Interview, in groups of three, one of your classmates and
prepare to report the following information to the rest of the class:

Course Goals:

-    Understand the making of science fiction as a genre (material history of SF magazines) and its historical role as social critique (Zamyatin)

-    Gain mastery over a specific area of science fiction by adopting a critical strategy such as ecocriticism or psychology (uncanny)

-    Appreciate the roles of women writers in science fiction (Butler, Atwood, Le Guin)

-    Produce several short pieces of prose that actualize the above learning goals

Course Requirements:

-    Midterm, final, readings (ca. 100-200 pages/week), regular participation in class, journals, writing projects for our soon-to-be-named SF journal
-    Collegiality
-    Respect
-    Integrity
-    To attempt to move from being a consumer of knowledge to becoming a producer of knowledge

How do you define "science fiction"?


science fiction   1. A literary or cinematic genre in which fantasy,

typically based on speculative scientific discoveries or developments,

environmental changes, space travel, or life on other planets, forms part of the plot or background.

2. literary fantasy involving the imagined impact of science on society

From OED: Imaginative fiction based on postulated scientific discoveries

or spectacular environmental changes, freq. set in the future or on other planets

and involving space or time travel. (first used in 1851)

--> Write freely (will be collected, however): Why read science fiction? How does it benefit society? What does it teach readers?

Review of Lesson 1:

SF Communities: Star Trek (Trekkies); Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard (Scientologists); Comicon, other conventions

Why read and teach SF?

-    Eases change, inspires new technology (Asimov)
-    Entertainment, action
-    Allegory, warnings
-    Hybrid genre
-    Promotes creativity

Why shouldn’t we read SF?

-    danger of paranoid delusions, violence
-    bad literature?

Star Trek Original Series, “Charlie X” (1966)

-    warns against abuse of power, free will

-    depicts the indulgence of desire (critique of ‘60’s generation?)

-    ST universe appears to promote a view of evolution as progressive and tolerant (more evolved beings like the Ephasians)

-    Critique of ST military/imperial aggression possible: exploration/colonization of alien peoples and resources

Group Discussion (10 min.): What is science fiction? Collate a definition based on the readings, and speculate whether some of your fan favorites (e.g., Lost) fall in the category of SF or fantasy. Adopt one of the roles below:

Editor     Edits the written material for grammar and content (esp. after it is published on Wikispaces)

Writer    Transcribes and writes down group’s words (and publishes them on Wikispaces)

Researcher   Reads and finds specific passages in books and readings to support findings and suppositions

Manager     Manages the group’s time, in order to stay on track and makes sure the other members (editor, writer, researcher, artist) fulfill their tasks

Artist     Brings other creative aspects to the project, such as staging, music, and presentation (gives voice to findings by reporting them in class)

Creative Writing Exercise: As a group, try your own hand at writing SF or SF criticism:

- Write a missing scene or new ending to one of the stories we read, or shows we've seen

- Convert a scene from a non-SF show (like Law and Order) into SF

- Or, write a summary of one of stories we just read. What is the main theme? How does it typify this author's works? Who are the potential readers for these stories?

- Or make up your own universe: see Card, p. 36-54.

- Write as a story/prose or in screenplay form

- Keep or exchange your roles from the last group activity

Review of Lesson 2:

I. We talked about "Definitions of Science Fiction" in Learning Groups

II. Student Questions

Isaac Asimov, “Robot Dreams”

-    How does Elvex personify great civil rights leaders?

-    Why does the scientist shoot the robot the second he says he’s the human in the dream?

-    Does Elvex consider himself human owing to the positronic brain? What does that say about the identity of human beings?

Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

-    How do they treat the child? What happens when the child dies?
-    Who would have walked away? (Who shops at Walmart, Target, stores that use sweatshop labor?)

Both: What do both stories say about rebellion, slavery, and economics?

Orson Scott Card, How to Write SF and Fantasy

- What can SF teach a reader and how can these messages impact how we see society and ourselves?

Other great questions not addressed in class:

Sandra: [Why] are humans always in danger in most SF novels or stories? [Why] are human beings and their communities always fearing the presence of a superior being who is eventually either going to kill them or take over their world?

Atara: In I. Asimov's "Robot Dreams," does having the ability to dream (to hope) create an ability to instrument change and fight for one's well being? Is this what Calvin fears?

Atara: I find the assumed paralleling of Elvex to Moses to illustrate the dominating group's fear of rebellion by/emancipation of the suffering. Why does Asmimov choose female characters to demonstrate the role of the superior group?

III. After viewing "The Invaders" (a Twilight Zone episode), we discussed qualities of good science fiction: for extra  credit and to start build on your  SF Projects, put your notes on Wikispaces!

IV. Creative Writing Project: Finally, using our "Good SF" guidelines, we tried our own hands at writing SF.

--> Insights on SF from this exercise?

In-class Writing (15 minutes):

Write on the back of your discussion questions or a spare sheet of paper:

What repressed emotions and hidden fears do robots, androids, and/or automatons represent in Hoffmann’s The Sandman and/or the movie Blade Runner (based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, 1968)? Apply your understanding of the uncanny in order to answer this question.

Student Ques.--Hoffmann and the Uncanny

1.    Is Coppelius real or imagined?
2.    How can we be sure anything not mentioned in the letters
is real or imaginary—and does it matter?

