things tell us about cultural exchange? Is UnLondon a more perfect version of London, or a less perfect one, or is there not a value judgement to be made at all?

  4. Jane Excell November 2, 2016 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Despite the authors’ open acknowledgement on the second page of their article “Science fiction or future fact” that of the 34 novels and four collections of short stories that they used for their assessment, “all the novels were by North American writers bar two, all written by men bar two” (20), I don’t understand why they didn’t choose to use a more diverse pool of authors for their study. Wouldn’t an analysis of imagined geographies have greatly benefitted from the incorporation of authors from a wider range of real geographies?

    I know it is somewhat of a throwaway scene, but I found myself intrigued by the narrative that plays out while Fry sleeps through 1,000 years in the Futurama pilot. Out the window, we see New York becoming more and more technologically advanced, before finally being destroyed by aliens. Then what looks like a medieval city, complete with castles and towers, takes its place, again to be destroyed by aliens and replaced by the futuristic city in which Fry finally wakes up. Were the writers hypothesizing that technological development is cyclical, ending in the destruction even of the knowledge of how to produce the previous technology and forcing humanity to re-imagine its discoveries?

    In “Learning from new millennium science fiction cities” China Mieville is quoted as saying that, “we need fantasy to think the world, and to change it.” How can this be applied to the ideas in Un Lun Dun? I read the narrative of the Unchosen hero as more of a statement about individual potential and resistance to imposed labels than as a way to rethink real pollution problems in London, but I wonder- what lessons would an architect or urban planner draw from this book?

  5. Sigrid von Wendel November 2, 2016 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    Lagos is not the only city that Okorafor describes in Lagoon. She also describes the city of the reef, and “a great metropolis of ocean life—giant, reaching, dark brown structures bloomed up from a flat surface beneath that she couldn’t see the end of” (p.250) Layering of cities is also brought up in the Childs article: “City and stork occupy overlapping but discrete universes. (McDonald 2010, 9–11)”

    We can look at cities as structures of human life and society, but they are equally structures of nonhuman life and society. The rats of New York have their own set of systems and homes. What other “nonhuman” cities can we imagine? How do these cities live in concert with human cities? Is there a difference?

    The Kitchin and Kneale article adds the extra cyber layer to be considered: “These buildings are more than mere glass and steel, however. They are virtualized through the incorporation of computer networks which render them ‘smart’” (p.27). This is linked to “the transfer of shopping from public streets to privately regulated malls, with the shops remaining on the public street increasingly subject to the gaze of corporate and state surveillance” (p.29). We are now a step beyond that, in which shopping takes place online and is easily tracked and analyzed by corporations and governments.
    One further layer is the reappropriation of urban spaces for purposes unintended by their designers. Kitchin and Kneale describe these as “new vibrant spatialities, underlain with danger due to their self-governed nature, but also displaying strong notions of community where the placelessness and inauthencity of a globalized postmodern world (see Relph, 1976) are replaced by a renewed connection between place and identity. These spaces offer new public spaces, sites of resistance, and spaces of hope in which new urban communities can develop” (30).
    One could argue that people of different identities live in radically different cities. It is not only a different experience of the same space, but a different landscape all together, based on safety zones, interests, and geographically tailored trajectories (i.e. a wealthy man living on the upper east side might navigate New York in different mental and physical ways than someone of a different background).

    sidenote: i really liked the ways that this week’s readings and media fit together, including the Futurama

  6. Stacy Shirk November 2, 2016 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    I loved the quick moment in the pilot episode of Futurama where we see the evolution of the city once Fry is locked away – the bombing, the technological and cultural regression, and then the alien invasion until Fry wakes up 1000 years in the future. When the city rebuilds itself after what I assume is massive war, it essentially goes back in time, as if human beings lost all technology – this reminded me strongly of -SPOILERS- the ending of Battlestar Galactica -END SPOILERS-. Does this imply that human beings are doomed to repeat themselves, that in fact history is doomed to repeat itself, as people so often say? The major changes to the city happen when the aliens arrive – is the message that human beings need outside interference to actually change?

