Book Review: How to Survive in a Science Fiction Universe

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional UniverseHow to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

i loved this. It was incredibly high concept. What is there not to like about someone who fixes time travel machines? and accidently witnesses ..well spoiler alert. Let me just say, this is a read over some day.

But here’s another thing. This book is also about melancholia and masculinity. Our un-hero is a straight man in his 30’s who is hiding from the universe in in his time travel fix it ship. His only companions are a smelly virtual dog and his AI girlfriend. And that’s how he’d like it to be. But ironically in being in the time travel business, he inevitably reflects on his life. So ok, the subtext here is aging and masculinity and melancholia, but also a resonant beauty. Ultimately I came out feeling like the universe was beautiful but paradoxical. But that’s just my bias.

One criticism: the links aren’t that great. an attempt at hypertext fiction that just doesn’t work.

View all my reviews

Yours in the Metaverse

I thought a lot about why so many humans are hurting here emotionally in the United States despite everything that is available to us in terms of material comforts (my sister Em is very philosophical so we have some great discussions).

One thing I thought is this…
that there really are not good connections across several generations in the U.S.. It seems like each generation is first of all concerned with itself and then with the one preceding or after it. So the very young are basically feted and applauded as they enter the world, lots of party showers and baby toys, and the elders are basically kind of ignored even though both are equally important to maintain some kind of intergenerational balance.

I know …
that there are lots of exceptions to this because the U.S. is made up of a lot of cultures many of which are connected across generations. But in the dominant media culture of the U.S. and media the “family” is seen as a unit not really connected across or between other units or between other units. I guess that’s my perspective as queer in the United States. I would like to self identify in this essay (no surprise right? \(*_*)/ )because a lot of the queering of perspectives and theories gets lost as it is extracted into other things out of context. Like fashion. But I digress.

after I thought about intergenerational stuff, I thought about the idea of mentorship. I’ve been thinking about that a lot because basically, at 48 I’m the oldest surviving member of this immediate branch of our family. When I realized that this summer, I totally freaked out, because I realized that through my actions I have a lot of responsibility. That is to say, there comes a time when it doesn’t really matter what you say, it’s what you are doing that people are looking at.

..y…..mi familia..
Because of everything my sisters and I have gone through in our lives, all of us deal with this stuff with a sense of humor and also non judgement for the most part.  That’s good because judgement takes up a lot of mental space to maintain. But we are no strangers to a realistic view I’ll call pragmatism. And an infuriating optimism. My mom survived  and even thrived on a peculiar kinda optimism. Optimism of the moment.

A word about “family of choice” which in queer world is so important and so devalued, but I guess has its own reasons to be invisible and permeable in this culture. In the above discussions about family, it can be so easy to be achingly alone in even multigenerational traditional families maybe because the importance of blood or sangre or ideas about genetics and connection. Because despite the powerful pull of genetics on this idea of identity, there are so many other bonds that are equally important. Like bonds of history and shared stories, and fluid connections, no comments please. With just genetics as a means of connection, you get essentially tribes of humans who are connected and almost imprisoned by an idea of collective identity based on genetics and who’s gonna have the next baby. Which doesn’t really always behoove women, that arrangement. .

And also for those who are queer or outliers in any way, an identity based exclusively on genetic attachment can be devastating and alienating. Conversely an identity based solely on the interconnections made through life, leaves something lacking. I can kind of speak to this a little bit anyway, certainly I’ve had some good reasons to cut loose from my family at certain points, but in the end, I’ve managed to make the connections with those who can understand and not judge, as well as in the younger generations, at least to date. And actually the importance of making connections to the adoptive side of my family, painful as it can be for the history it holds, it’s really important.

So back to mentorship…

I have thought a lot on who in my life has been a good mentor. And who I have learned from. Basically, a good mentor is someone who is a good listener, a person who understands when its the right time to say something,a person who does their best not to impose their values sets or imprint on someone, a person who tries to align their own values with their actions, and has a no-strings attached policy toward providing mentorship once they have taken that on. After I thought that through with the humans who have mentored me, I basically realized one of my current mentors is my dog. Yep. My dog. So basically Frida my dog, who is aging quite well I think, Frida is my Yoda. I’m not sure if she would appreciate the analogy, but I’m keeping it to myself.

