English 166

Special Topics: Speculative Fictions, Possible Futures

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Session Course Areas
1 Summer 2018 O'Brien, Geoffrey G.
TuWTh 4-6:30 Hearst Mining 310 D

Book List

Butler, Octavia: Kindred; Card, Orson Scott: Ender's Game; Delany, Samuel: Dhalgren; Le Guin, Ursula K.: The Left Hand of Darkness; Mieville, China: Embassytown

Other Readings and Media

a Course Reader (short stories by Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Connie Willis, and others, as well as critical essays by Hazel Carby, Fredric Jameson, and others)


This course will present the genre of speculative fiction and its historical commitment to imagining plausible and implausible alternatives to the present. We will begin by looking at the Golden Age of the science fiction short story, the 1950s and 60s, and then proceed to treat some representative novels from the 1970s to the contemporary. Along the way, we’ll consider some of the crucial topics and concepts that form the imaginary of this genre, from advanced technology and what it affords and subtracts from the human (artificial intelligence, the end of work, extended longevity, interstellar travel and contact with other entities, etc.), to the hyper-urban, as well as questions of race, class, gender, capitalism, war, and colonialization as they encounter and acquire new and estranging contexts. We’ll also attempt to theorize some of the modes and tropes by which such fictions explore these questions: apocalypse, futurity, new bodies and forms of communication, the hivemind, virtuality, and so on, as well as the traditional narrative conventions enlisted to support these representations.

This course will be taught in Session D, from July 3 to August 9.

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