Anatomizing Science Fiction

Page 1





Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland © 1884 Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy © 1978 Douglas Adams, The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe © 1980 Douglas Adams, Life The Universe And Everything © 1982

Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul © 1988 Brian W. Aldiss, Cryptozoic © 1967 Isaac Asimov, Prelude To Foundation © 1988 Isaac Asimov. Forward The Foundation © 1993

TYLER MOULTON is a graphic design graduate at Maine College of Art and former intern at Might and Main. He has a passion for information design and type design as well as a foundation in illustration and engineering. As such, his design relies on logic as much as creativity and sense of humor. Always growing, Tyler approaches every job as an opportunity to learn and to implement a new technique. He is most himself when communicating his humor and charm. When he’s not designing, Tyler organizes the school film club, creates music, and makes gadgets and serious trinkets out of found materials.

SPECIAL THANKS To my grandfather Charles Bryan Fowler IV, my sister Brittany Welna, my father David Moulton and my friend Riley Silva for their contributions.

TYPEFACES Futura; Regular, Italic, Bold. Clarke Sans: Medium © Tyler Moulton 2020

COLOPHON Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts, Maine College of Art, Portland Maine, May 11, 2020 Major in Graphic Design.

All Rights Reserved

Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless © 1992

Joe Haldeman, The Forever War © 1974

Damon Knight, A For Anything © 1959

Isaac Asimov, I Robot © 1950

Robert A. Heinlein, The Door Into Summer © 1957

Isaac Asimov, The Robots Of Dawn © 1983

Robert A. Heinlein, Friday © 1982

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand Of Darkness © 1969

Pierre Boulle, Planet Of The Apes © 1963

Robert A. Heinlein, The Man Who Sold The Moon © 1950

Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles © 1950 John Christopher, The White Mountains © 1967 Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey © 1968 Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End © 1953 Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous With Rama © 1973 Arthur C. Clarke, Gentry Lee, Rama II © 1989 Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep © 1968 Philip K. Dick, Minority Report © 1956 Philip K. Dick, Ubik © 1969 Philip K. Dick, Valis © 1981

© Tyler Moulton 2020

Douglas Adams, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish © 1984

Isaac Asimov, Foundation And Earth © 1986

Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy © 1951 Isaac Asimov, Foundation’s Edge © 1982

William Gibson, Neuromancer © 1984 William Gibson, Virtual Light © 1993

Stanisław Lem, Return From The Stars © 1961 H. P. Lovecraft, The Complete Fiction © 1917

Robert A. Heinlein, The Number Of The Beast © 1980

Jack McKinney, Robotech #4, #5, #6 © 1987

Robert A. Heinlein, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls © 1985

Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle For Lebowitz © 1959

Robert A. Heinlein, Podkayne Of Mars © 1963 Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger In A Strange Land © 1961 Robert A. Heinlein, Waldo & Magic Inc. © 1950 Frank Herbert, Dune © 1965 Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah © 1969 Frank Herbert, Children Of Dune © 1976 Frank Herbert, God Emperor Of Dune © 1981 Frank Herbert, Heretics Of Dune © 1984 Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune © 1985 Saad Z. Hossain, The Gurkha And The Lord Of Tuesday © 2019

Larry Niven, Ringworld © 1970 George Orwell, 1984 ©1948 Mary Shelly, Frankenstein © 1818 E. E. Smith, Galactic Patrol ©1937 Brian M. Stableford, Swan Song © 1975 Robert Thurston, Intruder © 1990 Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five © 1969 Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano © 1952 H. G. Wells, The Invisible Man © 1897



Contents 05



DATA ANALYSIS Copyright Timeline, Science In My Sci-Fi, A Chapter At A Time


DATA HUMANISM My Collection, Contour Heat Map, How And Why I Acquired Each Title In My Collection


TABLEAU & THE WEB, A History And Snapshot Of My Library, Digital Data Humanism

RITUAL REARRANGING JANUARY 31ST My first instinct was to organize all titles by author including one pile of single authors.

Mailed from home, Recent purchases

FEBRUARY 6TH Considering the whole, I arranged them by color.

FEBRUARY 25TH As the semester progressed I often left them in author/ title alphabetical order.

This outlier was the book I was currently reading.

