As the world is becoming increasingly “science fictional”, the genre of Science Fiction may itself appear to be boldly entering the mainstream of literature and at last confront the bureaucratic powers of academic criticism. We therefore do well to remember that Science Fiction is chiefly concerned with the lure and fear of frontiers and the unknown: a fascination with the future that yet often gives way to nostalgia, a reaching out to otherness that always risks reaffirming sameness, and a bracing disregard for literary conventions that nevertheless remains prone to revere tradition. In this course, we will study contemporary Science Fiction against the background of the genre’s history. We will acknowledge its prehistory in early modern fictional writing about science and its kinship with related genres such as utopia (and dystopia), the fantastic, and the gothic. We will pay our respects to the evolution of the genre from its emergence in the late nineteenth century, through its Golden Age in pulp and its late ascendancy in novels, TV and films. But we will reserve most of our time to an exploration of contemporary Science Fiction and its relevance to the pushing of technological frontiers, the looming ecological tipping points, and the shifting ideological paradigms in our world.
Topics to be discussed may include the following: the science fictionality of our world (SF and the present); the relationship between SF and other genres or modes such as utopia/dystopia, the fantastic, and the gothic; innovation and tradition within genre SF; SF in different media; how SF relates to social and cultural norms and their critique; technology and power; the image of science in SF.
The course is intended to introduce students to the genre of Science Fiction and its critical study, as an example of genre fiction. It also aims to offer students an opportunity to examine and debate the value of contemporary SF as imaginative engagements with topical issues and problems of our times.
- Recognize and analyze the distinctive characteristics of Science Fiction and the genre's place and interest in the wider field of literature and culture.
- Examine and discuss the critical value of Science Fiction as imaginative writing, based on relevant research and textual analysis.
- Construct and express critical arguments on topical issues in Science Fiction while engaging with the viewpoints of others.
- Assess the genre's interest in diversity and its openness to the exploration of historically and culturally diverse situations and conditions.
- Address and evaluate the relevance of Science Fiction to topical debates in science and society.
We will meet for three hours every week, divided into a two-hour session (Monday) and a one-hour session (Thursday). Two-hour sessions will include a lecture component combined with discussion and possibly group work. One-hour sessions will be more tutorial-style discussions and will include student presentations. Actual arrangements will depend on class size and pandemic-related teaching and learning constraints.
The course will be assessed by 100% coursework, consisting of:
Participation and contribution to class activities and discussions: 25%
Mid-term essay: 25%
Term paper involving research: 50%
Core and recommended readings will be made available online via Moodle. Students will be required to read a selection of mostly short fictional and critical texts on a weekly basis. They will also be required to read some of the recommended readings, according to their interest. For their presentations and especially for their term papers, students will be expected to explore the accessible SF archive, mostly online, more deeply while pursuing their interest. The course materials may include films.