Chris Cokinos' Sci Fi Short Story Syllabus
History of the Science Fiction Short Story English 5340: Literature, Science and Environment Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30 a.m.-11:45 p.m., FL307
Texts: Reading Science Fiction and volumes from The Road to Science Fiction Professor Christopher Cokinos
In this class we will explore the literary and cultural phenomenon that is the science fiction short story. You don't have to be a science-fiction reader to enjoy and learn from the work in this course. In fact, a central focus of the class will be to use and to investigate SF-genre reading values and literary reading values simultaneously. We will learn about the deep history of the genre then trace its development from the mid-19th century to the rise of the pulp magazines-especially Amazing, Galaxy and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction-before moving into the highly literary and experimental New Wave of the 1960s. We'll end our survey in the 1980s, perhaps with a brief glance at the present. We'll become familiar with such SF historians, critics and theorists as James Gunn, Brian Aldiss, Darko Suvin and Farah Mendelsohn. We'll see how one classic short story has been twice adopted into film and became the subject of an unproduced Ray Bradbury screen treatment. We'll delve into one short-story collection, Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, and we'll read work by such authors as Philip José Farmer, Clifford Simak, J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, Bob Shaw, Ursula Le Guin, Pamela Zoline, Pamela Sargent and Carol Emshwiller.
Did the obscure Fitz James O'Brien invent the modern SF story? How did John W. Campbell revolutionize the field then get left behind? What are the relationships among science, technology, politics and writing? What happens when attention to style and character plays as large a role in reading SF as traditional foci on premise and plot? What is a "novum"? What is "cognitive estrangement"? We'll learn about these foundational concepts as well as others, such as the Russian formalists' notion of "defamiliarization" and postcolonial theory's idea of the Other.
To explore the broad contours-and delve into some of the crucial details-of a genre this capacious in just one semester is necessarily a delicate task. Further, to conduct an historical survey of short-form SF with an interest in thematic developments in the genre and to consider the stylistic conventions of the genre and ways to read science fiction with literary values while honoring the genre itself...well, let's just say this is an ambitious class.
Part of the ambition of the class must rest with you. If you are a reader trained in literary conventions (paying close attention to imagery, character, ambivalence, sound, metaphor, rhythm, etc.), you will be challenged to supplement those core reading techniques with a mastery of science fictional reading. If you are an experienced reader of SF (focusing, perhaps, primarily on the realism and impact of scientific facts and ideas, narrative, in-genre allusions, sense of wonder, etc.), you be challenged to supplement those core reading techniques with a mastery of literary conventions. That is, you will learn how we may read SF stories of all types not with a bifurcated or bifocal lens-switching between genre reading techniques and literary reading techniques-but with an approach that unifies them. You must have an open mind. Orson Scott Card has derided such an approach as "li fi," but we will take as a given what Ursula Le Guin says in her novel The Left Hand of Darkness: "The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling." We will confront questions, as one critic has put it, of "the urgency of style."
We will rely on a New Critical or formalist approach to our close textual readings, but informing our understanding of the stories and the genre will be a good deal of historicism and a scattering of useful postmodernist concepts, as mentioned before. Indeed, we will approach the development of the genre with some grounding in the theory of literary history, bearing in mind critic René Wellek's remark that "the very material of literary history must be chosen in relation to values, and structures involve values." That is, what are we disposed to "like" and why? Wellek goes on to say: "We still must require submission to the texts, respect for their integrity, 'objectivity' in the sense of a desire to overcome personal prejudices and to criticize one's own standpoint." This suggests we should become, at least sometimes and to some degree, willing to think in constructions beyond our own standpoint rather than always comparing texts to our own experiences. Science fiction is ideally suited to this task since, by its very nature, such work complicates the usual experience of literature as wholly realistic-as an imitation of life or what we often call "mimesis." As well, we will consider the role of science contextually and directly, as well as the thematic and conceptual assumptions that arise from science and from history.
You will emerge from the class with an understanding of the history of genre, especially in the 20th century; perspectives on thematic interests in science fiction; and a unified reading approach that deploys literary and generic conventions. You also should emerge with a better sense of scientific concepts-or evasions-at the heart of this literature, as well as the history of technology especially from the Industrial Revolution to the present-day.
