English 242 C: Reading Fiction

"The Future is Today": Unlocking Science Fiction


Speculative fiction, particularly science fiction, often is described as a genre of literature that you have to grow up reading if you are going to be able to understand and love it. This course takes issue with this common assertion and is, in fact, designed specifically to explore the strategies involved in reading science fiction as well as the genre's common themes and metaphors.

No prior knowledge of science fiction is assumed, though a willingness to jump in and experience the genre on its own terms will be helpful.

Rather than attempting to develop reading skills appropriate to the entire genre, we will focus on how science fiction engages elements of the world we know. To this end, we will be reading science fiction that is drawn primarily (i.e., there will be exceptions) from the post-1945 Anglo-American context.

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We will approach science fiction using two methods:

First, we will examine how it defamiliarizes not only history, but also an array of people, objects, social relations, and experiences, so that we can observe them critically. 

Second, we will consider each text in its historical context and speculate on how each text addresses the concerns of its historical moment, and how the issues addressed relate to our own historical moment. 

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Some of the topics that we may consider in developing strategies for reading science fiction include:

Questions of citizenship,
Education narratives and theories,
Political machinations and the future of the nation state,
The politics of reproduction,
Metahistorical narratives,
Cyborgs and technobodies,
Mediated experiences and living conditions.

During the latter part of the quarter, students will be able to use their understanding of these themes and topics, as well as strategies of reading and writing about science fiction to understand, analyze, and most importantly, enjoy, Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age.

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