English 118W-01: Topics in World Literature:
Fall 2006
Speculative Science Fiction
MWF 1:50-2:50
Smullin 216

Frann Michel
 Eaton 204
office hours: MWF 10:20-11:20, MF 3-4,
and other times by appointment

course description

This course examines fictions about possible futures and alternate histories: works described as science fiction or speculative fiction. These works ask, What if? What if it were possible to travel back and forward in time? What if the Axis Powers had won World War II? What if contemporary socioeconomic trends continue? Our discussions will consider the social visions offered by writers of speculative fiction. On what hopes and fears are these imaginary worlds built?

This course fulfills the Interpreting Texts MOI requirement. As such, it will help you develop your skills in analyzing and understanding textual representations of human experience. We will consider style and genre, study various interpretive strategies and problems, and examine dynamic relations among author, reader, and text.

This is a writing-centered course, and informal writing will be a primary mode of learning. In addition, the course requires two critical essays, in on time. Brief in-class and at-home writing assignments and peer editing will contribute directly or indirectly to the development of these essays.

Course requirements

two five-page papers: 20% each
reading journals, drafts: 25%
attendance, participation: 25%
final examination: 10%

See below for more information on requirements.

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novels (on order at WU Bookstore)

HG Wells, The Time Machine (1895)
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (1921)
Philip K Dick, The Man in the High Castle (1964)
Stanislaw Lem, The Futurological Congress (1971)
Joanna Russ, The Female Man (1975)
Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower (1993)
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2003)

short stories (on reserve)
Robert Heinlein, "The Roads Must Roll" 1940
Tom Godwin, "The Cold Equations" 1954
Ursula LeGuin, "The New Atlantis" 1975
William Gibson, "The Gernsback Continuum" 1981

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Some links of interest

On Writing 

My Guidelines
Writing Center
On Writing about Literature
Getting an A on an English paper
Online Writing Resources
The Elements of Style
Brief MLA Style Guide
On Plagiarism and how to avoid it

Science Fiction

Science Fiction Studies (Journal)
SFS list of websites
Center for the Study of Science Fiction
Some definitions of SF

Individual Authors and Works

George Orwell's Review of We (1946)
Stanislaw Lem official page; and see Vitrifax; and see Scriptorium
Robert Heinlein Society
Philip K Dick and a fan site
On Joanna Russ: a Study Guide and a Review of The Female Man; story: "When it Changed"
Ursula LeGuin and see Study questions on "The New Atlantis"
William Gibson: Study questions on "The Gernsback Continuum"
Octavia Butler page at Voices From the Gaps
Oryx and Crake site

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Tentative Schedule

W Aug 30 Introductions
F Sep 1 The Time Machine, Chapters 1-5

M Sep 4 Labor Day
W Sep 6 The Time Machine, Chapters 6-end 
F Sep 8 We, Records 1-7 (3-38)

M Sep 11We, Records 8-16 (39-89)
W Sep 13 We, Records 17-23 (90-129)
F Sep 15 We, Records 24-31 (130-179)

M Sep 18 We, Records 32-40 (180-225)
W Sep 20 Heinlein, "The Roads Must Roll"
F Sep 22 Godwin, "The Cold Equations"

M Sep 25 William Gibson, "The Gernsback Continuum"
W Sep 27 The Man in the High Castle, Chapters 1-4 (3-60)
F Sep 29 The Man in the High Castle, Chapters 5-6 (61-102)

*M Oct 2 Draft due, 4 copies; editing workshop
W Oct 4 The Man in the High Castle, Chapters 7-9 (103-149)
F Oct 6 The Man in the High Castle, Chapters 10-12 (150-201)

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*M Oct 9 first 5-page paper due (on The Time Machine &/or We)
W Oct 11The Man in the High Castle, Chapters 13-end (202-259)
F Oct 13 The Futurological Congress, 1-36

M Oct 16 The Futurological Congress, 36-95
W Oct 18 The Futurological Congress, 95-149
F Oct 20 Midsemester Day

