syllabus

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This course will focus on a genre that has only in recent years been taken seriously as a subject for critical discourse -- speculative fiction -- and in particular will focus on relatively recent developments, as women and writers of color have increasingly found voices within what was seen for decades as a predominantly white and male genre. Throughout the semester, we're going to think about the "cognitive estrangement" that characterizes science fiction and its related subgenres, as these novels create new worlds that readers must struggle to understand. At the same time, we'll bear in mind the suggestion that all such "other worlds" narratives are always about our own world, and that tales of the future are invariably about the present. What kinds of commentary about contemporary culture can this combination of cognitive estrangement and critical perspective make possible? What kinds of political possibilities can be created through imaginative engagement with worlds radically different from -- and yet reflective of -- our own?

COURSE REQUIREMENTS

Reading Responses (15%): Before class on the last day we'll be discussing an author (so Jan. 30 for Heinlein, Feb. 6 for Gibson, etc.), you will post a reading response to the class blog. Each of these responses should be the equivalent of a one-page, single-spaced paper exploring some critical question affecting the text's meaning, and should use a close reading -- with appropriate quotation, citation, and explication -- of the text to support its points. You can explore issues that have been raised in previous class discussion, but you must significantly expand on that discussion and not simply rehash what's already been said. You can skip two of these reading responses with impunity.

Blogging (10%): In addition to the weekly reading responses, you'll use the blog for more general discussion about issues that arise in or around our class. You will each be required to post at least once a week, aside from the reading responses; these posts can be either top-level discussion openers or substantive comments on other posts, including comments on your peers' reading responses. The point of the blog is to feed our discussions, and to help you generate ideas for the papers you'll be writing this semester; use your posts to test ideas out, to get feedback, and to practice your close readings.

Presentation (10%): You will be divided, early this semester, into discussion groups, which we'll use frequently for small group work during class. Each small group (or a subset thereof) will give a presentation on and facilitate our discussion of one day's reading during the semester; more information about this assignment will follow.

Midterm paper (20%): Your midterm paper will be 4 to 6 pages long, and will perform a careful analysis of a particular aspect of one the texts we'll have read to that point. The assignment will be given out two weeks before the paper is due; more particulars to follow.

Term paper (30%): Your final paper will be 8 to 10 pages long, will involve independent research into the secondary criticism on the text of your choice, and will make a complex, well-defined argument about one of the novels we'll read this semester. You will submit a proposal for this paper just after midterm, and an annotated bibliography not long after that. You will also submit a draft of your paper, both to me and to a peer reviewer, two weeks before the final due date. A detailed assignment will be distributed later in the semester.

Attendance and Participation (15%): See policies below for more information. Bear in mind that participation doesn't mean simply doing the work, or simply speaking up in class, but actively working to make the class a positive learning experience for you and your fellow students.

GRADING AND OTHER POLICIES

My grading policy is pretty straight-forward, and comes in two parts:

The grade of B+ is yours to lose. Here are ways that you can lose it:

1. Miss more than three days of class. I know you all have a lot going on, but this class is your job this semester, and I want you to take it that seriously. You each have one day of vacation and two days of sick leave -- that is, one day that you can miss for whatever reason, and two days that you can miss with an official medical excuse. Use them wisely.

2. Show up late to class more than twice. It drives me absolutely bonkers when people walk into class after it's already begun. It's both rude and distracting. Get to class on time; every three late arrivals will add up to one unexcused absence.

3. Turn your assignments in late. You each have three grace days to use as needed. For instance, if the term paper proposal is due on a Monday, but you have a big exam on Monday, you can use a grace day and turn that proposal in on Tuesday. Please note, however: a "day" is twenty-four hours long, and ends at 5.00 pm. If you don't turn the proposal in until Wednesday morning, that's two grace days. Any lateness beyond these three grace days will count against your grade. Please note that because these grace days are freebies, I will give no extensions. Don't even ask.

4. Don't take the blog seriously. The blog is a key element of the course; it is taking the place of formal, print-on-paper reading responses, and it's also a space in which you can feel free to explore your ideas about the class material in whatever way most appeals to you. Not posting regularly or ceasing to post halfway through the semester constitutes a failure to take the blog seriously, as do posts that have obviously been slapped together in two minutes or less.

5. Fail to do the reading. Much of our in-class work is built around discussion, and you cannot participate fruitfully in a discussion if you aren't prepared. Read carefully, take notes on the reading, post your responses on your blog, and participate in class discussions. With respect to which:

6. Fail to participate collegially in class discussions. You don't need to speak every day. And you absolutely must not monopolize the discussion. But both never speaking and appearing to overly enjoy the sound of your own voice constitute a failure of collegiality. Our discussions are a group endeavor, meant to help each member of the class reach the greatest possible understanding of the material.

7. Turn in a weak, ill-thought-through, unpolished, dull, pointless, or generally mediocre project. Need I say more?

8. Give a scattered, unpolished, unengaged, or OVERLY LONG presentation. Again, 'nuff said, except about the length question: I'm dead serious about this. I will stop you when time is up, and if I have to stop you, your grade will suffer. Practice your presentation, and time yourself carefully.

9. Plagiarize. Academic dishonesty in any form will result in automatic failure of this class. Period. If you have any concerns about what constitutes academic dishonesty, refer to your student handbook, or ask me.