3.    What’s the significance of the number 9 in the story? (VT)
What kind of unfinished business are Coppelius and his father doing?
Did N.’s father die while trying to build an automaton?

4.    Is Olimpia a manifestation of Klara?
5.    If Klara represents Enlightenment, and N. Romanticism, which side
  is the author on?

6.    Is this novella science fiction?
7.    What is uncanny about the Sandman?
8.    How does the uncanny make things easier for the writer?
What challenges and drawbacks are there in the uncanny?

Significance and Meaning of the Uncanny:

See the uncanny page:

In-class writing on meaning of uncanny, but a few serious questions remain:

- What specific feelings does Nathanael repress when he freaks out about the uncanny resemblance of Coppola to Coppelius, or his attraction to the uncannily human Olimpia?

- Does Nathanael become a homicidal automaton by the end of the novella, when he tries to kill Klara?

- What psychological realities do N.'s uncanny associations depict?

Review of L. 7:

What would your ideal utopia look like?

-    no death
-    non-judgmental, diverse society where everyone has the same opportunities
-    tax-free society
-    no need for money
-    disease free
-    no war, poverty, or famine
-    no racism
-    no work until you’re 50, when you start working
-    robo-legs
-    free expression of ideas w/work
-    pure, intense seasons
-    no crime
-    no birth (unless we have an ever-expanding planet)


-    empirical method (deductive reasoning, experimentation)
-    technology:
•    flying
•    light, crystals
•    cross-breeding of fruit
•    medicine
•    engines
•    submarine
•    towers
•    airplanes
•    navigation

Social consequences:

•    no women’s rights
•    centralized government
•    technology for benefit of society, no need for money

Things to start thinking about for the final exam:

-    Why do humans need utopias?
-    What are the problems with utopias?
-    What specific answers do SF authors offer to real-world problems like global warming?

Review of Butler (Day 1)

1.    How is this book science fiction?
2.    What’s the significance that Olamina is described as seductive
and manly and Marc is described as beautiful?
3.    In what ways is Pres. Jarrett like the Benefactor of We?
4.    What’s the significance of the 30-year-in-the-future time span?
5.    Does the belief system of Earthseed resemble the doctrine
Of any accepted religion?

6.    Is Butler predicting the rise of Bush?

Female Writers of SF

-    far more critical of society (esp. gender issues) than other authors

-    seem to be less focused on the technological aspect,
more focused on human aspect (?)

-    seem to be more focused on effecting change, rather than
just responding to it

* perhaps because fem. writers have more female protagonists?

-    woman presented as a 3-dimensional figure (not just
stereotype—seductress, etc.)

-    perhaps more realist in mode

-    “communal” writing styles (Butler, multiple journal authors;
Le Guin—voices from New Atlantis)

- Butler and Le Guin both concerned with ecology

Male Writers of SF

-    male protagonists take a long time to change and evolve

•    “The Father Thing,” “Fair Game” by PKD
•    “Dark They Were . . . “ by R. Bradbury
•    Zamyatin’s We

-    sometimes female figures = just symbols, not fully realized

-    seem to have a more surreal style (Hoffmann, Zamyatin)


- have stubborn protagonists

Stand up and mingle!
20-Questions Party Game – Characters from We, Parable of the Talents, and Hominids:

Play 20 questions to find out which character you are (yes or no answers only). You are only allowed to ask point-blank if you are a certain character 3 times. Sit down when you find out your identity and prepare to tell the class 3 important facts about your character and ways to identify this character in the text. The purpose of this exercise is to help familiarize you with different names and stories in the 3 novels we have read/are reading.

Sample Questions:  Am I in Zamyatin’s novel? Was I born in the One State? Do I belong to Acorn? Am I a man?  Am I a Neanderthal?

Names may occur more than once in the room:

D-503, I-330, O-90, the Benefactor, U

Lauren Olamina, Pres. Jarret, Taylor Bankole, Asha Vere/Larkin, Marcos Duran, Harry Balter    

Ponter Boddit, Mary Vaughn, Reuben, Louise, Adikor Huld


See Comparative Questions:

1.    One State: solves problems by making society uniform;
by controlling reproduction; by making living conditions the
same; by eliminating individual choice.

One State doesn’t explain how it solves all environmental

Destiny/Earthseed: solves problems by recycling and growing
food; by providing more resources on other planets; by sharing
Knowledge and focusing this knowledge on space exploration.

2.    Multiple perspectives raise issue of reliable/unreliable
narrators. We see effect of Olamina’s action through narration
of Asha/Larkin. Multiple perspectives opens up a less binary
truth and invites readers to have their own perspectives. Butler
provides a full picture of women through these multiple perspectives.

Male authors also use multiple perspectives (e.g., The Sandman); so maybe it’s not a feminine characteristic at all.

3.    Great literature might be that which is taught a lot; something
that stands the test of time; that is open to interpretation; that
addresses the problems of society; that provokes controversy;
that reveals something profound about human nature;
and that is copied by/inspires others.

OT: Messianic figures (e.g., Jesus, the Christians' messiah) in science fiction:

Neo in The Matrix,

Luke Skywalker in Star Wars,

Olamina in Parable of the Talents