M Oct 23 The Female Man, Parts 1-3 (0-56)
W Oct 25 The Female Man, Parts 4-5 (57-104)
F Oct 27 The Female Man, Parts 6-7 (105-155)

M Oct 30 The Female Man, Parts 8-9 (157-214)
W Nov 1 Ursula LeGuin, "The New Atlantis"
F Nov 3 Parable of the Sower, 1-53

M Nov 6 Parable of the Sower, 53-102
*W Nov 8 Draft due, 4 copies; editing workshop
F Nov 10 No Class Meeting

M Nov 13 Parable of the Sower, 103-148
*W Nov 15 Parable of the Sower, 149-201; second essay due
F Nov 17 Parable of the Sower, 202-250

M Nov 20 Parable of the Sower, 251-295
W Nov 22 continued discussion
F Nov 24 Thanksgiving Holiday

M Nov 27 Oryx and Crake, 3-110
W Nov 29 Oryx and Crake, 113-177
F Dec 1 Oryx and Crake, 178-238

M Dec 4 Oryx and Crake, 241-306
W Dec 6 Oryx and Crake, 307-374
F Dec 8 Last day of class, review

M Dec 11 2pm Final Examination; optional revision of first essay due

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reading tips  reading journals/
discussion blog



individual consultations

Reading tips: Some things to notice in prose fiction narratives

Plot-- This is not simply what happens but also how it is presented. Consider, for instance, order, duration, and frequency. That is, in what order do things happen? Is there any difference between the order in which events occur (sometimes called the story) and the order in which they are presented (sometimes called the discourse)? How long is spent on reporting events? Are long passages of time dealt with briefly? Are brief moments described in great detail? Are some events described repeatedly?

Narrative-- Who speaks the story? If the narrative is first person (I), is the narrator a participant in the story? If so, to what degree? If the narrative is third person (she/he, with no "I" telling the story), do we have access to the consciousness of a particular character? Lots of characters? None? That is, who sees the narrative?

Characters-- Keep a list of characters as they are introduced into the text. You might consider the significance of characters' names, physical descriptions, dialogue, behavior, or juxtaposition with other characters. Keep in mind that characters in literary texts are made out of words; even if the characters are based on real people, the text offers not the person but his or her textual representation.

Settings-- What does the text tell us about where and when the tale occurs? Where settings are described in detail, what does this detail tell us about the location, the characters associated with it, or the events that occur there?

Images or figurative language-- for instance, does the text use particular kinds of metaphors repeatedly? What might these images suggest?

Repetitions or echoes of phrases or ideas-- cross-reference these with a page number in the margin.

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Reading Journals (a.k.a. discussion blog)

Point your web browser to http://blog.willamette.edu
Login using your WU username & password
On the "My Weblogs" list you should see "Science Fiction"
Click on one of the "Create new entry" buttons to do just that.
You need to select the "Publish" option for Post Status for your entry to appear on the formal blog site page.
To comment on someone else's entry, you have to be viewing the actual site, which you can get to via the "view site" links or this link:


At least once a week, you'll post at least one question, by 6pm,  about the next day's reading assignment.  It might be a question about the plot, narrative, characters, setting, language, repetitions, allusions, references,  or anything else in the reading assignment you'd like to discuss.  

Also, at least once per week, you will need to respond to someone else's question.   A response might offer, for instance, your interpretation,  a citation and discussion of a relevant passage of the text,  a counter-example that challenges the premises of the original question, or other reflections in response to your classmate's question.  You may, of course, respond to more than one question, and respond to the responses.

Since F 8 Sep will be our third day of discussing the texts, your first question will be due by 6 pm Thursday 7 September, on the beginning of Zamyatin's novel We. Of course, you need not wait until the last minute, and might post a question about the first five chapters of The Time Machine by 6pm Thursday 31 August, or on the end of The Time Machine by 6pm Tuesday 5 September.  

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Attendance and Participation 

Evaluation of your participation includes the following:

Attendance: you must be both physically and mentally present in order to participate. Note that tardiness does not impress the teacher with your scholarly dedication and commitment to learning in this course. Please come to each class on time, fully prepared. If you miss a class, talk to at least two other students who were present that day, and get copies of their class notes.