You will participate intelligently in class discussions, take a mid-term and a final. The tests will be a combination of multiple choice, identification, short answer and essay responses. You will write three mini-papers of approximately 750 words; the first two will focus on a close reading of an aspect of style and theme in a single story from our reading while also drawing on one of the critical articles in Reading Science Fiction. The third mini-paper will do the same, but will consider an aspect of style and theme in two of the stories we will have read so far (a compare-and-contrast analysis). My intention is that one of these mini-papers will serve as the beginning of your final paper (approximately 10-12 standard format pages, MLA style). There will be additional unassigned material in your texts that should prove helpful in shaping your papers. You will get more information on these assignments later. The grade break-down is as follows: final paper, 20%, final test, 20%, mid-term, 20%, class participation, 10%, each mini-paper, 10% each.
Be on time. A pattern of lateness will lower your grade. Attend class. You are allowed two absences, no questions asked. A third can lower your class-participation grade significantly. A fourth is an automatic "F" in class participation and, further, is grounds for flunking. A fifth absence is an automatic "F" for the class. You work must be yours and original to this class. Plagiarists will flunk. You are responsible for knowing the university policy on academic dishonesty. You may not use mobile devices in class unless there is an emergency in the class itself. If you use a computer for note-taking, please know that if I find that you are using it for other than class purposes, even for a moment, I count that as an absence for the entire class period and may ask you to leave.
This course will include readings that involve violence, sexuality, profanity and other such material. I do not substitute readings. If such material makes you uncomfortable, you are free to take another class.
What makes us rove that starlit corridor May be the impulse to meet face to face Our vice and folly shaped into a thing, And so at last ourselves.
--Kingsley Amis, from New Maps of Hell
I gratefully acknowledge my debt to James Gunn's excellent scholarship and teaching.
Boldface titles with a | indicate a unit and/or lecture topic. I have tried to arrange the material in more-or-less chronological order but with thematic clusters as well.
T Aug 31 Introduction to class and to each other. Discussion and attempts at definitions: What is science fiction? Hand-out, not all-inclusive, of critical and historical terms we will define and use along the way.
Th Sept 2 | Genre Reading, Literary Reading, Unitary Reading: The example of Farmer's "Sail on! Sail on!, vol. 3, p. 164, RSF. Review basic fiction terms. The Six Ps: Premise, plot, point-of-view, people, place, prose.
T Sept 7 Rabkin, "Defining Science Fiction," and Franklin, "What is Science Fiction-and How it Grew," from Reading Science Fiction.
| Precursors and the Origins of Modern SF. Lecture on SF precursors, such as Lucian's "A True Story," Kepler's "Somnium" and Swift's "A Voyage to Laputa." Lecture on more recent touchstones to modern SF: Shelley's Frankenstein and the novels of Jules Verne. These are not in your reading.
Copies of Hawthorne's "Rappacini's Daughter," Poe's "Mellonta Tauta," Kipling's "With the Night Mail," and Fitz James O'Brien's "The Diamond Lens" provided for your reading.
Th Sept 9 | The 19th Century Short Story, the Textures of the Industrial Revolution and the Origins of Modern SF: Hawthorne's "Rappacini's Daughter," Poe's "Mellonta Tauta," Kipling's "With the Night Mail," and Fitz James O'Brien's "The Diamond Lens."
| After the Frontier, Before the Golden Age: The Early 20th Century on
| Both Sides of the Atlantic--and SF
T Sept 14 Natural Mysteries: Merrit's "The Moon Pool," p. 75, and London's "The Red One," p. 114, vol. 2, RSF. Meet at Special Collections to view material from USU's renowned Jack London Collection.
Th Sept 16 Satire, Technology and Society: Wells's "The New Accelerator," p. 1, Forster's "The Machine Stops," p. 16, and Keller's "The Revolt of the Pedestrians," p. 168, vol. 2, RSF. Freedman, "Marxism and Science Fiction," Reading Science Fiction. Mini-paper 1 assigned.
| The Demise of Gernsback, the Rise of Campbell: Astounding and the
| Golden Age of SF
T Sept 21 Clips from films: Isaac Asimov, "The History of Science Fiction after 1938" and/or "John W. Campbell's Golden Age of Science Fiction." | The 1939 World's Fair, the American Technological Sublime. Mini-paper 1 due.
Th Sept 23 Van Vogt's, "The Black Destroyer," p. 416, Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey," p. 231, and Heinlein's "Requiem," p. 480, vol. 2, RSF.
T Sept 28 Campbell's "Twilight," p. 256, and Asimov's "Nightfall," p. 446, vol. 2, RSF.
