English 140: Science Fiction (Fall 2021)

*This course fulfills the Authors and Genres requirement for English Majors. 

*This course fulfills the core requirement: Artistic Analysis.


“The Shape of Things to Come”

       -- title of the work by H. G. Wells

       from which the 1936 movie Things to Come was made


“The Way the Future Was”

       -- title of the autobiography of

       Frederik Pohl, a science fiction writer who grew up during the 1930s


It wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth-century that “futuristic fiction” began to emerge as a literary genre.  Darwin’s theoretical model of the processes of evolutionary change had something to do with this; so, too, did the accelerating pace of advances in scientific knowledge and technological achievement.


It became clear at the beginning of the twentieth century that the future was going to be different, to a degree unprecedented in human history, from the present and from the past and that no one had any reliable way to predict the distant future.  “The future” emerged as an intellectual and imaginative playground, the object at once of sober prophecies and speculations and colorful and outlandish imaginings that verged on fantasy.


This course will study the development of “science fiction” – in pulp magazines, comics, radio, hardcover and paperback books, movies, and television—during the past century.  Science fiction, as the exploration of possible futures, has outgrown its origin in magazines addressed to “nerds” and proto-scientists to become one of the dominant influences in contemporary American culture.


Readings will include the writings of H. G. Wells, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frederic Pohl, Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and a host of others.  We will pay attention to the emergence of science fiction in comics, radio, movies and television, taking seriously, for example, classic science fiction films like Things to Come, The Day the Earth Stood Still2001:  A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and Bladerunner, and Star Trek in both its TV and cinematic incarnations.


Requirements:   Faithful attendance, careful reading and watching, active participation in class discussion, two or three papers, and a take-home final exam.


Instructor:         Robert Gorsch                                  MWF 2:45-3:50