Science Fiction: Theories and Origins

Autumn 2016-2017


Benjamin Morgan

This seminar explores the history and theory of science fiction, focusing on the moment of its modern emergence from Jules Verne to H.G. Wells. In historical terms, we will understand the speculative fictions, utopias, and alternative histories of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries as approaching questions posed by the natural and physical sciences: how could one imagine the possibility that humans might degenerate or go extinct, that the sun and earth would someday freeze, that years were to be measured at the scale of millions? We will also explore the political significance of early science fiction, which denaturalized the progress of technology, the organization of labor, and notions of gender, often taking on challenging political questions far more explicitly than the realist novel. As we address these questions, we will examine some of the ways in which literary scholars and cultural critics have developed theories and historical narratives to account for the emergence, formal features, and political significance of science fiction. Literary works may include novels and stories by Samuel Butler, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard, H.G. Wells, Edwin Abbott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, William Morris, and Edward Bellamy. We will also read work by Fredric Jameson, Darko Suvin, and Raymond Williams. (18th/19th)