Th Sept 30 Goodwin's "The Cold Equations," p. 213, vol. 3, RSF. Vint and Bould, "There is No Such Thing as Science Fiction," in Reading Science Fiction. | SF and the Merciless Trope of Spaceflight, featuring clips from Disney's Tomorrowland and the Paintings of Chesley Bonestell.
| After the War: Fear and Change
T Oct 5 | Into the 1950s and the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud "What Is Communism" and "Fallout: When and How to Protect Yourself," 1950s educational films. Background lecture on the decade. Midterm review.
Th Oct 7 Sturgeon's "Thunder and Roses," p. 91, Merrill's "That Only a Mother," p. 114, Leiber's "Coming Attraction," p. 138, vol. 3, RSF, and Miller, "The First Canticle," p. 48, vol. 4, RSF. Midterm review.
T Oct 12 Midterm. Mini-paper 2 assigned.
Th Oct 14 Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, up to and including "Interim." Candelaria, "Reading Science Fiction with Postcolonial Theory," Reading Science Fiction.
T Oct 19 Finish all of The Martian Chronicles. Mini-paper 2 due.
Th Oct 21 | Aliens, Kinship, Alien Environments. Simak's "Desertion," p. 34, Clarke's "The Sentinel," p. 153, Smith's "The Game of Rat and Dragon," p. 238, vol. 3, RSF.
T Oct 26 | Aliens, Others, Difference, Alienation. Kuttner's "Mimsy Were the Borogroves," p. 47, vol. 3 RSF, Davidson's "My Boy Friend's Name is Jello," p. 41, Budrys's "Nobody Bothers Gus," p. 71, Keyes's "Flowers for Algernon," p. 86, vol. 4, RSF. Mini-paper 3 assigned.
Th Oct 28 | You, Robot Williamson, "With Folded Hands," p. 348, vol. 2, RSF, Bester, "Fondly Fahrenheit," p. 92, Aldiss, "Who Can Replace a Man?" p. 267, vol. 3, RSF. Mini-paper 3 due.
England and America Swing SF-The New Wave and More from the 1960s T Nov 2 | Sacrifice, Saviors, Anti-Saviors Ballard's "The Terminal Beach," p. 304, and Harrison's "The Streets of Ashkelon," p. 288, vol. 3, RSF.
Th Nov 4 | Welcome to the Terrordome Dick's "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale," p. 364, and Ellison's "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream," p. 386, vol. 3, RSF.
T Nov 9 | Love and What Passes for Love Shaw's "The Light of Other Days," p. 185, vol. 4, RSF, Anderson's "Kyrie," p. 428, Russ's "When It Changed," p. 523, and Zelazney's "The Engine at Heartspring's Center," p. 534, vol. 3 RSF. LeGuin handout.
Th Nov 11 No class.
T Nov 16 | Explorations of Gender Zoline's "Heat Death of the Universe," p. 209, Emshwiller's "Abominable," p. 475, vol. 4, RSF. LeGuin's "The Day Before the Revolution." Donawerth and Cortiel in Reading Science Fiction.
Th Nov 18 | What We Show and What We Hide Delany's "Aye, and Gomorrah," p. 403, Knight's "Masks," p. 441, vol. 3 RSF, Vance's "The Moon Moth," p. 116, vol. 4, RSF.
T Nov 23 | The Greening of SF Dickson's "Dolphin's Way," p. 326, and Silverberg's "Sundance," 491, vol. 3, RSF. Tiptree/Sheldon's "The Last Flight of Dr. Ain," p. 257, vol. 4, RSF.
| Beyond Apollo-The 70s and 80s
Th Nov 25 No class.
T Nov 30 Dozois's "Where No Sun Shines," p. 266, Sargent's "Gather Blue Roses," p. 313, and Varley's "Air Raid," p. 354, vol. 4, RSF.
Th Dec 2 Vinge's "View from a Height," p. 439, Benford's "Exposures," p. 486, vol. 4, RSF.
T Dec 7 Zebrowski's "The Word Sweep," p. 455, and Effinger's "Schrodinger's Kitten," p. 402, vol. 4, RSF.
Th Dec 9 | Fiction Into Film: An Introduction. "Farewell to the Master," Bates. Available at:
Have watched the original and the remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," which will be on reserve at the library and/or we can arrange a special screening. Have read Ray Bradbury's screen treatment for a sequel to the film, "The Evening of the Second Day," at:
Review for final. Set up conferences, if we haven't already, to discuss your papers.
Alternatively, the last day of class might feature a quick look the trends in more recent SF.
Optional Review Sessions, TBA.
Final, TBA. Term paper due at beginning of final.
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