ENGL 2665 Multicultural Science Fiction

Photo Credit: Joshua Trujillo, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Catalog Description

Prerequisite: GE A2. Science fiction literature produced by Asian American, African American, Euro- American, Latina/o, and Native American authors. GE C2; (re)

Course Description

In the nineteenth century, colonial expansion fuelled and shaped the emergence of SF in the Euro-American tradition. However, there are several indigenous, ethnic, and national traditions of SF that preceded or emerged simultaneously with the Euro-American tradition. These traditions took their shapes from indigenous, ethnic, and national conceptions of science and technology as much as from any influence by—or reaction against—Euro-American colonialism and SF. In the United States, clear traditions have emerged in Afrofuturism, Indigenous futurism, Latino/a science fiction, and Asian American science fiction that have made major contributions to the form and identity of the genre.

Race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class have been central concerns of science fiction since the early beginnings of the genre. In Darko Suvin's famous formulation of "cognitive estrangement," science fiction is a genre that takes familiar things and makes them strange. This lens of cognitive estrangement has allowed science fiction authors from many different ethnic traditions to focus on the contingent and problematic nature of contemporary conceptions of race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class. The "encounter with the alien" trope—which is woven through most subgenres of science fiction—has proven particularly fruitful for science fiction authors interested in challenging prevailing systems of prejudice and inequality. Studying the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class through the lens of science fiction allows students a unique and effective way to reflect upon their own experiences and assumptions while imagining how we can build more equitable worlds.

Course Outline

Weeks 1-3 Nineteenth Century Narrative Traditions

  1. Eurocentric Narratives of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Socioeconomic class
    1. Taxonomy and eighteenth century concepts of race (e.g., Johan Blumenbach, The Natural Varieties of Mankind)
    2. Evolutionary narratives about race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class (e.g., Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man)
    3. "Civilization," "Savagery," and the classification of ethnicity (e.g., Lewis Morgan, Ancient Society)
  2. Nineteenth-Century Traditions of Science Fiction
    1. Latina/o futurism (e.g., Juan Nepomuceno Adorno, "The Distant Future")
    2. Afrofuturism (e.g., Martin Delany, "Blake or the Huts of America")
    3. Euro-American scientific romances (e.g., H. G. The War of the Worlds)

Week 4: Writing Assignment 1 Due. This writing assignment will focus on the following:

  • Clear paragraph structure
  • Close reading and the use of evidence (e.g., quotations from the texts) in analytical writing
  • Major ethnic traditions, figures, and themes of science fiction
  • Basic understanding of intersectionality: race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class

Weeks 4-7 The Early Twentieth Century – Subgenres of Science Fiction

  1. Utopias (e.g., Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood and Roger Sherman Tracy, The White Man's Burden)
  2. Future-War Stories (e.g., Jack London, "The Unparalleled Invasion")
  3. Apocalypse Narratives (e.g., W. E. B. Du Bois, "The Comet")
  4. Gadget Stories (e.g., M. F. Rupert, "Via the Hewitt Ray")
  5. Space Operas (e.g., Ernesto Silva Román, "The Death Star")

Week 7: Midterm Exam. This exam will focus on the following:

  • Reading comprehension (e.g., multiple choice, short answer, passage identification)
  • Writing and analytical skills (e.g., short essays)
  • Major ethnic traditions, figures, and themes of science fiction
  • Basic understanding of intersectionality: race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class

Weeks 8-10 Science Fiction in the Early Cold War

  1. Afrofuturism (e.g., Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man)
  2. Latina/o futurism (e.g., Ángel Arango, "The Cosmonaut")
  3. Native Apocalypse and Utopia (e.g., Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony)
  4. Heterotopia (e.g., Samuel R. Delany, Triton)

Week 10: Writing Assignment 2 Due. This writing assignment will focus on the following:

  • Clear Introductions and conclusions
  • Writing process (e.g., revision and expansion of previous writing)
  • Basic concepts of literary analysis (e.g., genre systems and literary traditions)
  • Critical understanding of intersectionality: race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class

Weeks 11-13 The Late Cold War

  1. Afrofuturism  (e.g., Octavia Butler, Dawn)
  2. Latina/o Futurism (e.g., Pepe Rojo, "Gray Noise")
  3. Indigenous Futurism (e.g., Eden Robinson, "Terminal Avenue")
  4. Asian American Science Fiction (e.g., Ted Chiang, "Tower of Babylon")
  5. Cyberpunk (e.g. William Gibson, "Burning Chrome")

Weeks 14-15 The New Millennium

  1. Steamfunk (e.g., Milton Davis, "The Delivery")
  2. Afrofuturism (e.g., Minister Faust, Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad)
  3. Indigenous Futurism (e.g., Gerald Vizenor, "Custer on the Slipstream")
  4. Asian American Science Fiction (e.g., Ken Liu, "The Waves")
  5. Latina/o Science Fiction (e.g., Rosaura Sanchez and Beatrice Pita, Lunar Braceros 2125-2148)

Final Exam. This exam will focus on the following:

  • Reading comprehension (e.g., multiple choice, short answer, passage identification)
  • Writing and analytical skills (e.g., short essays)
  • Major ethnic traditions, figures, and themes of science fiction
  • Critical understanding of intersectionality: race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class

Writing Assignment 3. This writing assignment will be a revised and expanded version of previous writing assignments and will focus on the following:

  • Historical awareness (e.g., changing conversations within literary traditions)
  • Clear organization (e.g., section structure)
  • Basic concepts of literary analysis (e.g., ideological analysis)
  • Critical understanding of intersectionality: race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class

About the Banner: Octavia Butler (photo credit: Joshua Trujillo, Seattle Post-Intelligencer) (image from http://www.seattlepi.com/ae/books/article/Octavia-Butler-1947-2006-Sci-fi-writer-a-gifted-1196968.php)