Science Fiction & Public Health Podcast

A podcast about fertilizing creativity, hope, and vision by bringing different categories of sci-fi into the public health classroom.

This is a companion audio series to the course Science Fiction & Public Health taught at the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health by Nell Carpenter and Alexis Dinno during the Winter 2024 term

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Episode 5: Public Health Topics in Science Fiction, part 1:


Contagion, Disease, Climate


Excerpt of the paperback cover art to the 2013 Hachette edition of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx & Crake depicting two bright green rabbits dancing on blue grass and both batting at a red butterfly.For our show & tell segment, Alexis elevates Internet literacy, by describing stackexchange-type resources which are topically-focused and community-curated question & answer sites, describing the StackExchange network, and finally lands on the Science Fiction & Fantasy StackExchange. Throughout the episode we discuss different public health themes which arise in science fiction, including novel plagues and outbreaks, climate disasters, as well as collective responses to the same, and personal responses to the same, particularly around experiences of grief. We contrast the way grief shows up in academic writing on population experiencs of death and disease, and the way grief shows up in science fiction. Today’s episode image is an excerpt of the paperback cover art to the 2013 Hachette edition of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx & Crake, which is the first in a trilogy of feminist post-apocalyptic dystopian weird eco-fiction. Duration: 46:08


Podcast Monday, February 19, 2024: SFAPH Podcast Episode 5.mp3


Episode 4: “Doing” Science Fiction & Public Health


Painting of New Crobuzon by HiHaFiZi (2017), based on Perdido Street Station, and other works set in Bas-Lag by China Miéville. (Artist’s link on DeviantArt: https://www.deviantart.com/hihafizi/art/New-Crobuzon-711432466)We dive into how a class role playing game inspired by Octavia Butler’s short story “Speech Sounds” went. The game divided the class into two groups, plus Nell and Alexis, and imagined a world where about half the human species lost the power of speech and listening comprehension, half lost the power of reading, writing, and comprehending non-spoken symbols, and a tiny minority retained full language capacity. A student shared the visioning, planning, and production of Japanese “smart cityKashiwa-no-ha. We also share our enjoyment of the animated science fiction series Scavengers Reign. Today’s episode image, a work titled New Crobuzon by Deviant Art artist HaHiFiZi depicts the eponymous fictional cityscape under the threat of some extremely disturbing giant moths as written in Perdido Street Station, and other works set in the world of Bas-Lag by China Miéville. Duration: 45:16


Podcast Saturday, February 17, 2024: SFAPH Podcast Episode 4.mp3


SF&PH Episode 3 Extras


During each class participants bring up works and resources of science fiction and speculative fiction—impromptu show & tell if you will. Episode Extras are a place we share these out. In no particular order from class 3:

Monday, February 12, 2024


Episode 3: “Using” Science Ficition for Public Health


An excerpt from the Vincent Di Fate’s 1970s paperback cover art for Frank Herbert’s novel Dune featuring two figures in pale robes walking towards a background small industrial arcology undreath a desert sunset.We briefly describe a student’s show and tell of two books—Elizabeth J. Tasker’s The Planet Factory and Andrew H. Knoll’s Life on a Young Planet—which, although both are works of non-fiction, nonetheless fertilize the imagination. Today we dove into and refined Nell’s concept of “using” science fiction in public health, drawing on an essay titled “Climate Fiction: A Promising Way of Communicating Climate Change with the General Public” by Mingcan Rong about the usefulness of climate fiction to bridge the psychological distance between global climate change, and the individual’s experiences in it, as well as a master’s thesis & capstone by Syd Thorne titled “Through Critique and Beyond: Speculative Fiction as a Tool of Critical Pedagogy” that extols speculative fiction as a source of hope for both teachers and students. We also continue to foray further into N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Today’s episode image excerpts from Vincent Di Fate’s 1970s paperback cover art for Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. Duration: 46:52