Recent purchases

FEBRUARY 27TH For another project I arranged them by the order I acquire them.

MARCH 1ST back to alphabetical order; by author, series, and title

MARCH 14TH Still alphabetical with one mistake and several new purchases.



Introduction This book documents the process of my 2020 Graphic Design Thesis. This project, Anatomizing Science-Fiction, is the intersection of my personal collection of sci-fi literature and an assortment of infographic design and data visualization. Among the following works are exercises in Data Humanism, qualitative data extraction, and truthful incorporation of tools and materials. MY WORK I’ve had a recent thought about design and since then I have found that my work reflects this thought. The thought was about complexity; that complexity in design forms a spectrum. I’ve found that I prefer to work at the extremes of this spectrum; making work that is both the least and most complex. This is especially true when it comes to my independent work which mostly consists of data visualization (my bread and butter). This work comes from data I collect in my daily life, often without realizing it. In this essay, I will talk about how using these data sets of experience and minutiae illustrates this spectrum of complexity and simplicity through form, narrative, and interactivity. My work, at first glance, appears to be black and white, and indeed, I do work a lot with black and white. I believe figure-ground relationships, as well as layout design, are my strong suits. This is most likely a derivative of my illustration work which mainly consists of ink and linework. While color is not my strong suit it is one of the areas I am developing most. In my data visualization work, I find using color to be more advantageous and my color choices are more informed. Color also adds a level of complexity to my work. For example, in one piece, entitled How Many Alarms Do You Have, the color I use is not only discretionary—dividing individual data sets—but is also related to the night and day scale along the Y-axis. In my piece, A Small City’s Siren Song, the main form of the infographic, which is concentrically circular and dotted with data points, is even more

When I started this project it was already the first week of the semester. In fact, I had a different thesis for those first weeks. With a collection of photo examples I had gathered I was going to use data visualization and infographic design to illustrate trends in the typeface ITC Benguiat. I was interested mainly in what I thought my conclusions might be; that it was a popular typeface in science fiction and fantasy. While I still believe there to be a correlation, my collection showed little evidence. This is when I decided to change up and redouble my efforts on what I really cared about which was sci-fi. And what better way than with my own physical collection. I also really cared about data visualization and information design but that was never in question. The first thing I did was to bring all the books I had with me into the studio and begin to arrange them in specific ways; by author, by size, by color. I continued this ritual, often without realizing it, as the semester continued and as my library grew. I was able to have the rest of my collection mailed to me from home and I often visited used book stores when time allotted.

striking with the application of color. The data points are in red while the concentric rings are colored to represent the three months over which the sample was taken. I view my work as constantly telling a story; with or without an audience. When an audience does engage with my work, they glean a narrative. While working towards a narrative, what I’m trying to present offers a good idea of what something can look like. For example, my infographic piece, Coordinating An Outfit For The Big Night, presents all its information—in this case, the available wardrobe of two parties—within a timeline of conversation. This was a simple solution but a clear choice in that the information presented was initially collected over the course of the conversation itself. But the narrative I communicate is not always simplistic. In my piece, Standing Room Only, the representation of the data is reduced to the simplest form; a square. And yet the data that is represented (relative population density across a dozen cities) was more complex and spoke, to a certain degree, to living conditions. While my work doesn’t feature or involve any moving parts, I believe my work is interactive in that it rewards the viewer with understanding for the time one spends with it. In my data visualization work, the draw for the viewer is the seemingly abstract visuals. Therefore, the time it takes the viewer to learn the visual system they’re looking at and to glean the narrative it tells, is itself the interaction. On the simplistic end of the spectrum, the time it takes to understand the message is short. An example of this would be my piece, Rocks I Found In My Shoe, where the duration of interactivity is the time it takes to read the title; after which the narrative is understood. On the complex end, the narrative is more deeply hidden and the time of interactivity increases. An example of this would be my piece, A Penny Saved, where all that can be initially recognized is that there are two data sets, one graphic and the other represented with physical pennies. It takes time, then, to realize that one data set, the physical pennies, is a part of the other, a graphic representation of all pennies minted in each year. Only after this realization is the simple narrative found; that, yes indeed, a sample does reflect the whole. The spectrum of complexity and simplicity is something I have retroactively uncovered about my work. Thus, when creating work, my design choices are not informed by this idea but are, rather, driven by questions; questions like “what elements are there that can be made to tell the story of the whole?” I see now that to answer this question I am looking for simplicity in the story and its recurring motifs. “How do I show this or that action?” This question I am not actively trying to answer but is what I consider the core of a project; as in, ‘if I can answer this visually, the rest is semantics.’ In data visualization the question I’m answering is always the question that spurred the project. And whether simply or complexly, I know I’ve answered it only when I’ve learned something.

