Science Fiction / Delahoyde

English 333
Section 1 [M]
Spring 2006
SLN 25965
MWF 11:10 – 12:00
Avery 106

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Avery Hall 355 — Washington State University
Hours: MWF 9:00-11:00, and by appointment.
Phone: 509-335-4832

Science Fiction

Course Description:

Once past the reams of tiresome criticism concerned with defining the genre, one finds that science fiction itself is compelling in that it picks up where traditional mythology leaves off. Science fiction asks the same disturbing humanistic questions as mythology. By science fiction we are defamiliarized out of the otherwise negligible drone of everyday pseudo-coping and jarred into considering if all this is really what we had in mind for ourselves as a state of being and as a direction towards the future. These are matters worth considering.

It has been asserted that “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road” (Stewart Brand, The Media Lab, qtd. in Landon 116). Even if the issue is not always this dire, Carlos Clarens has articulated it more specifically:

The ultimate horror in science fiction is neither death nor destruction but dehumanization, a state in which emotional life is suspended, in which the individual is deprived of individual feelings, free will, and moral judgment … this type of fiction hits the most exposed nerve of contemporary society: collective anxiety about the loss of individual identity, subliminal mindbending, or downright scientific / political brainwashing. (qtd. in Sobchack 123)

This course will focus on the somewhat popular intersection of the sciences and the humanities — the literature that in compelling ways draws its inspiration from the hard sciences. Featured works will include Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, Karel Capek’s R.U.R., C.L. Moore’s “Shambleau,” Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, assorted short stories, and other filmic, musical, and various kinds of texts.

Course Objectives:

To gain exposure to literary works that daringly probe and blend disciplinary extremes — sciences and humanities — and to consider the significance of these interdisciplinary meldings.

To increase intellectual maturation and clarification of our own values through examination of ideas and attitudes in literary/cultural contexts and through articulation of these.

To develop skills in verbal analysis and detection of subtlety through reading, discussion, and writing about some tricky literature and through examination of other relevant texts.

Required Texts:

Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. 1950. NY: Bantam Books, 1974.
ISBN: 0553278223.

Capek, Karel. R.U.R. 1920. NY: Dover, 2001.
ISBN: 0486419266.

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. NY: Ace Books, 1984.
ISBN: 0441569595.

Heinlein, Robert. Stranger in a Strange Land. 1961. ACE Charter, 1995.
ISBN: 0441790348.

Lem, Stanislaw. Solaris. 1961. NY: Harvest Books, 2002. ISBN: 0156837501.

Verne, Jules. Journey to the Center of the Earth. 1864. NY: Signet/Penguin, 2003.
ISBN: 0-451-52896-4.

Wells, H.G. The Island of Dr. Moreau. 1896. NY: Dover, 1996.
ISBN: 0486290271.

Course Requirements:

A significant part of your life this semester has to become science fiction studies. Studying this stuff can be demanding, but at least we’ll be doing it together as a “learning community.” Because classroom interaction is essential for this to be a valuable experience, and because frequent quizzes and homework writings will be exchanged or posted and no late assignments of any sort will be accepted, more than a few absences will affect your grade regardless of reason. Here’s the math:

I will frequently ask for relatively minor homework assignments to be turned in or posted to WebCT, designed primarily to stimulate subsequent discussion [although it will arise anyway because the readings are so provocative (i.e., cool)] and to practice conventions for writing about literature. At other times I will ask you to answer questions in writing in class, often ad lib responses to the reading before class discussion begins. Homework assignments and quizzes will receive numerical grades (points) and, although these writings cannot be made up (except for a couple optional writings that can take their place), the final semester totals will be curved if necessary.(30%)

You will submit two written projects of manageable length.(30%)

Your presence will be kindly requested at two exams.(30%)

Class participation will be expected and you will be responsible for a presentation of some science fiction literature not already scheduled for the class. You will need to supply the class with a short hand-out and your presentation must be dazzling and informative.(10%)

Dr. Michael Delahoyde, Senior Instructor, Department of English
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