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Reading 21st Century Fictions


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Dr Grace Halden
  • Assessment: coursework of 1000 words (10%) and two 2500-word assessed essays (45% each)

Module description

In this module we explore the dynamic fiction of the new millennium, paying close attention to its changing contexts and emergent themes. We will look at a diverse range of international fiction through a variety of media, forms and genres, including novels, short stories, plays, films, Twitter fictions and science fictions.

The module is divided into two blocks. The first block considers twenty-first-century approaches to form, media and genre. The second block focuses on fantasy and political science fiction, such as dystopian writing. Throughout the module, we will consider how these categories have informed contemporary experience and shaped twenty-first-century literature and culture.

  • How does digital media affect the ways we read, write and see ourselves?
  • What role does twenty-first-century fiction play in the cultural processes of remembering and forgetting?
  • How can fiction capture the complexity of present and futuristic ideals? 
  • How are older forms and mediums - the novel and the short story, film and television - being redefined in contemporary fiction?

These are the questions we will try to answer during the course of the module.

Indicative syllabus

Twenty-first-century texts: form, media, genre

  • Selected reading from McSweeney's (2000-)
  • Ben Lerner, 10:04 (2014)
  • Jennifer Egan, 'Black Box' (2012); Dennis Cooper, 'Zac's Haunted House' (2015)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
  • Selected stories from Jalada 02: Afrofutures (2015)
  • Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers (2013)
  • Selected episodes from The Wire, Season One (2002)
  • Shailja Patel, Migritude (2010)

Twenty-first-century perspectives: challenging reality and the status quo

  • The post-apocalyptic novel: The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
  • The mashup novel: Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas (2004)
  • Contemporary approaches to myth: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (2005)
  • The dream in fiction: Inception, dir. by Christopher Nolan (2010) (optional: Paprika, dir. by Satoshi Kon (2006))
  • Science fiction theatre: The Nether by Jennifer Haley (2013)
  • Staging political debate: Seven Jewish Children by Caryl Churchill (2009)
  • Class and dystopian fiction: By Light Alone by Adam Roberts (2011)
  • Dystopia as satire: Idiocracy, dir. by Mike Judge (2006)
  • The work of controversial writers: The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq (2010)

Learning objectives

By the end of this module you will:

  • be familiar with the developments of twenty-first-century fiction across a variety of forms and genres
  • understand the key theoretical, historical, political and cultural contexts of twenty-first-century fiction, paying particular attention to the changing nature of the text, and to continuing debates on utopia, dystopia, fantasy and reality
  • have engaged with the key theoretical frameworks around twenty-first-century cultural representations and learned to apply these frameworks
  • have participated in debates on the status and concerns of twenty-first-century literature and culture.