Scriptural texts: esp. Genesis (Creation) and
H. G. Wells,
The Time Machine (1895)
Parable of the Sower (1993)
The New Ecotopias, ed. K. S.
Virtually Now: Stories of Science, Technology and the
Future, ed. J. Schinto (1996)
+ online texts & email handouts—see reading schedule below
quizzes (app. 10%, more if
results are far below average.)
(start Essay 1 + Essay 2 research proposal; 10-12 October,
(In-class or email, 6 November; 30-40%)
Final Exam (11
in-class or email; 40-50%)
not computed mathematically; percentages indicate only assignments' approximate relative weight. Only letter grades are given.
and minuses may appear on component and final grades.
Class Presentations, participation,
attendance (app. 10-20%, graded
Class preparation and
One free cut allowed without comment or penalty. Two or more absences or
partial absences, even with good excuses, lower final grade, potentially
Final grade report
provide central terms and themes for the premidterm, midterm, and final exam.
As learning outcomes,
students are expected to identify and use these terms or concepts in relation to each other
and course texts. Objectives 6-9 are themes
recurring throughout discussions, lectures, and readings that students are
invited to develop in presentations and exams.)
To identify, describe, and criticize
narratives or stories
humans tell about the future: (progress,
decline, or both?)
geologic time scales:
millions, billions of solar years, galactic years
Objective 2—Visions /
Scenarios of the Future
(>essay for final exam)
Identify, describe, and criticize typical
scenarios of the future (seen from 2016).
tech; virtual reality—slick, cool, unreal, easy with power (+ cyberpunk
b. low tech; actual reality—raw, intimate, messy, hungry, warm, real
/ dystopia & ecotopia—perfectly
planned worlds / dysfunctional world / + ecology
off-planet / alien contact—exploring and being explored;
self & other
figures of speech
To comprehend basic theories of
narrative, plot, or story + narrative's relation to
figures of speech.
Humans are story-telling creatures
live, react, learn, and decide via
narratives that express
symbolic fears and desires
as people or other agents acting and speaking together in time;.
Narratives are both
collective; literary and historical—very inclusive concept.
tragedy, plus combinations.
The dominant popular
literature of the future and especially science fiction is "romance,"
a.k.a. adventure, hero's story, survival & transcendence.
Symbol is a mental
function in which common images create multiple meanings.
The Sublime: the
rapid, apocalyptic change.
3a. Metaphor and analogy—expressing the
unknown in terms of the known—as a creative and learning
figure of speech in all
literature, but especially science fiction
and speculative fiction.
3b. Literature of the Future is somewhat unique in that the
"reality" to which it refers does not yet exist, exposing how much all
literature is an act of creative expression and interpretation.
Objective 4—standard or traditional Genres
of literature about the future
subject genres of future literature
Secondary Course Objectives
(Recurrent themes or issues you may develop in exams and presentations)
Is the future "written" (i. e., set, fixed, programmed, and usually
apocalyptic) or "being
written" ("open-ended" and usually
To see literature of the future as reflections or
projections of the present in
which it is written. (How much change from normal can readers process?)
To note literary strategies and problems such as how to make the future
both familiar and exotic. (Or “comforting / challenging”; “friendly /
unfriendly”; “warm / cold”). See Wells's
To distinguish distinct temporal dimensions of the future
short-term; day-after-tomorrow (often dramatic or apocalyptic change, such
as alien contact)
long-term (usually evolutionary change involving
changing environments and
Alternative depths of future between, beyond,
parallel, or skew
Attempt at summary of objectives: The foremost appeal of
science fiction and prophecy is as a
literature of ideas, but literature also must work on emotional or
subconscious levels engaged by
figures of speech.
|Reading & Presentation Schedule
(modified since Hurricane Harvey)
LITR 4368, Fall 2017
to course anthologies:
= Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias ed. K. S. Robinson (1994);
= Virtually Now: Stories of Science, Technology and the Future
Monday, 28 August: Class meeting cancelled due to Hurricane
Monday, 4 September: Labor Day
Holiday—No class meeting
1. Have any of you ever taken a course like this
before? What expectations or wishes?
2. How much
should this course teach
as genres with qualities you can find in other forms of literature, or
concentrate on what's special about
3. What attitudes are possible for reading religious scripture as literature? How
is religious scripture read differently from everyday literature? What
conflicts might arise?
4. What attitudes toward Biblical
Creation & Evolution? What
values or appeals for either?
Genesis as Origin Story / Creation
Story: familiarity with genre?
How does the Creation story in Genesis set up Revelation?
