Undergraduate Course: Contemporary Science Fiction (ENLI10381)
|School||School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate)
||Availability||Not available to visiting students
|Summary||This course focuses on contemporary literary science fiction and its representations and analyses of today's world. Although often setting its narratives in the future or an alternative reality, science fiction engages with contemporary pressures, problems and possibilities, extrapolating from the present to estrange and interrogate its ideas, beliefs and practices. This course introduces students to some of the most influential science fiction writing of the last thirty years, and encourages them to explore how it has depicted and explored the world we live in. Rather than focusing on the history and development of science fiction or attempting a complete survey of the current state of the field, this course will be idea-led: taking two or three key themes carefully specified at the beginning of the course (which might include such topics as identity, time, alterity, consciousness, the human, the posthuman, the alien, counter-factual history, virtual reality, simulation, etc.), it will ask students to discuss their presentation in contemporary science fiction. The literature will be read alongside arguments drawn from science, philosophy, politics and critical theory. Students will be encouraged to examine the way particular genres of science fiction (the short story or novel, 'hard' or 'soft' science fiction, cyberpunk and its cognate subgenres, space opera, utopian and dystopian fiction, etc.) find different means of depicting, exploring and putting into narrative the course's chosen themes.
'Science fiction [is] an important form of literature because it's the only form of literature that copes with the way technological change might affect people, which is the fundamental quality of our lives now. If you go back a couple of hundred years, the world you were born into wouldn't be that much different from the one you died in. But the one thing you can guarantee for children born now is that that world will be completely, totally different. In fact, it may be so different that they may not die at all.' (Iain M. Banks, interview from 1999)
Can we any longer consider ourselves simply to be 'human'? How do we write about ourselves, our desires and our aspirations in a world where the elementary traditions and categories that have defined 'human' no longer appear secure; where technological advances have made not just bodily identity fluid, but also hold out the promise of a move beyond the baseline of physical being; where threats of global catastrophe come not just from environmental transformation or nuclear disaster, but genetic manipulation or the spread of nanotechnological machines almost too minute to comprehend but with the capacity to rewrite our bodies and minds at a molecular level? Is immortality possible, and how might that change who we are? What might happen in such contexts to the very idea of 'humanity'?
In Contemporary Science Fiction, we will explore questions such as this by looking at some of the most exciting, influential and challenging science fiction writing of the last thirty years, and examining how it depicts the world we live in and wrestles with some of the most pressing problems faced by society today. By projecting possible tomorrows, science fiction poses fundamental questions about the world of today. Although often setting its narratives on a distant planet, in a future world or an alternative reality, science fiction explores contemporary pressures, problems and possibilities; it extrapolates ideas and issues from the present to make them strange and enable us to interrogate our ideas, beliefs and practices.
Instead of focusing on the history and development of science fiction or attempting a complete survey of the current state of the field, this course is idea-led and debate-focused. As central themes this year, we will explore the human, the posthuman and the alien; technology, transformation and power; and simulation, reality and the politics of representation. We will discuss the presentation of these issues in contemporary science fiction by reading literary texts alongside arguments drawn from recent work in science, philosophy, politics and critical theory.
The reading is a combination of novels and short stories, and the programme has been designed to avoid overburdening students during a busy final semester. However, as with all prose courses, students are advised to try and read some novels (the longer ones such as Oryx and Crake or Hyperion or more challenging ones such as Blindsight) in advance.
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2022/23, Not available to visiting students (SS1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Additional Information (Learning and Teaching)
1 hour per week for Autonomous Learning
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||One mid-semester Coursework Essay of 2,500 words: 40%
One Final Essay of 3000 words in the final assessment period: 60%
||Students will receive detailed written feedback on both essays and their class participation. Optional follow-up sessions will be available for face-to-face consultation to help students understand the implications of this feedback, and to further explore ways in which future work might be enhanced.
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Construct original, clear and coherent arguments about science fiction literature's depictions of contemporary ideas, institutions, practices and problems;
- Evaluate the ways in which different genres of science fiction writing make possible different modes of engagement with these;
- Analyse science fiction texts using recognised literary critical and critical theoretical methodologies to substantiate and illustrate those arguments;
- Extrapolate, evaluate and assess ideas from a range of non-literary sources in order to bring them to bear on their analyses of science fiction;
- Orally present the results of research undertaken individually and as part of a small group, respond judiciously to such research undertaken by others, and critically evaluate the importance of such material for an understanding of the chief themes of the course.
(Any edition of the novels will is fine; copies of short stories will be available via the library resource list on Learn.)
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake
Iain M. Banks, The Player of Games
Octavia Butler, Bloodchild and Other Stories
Ted Chiang, 'Liking What You See: A Documentary'
Greg Egan, Axiomatic, London: Orion, 1995
Pippa Goldschmidt, 'Welcome to Planet AlbaTM!'
Alasdair Gray, 'The Crank That Made the Revolution'
Ursula Le Guin, 'The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas'
N.K. Jemisin, 'The Ones Who Stay and Fight'
Xia Jia, 'Tongtong's Summer'
Linda Nagata, The Bohr Maker
Hannu Rajaniemi, The Quantum Thief
Dan Simmons, Hyperion
Charles Stross, Halting State
Peter Watts, Blindsight
Connie Willis, 'Even the Queen'
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
||As an outcome of having studied this course, students will benefit from having developed a range of personal and professional skills commensurate with the range of SCQF Level 10 characteristics:
Knowledge and understanding: students will have had the opportunity to demonstrate their critical understanding of a range of the principal theories and concepts of literary analysis in relation to their reading and discussion of the course material;
Applied Knowledge, Skills and Understanding: in their work for class discussion, presentations and formal assessment tasks, students will have been able to practice the application of these theories and concepts in their construction of arguments about the course material;
Generic Cognitive Skills: in completing assessed essays and class presentations, students will have practiced identifying, defining, conceptualising and analysing complex problems and issues germane to the discipline;
Communication: through participating in these tasks students will also have demonstrated the ability to communicate ideas and information about specialised topics in the discipline to an informed audience of their peers and subject specialists;
Autonomy and Working with Others: students will also have shown the capacity to work autonomously and in small groups on designated tasks, develop new thinking with their peers, and take responsibility for the reporting, analysis and defence of these ideas to a larger group.
|Additional Class Delivery Information
||1 two-hour seminar per week; plus weekly autonomous learning group meeting at time to be arranged
|Keywords||Science fiction,theory and criticism,contemporary literature,human and posthuman
|Course organiser||Dr Simon Malpas
Tel: (0131 6)50 3596
|Course secretary||Ms June Cahongo
Tel: (0131 6)50 3620