English | Science Fiction
L230 | 2005 | Foster


2:30p-3:45p TR (70) 3 cr

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, and we will probably
read some example of the "space opera" tradition (such as E.E. "Doc"
Smith's Lensman series).  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 imagining
and representing new and different settings or time periods.  This tension
often manifests itself on the level of language:  to what extent can
science fiction's new "worlds" be represented in familiar terms and to
what extent must authors both invent and teach readers to understand a new
vocabulary and a new set of representational conventions or "rules?"  The
question of language also raises the question of the relationship between
science fiction and mainstream literature.  One of the differences often
cited between genre and mainstream fiction is that works of genre fiction
tend not to be read as individual works but gain their full meaning only
in dialogue with the rest of the genre.  We will therefore pay close
attention to recurrent tropes or concepts in the fiction we read, such as
time travel, alternate worlds, robots and artificial persons, and alien
beings who functions as our "others" and therefore as a displaced
commentary on gender and racial differences between human beings.

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.