This course will serve as an introduction to the rich genre that is science fiction (or, as some critics prefer, “speculative fiction”). As we read, view, and analyze selected texts, we will trace out some of the main tropes and concepts taken up by the genre. In particular, we will note the ways in which the genre explores social and philosophical questions that seem to turn away from the material present or factual, yet nonetheless makes crucial observations about real-world, real-time, and real-life human behaviors. In this way, the genre’s ability to dwell within the visionary realm of the speculative allows for a natural distancing from present-day realities, thereby offering a crucial space for social critique. As such, this course takes as a basic premise the notion that the unique techniques of science/speculative fiction allow for powerful forms of social commentary.
In particular, we will study texts that pay close attention to the problematic practice in human history of “other”-ing, defined as the social practice of constructing fictional and arbitrary distinctions between “us” and “them.” Course materials will consist of texts that are concerned with notions of the “other” – other beings, other worlds, other human societies, and other pasts, presents, and futures. Ultimately, this course seeks to understand how visions of other spaces (broadly defined) allow for a critique and analysis of historical and current practices of social “other”-ing.
Texts explored will include:
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
George Schuyler, Black No More
Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Octavia Butler, Kindred
Nancy Kress, Beggars in Spain
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake