BIS 393C Special Topics, Winter 2006
Redesigning Humanity: Science Fiction and the Future of the Body

Schedule of topics and readings

Tues Mar 7 NO CLASS meeting.
Email me if you want to meet to consult about your essay.
Thurs Mar 9 ESSAY DUE (Late papers must be emailed to me.)
In-class viewing of film.

"Multiple single moms, one nameless donor," (Washington Post, Feb 27)
"Man grips future with microchip implants in hands," (Seattle Times, Mar 1)
"The Perfect Person," NPR Science Friday, interviews pro & con about genetic selection and enhancement (Oct 14, 2005).
"There is no stop button in the race for human re-engineering," (Guardian, Jan 30, 2006)

Obituary of Octavia Butler, Seattle SF writer. And from (Mar 2). And Washington Post (Mar 1).
Interview with Butler about the connections between science and SF (NPR Science Friday, June 18, 2004)
Review/summary of Butler's story "Bloodchild" which is kinda a reproductive technology allegory (shoulda read it for class); here's a link to the short story itself.

Homework #4: for those who did not hand in a paper about SOD, you must write about WET using also one non-fiction source in your interpretation (can be from the required readings or extra stuff on the website). Due date is Mar 2, though you can hand it in earlier if you want feedback.
Extra stuff about Piercy, reproductive technology, disabilities, psychiatry, human experiments (see esp articles by Jones and Burwell for critical analysis of WET).
FYI outline of material about women and psychiatry (Word)
FYI study questions for WET (Word)

Handout (Word) ESSAY #2, due Mar 9

Homework #3 revised and clarified (sorry for the confusion):
The new due date is Tues Feb 14.
The assignment consists of two parts:
1) Compile a proper bibliography of all the required readings for weeks 5-6. Check your style manual if you're unsure about the format, and we can discuss details in class on Tues. Use any format you prefer (MLA, Chicago, APA). You will be graded for completeness, accuracy, consistency.
2) AND write a one-page paper about any one of the non-fiction readings on the list (don't use the Silver or Gene Kilobase pieces). The paper can be EITHER a paraphrase of the article's main arguments OR a response to some of its main arguments. Paraphrase means to restate its points in your own words. Response means to write your reasoned analysis of what strikes you as most important and/or interesting in the article.

FYI Outline of landmark events in 20th-century biotechnology (Word doc)

Powerpoint slides from lecture, Jan 10, evolution & eugenics
Darwinism (1.4Mb) and Eugenics (2.5Mb)

Essay #1 handout, due Feb 2 (Word doc)
Homework assignments (same as in syllabus) (Word doc)

Week 1
Tues Jan 3: Science Fiction, Science, and Ethics
     FILM: Frankenstein (1931)

Thur Jan 5: What's Human, Natural, Normal?
     READ: Judith Merril, "That Only a Mother" (pdf short story)
     READ: "Stupidity should be cured, says DNA discoverer" (web link, New Scientist, Feb 28, 2003)
     VIDEO in class: "DNA: Pandora's Box" (PBS program 2004 featuring James Watson on uses of genetics)

Week 2
Tues Jan 10: History of Evolution and Eugenics
     READ: Diane Paul, "What is Eugenics?" and "Evolutionary Anxieties" (pdf 650kb, some pages are blank because I deleted pictures)
     HOMEWORK #1 due: paraphrase one of these chapters by Paul.
     EXTRA readings about history of evolution and eugenics.

Thur Jan 12: Human Evolution and Degeneration in Fiction (1895)
      READ: H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (pdf, 63 pages), and copies available in library.
     EXTRA material about Wells and the science in his book.

Week 3
Tues Jan 17: A Feminist and Eugenic Utopia (1915)
     READ: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland, all of it (available at bookstore or library)

Thur Jan 19:  Eugenics Movement 1900-1945 (first hour discussion of these readings)
     READ: Wendy Kline, "Motherhood, Morality, and the 'Moron'" (pdf)
     READ: Garland Allen, "Genetics, Eugenics, and the Medicalization of Social Behavior" (pdf 600kb)
      VIDEO in class: instead of the eugenics documentary, I'll show part of a fiction film about pre-natal genetic testing: "Twilight of the Golds" (1997)
      EXTRA readings and links to websites about eugenics
      Optional: you can watch the eugenics history documentary "Lynchburg Story" in the Media library. It's about the Carrie Buck sterilization case and subsequent lawsuit. Video BOT-2128.

