NK Jemisin, “The Evaluators” & How Long Till Black Future Month

Featured Image: Tomer Hanuka, WIRED, 13 December 2016


Keep the following questions in mind as you read NK Jemisin, “The Evaluators” & How Long Till Black Future Month Please note that the page numbers below correspond to the Norton print edition of Utopia. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

“The Evaluators”

Who are the characters? Describe Paul Srinivasan. Describe Thandiwe Solomon.

Paul is asking Thandi for help with a commission vote regarding the disappearance of a team. Wei’s personal logs expired b/c black holes and time delay, so no info. there. Who did “they” eat?

The whole story are excerpts (evidence) from DM chains, recall retrieved from subject’s memories, public posts, reports, individual notes, government surveys, etc. How does the multiple genre/fragments reinforce the main themes of the story?

How does the story talk back to WIRED? How does the story speak to our technological and environmental future?

What is the commission and on what are they preparing to vote?

What is at stake in piecing together the story of what happened to the lost First Contact team?

Why do you think of the form of the story? Why tell it via the chat thread? What does the chat thread provide that traditional narrative forms lack? What does the chat thread lack that more traditional forms of dialogue/narrative exposition may have included?

What do you make of the fictional hypertextualization? For instance, how does the description of an embedded image, which is not included, enhance the goal of the conversation? How do do the fictional links, page layout, the bracketed content, etc. infuse the story with irony?

Who are the Evaluators (Manka C.)? Who is Local Influential 1? Where is WEI Aihua (loves China is a funny translation)? What gets lost in translation? How is this a story about translation?

What is the purpose of evaluation on earth? What is the evaluator’s purpose on Manka C.?

What do the Manka look like?

How did the Manka react when a member of the First Contact team told them about Christianity?

What is “deceptive ideation”? How/why do the Manka control what the first contact team sees/thinks?

What’s the relationship between the calcium deposits and the bone pits described in the post by Angela Wheton?

Why/how does the Manka Evaluator transform from when he first meets Wei Aihua to the second time he meets her?

What is life on Earth like? For example, why doesn’t Wei Ahiua have children? How has Earth worked to solve overpopulation? Why has earth not yet recovered from the advent of the Anthropocene?

Does increased resources necessitate unsustainable reproduction and growth?

What caused the destruction of nearly three times the species that live on Dar-Mankana when the First Contact team visited? Was it meteor?

What is Carl Sagan’s theory of “Technological Adolescence”?

Why are the Manka “precisely the right population size for their society’s resource” (par. 20)? Why are there four sexes?

How do the Manka represent their social relations through the architecture?

Why does everyone keep asking Dr. Wei such personal questions. For example, why does Thandie ask if her postdoc supervisor, Dr. Wu, if she was “lonely” (par 35)?

How/why does the evaluator’s laughter change over the course of the story?

How much later do the people on Earth receive the transmissions from the Contact Team on Dar-Mankana? Who deleted Wei Aihua’s personal logs deleted?

What do make of the final piece of information, the “UC Trade Establishment Commission Excerpt”? What do you make of final conclusion?

How Long Till Black Future Month

What does NK Jemisin love about speculative fiction (i.e. science fiction, fantasy, horror, utopian/dystopian fiction, comics, magic realism, etc.), and what about this broad and popular genre disappoints her?

What are the benefits and drawbacks to magical thinking?

What is Afrofuturism and what are some examples does Jemisin provide?

How does white supremacy threaten the continued existence of life on earth and how does Jemisin imagine other worlds and futures that respond to that threat?

For Jemisin what does it mean to celebrate and imagine the Black future (in addition to archiving and honoring Black History)?

RQ: More, Utopia


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Thomas More’s Utopia, Books I & II. Please note that the page numbers below correspond to the Norton print edition of Utopia. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

Book I

What’s the basic plot on Book 1?

Who does More meet in Flanders?

How does More describe Hythloday before speaking with him?

Why does Giles suggest More would like to meet Hythloday?

How is Hythloday characterized by Giles? What do his characteristics qualify him for?

What happens to Hythloday and his men when they are left behind by Vespucci?

What invention does Raphael share with the indigenous “seamen”?

The major question raised in Book I begins in the middle of page seven. If the goal of Humanists is learning as much as possible in math, science, languages, philosophy and the arts how should a Humanist employ his knowledge?

What reasons does Giles give to compel Raphael to serve a Prince? How does Raphael respond?

According to More, how or why would Raphael’s influence or advice to a Prince influence an entire city/nation?

How does Raphael refute More’s suggestion?

What types of men are best suited to carry on business according to More? Is More supposed to provide an example of appropriate public service? (9)

What’s the main issue of the dialogue? Or what issue opens the conversation?

How does Raphael respond when the lawyer says, “‘…by which men may make a living unless they choose deliberately to be rogues'” (10)?

