What if the Cold War became hot? What if John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry had succeeded? What if the bomb under Hitler’s desk hadn’t missed? “What if” is the question that jump starts the imagination of children and scientists, writers and science fiction nerds, oppressed peoples and activists—everyone who thinks about making a different world possible. Science Fiction in general has sometimes been called “the literature of change”: take the world you know, imagine a possibly possible change, and chart the way from here to there. This course will zoom in on the hybrid child of science fiction and history: Alternate History. Alternate histories are science fiction that can take place in the past, the present or future, if only something in the “real world” had gone a little differently. We’ll look at examples from the hey-day of SF in 20th century US literature, but we’ll also explore older historical works and works from other literatures which ask the same question, “what if?” Rather than escaping through a wormhole in search of sexy green aliens, we’ll investigate works in which “the literature of change” is concerned with this world: why are things the way they are? What’s gone wrong? And what are the political alternatives that might not be so fantastic, if we could only see the way from here to there?
The major goal of this course is to develop and practice critical reading and writing skills for a broad range of analytical and research writing, with the alternate histories serving as rich, stimulating and hopefully fun material for our writing. Through workshops, revisions, and collaborative work we’ll improve our ability to read a text analytically, create interesting and meaningful arguments, and support those arguments through research. In addition to the works of fiction, we’ll read literary and historical essays both as writing models and to engage our readings with their ideas.
Texts for the course will be:
Octavia Butler. Kindred
Alan Moore. Watchmen
Terry Bisson. Fire on the Mountain
Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse 5
Jorge Luis Borges. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,”
Ray Bradbury, “A Sound of Thunder”
Thomas More. Selection from Utopia
Tommaso Campanella. Selection from The City of the Sun
Edward Bellamy. Selection from Looking Backward
Lorenzo Pignotti. Selection from The History of Tuscany
Frederic Jameson. Selections from Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia
Darko Suvin. Selected essays (Metamorphoses of Science Fiction; Defined by a Hollow)
Samuel Delany, “Some Presumptuous Approaches to Science Fiction”
Haydn White. Selection from Metahistory
Ursula Le Guin. “Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”
Donna Harroway. “Ecce Homo: Ain’t (Ar’n’t) I a Woman and Inappropriate/d Others: The Human in a post-Humanist Landscape”
We will also watch several films in this course. One class showing will be scheduled for each, and the films will also be available from the Media Resource Center in Moffitt Library or online.
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