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The Science Fiction Culture

Course Texts


Science fiction has emerged as one of the most popular genres in our contemporary culture.  Why are science fiction texts, including novels, short stories, films, and television shows, so culturally pervasive, and what does this popularity tell us about the impact of science and technology?  This course will examine how the medium of science fiction, from its origins with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to its more recent manifestations, has given cultural expressions to changing--and often ambivalent--attitudes towards modern science and technology.

There will be one two-hour lecture and one two-hour discussion class per week.  The lecture will set the broader context for understanding that week's readings and themes, and will also deal with the development of critical skills in reading, writing, and thinking.  The discussion class will focus directly on the texts assigned for each week.  All students will be expected to come to class having completed the assigned reading so that they are prepared to discuss it.

1. Brief Statement of Purpose
The first half of the course will focus on the historical development of science fiction and the parallel developments of science and technology in their cultural contexts.  Among the topics to be covered are responses to Enlightenment and Victorian science, representations of the scientist, scientific utopias, the mechanized society, and the reactions of science fiction authors to the brave new world of genetics, the atomic bomb, and space travel.  In the second term we will concentrate on the attitudes of contemporary science fiction writers and film makers towards the cultural significance of science and technology.  Themes to be discussed include feminist SF, the infinite universes of some interpretations of quantum mechanics, time travel, the threat of catastrophe due to technological progress, depictions of the process of scientific discovery, the complex relationship between science and religion, the ethical dilemmas of the biotechnology revolution, and the disappearing boundaries between human and computer.

2. Specific Learning Objectives:
It is hoped that students will gain an understanding of the conventions and tropes of science fiction, while recognizing the ways the genre has changed as scientific knowledge and culture have developed.  In addition, the course will teach critical skills required for the reading, appreciation, and study of science fiction as well as those that are more generally applicable across disciplinary boundaries.  Thus, we will discuss the protocols of reading science fiction, science fiction iconography, how to "read" film--whether science fiction or not--and how to write effective, well written essays.  We will look at the most common writing errors that students make, and offer strategies that will enable students to avoid and correct them.

York University