In summary, I have decided to put my dog Frida as a write-in on the ballot when i go to vote for President or Senator. Joke. Kinda. The way things are going.









yours in the metaverse
-sam smiley :-)
Think Tank Operator
AstroDime Transit Authority.

but one source of inspiration…


Relational Beings S_M, K_G, Frida, Tig, Luvy. y mis hermanas. y sobrin@s tambien, amig@s  y mas.

Ridiculous Human Version of the World We Live in

anyway I just wanted to say something about this really ridiculous human version of the world world we have constructed and how I deal with it.

one of my favorite video artists, Nam Jun Paik said
“I want to make technology look ridiculous”
oh, he by the way loved technology.

here’s some info about him.

His name is actually Paik Nam Jun, but in true Western form it got scrambled on the way to the United States.

so to be literal about things (in true dissertation fashion), I conclude-ish that irreverence is key in toppling dictators and fear. BEcause I think personally that dictators are really good about organizing other people’s fear, and the use of television in addition has also been key to organizing fear in this human and electronic section of the world we live in.

oh BTW Charlie Chaplin the Great Dictator…I totally have to re-see this film! and double feature with Sasha Baron Cohen’s Dictator.

-sam smiley

Looking for Japanese Not-Weed

AstroDime member sam smiley is working on her dissertation and this documents a visit to the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden, the Netherlands.

New Project: Artists Helping Artists

119 Gallery and AstroDime Transit Authority are now initiating a new campaign. We call it AHA! (Artists Helping Artists). We are modeling it on a wonderful campaign for musicians called Sweet Relief.

We believe that artists in the United States contribute a lot to their communities. Of course they contribute to culture, but in addition, many are teachers, mentors, and community activists. They often volunteer their time in order to make their community better through their work, teaching, and activism. To that end, we are initiating occasional pop-up fundraisers to help artists who have been affected by age, sickness, and financial crisis, so that they can get back on their feet and continue their work and contribution to their communities..

Here’s our first campaign:

and our working logo. We hope you will consider our causes. They will make a lot of difference.



A Higher Road to Higher Ed

On Saturday, November 15, 2014 at the JFK Library & Museum in Dorchester, Massachusetts, AstroDime Data collectors took part in an action as part of Adjunct Action/SEIU’s conference for adjunct faculty from around the United States. The conference was called “A Higher Road for Higher Ed: Expanding the Movement in America’s College Town” and the agenda and web site can be found here:

It was a very moving symposium. Faculty member after faculty member talked about their experiences in teaching for many years, and their work not being appreciated or honored by their institutions. What was most interesting was that this symposium was doing the work of honoring these faculty..the work that Universities and Colleges should be doing.

AstroDime Transit Authority made an appearance with our data collecting team. We asked faculty to “doodle” during the conference, and we collected the doodles during the length of the conference. There are many more wonderful doodles but here is some documentation of our action, which we called DoodleDadaData. The Dada is in reference to the Dada movement..and AstroDime was honoring the feminist principle of “invisible work”. So we were in fact doing a sort of Feminist Dada art project.

Here are some images below. More to come!

This one is outstanding!

This one is outstanding!

A really cool idea about doodles

What are thoughts? Doodles are thoughts. Things are thoughts. This is by….

Help support our adjuncts!

Help support our adjuncts!

Data being processed.

DadaData being processed.


One of our data gathering specialists.

Poetic Inquiry (Discard and Replace)

AstroDime is occasionally asked to do arts based qualitative analysis. The work below was for a questionnaire an outside investigator sent to adjunct faculty to one private North American college in 2014,  initially to assess the adjunct faculty needs at that institution. AstroDime noticed the survey was mostly quantitative in nature, and advised the outside investigator who was doing this survey to add an “essay response” in one of their sections. They don’t usually do that because it’s hard for them to analyze. But they took a chance with this.

