Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Syllabus: ’21st Century Science Fiction’

with 8 comments

I’m obscenely excited about my “21st Century Science Fiction” course, which starts today. As you can see from the planned schedule below I had to make some hard choices about what to exclude—but it should be a truly great time.

DATE

ASSIGNMENTS AND RESPONSES DUE BY 1 PM

T JULY 5

INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE

Defining SF

in class: The Matrix, Star Trek

R JULY 7

Space Empire

at home: Wells Tower, “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned”

in class: Battlestar Galactica, Firefly

M JULY 11

Zombies

at home: Kelly Link, “Some Zombie Contingency Plans”; Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead, Vol. 1

in class: 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, etc.

T JULY 12

Reproductive Futurity

at home: Nisi Shawl, “Deep End”; Brian K. Vaughn, Y: The Last Man

in class: Children of Men

R JULY 14

Superheroes

at home: Ted Chiang, “Understand”

in class: X-Men, Iron Man, etc.

M JULY 18

Cognitive Estrangement

China Miéville, The City and the City (first section)

T JULY 19

Cognitive Estrangement continued

China Miéville, The City and the City (second and third sections)

R JULY 21

CONFERENCES—NO CLASS

M JULY 25

                 MIDTERM DUE—NO CLASS

T JULY 26

in-class screening: Avatar

R JULY 28

Avatar and Others

FIRST LONG RESPONSE DUE

at home: Annalee Newitz, “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?”; Slavoj Žižek, “Return of the Natives”; Octavia Butler, “Amnesty”

in class: “Pumzi”, “Plastic Bag”

M AUGUST 1

Eco-Apocalypse

at home: Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (first half)

in class: Daybreakers, Moon

T AUGUST 2

Eco-Apocalypse continued

at home: Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (second half)

in class: WALL-E

R AUGUST 4

The Singularity

at home: Charles Stross, Accelerando (first half)

RESEARCH PRESENTATIONS, DAY ONE

M AUGUST 8

The Singularity continued

at home: Charles Stross, Accelerando (second half)

RESEARCH PRESENTATIONS, DAY TWO

T AUGUST 9

Cyberpunk and Its Discontents

at home: Nalo Hopkinson, “A Habit of Waste”

in class: Dollhouse

W AUGUST 10

make-up class: Inception screening (time and location TBA)

R AUGUST 11

Science Fiction as Philosophy

at home: Guy Hasson, “The Levantine Experiments”; Han Song, “The Wheel of Samsara”; Inception

Closing Thoughts

SECOND LONG RESPONSE DUE

LAST DAY OF CLASS

S AUGUST 14

FINAL PAPERS DUE BY 5 PM BY DIGITAL DROPBOX

I’m beginning this afternoon with a lecture that looks at a multitude of different ways of looking at SF, organized around quotes from well-known SF writers and scholars. As the course goes on we’ll look at some of this critical work in more detail; for now I just want to introduce some basic frameworks for approaching the material. We’ll go over these and then set about applying them as best we can to the opening titles of Star Trek: Enterprise (both verisons) and the classic “battery” scene from The Matrix. The quotes:

SCIENTIFIC/PREDICTIVE
“…a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.”
—Hugo Gernsback

 FORMALIST
“Science fiction is a branch of fantasy identifiable by the fact that it eases the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ on the part of its readers by utilizing an atmosphere of scientific credibility for its imaginative speculations in physical science, space, time, social science, and philosophy.”
– Sam Moskowitz.

COSMOLOGICAL
“Science fiction is the search for definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mold.”
—Brian Aldiss

 HISTORICIST
“Sf is that species of storytelling native to a culture undergoing the epistemic changes implicated in the rise and supercession of technical-industrial modes of production, distribution, consumption, and disposal.”
—Damien Broderick

 UTOPIAN
“SF is, then, a literary genre or verbal construct whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment.”
—Darko Suvin

“I would argue, however, that the most characteristic SF does not seriously attempt to imagine the ‘real’ future of social system. Rather, its multiple mock futures serve the quite different function of transforming our own present into the determinate past of something yet to come.”
—Fredric Jameson

