Interview, in groups of three, one of
your classmates and
to report the following information to the rest of the class:
- What are you a fan of, and why?
- (broadly defined:
includes books, movies, television, etc.)
- 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
- Midterm, final, readings (ca. 100-200
pages/week), regular participation in class, journals, writing projects
for our soon-to-be-named SF journal
- 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
typically based on speculative scientific discoveries or
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
Imaginative fiction based on postulated scientific discoveries
or spectacular environmental changes, freq. set in the future or on
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
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
- ST universe appears to promote a view of evolution
as progressive and tolerant (more evolved beings like the
- 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)
Writing Exercise: As a group, try your own hand at writing SF or SF
- 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
- 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
Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”
- How do they treat the child? What happens when the
- 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
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
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
Ques.--Hoffmann and the
1. Is Coppelius real or imagined?
2. How can we be sure anything not mentioned in the
is real or imaginary—and does it matter?
3. What’s the significance of the number 9 in the
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
What challenges and drawbacks are there in the uncanny?
Significance and Meaning of the Uncanny:
See the uncanny page: http://chss.montclair.edu/~nielsenw/uncanny.html
In-class writing on meaning of uncanny, but a few serious questions
- 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?
- NB Freud's sexual interpretation of the uncanny:
attraction to the opposite sex is rooted in our experiences as
children, and our relationship to our parents and siblings
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
- free expression of ideas w/work
- pure, intense seasons
- no crime
- no birth (unless we have an ever-expanding planet)
- empirical method (deductive reasoning,
• light, crystals
• cross-breeding of fruit
• 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?
Butler (Day 1)
1. How is this book science
2. What’s the significance that Olamina is described
and manly and Marc is described as beautiful?
3. In what ways is Pres. Jarrett like the Benefactor
4. What’s the significance of the
30-year-in-the-future time span?
5. Does the belief system of Earthseed resemble the
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
more focused on human aspect (?)
- seem to be more focused on effecting change, rather
just responding to it
* perhaps because fem. writers have more female protagonists?
- woman presented as a 3-dimensional figure (not just
- perhaps more realist in mode
- “communal” writing styles (Butler, multiple journal
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
• “The Father Thing,” “Fair Game” by PKD
• “Dark They Were . . . “ by R. Bradbury
• Zamyatin’s We
- sometimes female figures = just symbols, not fully
- seem to have a more surreal style (Hoffmann,
- have stubborn protagonists
Stand up and
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
1. One State: solves problems by making society
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
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
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
Neo in The Matrix,
Luke Skywalker in Star Wars,
Olamina in Parable of the Talents