We used a qualitative coding method called “in-vivo” coding to analyze the response. From that we made a poem. AstroDime recommends poetic inquiry as one means of analyzing these texts. The result of the analysis carries the evocative (Leavy 2008) qualities of QABR (or qualitative arts based research) into the public and outside the ivory tower.

The prompt question we used to code from was this:
What is your primary motivation for supporting a union at [name of university not posted here for confidentiality]

here’s the process and poem below.


After 10 years I remain a non-entity.
I do a lot of unpaid work in this position.

Nobody has ever set foot in my class to observe my teaching.

I think that adjunct like all faculty deserve a living wage and respect for what we deliver.

I want to be treated like something other than a person to discard and replace at the whim of deans and administration.

I think the exploitation is unconscionable and must be stopped.

I am tired of being treated as an interchangable part.

We are treated like servants.

We are not just cheap labor.

We are training teachers, not babysitters!

We are permanent, not just additional positions.

I would simply like an ounce of security implied in the position despite the fact that I am only an adjunct.

I want pay for teaching.

I want to sense more inclusion and respect from the full time faculty.

I want to be treated as a knowledgeable and respected colleague.

I want inclusion in the community.

I want a greater voice in my department.

I want to see that generations of professors after me are treated with respect and justice.

I do not want to be invisible.

Compiled and coded by AstroDime Transit Authority
DATA POEM TITLE: Discard and Replace
Source: Private College in North America. Third Party questionnaire surveys to adjunct faculty. 115 questionnaires received by the date of the coding process.
Coding Category: “Respect for Adjuncts”
Coding Strategy: We highlighted phrases which to me resonated with the ideas of respect for the teaching profession.
Technical Stuff: Another party uploaded all the data from the survey into SaturateApp ( AstroDime created the codes. There are many more codes, more nuts and bolts, but from a poetic perspective, this turned out to be the most compelling to draw out for us. We are not including raw data out of respect and privacy of the participants.


support/on campus
support/professional development

Course models
models/face to face

respect for adjuncts
Intellectual property
job security

compensation/supplies for class
compensation/health insurance

Hungry Hungry HIPPOs

If you are in my generation (this is sam writing) might remember this game:

Hungry Hungry Hippos

Well, although the above is technically off topic, ASTRODIME’s current research is on invasive species, weeds, and climate change. In the spirit of that, we will share a picture of a hippopotums eating water hyacinth.

The above link is from Scott Macaskill, a photographer and blogger who posts images of wildlife in Africa. Check his facebook page out for more info:

One thing about water hyacinth:

It is considered one of the world’s most invasive plants, according to the Global Invasive Species Database. (Provenance of that web site still unclear, but it does have handy info)

It is the topic of my dissertation, water hyacinth. (Me being sam smiley)  In the next few years, one of the long research arms of AstroDime may extend into this inquiry..

In general, AstroDime is currently concerned with our usual topics of communication and transportation, but we are also researching climate change in the Anthropocene era. Yes the era in which human activities CHANGE global climate conditions. Yikes.

In closing, I would highly like to recommend this book which made me both laugh and cry at the same time at human attempts to regulate water ecologies in the early 1900’s. LIFE, I say, is ALWAYS stranger than fiction.

-sam smiley

Art, critical thinking, ethnography, and STS

Here’s an AstroDime Special Report on the 4S conference ( held in San Diego October 9-12, given by AstroDimer sam smiley

My concentration here will be on art and ethnography. I’m not necessarily looking at the big “art and science” question because there are value sets in both the visual arts and in science and technology that are too large for me to break down, and to start by deconstructing those would mean that I would never get down to my personal arts, ethnography and STS detective work.

One session that proved to be important to me was the following:

The work I enjoyed from this panel was Anne Galloway’s ethnographic work with sheep farms, sheep, farmers in New Zealand..and the artwork that has come out of it. It’s truly “situated artwork” and speculative fiction. Her talk was titled “Speculating the Multispecies Internet”.

Her current links for the project are here:

and you can follow her research blog here.