Week 4
Tues Jan 24: Biology as Perversion (1932)
     READ: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, chapters 1-5
     HOMEWORK #2 due: thematic analysis of passage

Thurs Jan 26: Controlling Nature, Controlling Science
     READ: Huxley, Brave New World, chapters 6-18
     READ: Aldous Huxley, "Science and Civilization" (pdf 150kb)
     EXTRA material about Huxley & BNW context

Week 5
Tues Jan 31: Genetic Discrimination in Fiction
     FILM in class: Gattaca (1997)
     READ: Lee Silver, "Epilogue: Human Destiny" (pdf) and "The Life and Times of Gene Kilobase" (webpage): don't use these pseudo-SF texts for the homework.
Thur Feb 2: What Kinds of People Do We Want? Genetic Determinism, Privacy, Testing, Therapies
     READ: David Kirby, "The New Eugenics in Cinema: Genetic Determinism and Gene Therapy in GATTACA" (web link,
      READ: Diane Paul, "Eugenic Anxieties, Social Realities, and Political Choices" (pdf 350kb)
       EXTRA stuff about genetics

Week 6
Tues Feb 7: Our Posthuman Future? Techno-Enthusiasts and Skeptics
     READ: Gregory Stock, "The Last Human" (pdf 250kb)
     READ: Leon Kass, "Preventing a Brave New World" (pdf)
     READ: Bill McKibben, "Too Clever Too Fast Too Happy" (html)
     EXTRA stuff on pros & cons of enhancement technologies

Thur Feb 9: Freaks and Cyborgs: Social and Technological Accommodations
     READ: John Varley, "The Persistence of Vision" (pdf, short story)
     READ: John Hockenberry, "The Next Brainiacs" (html)
     HW #3 due date changed to Tues Feb 14

Week 7
Tues Feb 14: Constructing Disability: Identity, Rights, Cures, Change
     READ: Adrienne Asch, "Prenatal Diagnosis and Selective Abortion: A Challenge to Practice and Policy" (pdf)
     READ: Bill Albert, "Curing what? Curing when? Curing how? Gene therapy and disabled people" (pdf)
     HOMEWORK #3: Bibliography of readings for weeks 5-6 and one-page paper about one of the non-fiction texts (paraphrase or response)
     EXTRA stuff on disability issues and autism

Thur Feb 16: From Algernon to Autism: Disability in Science Fiction (2003)
     READ: Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark, all of it (bookstore or library)

Week 8
Tues Feb 21: Brave Neuro World: Pursuit of Profits and Happiness
     READ: Greg Bear, "Blood Music" (pdf 400kb, short story)
     READ: "Should We Use Technology to Be Better than Well?" (html)

Thur Feb 23: Feminist Science Fiction (1976)
     READ: Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time, chapters 1-7

Week 9
Tues Feb 28: Power, Values, and Science
     READ: Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time, chapters 8-20
     EXTRA readings about the novel: you might find esp useful for your essays Anne Hudson Jones, "Feminist Science Fiction and Medical Ethics" (pdf) and Jennifer Burwell, "Utopia and Technopolitics" (pdf 600kb).

Thur Mar 2: Politics and Ethics of Reproductive Technologies
     READ: Lucy Frith, "Reproductive Technologies" (pdf 230kb)
     Video in class: "Making Babies," PBS Frontline 1999 
     Homework #4 due for those who did not hand one in already.

Week 10
Tues Mar 7: NO CLASS meeting

Thur Mar 9: FILM in class: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ("technically, the procedure IS brain damage")
     ESSAY #2 due. If you want it returned, bring a stamped addressed envelope. Late papers must be emailed to me and will be given grade deductions.
Send mail to: jwoiak at
Last modified: 3/05/2006 12:54 PM