L230 5115 TOM FOSTER
Introduction to Science Fiction

2:30p-3:20p MWF (70 students) 3 CR. - Satisfies A&H Distribution Requirement

This course is designed to provide a historical introduction to print science fiction as a genre, with a strong but not exclusive emphasis on the development of the genre in the U.S. during the 20th century. We will begin with the "pulp" adventure narratives of the early 20th century, most likely Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars; it is possible that might also some example of the "space opera" tradition. We will then turn to the late 1930s and the emergence of the "hard SF" tradition, associated with John W. Campbell's magazine Astounding (later Analog) and the authors he promoted (such as Robert A. Heinlein or Hal Clement). Next, we will read some examples of the alternatives to this hard SF tradition that emerged in the 50s, especially the traditions of social satire and political SF associated with H.L. Gold's magazine Galaxy (Frederick Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth, Robert Sheckley, Mack Reynolds) and the more literary narratives associated with Anthony Boucher's Fantasy and Science Fiction (Damon Knight, Theodore Sturgeon, Judith Merrill). The diversity that begins to emerge in U.S. science fiction in the 50s will lead into the "New Wave" movement of the 1960s and 70s (Samuel Delany, Roger Zelazny, Phillip K. Dick). We will give special attention to the development of feminist SF in this period (Ursula LeGuin, Joanna Russ). The late 70s and early 80s will be considered as a transitional period, dominated by two figures, John Varley and James M. Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon's pseudonym). We will end with some readings in cyberpunk fiction and responses to it (William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Neal Stephenson, Octavia Butler, Paul DiFilippo, Gwyneth Jones, Paul McAuley). Time permitting, we may also read some examples of the recent turn back to the tradition of space opera (Allen Steele, Stephen Baxter, and Peter F. Hamilton). Again if time permits, we may spend some time on the relationship between print science fiction and film or TV.

While the course will be organized along the lines of this historical narrative of the genre's development, the course will also focus on some recurrent themes or critical questions. For instance, we will consider the effects of the historical and ideological contexts for science fiction narratives, such as the traditions of travel writing and utopian/dystopian speculation. We will use Burroughs's A Princess of Mars to consider how science fiction narratives can be read as responses to the "closing of the American frontier" in the late 19th century, by displacing the "New World" onto outer space. We will also consider the tension between science fiction's tendency toward a realist aesthetic and its simultaneous commitment to the fantastic and to imagining departures from realism that often have the effect of “defamiliarizing” our assumptions about what is normal.

The texts for the course will include a combination of anthologies of short stories and single-authored texts, most of whom will be chosen from the authors listed above.

Assignments will probably include 2-3 short papers, a midterm, and a final examination.