“Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.” J. G. Ballard
“The boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.” Donna Haraway
The lines from Ballard and Haraway quoted above state something that has become a conversational commonplace in the early twenty-first century: we are living in the science fiction future. This class will examine the variety of futures American science fiction has imagined in the twentieth century, exploring the way familiar tropes developed in often-overlooked works of literature and visual culture before emerging into the mainstream through Hollywood film, network TV, popular music, and digital media. We will trace key histories of American literature, culture, media, and politics through our readings, while also contemplating the range of social realities that science or speculative fiction (we will discuss the contested meanings of both those terms throughout the class) seek to represent and critique. Questions of race and gender will be central to our inquiry.
The goal of the course is both for you to familiarize yourself with the period and the genre, with a view to future teaching, and to develop your own research interests, as far as possible, in relation to the works we read. Class presentations and projects will offer ample opportunity to connect class issues to your own research interests; studies in technoculture, feminism, and postcolonialism as well as in many branches of twentieth-century literature will provide useful intersections. As part of your coursework, you will write blog entries, either on your own blog or on one that you create for the course; while you are welcome to do this pseudonymously, you should at least consider making the blog a part of your professional online profile.
Reading is heavy, and includes secondary and theoretical texts as well as fiction. While I expect you to be familiar with everything assigned, graduate study is also about developing the skills to manage large amounts of reading efficiently. One way to do this is to meet with fellow students outside the class in order to discuss any questions that might be slowing you down.
Required Texts (additional texts available online or distributed in class)
Octavia E. Butler, Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995)
Samuel R. Delany, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984)
William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1968)
George Schuyler, Black No More (1931)
Sheree R. Thomas (ed), Dark Matter: A Century of Science Fiction from the African Diaspora (2000)
James Tiptree, Jr. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990)
Karen Tei Yamashita, Tropic of Orange (1997)
Available free online, though you will want a critical edition if you plan to write about them:
Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1880);
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1915) and With Her in Ourland (1916)
Recommended critical monographs (required sections will be scanned, but you may wish to acquire the whole books)
Phillip Wegner, Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation, and the Spatial Histories of Modernity. U of California Press, 2002.
Alys Eve Weinbaum, Wayward Reproductions: Genealogies of Race and Nation in Transatlantic Modern Thought. Duke UP, 2004
Helen Merrick, The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms. Aqueduct Press, 2009.
Roger Luckhurst, Science Fiction; Polity Press, 2005
John Rieder, Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. Wesleyan UP, 2008
Constance Penley, NASA/Trek: Popular Science and Sex in America. Verso, 1997
Douglas Kilgore, Astrofuturism: Science, Race, and Visions of Utopia in Space. U of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
Wendy Chun, Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. MIT Press, 2006.