REVOLUTIONARY
“The intellectual crime for which Zamyatin was reviled and silenced was that of being an ‘internal emigre.’ (The American equivalent would be “un-Americanism.”) This smear-word is a precise and noble description of the finest writers of SF, in all countries.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin

DIFFERENTIAL
“At the root of all science fiction lies the fantasy of the alien encounter.”
—Scott McCracken

“Science fiction comes into visibility first in those countries most heavily involved in imperialist projects—France and England—and then giants popularity in the United States, Germany, and Russia as those countries also enter into more and more serious imperial competition…. It is not a matter of asking whether but of determining precisely how and to what extent the stories engage colonialism.”
—John Rieder

AFROFUTURIST
“Black people live the estrangement that science fiction writers imagine.”
—Greg Tate

“The blunt thesis underlying Afrofuturism is that all black cultural production in the New World is SF.”
—Isiah Lavender

CORRELATIONIST
“Science fiction turns out to be the realism of our time.”
—Kim Stanley Robinson

“We live science fiction.”
—Marshall McLuhan

LINGUISTIC
“In science fiction, ‘science’—i.e., sentences displaying verbal emblems of scientific discourses—is used to literalize the meanings of other sentences for use in the construction of the fictional foreground. Such sentences as ‘His world exploded,’ or ‘She turned on her left side,’ as they subsume the proper technological discourse (of economics and cosmology in one; of switching circuitry and prosthetic surgery in the other), leave the banality of the emotionally muzzy metaphor, abandon the triviality of insomniac tossings, and, through the labyrinth of technical possibility, become possible images of the impossible.”
—Samuel Delany

NOMINALIST
“Science fiction is anything published as science fiction.”
—Norman Spinrad

“SF is what is marketed as SF.”
—Edward James

Written by gerrycanavan

July 5, 2011 at 9:00 am

8 Responses

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  1. so. hard. to cut things!

    Lindsey

    July 5, 2011 at 9:50 am

    • Yeah, it was painful. But summer’s short…

      gerrycanavan

      July 5, 2011 at 9:51 am

  2. Is there a Marxist definition of SF?

    PS
    Come prepared to talk about your first class’ topic on PSFR.

    Bill Simmon

    July 5, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    • Bill, I’m afraid it’s like something out of one of your so-called “science fictions”: they were all Marxists…

      gerrycanavan

      July 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm

      • Really, though, the leftist/Marxist definitions show up beginning with UTOPIA and REVOLUTIONARY, and from the other direction in John Rieder’s definition under DIFFERENTIAL.

        gerrycanavan

        July 5, 2011 at 12:49 pm

  3. I was just sent to this page re: Delany this weekend — http://www.dalkeyarchive.com/book/?fa=customcontent&GCOI=15647100621780&extrasfile=A09F794F-B0D0-B086-B6A3E071FB014B0C.html — , so it’s good to see that on your list, even if I didn’t entirely think through what he is getting at.

    Dan

    July 5, 2011 at 12:54 pm

  4. I’m super late to the party but want to point out that Y: The Last Man has some seriously troubling misogynistic, gender essentialist and homophobic tropes. I ended up putting it down, due to plot holes, inconsistencies, and the insistence on being suuuuper duuuuper offensive almost constantly. And yes I am speaking as a ladyperson, and even, as a ladyhomo. I’m also unclear on the links you’re making between zombie stuff and SF, altho–I love love love the walking dead–novels, not that tv abomination. :)

    Rachel Kantstopdaphunk

    October 30, 2012 at 11:21 am

    • Thanks for commenting. I agree with you about Y: The Last Man in some ways, though in other ways it’s quite progressive; the start of the second trade, for instance begins with a detailed discussion of gender inequality framed by the SF conceit of all the men disappearing. It’s a complicated book. I don’t know that I’d use it in the classroom again simply because it’s too long; nine trades is too much time to spend on it, but just the first one or two doesn’t quite capture what’s worth discussing about it.

      For the zombie stuff, I basically look at zombies as an interstitial figure between horror and SF, using Vivian Sobchack’s work in film as my guide. Zombies are horror figures when it’s just a farmhouse, but as they expand in scale over the whole planet, they become science fictional instead…

      gerrycanavan

      October 30, 2012 at 12:43 pm


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