    Un Lun Dun, like so many narratives going back to Alice and Wonderland (and probably even further), features a world accessed through our own, that mirrors parts of our world and by doing so, shows us our own problems more clearly. It also makes me think of narratives like The Hunger Games and Divergent, which feature a future world clearly built on our current one (after some sort of cataclysmic event). The “Science fiction or future fact?” piece puts forth the somewhat outdated notion that SF is thus providing planners with a cognitive space for the contemplation of future cities, one whose dystopian undertones are stripped away, and which they seek to make real.” This article was written in 2001 – how have science fiction cities changed in more contemporary works, and how much are those changes due to events like 9/11? How is our outlook of the future different from say a 1950’s outlook? I’m very interested in discussing the changes that have gone on in representations of cities in the last four or five decades, and how those changes reflect major cultural and political events.

  7. Arline November 2, 2016 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    1. In Lagoon, the water becomes “clean” for the animal life and thus becomes toxic to the humans. I feel like this sets up a false dicothomy between nature and humanity when really we are in the same boat when it comes to environmental pollution concerns. How does Lagoon address the nature/culture divide in its narrative voice and overall theme?
    2. In “Darker Cities” Milner says: “…the Sicilian definition of SF in relation to the novum seems defensible, at least insofar as the focus falls on knowledge as enlightenment in general, than on science in particular (260).” What is the role of science in science fiction?
    3. Given the social divisions built into the city that the paper discusses, where does the power reside on making these and how does nature and technology change or reify those power structures?

  8. Charlie Peterson November 2, 2016 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    1. In the Childs reading the influence of science fiction on architecture and city design is discussed. I can’t observe this without thinking about what areas of the world are inluenced by sci-fi. Technology is an obvious one, but what about politics? What about other areas of literature and culture?

    2. What is the relationship between science fiction and camp? Watching Futurama I can’t help but escape the feeling that a genre boundary is being crossed, but I can’t put my finger on how. The word camp comes to mind and I’m brought immediately to Doctor Who. Are both disqualifyingly campy ?

    3. This is a more research oriented question, but if cyberpunk dystopian landscapes arise according to our postmodern condition (Kitchin and Kneale) what might the Urban Landscapes of the future look like? Are there observable utopian dystopian epicycles in the history of science fiction or is history even keel enough to keep the relative proportions of Utopian & Dystopian landscapes even across history?

  9. Sophie December 20, 2016 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    1) In Futurama’s pilot, Fry’s trip to the future dwells primarily on his feelings of loneliness, which are compounded when he arrives in the year 3000. Even faced with a reset button, his place within a hyper futurist culture removes him, momentarily, from his sense of identity. Viewed through a satirical lens, are we meant to take this as a commentary on what our lives will become in the future, the start of a larger arc meant specifically for Fry, or some combination of the two?

    2) In relation to the pilot, “Luck” adds the nature of legacy on top of loneliness. Throughout the episode Fry is convinced that his brother snatched his identity to live the full life of adventure and success, one Fry feels he was denied in his past life. The episode thus resonates at a deeper level when Fry learns that his legacy was preserved in as honest and pure a way as possible, by having his name live on through his nephew. Is the cynicism that Fry feels about his brother his personal character trope, or does it draw from the lifestyle and culture of the year 3000?

    3) The parallels in this episode to our current time are quite clear – segregation and deportation are front and center in this episode. The crew’s struggle to give perspective to their friends (i.e. Fry’s “sacrifice” of becoming a mutant for Leela) and government (Astor) make up the bulk of the emotional and satirical arc of the story. Is the message here that history is doomed to repeat itself? Will there always be an ostracized social class? The show exaggerates this by making the lower class grotesque mutants, but this got me thinking: will there be a time where segregation becomes exclusively economical, emotional, or even technological, i.e. augments, genetic improvement?

  10. Arline December 23, 2016 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    1. How are the cultures of the regions represented in Un Lun Dun and Lagoon represented in these imagined spaces? How would either be different if set in the other’s location?

    2. I find it interesting that architects were using the urban design of Blade Runner as inspirations and goals for their own cities (Darker Cities: Urban Dystopia and Science Fiction Cinema.). It calls into question for me how our definitions of dystopia change over time and to what extent dystopia is really just an image of the future we do not yet understand?

    3. I loved watching the destruction and rebuilding and destruction and rebuilding of New New York over the 1,000 years Fry was in cryo-stasis. Given the different kinds of societies and assumed history that comes with alien invasion and city destruction (at least some loss of cultural knowledge), why was it important for New New York to rebuild in a way that mirrored New York? What role do cities play in our cultural identity?

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