Monday, 18 September:
Scriptural Texts of Creation & Apocalypse
Millennium / Apocalypse,
Future-vision presenter: Erin
Web-highlighter (midterms): instructor
Panel on science of time (cf. relativity and evolution; no one knows
emails, presentations + info sheets,
Parable of the Sower; discussion-starter next week?
quiz on reading assignments
Nibiru; dystopia > millennium
Model Assignments (developing your
essay, using terms)
Carl Orff, Carmina Burana;
Beethoven, Ode to
narratives exemplify the linear model
of time, but what parts of today's apocalyptic texts suggest a
more complex model or
dimensions beyond "Point A to Point B?"
Narrative genres: How
does the plot-pattern of Revelation resemble the plot narrative of a
romance? Pay attention to the gradual revelation of the
central character of Jesus—how does he appear? How is he like a hero in a
romance-rescue story? How are the Satanic figures like the villain?
Symbols are among the most striking and
obvious devices of prophecy and apocalyptic literature, e.g. popular references to
"666," "The Beast," "Anti-Christ," "The Whore of Babylon,"
"Signs in the Heavens," etc. What can
we learn about
functions in literature generally from their power in apocalyptic
literature? How may religious literature help students understand the
symbols in human language, thought, and
Special questions for End-Times literature
reading or teaching scripture as literature. (We
can't get to all of these, but they suggest millennial literature's many
points of interest for literary and cultural criticism.)
Revelation and other apocalyptic texts are among the most popular
parts of the Bible, why? What
literary appeals? (<in
contrast to appeals to faith, religious belief, etc.) How does
Revelation seem different from other Biblical or scriptural texts
like the Gospels? (Eastern Orthodox churches
don't include Revelation in the Bible.)
5. What impulses for social or personal change,
or what social consequences, result from apocalyptic texts and thought? How does
apocalyptic thinking influence attitudes toward
decline or progress?
6. Jesus was crucified
around 30-36AD, and the Book of Revelation was written between 70
Matthew 24.34 records Jesus saying,
"This generation shall not pass, till all
these things be fulfilled." What social
or evolutionary consequences to perennial belief that "ours is the last generation?"
Added question: Apocalyptic thinking
and literature are always popular to some degree, but why are
Millennials naturally fascinated by apocalyptic films (alien invasion,
zombie apocalypse), post-apocalyptic romance narratives (young
adulty dystopias like Hunger Games, Maze Runners,
The Giver), and more traditional scriptural apocalypses (Left
Behind series, + ISIS jihadism is apocalyptic-cultish).
1. Conclude Apocalyptic
scriptures: upsides / downsides of
interpreting Scripture as literary text?
Attractions / detractions of apocalyptic
Parable to Revelation. How
apocalyptic? How are
the opening chapters also like an origin story?
2a. Describe Parable of the Sower as
science fiction / speculative
fiction. (Compare / contrast Genesis, Revelation, etc. as scripture—status,
prestige, authority, etc.)
science fiction, how
does Parable incorporate
What familiar assumptions or terms do characters use that identify an
(For instance, human behavior
as change and adaptation? Contrast to sin and virtue, or faith vs.
lack of faith?)
2c. Science fiction is not just science but also
fictional in representational form, and how is
(instructor will lead)
2d. Lauren also develops her own
theology--compare, contrast her father's Baptist faith? (Both use
aphorisms, both predict
3. Compare biblical
apocalypse and environmental apocalypse?
Compare Parable of the Sower (1993) with more recent YA
dystopia / post-apocalyptic novels like The Hunger Games
(2006-10) and other
young adult dystopias?
1. Continue comparisons with Genesis / Revelation
and other apocalyptic texts. Does
Lauren qualify as a "prophet?" Earthseed as
heaven at end of
Discuss blending of
in Parable of Sower (and later texts like Time Machine).
2a. How are
both present? How account for
co-presence instead of mutual exclusion?
evolution diverge? Where do they meet? Can you reconcile seeing the world as
apocalypse and evolution, rather than one excluding the other? If so, how?
2c. What are the
or keywords of creation-apocalypse and
3. Broadly, how does
the Sower succeed (or not) in
making you care about the
future? Or does it just make you want to buy guns, hoard gold, hide,
and distrust anyone who's not in your family or church?
other forms of
popular literature do not age well.
Parable of the Sower is now 20+ years old. How out of date is
it already? How much closer are we to its time-frame? If the novel
survives and remains readable and interesting, why? What literary qualities make it somewhat timeless
Compare Parable of the Sower
(1993) with more recent YA dystopia / post-apocalyptic novels like
The Hunger Games
(2006-10) and other
young adult dystopias?
1. What key
symbols, or ways of thinking
signal that these stories operate in a world built on
evolutionary premises? (Consider
terms or ideas like change, adaptation,
survival, + plenty of animal
characters and symbols.)
