Science Fiction



As free human beings we can use our unique intelligence to try to understand ourselves and our world. But if we are prevented from using our creative potential, we are deprived of one of the basic characteristics of a human being.

-The Dalai Lama


"You are not thinking. You are merely being logical."
- Niels Bohr in conversation to Albert Einstein



LIT 220 01: Science Fiction  (Prerequisite: ENG 101) Mondays, 1:00 - 3:45

Barry Tomkins 201-360-4682


Office hours in I 207B:  Mondays 4:00 – 5:00 pm; Tuesdays 9:00 am -11:00 pm and 3:00 pm- 4:00 pm; Wednesdays 12:00- 2:30 pm; also by appointment, sometimes on Fridays. It’s best to call or e-mail if you intend a visit in case I have had to leave the office.
Course Description

This course is an introduction to the literature of science fiction, and an introduction to writing about literature. We’ll read and discuss short stories and one novel.


· The course will include learning about the nature and themes of science fiction and how science fiction of any historical period reflects the age of its creation and contemporary attitudes towards science, technology, progress and nature.


· We will think about science fiction as a tool for investigating various aspects of human society: what it means to be human (or not), why things are the way they are, how they might be different (or not) as a result of changes in advances or changes in science and/or technology.


· Mostly, however, we will read and discuss and write about the stories as individual, imaginative works of art, and enjoy them for themselves, as speculative journeys of the imagination -  voices in a great conversation: humanity trying to understand itself.


Course Outcomes

You will improve your abilities to:

   Analyze a work of literature in terms of  plot, character, setting, structure, language, theme and meaning;

   Communicate ideas about science fiction in well-organized essays and reports;

   Articulate the difference between science fiction and other forms of fiction;

   Identify social and natural science themes in science fiction and relate them to social, scientific and technological trends;

  Describe historical trends in the development of science fiction as a literary genre;

  Demonstrate knowledge of well-known science fiction authors and literary works.


Texts Required

· Eds. Evans, etc. The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8195-6955-4


· Sawyer, Robert J. Hominids. Tor. 2002. ISBN 0-765-34500-5


Work Required, Grading

· Read all assignments in preparation for class; participate fully in class discussions and group work; be well prepared for oral report. All written work must be completed.


Attend all class sessions (each absence = -5% points). More than two absences will be grounds for an F.  You may make up for legitimate absence (up to 2) by writing summaries of the stories assigned for that week. Summaries should be no more than 250 words and include all main events and themes of the subject story.


· Please be on time!  If you miss an in-class writing assignment because you are late you will lose the points.


Successfully complete brief in-class writing assignments (at 1:00pm) based on the readings for the week (30%). Your work on these will show that you have prepared for class by reading and taking notes and thinking about the assigned stories. Notes out; books closed. You are advised to take well-organized notes on each assigned story, including useful quotations. When we read Hominids, the in-class writing assignments will be replaced by chapter reports.


·  Complete three essays for homework (each 3-5 pages; typed, double-spaced, 12 point, no cover page). Topics and due dates below. (15% for each essay = 45%) Each essay may be revised once for a higher grade. Submit with the original.


Complete one in-class essay, books closed,  on Sawyer’s Hominids, on the last day of class (15%)


· Two 10-minute oral reports on assigned stories (2 x 5% = 10%). Instructions below.


Late Work

·  Homework essays are due on Mondays with a two-day grace period. Essays handed in later than Wednesday will be docked one grade and one additional grade for each additional week late. All essays must be completed to earn a passing grade.


· No make-ups for in-class writing assignments. If you are late, you can compensate for no more than 2 missing in-class writing assignments by writing summaries of the stories assigned for that week. Summaries should be no more than 250 words and include all the main events of the subject stories.


· Work must be printed and brought to class or left in my office (I-207) or the Division Office (I-106); e-mails of homework will not be accepted without special permission. Keep a copy on file.


Oral Report - Short Stories

In your oral reports you will lead the class discussion of 2 stories. Sign up.  You may not sign up for 2 on the same day. Speak clearly and slowly. Give your audience time to process your words.