How does England produce thieves?

How are sheep killing Englishmen?

What other problems does the wool trade cause?

How does Raphael initially propose to solve thieves from hanging?

How or why should life be valued?

Just before Raphael launches into his discussion of how to deal with thieves, he based his authority on his travels to a place that doesn’t exist. What are we as readers supposed to make of his authority?

What does Raphael’s solution to thievery consist of?But then this seemingly nice solution gets a little scary…What are the offenses in Raphael’s system that can be punished by death?

Then how can we take him seriously when he says, “It is clear how mild and practical they are for the aim of the punishment is to destroy vices and save men” (17). What do you think, which system is preferable Raphael’s or capital punishment for thieves?

What does Raphael explain guarantee’s the success of his penal system? How does the lawyer react? How does the Cardinal react?

How does More respond to Raphael’s example/dialogue?

On what does More blame the lack of present happiness?

Where is the council of philosophers found, according to Raphael?

More and Raphael now enter into a debate on the same question that Giles and he debated earlier. What is Raphael’s main reason for not entering the service of a king?

Obviously More is criticizing or satirizing problems he dealt with as an advisor to King Henry VIII. What problems does Raphael show face the King of France’s ambitions and how would he respond as a councilor?

Why is the Kingdom of the Achorians thrown into disaster? How do they solve their problems?

What other problems does constant war mongering and territory shifting back and forth between kings cause?

What relationship does Raphael suggest a King have with his people?

What are some of the schemes for raising money proposed by the other councilors?

According to Raphael, why is it the King’s duty to take more care of his people?

According to Raphael, why doesn’t forcing people to live in poverty safeguard the public peace? (24)

According to Raphael, how should a king live? (24-5) These seem like the real solutions, just as in the last section the ideas Raphael presents before his scheme for punishing thieves through slavery is introduced. This is in large part a method of satire. Two polar extremes, the grossly corrupt councilors on one side and then Raphael’s discussion of rules in “Macarian” on the other.

What do the “Macarians” do to limit the injustices faced in England? Should the English learn from their examples? (People who live close to Utopia 25).

Why does More disagree with Raphael? More says: “Stone deaf, indeed, there’s no doubt about it…and no wonder! To tell you the truth, I don’t think you should offer advice or thrust on people ideas of this sort that you know will not be listened to” (25).

Who agrees with More? Why? What does More suggest Raphael do instead?

How does Raphael reply to More’s “realistic” suggestions?

What institution in Utopia would be unacceptable to England?

What, according to Raphael, constitutes ‘madness’ in government?

What metaphor does Raphael use to show that wise men are right in keeping clear of politics?

What two elements of English society keep the people from being happy and ruled justly?

Keep the following quote in mind: “So I reflect on the wonderfully wise and sacred institutions of the Utopians who are so well governed with so few laws” (28). Does Utopia really have “few laws”?

What does private property produce?

Instead of the total restructuring of English society by the elimination of property, what are Raphael’s more modest suggestions? (28-9)

“How can there be plenty of commodities where every man stops working?” (29)

How long did Raphael live in Utopia and why did he leave?

Why are European minds and government’s superior to the new world governments?

In what do Utopians surpass Europeans?

What does More want to know about Utopia? What type of audience is More for the discussion of Utopia?

Book II

What does Utopia look like?

Where did Utopia get its name? What does this story of origin tell us about Utopia? How is the settling of the once uncouth Utopians a mythological story of origin? What does it say about how the Utopians think about liberty or race?

How does the balance between the central government and the rural areas and cities work?

Are there really very few laws?

What occupation does everyone have to learn?

What are the clothes like?

Why aren’t commodities scarce due to the short workday?

What do the Utopians do to devalue gold, silver and precious metals?

Describe the way population is shifted through households…

What rules govern traveling? Why do you think the utopians have such high anxiety over travel inside the boundaries of the nation?

How does education impact/influence behavior in Utopia? What do the Utopians study and in what language?

Who can become a slave in Utopia? What jobs to slaves do?

How are the sick cared for? How are dying people cared for? Do any details in the care of the sick and dying surprise you?

How does the following fit into the debate about the duty of serving the state: “Since the welfare or ruin of a commonwealth depends wholly on the character of the official, where could thy make a more prudent choice than among Utopians, who cannot be tempted by money?”

Is it a paradox that a society which professes to disdain glory in war “…carries on vigorous military training, so they will be fit to fight should the need arise”?

What do some of the people in Utopia worship?

What do the wisest people worship? What are some characteristics of this entity?

Even though the sects differ, in what do they all believe?

What is the only religious position Utopians do not allow or respect? What is the danger of such beliefs? How are atheists treated?

What do people who “…err in the opposite direction…” believe and how are they treated?

What are some Utopian burial practices?

What are some of their religious practices or rights?

