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

Homework, 4 total

Hand in hard copies only, at the start of the class period.
Please type and double space.

1. Due Tues Jan 10 (value 5%): Write a one-page paraphrase (summary) of the main points made in one of the chapters from the Diane Paul reading about the history of eugenics. Show where each point comes from by citing exact page numbers from the text, e.g. (Paul 22). The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate your ability to read carefully and accurately, and to summarize someone else’s arguments concisely in your own words.

2. Due Tues Jan 24 (value 5%): Write a one-page thematic analysis of the following passage from Brave New World. Identify the key themes of the passage, comment on the specific words/phrases that convey the themes, and explain how these themes are significant to the rest of the novel (or the chapters you’ve read so far). You must interpret what the passage means, not give mere plot summary. Use page citations.

     The passage begins and ends with (Chapter 3, p. 41): “Think of water  under pressure in a pipe.” They thought it. “I pierce it once,” said the Controller. “What a jet!”…. And feeling strongly (and strongly, what was more, in solitude, in hopelessly individual isolation), how could they be stable?

3. CHANGED: Due Tues Feb 14 (value 5%): Compile a proper bibliography of all the required readings for weeks 5-6. Choose any one of the non-fiction readings from the list and write a one-page paper about it. You can either paraphrase its main arguments or write a reasoned response to any aspect of its arguments.

4. Do either A or B (value 10%)

     A. Due Tues Feb 21: Write a short argumentative essay (maximum 2 pages) about The Speed of Dark. You can write about any major theme of the novel—such as attitudes towards disability and normalcy, or the use of experimental therapies—that is also covered in the non-fiction readings from weeks 6-9. You must use ideas from at least one of those texts to support your interpretations of the novel. Your essay must have a clear thesis statement and citations.

     B. Due Thur Mar 2: Write a short argumentative essay (maximum 2 pages) about Woman on the Edge of Time. You can write about any major theme of the novel that is also covered in the non-fiction readings from weeks 6-9. You must use ideas from at least one of those texts to support your interpretations of the novel. Your essay must have a clear thesis statement and citations.

Essay #1, due Feb 2
Value 20%
Length: 3 pages (maximum 1000 words), typed, double-spaced, 12-point font size, 1-inch margins

Assignment: Write an argumentative essay that analyzes ONE passage in Wells’s Time Machine or Gilman’s Herland, from among the choices given on the back of this page. This assignment requires that you do a close reading of the text: your commentary must focus on key words and phrases that are most significant for understanding the themes of the chosen passage and the recurring themes of the novel. You might further support your thematic interpretations of the passage with evidence that comes from other sections of the novel or the supplementary texts on the course website or other sources. You may include a few lines summarizing the action in the passage, but keep in mind that plot summary alone does not constitute analysis of the meaning. Evaluation will be based on how accurate, nuanced, and thorough your interpretations are, as well as quality of writing and documentation of sources.

Questions to address in your essay:
What are the key themes of the passage?
Which particular elements of the passage convey these themes and how do they do so?
Why is this passage thematically significant in the novel as a whole?
What aspects of the novel’s social and intellectual context are important for interpreting this passage?

Format: Your essay must be organized around a clear thesis statement that answers the questions as thoroughly as possible. Your thesis should sum up the main points of your interpretation. Defend the claims you make with copious references to specific textual evidence from the chosen passage and from other relevant sections of the novel or other sources. Do not use long quotations but instead paraphrase. You must give citations for all material borrowed and all passages referred to. Use either footnotes or in-text parenthetical citations, e.g. (Gilman 95). All direct quotations, paraphrases, information, and opinions taken from another person’s work must be identified. You must include a complete bibliography at the end of your paper. Be sure to identify clearly which passage you are discussing, give your essay a title, number the pages, and proofread your work.

 Choose ONE of the passages below and write an argumentative essay about it. You must analyze the entire passage indicated; only the beginning and ending are written below.

1. Herland (Chapter 5, pp. 49-50):
     Here you have human beings, unquestionably, but what we were slow in understanding was how these ultra-women….
     As to Terry’s criticism, it was true. These women, whose essential distinction of motherhood was the dominant note of their whole culture, were strikingly deficient in what we call “femininity.” This led me very promptly to the conviction that those “feminine charms” we are so fond of are not feminine at all, but mere reflected masculinity—developed to please us because they had to please us, and in no way essential to the real fulfillment of their great process. But Terry came to no such conclusion.

