Strange New Worlds: 21st-Century Science Fiction
3-5:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Nott Hall basement computer-lab classroom (up the ramp)
Teacher: Andy Duncan
I can be reached via e-mail (and via Facebook).
All students in this class must be enrolled in the University Honors Program.
• Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (2009; Night Shade Books, 2010)
• Cory Doctorow, Little Brother (2008; Tor, 2010)
• Doctor Who, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Euros Lyn (2006; Doctor Who: The Complete Second Series, BBC Video, 2007)
• Doctor Who, “Blink,” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Hettie MacDonald (2007; Doctor Who: The Complete Third Series, BBC Video, 2007)
• Duncan Jones, Moon (2009; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2009)
• Ian McDonald, River of Gods (2004; Pyr, 2007)
• Cherie Priest, Boneshaker (Tor, 2009)
• Jonathan Strahan, ed., The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 4 (Night Shade Books, 2010)
• Handouts, online materials or reserve-room materials as announced.
Course Description: Many of the tropes of science fiction -- computers, space travel, cloning, genetic engineering, cyberspace -- have become commonplaces of daily discourse and daily life. Yet science fiction persists and thrives as a literary genre, a sociological movement, a marketing category, an extrapolative and speculative way of thinking. This interdisciplinary seminar is designed to deepen your understanding of 21st-century science fiction in all its modes.
Course Objectives: By semester’s end, students will be more sophisticated consumers of science fiction wherever they encounter it, from the aisles of Barnes & Noble to the headlines on CNN. They will be better able to speak and write about it with depth and insight and to understand how science fiction engages with the world, and vice versa. No prior obsession with science fiction is required.
A Technology Note: Your teacher lives in the mountains of western Maryland and interacts with the class in real time via webcam with the exception of one in-person visit per semester, generally for the final class meeting. Student conferences during the rest of the semester are encouraged; they will take place via phone, e-mail, or Facebook, as the student prefers.
Attendance Policy: Attendance and class participation (in class and online) are required. After two absences, your final grade will be lowered one letter for each subsequent absence. After five absences, you will receive an F for this course. Arriving late or leaving early counts as half an absence. In case of illness, injury or crisis, let your teacher know as soon as possible. Don’t just vanish.
Papers: You will write two non-fiction papers, each at least 2,000 words long, on topics of your choosing that are approved in advance by your teacher. Papers should specifically illuminate one or more of the texts being discussed in this class, but they may extend their focus beyond those texts as well. More detailed paper guidelines will be provided later in the semester. You will lead a five-to-10-minute class discussion of each topic as you are working on it. Papers handed in late will be docked one letter grade for each day they’re late. Papers more than a week late will not be accepted and will receive a zero. Format Requirements: Both your papers will be handed in electronically. Send them as PC-compatible Word attachments to my e-mail address. Papers must be in 12-point Times New Roman, double-spaced, with ragged right margins and page numbers in the upper-right corners. Papers that don’t fit this format will be returned unread for correction.
Blog: Each of you will receive (and accept) an invitation to join Blogger and the class blog at http://strangenewworlds2010.blogspot.com/. Here our class discussions will continue beyond Wednesday class meetings. Participating on the blog – through original posts and replies to others’ posts – is an important part of your semester grade, so get in the habit of visiting daily and contributing frequently. The minimum class requirement is three posts per week per student, at least one of which must start a new topic or thread, and at least one of which must be a response to a classmate’s post. More frequent posts are highly encouraged. Also chiming in from time to time may be invited guests from the world of science fiction publishing (as opposed to the science fiction world, which we all inhabit).
Other Assignments and Expectations: You will keep up with all the reading and will participate in all class discussions, orally and online. You will lead at least one class discussion of a text that has been assigned you.
• Two 2,000-word papers @ 20% each: 40%
• Two 5-to-10-minute informal presentations on paper topics @ 10% each: 20%
• Blog participation: 20%
• In-class participation: 20%
We will follow the UA guidelines for plus-minus grading.
Disabilities: In accordance with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, your teacher, the University Honors Program and the university are committed to providing appropriate support for students with disabilities, including learning disabilities. Any student who wants to request disability accommodations need only contact UA’s office of disability services at 348-4285 and get the paperwork to me.
Academic Misconduct: Academic misconduct includes all acts of academic dishonesty and any knowing attempt to help another student commit academic dishonesty. Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to: (1) Cheating – using or attempting to use unauthorized materials, information or study aids. (2) Plagiarism – representing words, data, works or ideas as one’s own when they are not. (3) Fabrication – presenting as genuine any invented or falsified evidence. (4) Misrepresentation – falsifying, altering or misstating the contents of academic documents such as schedules, prerequisites and transcripts. Cases of academic misconduct will be turned over to the University Honors Program for disciplinary action that could be as severe as suspension from the university.
Schedule of class meetings, reading assignments and due dates. All texts will be discussed on the days listed. This is a living document, subject to change. Any changes will be announced in class and via the class blog.
Aug. 18. First class meeting. Getting acquainted.
Aug. 25. In Strahan: Griffith, “It Takes Two”; Watts, “The Island”; Fowler, “The Pelican Bar”; Johnson, “Spar”; Kelly, “Going Deep”; Black, “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” (106 pages total). Last day to drop without a W grade.
Sept. 1. In Strahan: Swanwick & Gunn, “Zeppelin City”; Broderick, “This Wind Blowing, and This Tide”; Sterling, “Black Swan”; Genge, “As Women Fight”; Baxter, “Formidable Caress” (102 pages total).
Sept. 8. In Strahan: Ryman, “Blocked”; Swirsky, “Eros, Philia, Agape”; Kessel, “The Motorman’s Coat”; Monette & Bear, “Mongoose”; Reed, “Before My Last Breath”; Wilson, “Utriusque Cosmi” (102 pages total).
Sept. 15. Doctorow, Little Brother.
Sept. 22. Paper-topic discussion.
Sept. 29. More Strahan and/or the latest at Tor.com, TBA.
Oct. 6. Jones, Moon. First paper due by start of class.
Oct. 13. Priest, Boneshaker.
Oct. 20. Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl.
Oct. 27. World Fantasy Convention. No class. Last day to drop with a W grade.
Nov. 3. McDonald, River of Gods.
Nov. 10. McDonald, River of Gods.
Nov. 17. Paper-topic discussion.
Nov. 24. Thanksgiving Eve. No class.
Dec. 1: Final class meeting. Moffat, “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Blink.” Semester wrap-up.
No final exam. Second paper due 9:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 6 -- at the end of what would have been our final, had this been one of those classes.
About your teacher: My collection Beluthahatchie and Other Stories (2000) won a World Fantasy Award, as did my story “The Pottawatomie Giant” (2000). My novella “The Chief Designer” (2001) won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best science fiction story of the year. I contributed essays to the Hugo Award-winning Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (2003) and the Stoker Award-winning Horror: Another 100 Best Books (2005). With F. Brett Cox, I co-edited the anthology Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic (2004). I have taught at the Clarion and Clarion West writers’ workshops (2004 and 2005, respectively). I am on the 2010 Philip K. Dick Award jury. Works published in 2009 included the second edition of my non-fiction book, Alabama Curiosities; a new supernatural novelette, The Night Cache, from PS Publishing; and a new Appalachian fantasy, “The Dragaman’s Bride,” in the Ace anthology The Dragon Book. Upcoming in 2011 are a new collection, The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories, from PS Publishing; and a new story, “Slow as a Bullet,” in Eclipse Four, from Night Shade Books. My own blog is http://beluthahatchie.blogspot.com/.