PART A: A summary of the plot: one page, no more. Write this as a list of bullets. Do not read a paragraph. Do not include commentary in this section. Try to outline the main points or events as clearly and concisely as you can, without missing out important information.


PART B: Explain what you see as the story’s main themes and compare the story with at least two other stories we have read this semester (5 -7 bullets).


PART C:  Ask 3 questions to get a discussion started. These questions might be about puzzling aspects of the story, what it means, the ending, the characters, its relevance, whatever seems important to you.


I will need a copy of each presentation on the day assigned.


Oral Report – Hominids

When we read this book together, I will assign chapters to each member of the class. You will be reponsible for leading us through your assigned chapters – a summary plus 3 questions for the class. No written component will be required.

Reading Assignments

Week 1 -   Introduction.  Bradbury, “The Veldt” (handout)


Week 2 -  Moore, “Shambleau” (1933); Weinbaum, “A Martian Odyssey” (1934)


Week 3 -  Silverberg, “Passengers” (1968); Kress, “Out of All Them Bright Stars” (1985); Simak, “Desertion” (1944)


Week 4 -   Bradbury, “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1950);  Sturgeon, “Thunder and Roses” (1947)


Week 5 -  Clarke, “The Sentinel” (1951); H.G. Wells, “The Star” (1897);  Chiang, “Exhalation”  (2008) (Homework Essay #1 due.)


Week 6 -   Forster, “The Machine Stops”(1909); Dick, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”(1966)


Week 7 -   Gibson, “Burning Chrome” (1982); Cadigan, “Pretty Boy Crossover” (1986); Gunn, “Computer Friendly” (1989)


Week 8 -  Le Guin, “Nine Lives” (1969); Aldiss, “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long”(1969);  Asimov, “Reason” (1941)


Week 9  -  Russ, “When It Changed” (1972); Pohl, “Day Million” (1966); Tiptree, “And I Awoke…” (1972) (Homework Essay #2 due.)


Week 10 – Zoline, “The Heat Death of the Universe” (1967); Egan, Closer (1992); Emshwiller, “Abominable”(1980)


Week 11  -  Ellison, “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (1965); Lafferty, “Slow Tuesday Night” (1965);  


Week 12 -  Heinlein, “All You Zombies” (1959); Wilhelm, “Forever Yours, Anna” (1987); Kessel, “Invaders” (1990)


Week 13  -  Sawyer, Hominids (2002) Chapters 1- 15 (Homework Essay #3 due.)


Week 14  -  Sawyer, Hominids (2002) Chapters 16- 32


Week 15 -  Sawyer, Hominids (2002) Chapters 33- 47 (In-class essay on Hominids)



LIT 220 Science Fiction – Spring 2013 Essay Assignments

Essay Assignments (Homework) Each essay = 3-5 pages.


Put the assignment, name, etc. on the top of page one. Make up interesting titles for your interesting essays. You need to write about different stories each time, i.e. don’t write about any story in more than one essay; also, don’t write about the subjects of your oral reports or Hominids.


Use 12-point type in Courier New, Times New Roman, Arial or similar. See attached handout on writing essays. If you are having difficulty with an assignment, see me. I’ll be glad to help. Writing does not have to be a secret activity. One rewrite of each essay for a higher grade is allowed and encouraged – hand in one week after getting your essay back, with the original. The new grade will count.


Choose three. You may do them in any order:


  1. Write an essay which compares fictional life in one story in the syllabus to life in our contemporary “real” society. What similarities or differences do you note?


  1. Write an essay about the different ways gender and/or sexuality is treated in two stories.


  1. Choose one of the following themes: violence, fear, computers, time, psychology, aliens, apocalypse, bioengineering. Compare this theme in any two stories on the syllabus.


  1. What is the value of science fiction? Answer using examples from two stories from the syllabus.


  1. Explain why we should classify some stories as “science fiction” by examining both elements in two stories.


Guidelines for Writing Essays

College Composition I is a prerequisite for LIT 220: Science Fiction, so what follows is meant to be a brief reminder only. Keep these main points in mind:


· Have something to say. An essay which merely summarizes other people’s writing or presents facts would not be very valuable or interesting. What you have to say about the topic is what gives your writing its point. Look at the assignment carefully and determine what’s being asked, so you can formulate your thesis in response.