Another talk from this “Critical Making” panel was on the materiality of data, and making data narratives (Yanni Loukissas and Laura Forlano). I actually found this work (a form of performing data collection in the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, massachusetts) really useful both for STS connections and Qualitative Arts Based Research. They are intersted in “codesigning technoscience” and “hands on ethnography” and do ethnographic scavenger hunts and co-designing workshops. Here is a web site from their recent work in the Arnold Arboretum completed this past June of 2013

A note about the organizers of the Critical making panels: The Critical Making movement originates out of the Critical Making Lab in University of Toronto

They put out a great ‘zine called Critical Making

The first issue had an insert and parody on MAKE magazine (a sort of commodified DIY guide published by O’Reilly)

I found the concept of critical making really really interesting because it had some of the same critiques of DIY ish “Maker” culture in the U.S that I have thought about..overwhelmingly white, male, and uncritically “making”. The Critical Making group also involves craft in the concept of their work, which I appreciated.  Because when I had followed and read the original MAKE magazines, I noticed that O’Reilly split the concept of craft off from the “maker” concept..(in another magazine called “CRAFT”) effectively reinscribing the gender divide that the “democratizing” MAKEr movement was supposed to bridge. But enough of my ranting..

Back to 4S..another talk that combined the arts and STS for me was actually on another panel..but had a lot in common with the previous aforementioned presentations. It was in the “In Search of ‘lines of flights’  in/to/for/by Latin America and Elsewhere” organized by Ivan da Costa Marques.

Within the first session was a presentation by Wendy Cano (researcher) that involved a collaboration with her sister Frida Cano (artist) in looking at corn as culture, and the uses of trangenic corn.This blog site has really great documentation of the artistic cross cultural exchange on the meaning of corn that took place in Schöppingen, Germany in the spring of 2012. There is a great art book with Wendy’s writing, and also documentation of recipes from that experience. You can find examples in this blog entry:

My summary from these small samples are this: that the arts in STS can have a few models.. but the most effective models seem to work well with a collaboration of STS methods of research, and artists interested in ethnographic field work.

one model is using art to “co-design” field research such as with the work of Yanni Loukissas and Laura Forlano,

one model is doing critical public art with STS themes such as the work with Wendy and Frida Cano,

one model is somewhat like Anne Galloway’s art and ethnography work.. to create “artifacts” or fictions that result from the research and from collaboration with other artists.

I will close with a totally unrelated post. I was lucky enough to see Donna Haraway present a book Insectopedia by Hugh Raffle. First, I love the book. and I’m not really into bugs.  It has exactly the kind of esoteric bits and pieces I love to follow and file somewhere. Also Haraway’s description of a “tangled coexistence” with insects is totally creepy but real. Donna Haraway talked about digging ticks out of her skin. But somehow it was a lot more poetic.

SLSA 2013 roundup (Postnatural)

Astrodime member sam smiley attended the SLSA conference (Society for Literature, Arts and Sciences) in South Bend Indiana, October 3-6, 2013.  The theme was Postnatural.

What follows is a incomplete summary:

AstroDime is hard at work on finishing INtransit V.7: Invaders!, and we are starting research on INtransit V.8 (most likely weeds). My presentation was on weeds as boundary objects. So this conference (as well as the follow STS conference) was very valuable for the development of these ideas. I also would like to mention there was a great accompanying art exhibit too at this conference.

Since I am actually teaching a class on gaming using a program called Scratch, I  paid attention especially to the gaming tracks:

Digital humanities theorist N. Katherine Hayles worked with a team of  collaborators at Duke University (at the Greater Than Games Lab to create an alternate reality game (ARG in the lingo) based on economics and the financial crash in the U.S. in 2008.  It is called (that’s a number 1 for the name)

There was a great talk on Queer Videogame Ecologies..Edmond Chang spoke about queer subtexts in the film Wreck it Ralph. And I got myself online with Minecraft, thanks to Amanda Phillips. I think I also got a lead on another queer game artist:  Electronic Game art by Merrit Kopas

I went to the first panel of Object Oriented Feminism. (some of my notes)

And a not-to be missed panel with artists Praba Pilar and Adam Zaretsky

Thoughts I left with..and took into the following 4S conference:
If an artist gets trained in social science or visual some point (I did anyway) I became very self conscious about the ethics of representation..I was able to surmount this this…