(Above) How Many Alarms Do You Have? (Right) Rocks I Found In My Shoe Independent projects, both included in the 2019 MECA Merit Show





Data Analysis I knew that in order to create content for this project I was going to have to collect data. The main hurdle then was how to collect numerical value from these physical design objects and artifacts. My first solution was to scan the colophon and find the copyright year for each title. It was during this process that I found several copyright years and realized that maybe this said something about each book. This first visualization shows all copyright years for each title. It is represented here unorganized and arranged alphabetically by author and title. For full image and variations see pg 10-11.

I believe that data itself has a voice but I admit I was struggling with what this first exercise was saying. With so much raw data, and for each title, I was stumped on which way was the best way to order this data. Should it be alphabetical by Author and title? Here the data was scattered but objective. Or should it be chronological? If that then by which date? First edition, Or the Edition in the collection? Both presented aesthetically pleasing trend lines. Maybe I should use the first data but supersede it by the date I read it? Another trend line but now more subtle. Or lastly, should they be arranged by the amount of time between editions documented in the colophon? This one I thought was interesting and maybe represented what I was thinking in the beginning. Maybe the correlation here was that those with the most time between editions represented those which were most impactful and were therefore able to stand the test of time.







After a while of looking for more numbers in the books I realized that what was important to me was not page lengths or the number of chapters but rather the content of the books; the concepts of semigrounded fantasy that kept me coming back for more. In The Science In My Science-Fiction I decided to hone in on the books I had read. This pared it down a good chunk. And with this I asked what makes these titles science-fiction? The answer was both simple and complex. Science, of course, but what kind? In a new spreadsheet (I would accumulate a collection of these as well) I listed as many science fiction concepts as I could find from each book. And these I organized into four categories.

The Science In My Sci-Fi was my first experiment in the gleaning qualitative data from my library. What these process shots don’t show is all the sci-fi elements and tropes I recorded and counted to arrive at these values.

Technology, which included all manner of devices and weapons; Biology, including extraterrestrial life, directed evolution, and ecology; Psychology, as in powers of the mind, artificial, and virtual intelligence; And Physics, which include fundamental and universal ideas that allow for faster than light travel, interplanetary colonization, time travel, parallel worlds and supernumerary dimensions. But with that I still had the visuals to consider. After the cold sterility of my first exercise I was struggling to justify any arbitrary visuals because all I needed the color to do was differentiate the categories. I had to bring this problem before critique groups and confidants before I realized what was obvious to everyone else when they saw the row of books at my desk. Here are your visuals, pick one or pick them all. They are your justification. I ended up mixing and matching elements but I eventually ended up with something that appeared to come out of the 20th century and had just the right amount of beautiful ugliness.





While working on The Science In My Sci-Fi I kept trying to find ways to include more information into the visualization, similar to the multiple layers in my first exercise. I also wanted to continue expressing qualitative data and incorporating other forms of information design. This experiment, unfinished, was a series of icons that would have referred to different science-fiction tropes and motifs. These include robots, aliens, space travel, time travel, and more. Their forms were also meant to evoke these associations; a cube for robots, a star for space travel. The hope was to apply them to different books represented in different visualizations. The result would also have been part of a unifying visual system.


This piece fulfilled my wish to include more layers of information in a single graphic. In this case they are more like vectors than layers. In the Y Axis is chapter thickness. In the X Axis is the lines of text per page. The only thing this graphic doesn’t indicate is that the large chunk of pages at the end of dune are actually all appendixes.


The exercise that followed, A Chapter At A Time, was very much connected to the previous one. I was still looking at the same subset of books that I had read. I was also reading multiple books in my spare time and one thing I noticed was that reading a chapter at a time as I do is easier for some authors than it is for others. At this time I was also looking at different types of data visualizations and I came across an exploded view and wondered what that would look like for a book. The result I assert is an exploded view while I acquiesce still appears to be a bar graph. Here was also an opportunity to use my palettes of my books; now more directly to represent themselves.