Podcast Monday, February 5, 2024: SFAPH Podcast Episode 3.mp3


SF&PH Episode 2 Extras


During each class participants bring up works and resources of science fiction and speculative fiction—impromptu show & tell if you will. Episode Extras are a place we share these out. In no particular order from class 2:

Tuesday, January 30, 2024


Episode 2: Imagination & Envisioning for Public Health


An excerpt from the movie poster to Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis.Today we open with a short segment drawing explicit links between sci-fi and public health. Alexis briefly shared the 1980 edition of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, an enclopedic reference to fictional geographies from stories written across the ages written as a travelers guide by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi. We spend the majority of our time discussing the social imagination, the importance of conceiving and practicing memory and historiography as a kind of commons, give consideration to the “functions” of science fiction in public health, and discuss what, if anything, the “public health imagination” might be. We are supported in this process by authors drawing heavily on the work by C. Wright Mills articulation of the “social imagination”, including Max Haiven who writes about commoning memory, and Sean Seeger & Daniel Davison-Vecchione who write about the role of dystopian literature in feeding a sociological imagination, Amazon employees imagining the future conditions of their own labor in the Amazon Worker as Futurist project, Alex Khasnabish & Max Haiven’s The Radical Imagination Project, and Manjana Milkoreit’s writing about the social imagination necessary to both understand and to confront the unfolding of anthropogenic climate change. Our episode image today is an excerpt from Fritz Lang’s 1927 science fiction film Metropolis. Duration: 52:20


Podcast Saturday, January 27, 2024: SFAPH Podcast Episode 2.mp3


SF&PH Episode 1 Extras, Extended


A few more works from or salient to class 1:

  • Ex Machina is a 2014 film directed by Alex Garland which is built around the Turing test in a near-future world where androids with generalized sentience are emerging. This work came up in the context of science ficiton as concerned with ethics and social mores. Alexis felt the film landed on the wrong question (Can AI androids be mistaken for human?), and wishes Garland had spent more time with the question How can different intelligences treat one another with compassion?

In l’esprit de l’escalier regarding explorations of gender in science ficiton:

  • Ann Leckie’s space opera Imperial Radch trilogy beginning with Ancillary Justice (Leckie devotes much of her work to questions about how non-human and transhuman intelligences grapple with anthropocentric norms around things like embodiment and gender systems)
  • Neil Gaiman’s “Changes” is a short story appearing in his anthology Smoke and Mirrors

Tuesday, January 16, 2024


SF&PH Episode 1 Extras


During each class participants bring up works and resources of science fiction and speculative fiction—impromptu show & tell if you will. Episode Extras are a place we share these out. In no particular order from class 1:

During class, someone articulated a desire for more exploration of gender within science fiction. Off the top of Alexis’ head, these were places she recognized science fiction as having already obliged:

Thursday, January 11, 2024


Episode 1: What Is Science Fiction?


A painting by Don Davis depicting the construction of a portion of an imagined Stanford TorusToday we examine different answers to the question “What is science fiction”, and consider how answers to this question matter, with insights from our students, and drawing on the words of Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Cixin Liu, and adrienne maree brown. We share a little about space artist Don Davis’ visionary paintings of the Stanford Torus space habitat. We also discuss aspects of literary “gaze”, particularly the colonial gaze, and relate these to utopian and dystopian urges in fiction. An excerpt from the composition “Also sprach Zarathustra”, Opus 30 by Richard Strauss was provided courtesy of PM Music. Duration: 49:30


Podcast Wednesday, January 10, 2024: SFAPH Podcast Episode 1.mp3


Episode 0: What Are We Doing & How Did We Get Here?


Science Fiction & Public Health PodcastWe introduce ourselves and describe the format for the podcast, discuss how the course came about, and tell you a little bit about our relationships to science fiction. Duration: 12:28


Podcast Monday, January 8, 2024: SFAPH Podcast Episode 0.mp3