Preparation: reading and writing assignments are due on the class day indicated on the syllabus. You should bring to class any assignments, the assigned text, and appropriate notetaking material (notebook, pen). You should be prepared to discuss the reading and share your responses. Read actively, mark your texts, and take notes.  As we move through the semester, you will also want to think about connections between current and past readings and discussions.  Please turn off cell phones.

Discussion: Try to contribute at least once to each general class discussion and at least once to each small-group discussion. Quality of response is more important than quantity, but you cannot offer thoughtful comments unless you speak up! Expect to be asked to support your observations with specific textual references. Ask questions. Be respectful of your classmates. Listen attentively. Avoid side conversations; if it's worth saying to your neighbor, it's worth sharing with the rest of the class. Don't interrupt others; if you wish to speak next, raise your hand. Avoid personal attacks; challenge the idea not the person. 

Peer editing and other in-class writing or small group projects.   Not all writing done in class will be collected, but all should be done in good faith and with attention. Similarly, you should give your classmates' drafts respectful attention and provide rigorous and tactful responses.

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Drafts are due at the beginning of class on Monday, 2 October, and on Monday, 6 November.  You will need to bring four (4) copies of a complete draft for peer editing.  Feel free to come talk with me about your ideas for your essays or  about a preliminary draft.  

One of your two essays should focus on an aspect of a single text, and one should focus on comparing and contrasting an aspect of two texts. In formulating a topic and generating an initial, preliminary draft, review your notes on the text (and in the text), and think about aspects of the book that you found striking, puzzling, or otherwise resonant.  You might consider what the work responds to in its own time, what it imagines changed in the world of the fiction, and how those inversions, projections, or other changes comment on the writer's world and our own.  You might explore the text's assumptions about human nature, economic systems, descent with modification, gender relations, or other matters of concern.  Consider how elements of plot, narrative, character, setting, figurative language, repetitions and the like create the state of mind the book elicits or its  sense of what is to be hoped or feared.  Review the text,  noting and explaining significant details; then think about what you have found and reorganize (and where necessary cut and develop) your discussion to support a thesis that analyzes how the text says what it says, does what it does to the reader, or means what it means. 

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Five-page interpretive essays 

Each essay should have a clearly-stated thesis that takes account of both conceptual and stylistic aspects of the text(s) and relates them to each other. The thesis should be supported through quotations from the text(s) and through analytic discussion of quoted words, phrases, and sentences. 

Essays are due Oct 9 & Nov 13.  One of the two essays will compare and contrast some aspect of two of the books we have read.  One will focus on an aspect of a single text we have read.  The order in which you turn these in is up to you.  

You do not need to do any outside research for the papers for this course, but you must document all sources on which you draw. Use MLA citation style.  More information on how to write an essay can be found in guides to academic writing such as Sheridan Baker's Practical Stylist or the MLA Handbook. The Writing Center has several handbooks and tip sheets on writing. I encourage you to confer with me about your papers.

You have the option of revising  the first of these essays before our last class meeting.  The grade on the revision will be averaged with the original essay grade.  With your revision, turn in a one-page description of your revising process and the changes you've made in the paper.  

For information on format see my writing guidelines.


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Individual consultations/office hours/other questions and suggestions

My regular office hours are listed at the beginning of this syllabus. Some weeks, I may need to reschedule some hours because of committee meetings or other faculty business. I will post temporary changes on my office door. Most weeks, I will have a sign-up sheet on my office door for scheduling appointments, and I will make this sign-up sheet available in class about a week before papers are due. I will be happy to meet with you individually to go over drafts or discuss your ideas for a paper. If you cannot meet with me at any of the scheduled times, contact me after class or by phone or email to set up an appointment at another time.

When you have questions about materials or assignments, please raise them in class--others may have the same questions. When you have questions or concerns about your work, or suggestions for improving the class, please come see me as soon as possible. I can answer questions, resolve problems, and make use of suggestions only if I know about them.






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