Data Humanism Early on I had anticipated including digital interactivity in my thesis and I had just come across Tableau as a frequently used data visualization software. However, before I was able to use it I slipped on some ice and broke my computer. The following was done entirely by hand. My Collection was an exercise to show the growth of my collection sequentially. From the first speculative fiction novel I read (but didn’t own) Frankenstein, to me finding a copy of it to add to my now some fifty titles. Along the way items were grouped together based on bulk purchases or acquisitions. Despite the final piece being riddled with spelling mistakes and inaccuracies only I would, and do, notice, this piece helped me shift my mindset into one of quality and patience. With that said I felt, with my new limitations, that I needed to be more true to my materials. In that exercise I was bothered by my inability to create flat color in the bars as well as my inability to hand letter. Overall I felt I was still approaching this work mechanically or digitally.


CONTEMPORARY CONTEXT In terms of my thesis, my contemporaries are those who practice data design. They are varied and practice in a variety of styles. This includes designers for publications like National Geographic, and the folded take-away maps and visuals that you’d find posted on the walls of my bedroom. It includes those who believe in data as a human language and who employ complex organic visual systems in the goal of forwarding Data Humanism. It includes those outside the design realm; coding and analyzing datasets developing a myriad of increasingly versatile software. And, they also include science fiction creators and fans producing analytical work on a subject so inherently ingrained in technology and science.


So for the next exercise, How and Why I Acquired Each Title In My Collection, I made organic markmaking and truthful representation of tools a priority. This piece was also inspired by one of my favorite designers, Giorgia Lupi, and her ideas of Data Humanism. As a part of that inspiration I also made a point of representing qualitative data as opposed to numerical quantitative data. The result then is that I am representing only abstract reasons and conditions to the acquisition of each title.

Between 2011 and 2014, my grandfather forwarded every monthly edition of National Geographic he received through his subscription. Though I rarely read an issue to completion, my favorite part was the chance of finding a take-away. These could be on any subject, and they came in two sizes, a long-skinny (which was sometimes a tall-skinny) and a large format approximately the size of two longskinnies. These take-aways are a hot commodity for infographic design, according to me. Many of them were maps. I remember one in particular that used a grid of simple graphs to communicate demographics. Others relied on photography or illustration which communicated its own level of information. While my work diverges greatly from the visual aesthetic of these take-aways, I remain keenly aware of the interest they have nurtured in me. What I find to be the most interesting in the world of Data Visualization is the concept of Data Humanism. Here data is visualized organically and with a voice that not only communicates its message but represents its human characteristics. This is not like the humanism of the Greco-Roman or Renaissance period, however, with its emphasis on human potential and perfection. Data Humanism is a modern humanism that incorporates imperfection, intersectionality, and possibility. In my work, you can find examples that I consider directly in line with this thinking. While it wasn’t where I started in this project, the switch to this thinking, which was accompanied by a switch to lowtech design, reinvigorated my visual interest. Using wholly original visual systems that hinged on the markmaking tools at my disposal, I not only injected more of myself into the work but I added value in the form of time and quality which was otherwise struggling thus far.

Use the key (above) to read the information in the visualization (opposite) After attempting to hand letter all the copy on My Collection and doing a less than perfect job, I chose to use the best of both worlds for this piece; visuals by hand and adding real text later. This piece also include two accidental omissions.