2. What picture of humanity
do these stories (and evolutionary models) create? What assumptions about the way nature, time,
and society are
organized, esp. in contrast to creation-apocalypse?
high tech / low tech scenarios
(29 March, 5 April): Are "Stone Lives" & "Bears"
tech sf? What different appeals?
is our most
typical science fiction story all semester—How? Discuss
world, and esp.
(esp. superhero protagonist tasked with saving a pre- or
5. "Bears" is an unusually
humorous sf story—how? What makes it
amusing? How does its narrative fit the definition of
comedy serve science fiction's
function of making science familiar or comfortable to non-scientific
10-12 October: pre-midterm due by email (includes midterm Essay 1 introduction & Essay 2
fiction has built-in problems as classic
literature, but H.G.
Wells maintains status and influence as the greatest "classic"
science fiction writer. What qualities distinguish his
style? What models
does he create for
in terms of style, action, and characterization? What mix of science and
The Time Machine was written 1895, a generation after Darwin's
Origin of Species (1859): What signs, terms,
or symbols of evolution in
Machine? Is its plot
decline? How does
changing the time scale (from near to distant future) change the perception?
"Social Darwinism" (e.g., "survival of the fittest") with cultural, class,
or biological developments in
The Time Machine.
5. "Somebody up there . . . ": How is Wells's
evolution updated to digital-era technology? What
symbols are updated in terms of gender, action, humor? How
evolution and creation-apocalypse present in the same text?
5a. "Somebody" (cont'd): Published in 1994, this might be Literature of
the Future's most current, hippest test. What feels current or
futuristic about its language or scenario?
(transition from evolution to alternative futures)
The Time Machine (ch. 6 through
Bruce Sterling & Lewis Shiner, "Mozart
in Mirrorshades" (email PDF)
(either Time Machine or "Mozart" or both)
Future-vision presenter: Kelsie
schedule, assignments, midterm
Time Machine / Mozart
Sphinx in Time Machine
Conclude Evolution Section; continue questions
1. conclusion of Eloi-Morlock story:
evolutionary? How like a
2. Late in
novel, very deep future—what storytelling challenges
to deep-future science fiction? (cf. evolution narrative)
3. Summarize science fiction style
+ problems or
issues with "classic science fiction." How does Wells survive
as "classic sf" when so little sf does?
"Mozart in Mirrorshades":
Look for key terms in quantum
temporal physics, time holes, parallel worlds.
futures--note metaphors of "branching" ("Garden of Forking
3. How does "Mozart in Mirrorshades" exemplify
sf as a way to make a topic like
alternative futures friendly, non-threatening, or accessible to average readers?
Compare wit, humor,
satire, and / or
comedy to "Bears Discover Fire."
1. How convincingly do
today's texts represent or make
you feel the possibility of
either through literary techniques or scientific references?
analogies make this
disconcerting concept familiar or imaginable?
What mental images of alternative futures, besides "Garden of Forking
Paths?" Branching tree?
Maze or labyrinth? Altered mentality?
Multiple personality? Music in concert?
1b. Especially in
"Gernsback Continuum", observe glimpses of scientific background for
alternative futures, esp. quantum physics as "probability."
What is the effect on a non-scientific reader of such references?
2. What attractions, repulsions to alternative futures,
compared to apocalyptic and evolutionary narratives?
3. How may alternative futures correspond not only to
postmodern physics but postmodern humanity's evolution to a
multicultural, alternatively gendered society? Where do the stories show
glimpses of a multicultural or alt-gendered society co-evolving with
4. How does "Better Be Ready" (1993) show a
contemporary style comparable to "Somebody Up There Likes Me?" (1994).
|Monday, 6 November:
official date of
due by 11:59pm, Wednesday, 8 November
No regular class
meeting; attendance not required. Instructor keeps office hours during
Visions / Scenarios of the Future
(objective 2 >
in the 1980s and 90s represented a major "mainstreaming" of
science fiction into
literary fiction, with
William Gibson ("The Gernsback Continuum") as the
movement's defining figure. Gibson's writings, beginning with
Neuromancer (1984), influenced the metaphors and visiosn with which writers, film-makers, and everyday
people imagined or described the
virtual reality and the
1. What like / dislike about cyberpunk
why? ("Cyber" = cybernetics or artificial
intelligence; "punk" = 70s-80s countercultural street
style or attitude)
2. Gibson is admired
as one of science fiction's
best stylists, but his writing often leaves students
What strengths? What resemblances to
literary fiction? (e.g.
metaphor, range of reference or
What weaknesses? (e.g. thin characterization, plot-turns on subtle
shifts in human or machine relations rather than stereotypical
characterizations and whiz-bang action of popular science fiction)
What metaphors for computers,
their users, and their realities does his style create?
What human-machine interfaces that we've seen elsewhere in course?
