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Science Fiction


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenors: Grace Halden and Caroline Edwards
  • Assessment: a 1500-word coursework essay (10%) and two 2500-word essays (45% each)

Module description

This module introduces you to some of the key concepts and methodological approaches used in the contemporary study of science fiction (SF). SF is understood inclusively as a capacious genre overlapping at times with fantasy, utopian/dystopian literature, Gothic, satire, speculative fiction and the alternate mappings of literary history offered by modernism or postmodernism.

Focusing on the genre's development throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, we will consider the ways in which SF has evolved through a variety of texts and genres, consistently centering on the novel and the short story, but also making reference to other forms like drama, artwork, film and the graphic novel. We aim to explore some of the defining interests of SF and to reflect upon its critical reception in secondary literature.

Indicative module syllabus

Origins and Themes

  • Karel Čapek, Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920)
  • Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood: Or, the Hidden Self (1903)
  • H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (1898)
  • Aelita: Queen of Mars (dir. Yakov Protazanov, 1924)

From Pulps to Paranoia

  • Leigh Brackett, 'Sea Kings of Mars' (1949) and 'Black Amazon of Mars' (1951)
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World is Forest (1972)
  • Judith Merrill, Shadow on the Hearth (1950)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (dir. Don Spiegel, 1956)

New Wave and Cyberpunk

  •  J.G. Ballard, ‘The Cage of Sand’ (1962)
  • ---, ‘The Voices of Time’ (1960)
  • Octavia Butler, ‘Speech Sounds’ (1983)
  • --- Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation  ([1979] 2017)
  • Samuel R. Delany, ‘Aye, and Gomorrah’ (1967)
  • William Gibson, ‘The Gernsback Continuum’ (1981)
  • --- Neuromancer (1983)
  • Pamela Zoline, ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’ (1967)
  • Mad Max (dir. George Miller, 1979)

New Directions in SF

  • Alex Garland, Annihilation (2018)
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005)
  • N.K. Jemison, The Fifth Season (2015)
  • Chang-Rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea (2014)
  • Sofia Samatar, ‘An Account of the Land of Witches’ (2017)
  • Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2016)

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • understand ideas about genre and the cultural distinctions and hierarchies between 'literary' and 'genre' texts
  • be familiar with recurring tropes such as robots, space exploration, genetic engineering, dystopian futures and post-apocalyptic scenarios
  • have explored ways that SF has acted as a social commentary on contemporary society
  • have considered how SF has explored ideas including parallel worlds, the implications of technology, and different models of time and reality
  • have gained knowledge of diverse critical approaches to SF, including those from Marxism, structuralism, gender studies, postcolonial theory, cultural history, adaptation studies, ecocriticism and utopianism.