            ¨ If finding your main point (i.e. thesis) is a problem, try some pre-writing exercises such as freewriting, brainstorming and listing - and sleep on the problem!


· Support your ideas with useful evidence. When you provide an example to support an idea, you show it working in the literature and the idea comes alive for the reader.


            ¨ Underline useful selections from the reading which you may be able to quote or refer to in your essay.


· Organize your material. Pity your poor reader, who wants to move from point to point in a logical, organized way, following the connections you make.


            ¨ Make a rough outline of your essay before you write.

            ¨ Build bridges between sections of your essay - use transitional phrases and sentences.


· Write engaging introductions and satisfying conclusions.

            ¨ An introduction should engage your readers and orient them to your topic and thesis.

            ¨ A conclusion should not repeat your thesis in a mechanical way, but create a sense of an ending.


· Write well-developed body paragraphs.

            ¨ Each paragraph should help support your thesis and clarify your thesis.

            ¨ Each paragraph should use details to make a supporting point.

            ¨ Details might include paraphrase or summary of elements in a story, or a direct quotation (see below).


· Write clear, well-balanced, grammatical sentences. You don’t have to be a sophisticated stylist to communicate effectively, but your reader won’t appreciate grammatical errors or clumsily constructed sentences!


            ¨ Treat each sentence as a mini-composition. Revise each sentence carefully.

            ¨ Avoid repeating the same sentence structure over and over – vary the kinds of sentence you use.

            ¨ Consider alternate vocabulary choices (but remember - a fancier word isn’t necessarily a better word - use your own voice, not someone else’s!).

            ¨ Don’t ask a lot of questions you can’t answer, or expect the reader to answer.


· Revise, revise, revise! Few writers compose well on the first draft; the best usually rewrite several times.


            ¨ Leave time to do several drafts.

            ¨ Review thesis, organization, paragraph structure, evidence, sentences.

            ¨ Make a list of your favorite grammatical errors and hunt them down.

            ¨ Share with a friend or friends – form a study group and help each other.


· Use quotation properly.

            ¨ Always use quotation marks when using the author’s exact words.

            ¨ Introduce any quotations carefully, so the reader knows why it’s there. Follow up with your point.


            In Simak’s story “Desertion,” the main character, Fowler, an expedition leader, sends several men out into a hostile climate of Jupiter to see if humans can survive there in Jovian form. Humans are undertaking the dangerous experiment “so that the resources of the giant planet would be thrown open.” (Simak 179) The human exploitation of Jupiter is not to be, however, not because the experiment fails, but because it is too successful, and instead of demonstrating human capabilities, the story’s ironical ending leads the reader to a quite different conclusion about human beings.


Writing a Summary

You need to do this if you are absent from a session or you come in late and miss the in-class writing assignment. (About 150-250  words, one paragraph.)


  1. Read the story carefully once. Don’t take notes. Take your time, enjoy the reading experience, and allow yourself to react to what’s interesting in what you read.
  2. Read it a second time, this time taking notes which form a rough outline and include:

·         topic

·         major events and/or ideas

  1. Draft a one-sentence summary.  Don’t worry if the sentence is long or awkward.

Try to “tell the whole story” in that sentence.  (Don’t give up on this. You can do it if you try.)

  1. Use your rough outline to decide on the essential details which will support the one-sentence summary.
  2. Combine the essential details into a few complete sentences which will form the body of the paragraph.
  3. Put the one-sentence summary at the beginning of your paragraph.
  4. Edit



Seven Points to Remember When Writing a Summary

Use your own words as much as possible, but do not add your own ideas or comments.

Include the author’s name and the title.

Begin with a sentence which gives an overview of the whole piece.

Include all essential information.

Leave out details which are not essential.

Do not copy out phrases or sentences unless you use quotation marks correctly.

Be concise: use as few words as possible while still being clear.