(e.g., bionic implants, human penetration of machines)
(stereotypical background: sf for geeky white guys > implications for women's
identities?) (recall "Stone Lives")
3. What attraction-repulsion of
Consider organic / non-organic; actual / virtual reality; real people /
Monday, 20 November: low-tech:
organic human nature & tradition in high tech world
"The Onion and I," (VN 8-21)."Drapes and Folds,"
(VN 126-139)."Speech Sounds"(VN 91-108).
Vaneza M. Cervantes
(1-2 examples from Essay 1 &
final exam >
assignments / scenario
1. If you didn't (or did) like the cyberpunk / high-tech / virtual
realities stories, what opposing values or appeals of content
or style do these
low-tech stories offer?
utopian / dystopian elements?
Identify different appeals
of low-tech and
3. Contrast organic or
biological appeals of
low-tech with non-organic
or tech appeals of
4. What elements of
(e.g., nostalgia for organic nature, sentimental human bonds of family;
quest for transcendent meaning in antagonistic environment.)
Butler, author of Parable of the Sower, wrote "Speech
Sounds"—how do you recognize her style and subject matter?
1. What are your experiences
reading or teaching utopian or dystopian fiction in American middle
schools and high schools? E.g., Brave New World, Anthem, Nineteen Eighty-Four,
Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies,
The Hunger Games and other
Young Adult Dystopias.
What are the attractions of these genres or sub-genres? Why does
American reading go more toward dystopias than utopias?
or potentially dystopian about
"ecotopias," either in concept or in today's texts?
2. Art or literature
"entertains and educates"
in a continuum: some literature entertains more, some educates more; Where do the two stories fall on this
spectrum? (related terms: didactic literature;
Literature of Ideas; what
terms for pleasure-reading?).
If "Chocco" is more didactic or instructional, what fictional features
make it somewhat more entertaining, or relieve the educational edge?
What kinds of pleasures does "Chocco" offer?
How and why is "House of Bones" more entertaining as fiction than
"Chocco?" In what ways may it still succeed as "instructive" or
Any questions or comments generally about today's readings?
3. What are the urgencies
and difficulties of discussing
overpopulation and climate change? Does science fiction provide a way to discuss?
What upsides, downsides to fiction as learning?
What metaphors or
symbols enable us to imagine a sustainable future?
4. Why is it difficult to write stories that
make people care for the environment? What inherent challenges to
ecological literature or to making people think and care
collectively on a grand scale?
Ecology requires collective responsibility
for a shared world with no escape--must avoid apocalypse, which
may not save anyone or anything.
Most stories require individual heroes,
family or tribal dynamics, and simple
solutions or escapes in short time-frames; apocalypse or end-times are no problem as long as someone else takes
the heat! Human sustainability requires longer time-frames;
do we learn about ourselves and the unknown as a result of reading Alien
Contact stories about the future?
alien-contact science fiction change our view of humanity
on earth? If humans and aliens represent
"the self and the other,"
what do "they" reveal about "us?"
1b. What literary techniques make you
understand, care, and learn about the unknown? (e.g.,
scale and majesty of the universe, how much does alien contact
literature feel religious in some sense?
(Hinterlands 3.1, 3.7)
2. How successfully do the stories get beyond
the predictable formulas of popular
science fiction and become
2a. How much do the characters escape the good guy-bad guy-confused
woman characterization of popular
science fiction or the aliens-as-terrorists models from The War of the
Worlds, Independence Day
or other standard "Earth vs. Aliens" movies in which aliens automatically
appear as apocalyptic terrorists or as innocent child-like wise men
(e.g., E.T., Yoda)?
How can you identify William Gibson's style from our previous readings ("The Gernsback Continuum";
Mnemonic"; "Burning Chrome")
Belonging Kind" and
extended metaphor and
General pop-culture questions:
3. Since alien-visitation or "contact" is about as
true or likely as ghost stories
but is frequently represented in popular literature and film, what
purposes does this subject serve for us? Why do we prefer stories about
aliens to stories about our environment?
4. What dimensions of time or narratives of the
future do aliens represent? How do they represent our
future narratives of apocalypse, evolution,
or alternative futures?
How do today's readings fulfill
today's scenario for Alien
Monday, 11 December: official date for
final exam; email exams due by
11:59pm Tuesday 12 Dec..
No regular class meeting. Attendance not required. instructor holds office hours 1-4,
7-10pm 11 December.
Final grade reports will be emailed approximately a week after due date.
Laura Miller, 2012 review of Elaine Pagels, Revelations
Nicholas Taleb, "The Future will not be Cool"
"Chatter of Doomsday Makes
Beijing Nervous," New York Times 19 Dec. 2012
"Stop Pretending Cyberspace Exists," Salon.Com 12 Feb.
"Why are Birthrates Falling
around the World? Blame Television."
Washington Post 13 May 2013
Hubble space telescope pictures
Humans Need Not Apply
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