2. Herland (Chapter 6, pp. 58-59):
     Then came the filling up of the place. When a population multiplies by five every thirty years it soon reaches the limits of a country….
     “I understand that you make Motherhood the highest social service—a sacrament, really; that is only undertaken once, by the majority of the population; that those held unfit are not allowed even that; and that to be encouraged to bear more than one child is the very highest reward and honor in the power of the state.”

3. The Time Machine (Chapter 3):
     “My sensations would be hard to describe. As the columns of hail grew thinner, I saw the white figure more distinctly….
     “He struck me as being a very beautiful and graceful creature, but indescribably frail. His flushed face reminded me of the more beautiful kind of consumptive—that hectic beauty of which we used to hear so much. At the sight of him I suddenly regained confidence. I took my hands from the machine.”

4. The Time Machine (Chapter 7):
     “Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life….
     “Then I tried to preserve myself from the horror that was coming upon me, by regarding it as a rigorous punishment of human selfishness. Man had been content to live in ease and delight upon the labours of his fellow-man, had taken Necessity as his watchword and excuse, and in the fulness of time Necessity had come home to him. I even tried Carlyle-like scorn of this wretched aristocracy in decay. But this attitude of mind was impossible. However great their intellectual degradation, the Eloi had kept too much of the human form not to claim my sympathy, and to make me perforce a sharer in their degradation and their Fear.”

5. The Time Machine (Epilogue):
     One cannot choose but wonder. Will he ever return?… But to me the future is still black and blank—is a vast ignorance, lit at a few casual places by the memory of his story. And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers—shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle—to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.

Essay #2, due Mar 9

Value 35%

Due: Thurs. Mar. 9, 2006, at the start of class

Length: 5-6 pages, typed, double-spaced, 12-point font size, 1-inch margins


Assignment and evaluation: Choose ONE of the topics below and write an argumentative essay comparing and contrasting TWO fiction texts we have read in this course (novels, short stories, and Gattaca). You must choose at least one novel to analyze (don’t do Herland again). The assigned topics offer broad themes that can be approached in many different ways. It will be up to you to select appropriate texts with thematic similarities that you can analyze in depth in a compare/contrast format. Your paper must have a thesis statement that addresses the topic and ties together the two chosen texts in a meaningful and coherent way. I am looking for accurate, thorough, and nuanced interpretations. You must provide substantial support for your interpretive claims from particular passages in the texts, so re-read the stories carefully. You should also make use of non-fiction sources where these are appropriate for defending your points. Be sure to give your essay a title, number your pages, and proofread your work. Provide copious citations throughout your paper, and include a bibliography at the end listing all sources consulted in the preparation of the paper. Improper or insufficient documentation will result in severe grade penalties.


Topics: Science fiction (SF) often serves to critique certain aspects of the human condition, by depicting how human life might be impacted (redesigned?) for better or worse by scientific or technological advances. The following topics suggest some of the large connecting themes of the course. Within each topic a large number of questions and options are posed – pick and choose which ones you want to address. With reference to TWO course texts, write a 5-6 page essay on ONE of these topics:


1. SF uses exotic settings to comment on familiar ethical and political issues regarding science and technology. For example, who has the power to control research and its applications, what interests are served, what social values are involved, what are the possible risks or costs and to whom, is there any resistance? Discuss one or more significant examples of how SF addresses these kinds of ethical questions arising from particular sciences or technologies.


2. SF presents ideas about altering human relationships and social structures. For instance, some of the stories we read imagined radical changes (or lack thereof) in families, sexuality, education, communication, work, government, art, religion, the environment, and gender, class, or race relations. Discuss one or more examples of the pros and cons of large-scale social transformations depicted in SF, especially those influenced by science and technology.


3. SF employs various techniques to examine or challenge conventional definitions of humanity and/or normality. Some stories do this by depicting “others” that are different species, hybrids, clones, enhanced, or disabled. Some place their characters into situations that force us to consider what constitutes “human nature.” Discuss one or more significant examples of how SF explores questions such as “what makes us human?” or “what kinds of people do we want in the world?”

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Last modified: 2/09/2006 6:09 PM