English-182: Science Fiction

I was twice a teaching fellow for Professor Stephanie Burt’s survey of Science Fiction in fall 2015 and 2017.  Authors ranged from Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, James Tiptree Jr., William Gibson, to contemporary science fiction authors such as Greg Egan and Ted Chiang.  I also guest lectured in this course twice. The first time was entitled “Grandfather Gernsback’s Paradox,” which focused on the trope of time travel in Science Fiction.  The second lecture is forthcoming sometime in November, but will focus on instances in which sf moves beyond fiction and into reality.

What is science fiction? What is it good for? How did it evolve and where is it going? What are its major categories, subgenres, and preoccupations? Can we use the tools developed for examining realist literary fiction to examine (and to better enjoy) tales of aliens and telepaths? Do these tales imply other tools all their own?

This course is for people who want to answer those questions, and to help others in answering them. We will read works that helped establish the genre, and others which fans consider exemplary, pivotal, or just plain good: novels, short stories, a few essays, and some experimental fictional forms that can exist only online. We will spend time with science fiction film, television and comics, and you’ll have the chance to write on games and comics, but most of the class will concern sf that uses only words. We’ll have classes on space travel, on the environments of Earth and of other plants, on bear-future apocalypse and post-apocalypse, on alternate history, on virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and consciousness without an organic substrate; we’ll also look at points of view, metaphors, info-dumps, narrative structures, TV tropes, and other ways to consider storytelling and world-building in general.

Link to course syllabus.