The grades of A- and A must be earned. Here are ways to earn them:

1. Write excellent papers. What constitutes excellence? Doing more than simply completing the terms of the assignment. An excellent paper is sophisticated, nuanced, engaging, and insightful. It is technically polished and free of any kind of errors. It shows evidence of a substantive, thoughtful engagement with the course materials. It is, above all, interesting, designed to draw the reader into full engagement with its argument.

2. Maintain an excellent blog. Make me look forward to visiting your blog often, and stimulate thoughtful conversation in your comments.

3. Participate excellently in class. Excellence in class participation means not simply speaking frequently, but contributing in an active and generous way to the work of the class as a whole, by asking questions, offering interpretations, politely challenging your colleagues, and graciously accepting challenges in return.

4. Deliver an excellent presentation. An excellent presentation is one that is focused, organized, engaging, and to the point. It has what my predecessor, Brian Stonehill, used to refer to as "heart, smarts, and sparkle."

TEXTS

All required books are available at Huntley Bookstore, and other required readings are posted on the web. Required films will be posted on etv.pomona.edu, and DVDs of most of them can be checked out from the Media Studies Library (Hahn 110). Additional recommended texts are listed in the schedule; these are available at Amazon.com; recommended films may be in the Media Studies Library.

SCHEDULE

W Jan 23 Introduction
M Jan 28 Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers (1959)
Darko Suvin, "On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre" [pdf]
Carl Freedman, "Polemical Afterword…" [pdf]
W Jan 30 Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers (cont.)
Starship Troopers (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1997)
recommended: Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game (1977)
M Feb 4 William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)
Brian McHale, "POSTcyberMODERNpunkISM"
John Huntington, "Newness, Neuromancer, and the End of Narrative" [pdf]
Lance Olsen, "Cyberpunk and the Crisis of Postmodernity" [pdf]
W Feb 6 William Gibson, Neuromancer (cont.)
Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott, 1982)
recommended: Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
M Feb 11 Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (1986)
Raffaella Baccolini, "Gender and Genre in the Feminist…" [pdf]
Shirley Neuman, "Just a Backlash…" [pdf]
W Feb 13 Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (cont.)
The Handmaid's Tale (dir. Volker Schlondorff, 1990)
recommended: P.D. James, The Children of Men (1993); Children of Men (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
M Feb 18 Ursula K. LeGuin, Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
Robin Roberts, "Postmodernism and Feminist Science Fiction" [pdf]
W Feb 20 Ursula K. LeGuin, Left Hand of Darkness (cont.)
Barbarella (dir. Roger Vadim, 1968)
recommended: Joanna Russ, Female Man (1975)
M Feb 25 Octavia Butler, Lilith's Brood: Dawn (1987)
Alcena Rogan, "Alien Sex Acts in Feminist Science Fiction" [pdf]
W Feb 27 Octavia Butler, Lilith's Brood: Adulthood Rites (1988)
Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979)
recommended: Aliens (dir. James Cameron, 1986)
M Mar 3 Octavia Butler, Lilith's Brood: Imago (1989)
Octavia Butler, "Bloodchild" [pdf]
MIDTERM PAPER DUE
W Mar. 7 No class: Prof. Fitzpatrick at conference
M Mar 10 Samuel Delany, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984)
Chris West, "Perverting Science Fiction" [pdf]
W Mar 12 Delany, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (cont.)
The Brother from Another Planet (dir. John Sayles, 1984)
M/W Mar 17-19 No class: Spring break
M Mar 24 C. J. Cherryh, Cyteen (1988)
Gattaca (dir. Andrew Niccol, 1997)
recommended: C. J. Cherryh, Downbelow Station (1981)
TERM PAPER PROPOSAL DUE
W Mar 26 No class: Prof. Fitzpatrick at conference
M Mar 31 Nicola Griffith, Slow River (1995)
Pia Moller, "The Unsettled Undercurrents of Hedon Road" [pdf]
W Apr 2 Nicola Griffith, Slow River (cont.)
Tank Girl (dir. Rachel Talalay, 1995)
recommended: Elice Ray Helford, "Postfeminism and the Female Action-Adventure Hero: Positioning Tank Girl"
M Apr 7 Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (1992)
David Porush, "Hacking the Brainstem"
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY DUE
W Apr 9 Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (cont.)
eXistenZ (dir. David Cronenberg, 1999)
M Apr 14 Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber (2000)
Gordon Collier, "Spaceship Creole" [pdf]
W Apr 16 Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber (cont.)
The Last Angel of History (dir. John Akomfrah, 1997)
TERM PAPER DRAFT DUE TO PEER REVIEWER
recommended: Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring (1997)
M Apr 21 William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (2003)
Veronica Hollinger, "Stories about the Future" [pdf]
Christopher Palmer, "Pattern Recognition" [pdf]
Neil Easterbrook, "Alternate Presents" [pdf]
W Apr 23 William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (cont.)
The Matrix (dir. Andy & Larry Wachowski, 1999)
COMMENTED DRAFTS DUE BACK FROM PEER REVIEWER
recommended: William Gibson, Spook Country (2007)
M Apr 28 Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2003)
Margaret Atwood, "My Life in Science Fiction" [pdf]
W Apr 30 Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (cont.)
12 Monkeys (dir. Terry Gilliam, 1995)
TERM PAPER DUE
M May 5 Battlestar Galactica (2003-2007)
W May 7 Battlestar Galactica (cont.)
Concluding remarks
Course evaluations