Spring Semester 1997
Monday-Wednesday-Friday at 9:00 a.m. in Norton 209
Instructor: Martin Spinelli
email: martins@acsu.buffalo.edu
office hours by appointment (618 Clemens)


Dr. Frankenstein's Monster threatens all of humanity; Bill Gates's Internet promises a new sense of human community. New technologies, socially neutral in and of themselves, often get instilled with utopian hopes and dystopian fears current in a culture. Through a study of science fiction as cultural artifact readers can uncover some of these desires and phobias. With this conception of science fiction texts as informative cultural remnants in mind, this course will examine sci-fi material from the past two centuries paying particular attention to the way new technologies are represented.

In addition, we will also grapple with several other ideas prominent in the literature of science fiction. These will include but not be limited to: the formation of "human" identity through contact with alien life, cyborgs and the problems for "human" identity in the face of artificial life, the writing of fantastic literature itself as a utopian or liberating act, "postmodern" existence, and "postmodern" writing. You will be asked to choose one general theme from our class discussions and address it at length in a final term paper.


Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
William Morris, News from Nowhere
H.G. Wells, The Time Machine
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
Ursula LeGuin, The Dispossessed
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Larry McCaffery (ed.), Storming the Reality Studio
Philip Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

(All books are available at Talking Leaves on Main Street)


Quizzes: Quizzes in this class are designed simply to insure that you have done the assigned reading. They will happen sporadically throughout the course (often on days when attendance is low) and will be very easy. If you have done the reading you will ace the quiz. There are no make-up quizzes; dead dogs, broken cars, food poisoning, notes from Dr. Mom and the like will get you no consideration. If you miss a quiz (or if you come in after a quiz is over) it counts as a zero.

Group Presentation: Everyone will be assigned to a group with approximately four other students; each group will present on one of the required texts on the last day we are scheduled to discuss it. Presentations will last 20 to 30 minutes and can take a variety of forms. Everyone in the group may somehow participate in the single presentation of a single interpretation of the reading. The group could present what it feels is the most compelling theme of the text with each member adding to the general argument. Alternatively, each member of the group may present on a different aspect of the text (e.g.: present biographical research on the author, present historical research on some of the social issues current when the text was being written, articulate different themes in the text, present interpretations other scholars have offered about the text, make a comparison between a theme in the text and the same theme at work in other sci-fi material, write a postscript to the story or an alternative ending, etc.) For some presentations I will direct your group to address a specific issue or to include a particular idea in your presentation, but generally I do not want to interfere too much in the organization of the presentations. I will however speak with your group several days before your presentation in order to make sure everyone is on the same wave-length. "Go Boldly!" as the captain of the Enterprise should say, with these presentations. Feel free to bring in videos, slides, art, other texts, etc. I will reward creativity and thoughtful engagement with the text and will penalize redundancy, obviousness and lack of commitment.

The goal of these presentations is to enhance our understanding of the texts. Consequently, there will be a question period after each presentation during which I will call on other class members to ask the group questions about their text (so everyone should be prepared to ask at least one good question about each text). On the day of your presentation you will hand in one to two pages describing what you presented and how it contributed to our understanding of the text.

Paper Abstract: An abstract of your final paper is due on 14 April. This should be two to three pages discussing your final paper. I will be looking for a clear articulation of your paper's thesis and a brief elaboration of its argument. I will then write a short evaluation of your project telling you what I think you should focus on, what needs more development, and (if necessary) what ideas should be abandoned in favor of a fresh start.

Final Paper: Due on 5 May, your final paper will be eight to twelve pages long and double-spaced. You have two options for your final paper:

Class Participation: You are expected to participate thoughtfully in class discussion and in small group discussion. In order to get full credit for class participation you should make at least four well-articulated contributions to class discussions during the semester. In addition, you are allowed only three absences; more than three will result in the lowering of your class participation grade. If you are going to be more than ten minutes late to a class please do not bother to show up at all.

Class Listserv: As a supplement to our class discussions I have set up a listserv with which we can continue our conversations outside of class. For those too shy to participate regularly in class this is an opportunity to speak at your own pace. The discussions on the listserv are meant to be informal and fun; do not worry about grammar or accuracy; think of the listserv as a casual caf‚ where you can follow up on issues raised in class, ask questions about the readings, make connections to other sci-fi material, argue for or against particular ways of reading a text, test out hypotheses, and just plain talk. You will be required to make at least five thoughtful contributions to the listserv discussion over the course of the semester (I am the arbiter of "thoughtful.") After your first five, any additional contributions you make will gain you extra credit points (seven points maximum). I will also use the listserv to post important class messages so get in the habit of checking your email every day.

The breakdown:
        Final Paper             % 50
        Paper Abstract          % 15
        Group Presentation      % 15
        Quizzes                 % 10
        Class Participation     %  5
        Class Listserv          %  5 (plus possible extra credit)


Jan.  22    Class introduction, in-class writing; start reading
      24    Introduction to Science Fiction, listserv

      27    Discuss Frankenstein; read Frankenstein
      29    Discuss Frankenstein, set up presentation groups and
               choose presentation topics; finish Frankenstein
      31    Conclude Frankenstein; start News from Nowhere

Feb.  3     Discuss News; read News
      5     Discuss News; finish News
      7     Discuss News

      10    Conclude News, group presentation on News; start The
               Time Machine
      12    Discuss Time Machine; finish Time Machine
      14    Discuss Time Machine

      17    Conclude Time Machine, group presentation on Time
               Machine; start The
            Martian Chronicles
      19    Listen to War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, produced
               for radio by Orson Wells
      21    No class

      24    No class
      26    Discuss Chronicles; finish Chronicles
      28    Discuss Chronicles

Mar.  3     Conclude Chronicles, group presentation on
               Chronicles; start The Infernal
            Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
      5     Discuss Doctor Hoffman; read Doctor Hoffman
      7     Discuss Doctor Hoffman; finish Doctor Hoffman

      10    Discuss Doctor Hoffman
      12    Conclude Doctor Hoffman, group presentation on Doctor
               Hoffman; start The
      14    Discuss Dispossessed; read Dispossessed

      (spring break)

      24    Discuss Dispossessed; finish Dispossessed
      26    Discuss Dispossessed
      28    Conclude Dispossessed, group presentation on
               Dispossessed; start Indivisible Cities

      31    Discuss Invisible Cities; finish Invisible Cities
Apr.  2     Discuss Invisible Cities
      4     Conclude Invisible Cities, group presentation on
               Invisible Cities; start Storming the Reality

      7     Discuss Reality Studio; read Reality Studio
      9     Discuss Reality Studio; read Reality Studio
      11    Discuss Reality Studio; read Reality Studio

      14    Paper Abstract is due, Discuss Reality Studio, group
               presentation on Reality
            Studio (fiction); read Reality Studio
      16    Discuss Reality Studio; read Reality Studio
      18    Discuss Reality Studio; finish Reality Studio

      21    Conclude Reality Studio, group presentation of
               Reality Studio (non-fiction); start Do Androids
               Dream of Electric Sheep?
      23    Discuss Androids; read Androids
      25    Discuss Androids; finish Androids

      28    Conclude Androids
      30    Regular class cancelled for film Blade Runner
May   2     Regular class cancelled for film Blade Runner

      5     Final Paper due, good-bye