As I buckle down on Data Humanism, however, the big data machine, that is it’s antithesis, chugs on for better or for worse. But while I see the scope of these diverging forces, I don’t limit myself to one or the other. The world of data visualization is perfectly compatible for the world of technology and interactive design and they can at times become inseparable. This is why, as part of my work, I also made it a priority to broaden my skill set. Tableau, is a program for data visualization and interactive data design. In my research into data centered-careers it was one of the more often cited skill requirements. Early feedback on my use with this software made it clear to me that Tableau, while versatile and modern in design, would require extra effort in order to make work that was compatible with the project. In the end I found a context where it could live as part of a whole; a whole which would also be an example of Data Humanism. The result was an online database of my collection featuring information on each title in the library as well as an interactive Tableau-powered visual on the library as a whole. My contemporaries in the Science Fiction fandom long predate me. As such, the work that parallels mine is thorough if not proliferated. A quick Google search on “Science Fiction” and “Data” brought me to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Looking through their archives two things are clear. First, the sheer volume confirms what their name already hints at; they’ve been around a while. But, second, and more importantly, the database is still being added to and updated. This excited me to the prospect of continually adding to my own database, new additions, read completions, and series building. I realized that throughout this project my reading time had fallen behind. But this inspired me to keep reading and to start making updates. Another site I came across was an interactive web of Science Fiction connected through story content and Sci-Fi concepts. This reminded me of an earlier work I did also on Sci-Fi concepts. And while I can see myself reintegrating this information into this database, I am also aware of the unique position of my project. Where these other examples are informative on the larger world of Science Fiction literature, my work has the distinction of reflecting one individual.


These process images for How and Why I Acquired Each Title In My Collection showcase my cheat sheet (above) for creating the piece including two sets of color palettes. The also show (right) my early intention to use organic forms that come naturally to my markmaking tools.






This one day project is a superimposition of all the damage to the books in my collection. Like a heat map it shows the area most prone to damage. Unlike a heat map if also illustrates the unique contours of price stickers cataloging labels and water stains.


The last hand drawn exercise I did was what I consider a contour heat map. After considering that my collection of titles is specific to me and that conditions like wear and damage are specific to this library I realized I could use this as a fingerprint-like identifier. This was a quick process. I simply recreated the areas of damages on paper roughly the size of my average bookface and spine. I then did the same thing with added elements like stickers and repair tape and again with water damage and stains.





Tableau & The Web Following my excursion into hand drawn data design two things happened. First, I purchased a new computer and was able to add text to this visualization. Second was the world went into quarantine and the thesis show was indefinitely postponed. These events enabled my last piece, which was an online database for my entire collection of books. The front page of this database (left) shows all the books in my collection. With each refresh the arrangement changes randomly. This echoes the ritual rearrangement I went through during this project (page 4).

Throughout the semester I’d been considering the exhibition space that all my work would live in. With that indefinitely on hold this database was not only a logical summation of my work by a virtual exhibition space where this other work would have room to exist alongside the database itself. Throughout the semester my professors have been telling me to scan all my books and without knowing where that would apply I put it off. Finally, while sitting at home in quarantine faced with the next step and possibly the conclusion of this project I scanned them all. Even before I had completed the process I was so excited by the quality of images that I knew what I wanted to do.


Below is the embed code for my published Tableau Dashboard as well as a snap shot of the Accumulation of Titles sheet in Tableau. Sheets can be individually created and brought together in dashboards.


The database was also an opportunity to embed Tableau data visualizations. With one more extensive spreadsheet I created an interactive dashboard showcasing the story of my collection, the breakdown of sub-genres and my own progress in reading them all. With Tableau I was able to create simple numeric graphs that represented different aspects of my library. But the exciting thing was the ability to select a specific point or set from one graph and filter the remaining graphs.


The dashboard (above) shows the accumulation of titles over time, the frequency of authors and subgenres. In the following image (below) the author Isaac Asimov was selected and a new accumulation of titles is generated. The bar graphs also adjust to reflect the subgenres Asimov writes in






But the interactivity doesn’t stop at embeds. Using the tags system of the website I was able to create my own system of indexes. Visiting one book’s page would provide all the extrinsic information and, if I read it, the intrinsic information as well. Categorical information like author, cover artist, subgenre, country of origin, even relevant testimonials would link to indexes filtered by that tag and allow the user to continue exploring my library. Each title has its own info page (left) featuring extrinsic information about the book including author, year written, and series information. If its a book I’ve read then a chart of content generated from the same data as The Science in My Sci-Fi is included. Links in yellow are tags that bring you to subsets of titles that fall in that category (below).

After all it is my library, and one thing I was especially excited about is the ability to update the information as I add new titles and read more of the ones I already have. The way I represent the information in the database may be digital but I can also see how it is influenced by Data Humanism. Though I’m using fonts instead of markmaking tools I still feel I am being true to them by imbuing them with new context and information.