According to Utopians, what happens to people after they die? “…and thus they believe the dead come frequently among the living, to observe their words and actions”

How does More respond to Raphael’s dialogue? Is he convinced that Utopia is the greatest country in the world? Doe he think Utopian practices could be applied in England?

RQ: World Building with NK Jemisin


Keep the following questions in mind as you listen to Ep.148 of the Ezra Klein Show, “I Build a World with Fantasy Master NK Jemisin.” The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

How can elements in the worlds you build act as allegories for key ideas as well as literal features?

How does geography shape social interaction?

How can/should anticipate and respond to the knowledge audiences will bring to your world as they read it?

What is element X? What examples of element X do Jemisin and Klein provide listeners?

According to Jemisin how do societies develop in relation to their inherited pasts (syncretism)?

According to Jemisin how do societies develop characteristics intended to distinguish themselves from their nearest neighbors (differentiation)?

According to Jemisin how do societies develop stories about their cosmic origins and how do those stories influence social, political, technological, etc. relations (cosmogony)?

According to Jemisin how do societies develop systems of extenchange and resource distribution (economy)?

How are societies defined by what they have to offer other societies?

Do the powerful ever listen to those they once scorned?

Do societies ever become so unjust that they cannot be redeemed?

What do we have to understand about our own world in order to build a convincing fictional one?

How does Jemisin’s defintion of power, i.e. the ability of an individual or group to control or coerce other individuals or groups with impunity, determine social norms or defaults? How does power determine who is marginalized and why?

How does power determine ways individuals or groups are likely to react to scarcity in times of crisis?

How does building a fictional world also create a model of the actual world and time the author occupies?

RQ: hooks, Preface and “Kentucky is my Fate,” (1-24)


Keep the following questions in mind as you read bell hooks, Preface and “Kentucky Is My Fate.” The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.


Let’s start thinking about hook’s opening question:

“Can we embrace an ethos of sustainability that is not solely about the appropriate care of the world’s resources, but is also about the creation of meaning—the making of lives that we feel are worth living?” (1)

How does the “Shadowy history of slavery” find expression in the world of real estate (3)?

How/why will hooks engage with Wendell Barry’s work?

How will hooks look to the past and her past, but without idealizing the history/her past. In other words, how does she plan to avoid the problem of nostalgia when writing about place and family?

Chapter 2, “Kentucky Is My Fate”

How/why does the opening line of the chapter echo Thoreau? What does hooks do differently?

Why open a story about living in a place, and to a lesser extent the past, with the vision of her own death? How does the image of “scattering my remains as though they are seeds and not ash”(6), figure the future and also avoid the pitfalls of nostalgia?

What lines divide hooks’ childhood? How does the house she lived in with her family in the Kentucky hills illustrate the spatial and temporal differences of her childhood?

How is Nature (or the Nature hooks experienced as a child) the “foundation of our counter hegemonic black subculture” (8)?

What accounts for her experience where “white and black folks often lived in a racially integrated environment, with boundaries determined more by chosen territory than race” (7)?

How was racial difference enforced when she once hooks moved from the country to the city?

Why did hooks leave Kentucky and what was her experience of place when she was an undergraduate at Stanford?

How/why were hooks and her community separated from nature? Why/how did this separation produce fear of nature in her?

What are the two “competing cultures in Kentucky” (10)?

How does hooks define the term, “A Culture of Belonging” (13)?

How did hooks’ “experience of exile” while in CA for college, “transform [her] perception of the world of home” (13)? What takes her so long to go home to Kentucky?


Nixon, “Scenes from the Seabed” (263-72)


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Rob Nixon’s “Scenes from the Seabed: The Future of Dissent,” 263-280. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

1.What does the epigraph mean? What’s the relationship between the epithet and the rest of the essay?

2. Why does Nixon invoke Atlantas in the first sentence, “The island of Atlantis, according to Plato, vanished into the ocean ‘in a single night and day of misfortune’” (263)? Is his opening effective, why or why not?

3. What does Nixon mean by “slow violence”? Why is the process of “slow violence” so difficult for writers to communicate?

4. Spend a minute looking at the photo of the underwater cabinet meeting, how does Nixon “read the scene” (264)? How does the president of the Maldives, Mohamad Nasheen, communicate the slow changes from climate change that his country faces? What does he want to accomplish through his “underwater cabinet meeting”? Is President Nasheen successful, why/why not?

5. What does the planting of a flag traditionally symbolize? How do the planted flags that Nixon discusses challenge older notions of the symbolic gesture (266-7)?

6. What some of intersections between human rights and environmental rights that Nixon highlights through his reading of the two “seabed scenes” in the first section of the chapter?

7. BP brands itself as “Beyond Petroleum” (268). What does BP intend for that slogan to mean? What does Nixon suggest it means?

