ENG 208 Science Fiction? Speculative Fiction?

William Oram, MWF 9:00-9:50 AM

The purpose of the course is twofold: to consider the distinctive ways in which science fiction and fantasy work and to read some of its best stories.  This version of the course will pay somewhat more attention to fantasy in its relation to science fiction and we’ll think about the ways in which the two make meaning—how they differ in what they do and how they resemble one another. I’m still currently rethinking the course, so that the following description is tentative. 

We’ll start with two great early texts, which set up issues that science fiction continues to confront—H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s distopia We, which responds in part to Wells' later utopian impulse.  After that we’ll move to works written in the second half of the twentieth century and the first decade of the present one—fantasy novels by Ursula K. Le Guin (The Farthest Shore) and Michael Swanwick (The Iron Dragon’s Daughter), science fiction novels by Elizabeth Moon (The Speed of Dark), and Octavia Butler (Dawn). There will also be novels halfway between fantasy and science fiction—Hoban’s Ridley Walker and Andrea Hairston’s Mindscape.   

Scattered through the course will be pockets of short stories by Alice Sheldon (pen name James Tiptree), Michael Swanwick, Maureen McHugh, Gene Wolfe and others.

These are all rich, powerful works, chosen because they need some thinking about. Certain concerns will surface in different works in different ways: utopias and distopias; encounters with aliens and, with that, the problem of what’s human; the nature of identity; gender; the social effects of scientific advances; the fear of death.  By and large I’m interested in novels that investigate what Ursula Le Guin calls the “inner space” of mind and society, not the “outer space” of the cosmos. But there are some space ships.

 Writing.  Students will write thirteen ungraded responses to the reading and in addition there will be two graded essays (done in draft and rewritten) and a final exam.

It's my intention to lecture for two days a week and to divide the class on Fridays into two groups for  discussion though we may have to modify this plan as the semester progresses.  One college-level literature course is a prerequisite for this class.

 A Tentative Reading List

H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Yevgeny Zamyatin, We                                    

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

Octavia Butler, Dawn

Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark

Michael Swanwick, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter

Russel Hoban, Ridley Walker

Andrea Hairston, Mindscape

An anthology of science fiction short stories