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Future Perfect: Science Fiction and the Politics of Imagination

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
June 30, 2014 - July 11, 20142M-F 3:50-6:40POpenJohn Mulligan10427

Course Description

“This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.” So goes the favorite refrain of humans and robots alike, in Battlestar Galactica, the hit 2004-2008 remake of the popular 1978 television show. But are we doomed to repeat history, or can we change ourselves for the better? Future Perfect explores the ways in which science fiction, an often overlooked genre of literature and film, helps us to re-imagine our present lives, our relationship to the past, and the possibilities available to us in the future.

Science fiction is frequently treated as unserious, unintelligent, and especially unliterary. But whether or not we think it is beautiful, science fiction can tell us important things about how fiction shapes our perceptions of the world, and our beliefs about how we can change it. In fact, some literary critics have even argued that science fiction teaches us how to imagine new kinds of political action beyond the strange futures that these books explicitly describe. By looking at different authors’ hopes, fears, and basic fascinations with their own imagined futures, we open a window onto their societies’ ways of thinking about biology, technology, communication, nature, and human history.

This course introduces students to science fiction by reading the shorter works of its canonical authors, including Ursula K. Le Guin, Karel ńĆapek, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, Robert A. Heinlein, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. We also analyze video classics of the genre, including films such as Blade Runner, Alien, and Solaris, and selections from television shows like Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Fringe. In reading, discussing, and arguing about these works, students not only lay the groundwork for further independent exploration of this massive genre, but also learn the widely-applicable methods of literary analysis, which will give them an advantage in any high-school or undergraduate freshman humanities course.

The course emphasizes critical reading and writing skills, as well as basic competency in a body of literature. By the end of the course, students will be able to read a meaningful novel, short story, or film; develop a coherent argument about what that work means and why it is important; while engaging with other interpretations. Students will, of course, be able to give a competent accounting of the major movements in 20th-century science fiction.

Students must have taken at least one high-school-level literature course, and composition course. They will be expected to be familiar with essay assignments, as the course is suited best to teaching the development of arguments, rather than the basics of writing.