8. What does Nixon mean by the phrase “technological sublime” (268)? What sorts of imaginative tools do people have to counter the “technological sublime”?

9. Why is it useful or important to frame the conversation about climate change as a contest over the symbols we use to represent what is happening to the world?

10.Nixon concludes the section of the reading for last week by claiming, that developed nations “sewsaw” between two risky options: domestic drilling and dependance on foreign oil. What “third option” does he suggest? Do you agree?

12. Who’s responsible for environmental devastation? How can those responsible be held accountable? Who has the moral authority to hold responsible parties accountable? Why is it so hard for transnational corporations to be called to account for their misdeeds?

13. What’s the danger of bracketing foreign disasters as “foreign”? How is the concept of “foreign” faulty as it pertains to environmental issues?

14. If we remembered spills like the 1979 Ixtoc oil explosion, would the Even Horizon spill have been avoided? According to Nixon what keeps us from holding these disasters in our memories? What can we do to remember?

15. Nixon’s book came out in 2011, which means he probably finished writing it in 2010. How does the Gross Negligence ruling and subsequent claims settlement fit into with Nixon’s assessment of power of legislation?

16. What’s lost in these disasters? What’s gained from not taking preventative measures until after the disaster have occurred? The terror of unlearned lessons…

17. What’s “Corexit” (272) and why is it so scary?

18. If, in the first half of his Epilogue, Nixon focuses on the difficulty of rendering “slow violence,” why does he turn to the impossibility of rendering “unseen violence” (273) or the terrible effects of ecological disaster that culpable parties attempt erase?

19. What accounts for the discrepancy in responses between the Event Horizon spill and the “546 million gallons of oil spilled in the Niger Delta” (274)?

20. Consider this question that Nixon asks toward the end of his book, “How will writers, photographers, video artists, podcasters, and blogger navigate the possibilities–and possible perils–opened up by a new media culture characterized both by intensive, instant connectivity and by impatient, distractive staccato rhythms?” (276).

DQ: Cohen, “Noah’s Arkive”


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s, “Noah’s Arkive.” The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

1. According to Cohen why are humans such “experts at imagining end times” (par 1)? What problems does apocalypse solve? How have representations of apocalypse changed over time?

2. Let’s try to answer the question that Cohen puts to his audience at the start of the post, “But as we brace for denouement in storm and tempest, what does our apocalyptic imagination unveil about the limits of our environmental frames, the limits of the stories that we tell?” (par 1)

3. How does Cohen define ‘ark’? What are some examples he gives? Can you think of more examples?

4. Why is ark building a natural response to (impending) catastrophe?

5. Why is ark building, in any of the contexts Cohen cites, always going to be a failed project? OR, put another way, why is Cohen more invested in what is left behind than what gets included an ark?

6. Why do we keep returning to biblical frames to imagine the future?

7. What does Cohen mean when he says, “Climate change requires more and better stories than the ones we have been telling” (par 4)?

8. What’s the story of Noah’s Flood? According to Cohen how has/does that story get read? How does Cohen read the long history of Noah’s Flood stories as “a source for counter-narratives that do not make of a coming Flood untroubled waters” (par 4)?

9. Who are Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones, The blogger Burrito Justice, Jeffrey Linn? How do these designers envision the final effects of climate change? How/why does Cohen suggest we should shift away from this imaginative work?

10. Take a minute and think about the image below and then consider some of the following: who’s the audience for this image? Describe the point of view the photo renders. What does this image of the future suggest is missing from our present?

Postcards from the Future, Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones

11. What sorts of social relationships do floods, ironically, reveal even as the cover over cities and countrysides?

12. What are some details from the Noah story that Cohen recounts, but often are left out of the simplified/children’s version of the story? Why do you think the story of the Flood is such a mainstay of children’s fiction?

13. What are some contradictions that Cohen points out in the Noah story? What does the etymology of the terms suggest for Cohen?

12. Why do you think Noah failed to “’ appeal for mercy on the world’s behalf’” (par. 10) like Abraham does? Why does Noah comply “leaving the earth to drown” (par. 10)?

13. Consider the series of illuminated illustrations that Cohen includes in his post—what’s the relationship between the manuscript images, such as BL Harley  4381 f. 12 and BL Royal 14 B IX, and the story of the flood? What choices do the artists make in the “translation” of the biblical story into images?

14. Why doesn’t Noah in the BL Royal 2 B VII  f. 7  and BL Add MS 47682 realize that the Devil stowed away on the Ark? Why doesn’t he consider the staggering loss of all the other life I the world? What would it take for him to realize?

15. Compare the illustration of the Flood below, drawn by William de Brails in the 13th c., to the image of flooded London above. Why/how does “He provides what’s missing from those pictures of a submerged London, Seattle, New York as seen from the sky” (par. 16)?

16.In Cohen’s final assessment,what is the value of an ark?

William de Brails