Ronald Thomas Foster
The study of the development of and specific debates in the related genres of fantasy and science fiction literatures
This version of this course is designed to provide a historical introduction to print science fiction as a genre, with a strong but not exclusive emphasis on the development of the genre in the U.S. during the 20th century. The course will be organized around debates over the definition of science fiction that are internal to the science fiction field. We will therefore read examples of pulp adventure narratives; the hard SF tradition promoted by John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding (later Analog); alternative forms that begin to emerge in the 1950s, including the more self-consciously literary narratives associated with Anthony Boucher's Fantasy and Science Fiction, as well as the traditions of social satire and political SF associated with H.L. Gold's magazine Galaxy, and early feminist science fiction; the "New Wave" movement of the 1960s and 70s; and cyberpunk fiction and responses to it. In addition to this historical narrative, the critical concerns that we will consider include the historical and ideological contexts for science fiction narratives, such as the traditions of travel writing and utopian/dystopian speculation, and the formal tension between science fiction's tendency toward a realist aesthetic and its simultaneous commitment to the fantastic and to imagining departures from realism that often have the effect of defamiliarizing our assumptions about what is normal. Primary readings for the course will include essays and stories available on electronic reserve, as well as the following set of books: Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars; Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human; William Gibson, Neuromancer; Samuel R. Delany, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand; Nalo Hopkinson, Report from Planet Midnight; Nisi Shawl, Filter House; and Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life. Assignments for the course will probably include two essays, and some shorter, informal writing assignments.
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