Undergraduate Course: Reading Science Fiction (ENLI10391)
|School||School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||By projecting possible tomorrows, science fiction poses fundamental questions about the world of today. This course examines the ways in which science fiction narrative constructs, presents and explores who we are, how we engage in community, and how we respond to otherness. It does this by reading and discussing some of the most influential and challenging science fiction texts of the last hundred and fifty years. Through careful analyses of the literature, discussions will work outwards from the texts towards investigations of the ways important scientific, philosophical, social and political ideas are presented. An influential critical definition of science fiction is that it is the literature of ¿cognitive estrangement¿: that it de-familiarises our world by presenting alternate realities that are conceptually explored so as to raise questions about consensus views of reality, technology, consciousness, identity and politics. And these are the topics on which discussion will focus.
¿Without an image of tomorrow, one is trapped by blind history, economics, and politics beyond our control. One is tied up in a web, in a net, with no way to struggle free. Only by having clear and vital images of the many alternatives, good and bad, of where one can go, will we have any control over the way we may actually get there in a reality tomorrow will bring too quickly.¿
(Samuel Delany, ¿The Necessity of Tomorrows¿)
By projecting possible tomorrows, science fiction poses fundamental questions about the world of today. This course examines the ways in which science fiction narrative constructs, presents and explores who we are, how we engage in community, and how we respond to otherness. It does this by reading and discussing some of the most influential and challenging science fiction texts of the last hundred and fifty years. Through careful analyses of the literature, discussions will work outwards from the texts towards investigations of the ways important scientific, philosophical, social and political ideas are presented. An influential critical definition of science fiction is that it is the literature of ¿cognitive estrangement¿: that it de-familiarises our world by presenting alternate realities that are conceptually explored so as to raise questions about consensus views of reality, technology, consciousness, identity and politics. And these are the topics on which discussion will focus.
Rather than offering a broad survey of the history of the genre, this course is analysis-focused and concept-led: taking two or three key themes, we will discuss the forms of presentation used to explore them in a range of science fiction narratives. This semester, we will focus particularly on the following topics:
The idea of ¿the human¿, especially as it relates to gender, sex, race and identity politics: how might conventional accounts of human nature be challenged by encounters with aliens with very different social codes and practices, or with animals that have developed or been given ¿consciousness¿, or machine intelligence?
Perception and reality: can we believe what we experience, especially in the altered states of narcotic intoxication or in a world where the distinction between virtual life and biological existence has begun to dissolve?
Power, surveillance and resistance: in cultures that are increasingly closely monitored by those in power, what possibilities are there for freedom or resistance? Or, alternatively, where all traditional power systems have collapsed, how can human being survive and make sense of their worlds?
Each of these themes will be explored in relation to a selection of very different approaches in the material, ranging from the foundational science fiction work of H.G. Wells, through classic ¿Golden Age¿ writings of Arthur C. Clark, to ¿New Wave¿ counter-cultural authors like Philip K. Dick and experimental Afrofuturists such as Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler, as well as feminist authors such as Ursula Le Guin, James Tiptree jr and Margaret Atwood. The contrasts between the approaches to each of the topics by the various texts, both in terms of style and politics, will be discussed to examine the range of possible futures and accounts of the present that science fiction writing makes possible.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| None
Information for Visiting Students
|Pre-requisites||A MINIMUM of 4 college/university level literature courses at grade B or above (should include no more than one introductory level literature course). Related courses such as cross disciplinary, "Freshman Seminars", civilisation or creative writing classes are not considered for admission to this course.
Applicants should also note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission. In making admissions decisions preference will be given to students who achieve above the minimum requirement with the typical visiting student admitted to this course having four or more literature classes at grade A.
** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2022/23, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20,
Other Study Hours 10,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Additional Information (Learning and Teaching)
1 hour per week autonomous learning group.
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
2500 word coursework essay (40%) submitted mid-semester
+ 3000 word final essay submitted at end of semester / in exam period (60%).
OR: Alternative model: alternative coursework assessment (40%)
+ 3000 word final essay submitted at end of semester / in exam period (60%)
||Detailed written feedback will be provided on each element of assessment, and further oral follow-up feedback from the tutor will be available for anyone who would like it.
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Construct original, clear and coherent arguments about the narrative techniques science-fiction literature employs to construct its stories
- Evaluate the ways in which those stories present and explore scientific, political, social and philosophical problems and ideas
- Analyse science fiction texts using recognised literary critical and critical theoretical methodologies to substantiate and illustrate those arguments
- Assess ideas from a range of literary-critical 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.
Introduction: Disrupting Human Identity
Greg Egan, ¿The Caress¿, from Axiomatic (1995) and James Tiptree, jr., ¿The Last Flight of Doctor Ain¿, from Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (2014)
Week 2 Alterity, Experimentation and the Limits of the Human?
H.G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896)
Week 3 Discipline and Surveillance: Policing Identity
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)
Week 4 Apocalypse or Evolution: The End of Us?
Arthur C. Clark, Childhood¿s End (1953)
Week 5 Anthropology and Estrangement: the Politics of Alien Androgyny
Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
Festival of Creative Learning: No Class
Week 7 Race, Sexuality, Consciousness, and the Identities of Dystopia
Samuel Delany, Dhalgren (1975)
Week 8 Reproductive Politics and Totalitarian Futures
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid¿s Tale (1985)
Essay Completion Week: No Class
Week 10 Narcotic and Paranoid Identities
Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly (1977)
Week 11 The Virtual and the Real: the Politics of Cybersapce
William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)
Week 12 Alien(-ating) Humanity: Another End of the Human?
Octavia Butler, Lilith¿s Brood (Book 1: Dawn) (1987)
|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
||Two-hour seminar per week for 10 weeks;
plus one hour per week for 10 weeks Autonomous Learning Group - at times to be arranged
|Course organiser||Dr Simon Malpas
Tel: (0131 6)50 3596
|Course secretary||Miss Hope Hamilton
Tel: (0131 6)50 4167