ENG 237F (L0101): SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY

COURSE DESCRIPTION

DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, 2000

1. General Description of Course

sf or speculative fiction consists of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. When sf imaginatively extends the hard (technology-based), social and human (medical, psychological) sciences, it can be called science fiction. This extrapolates from late 20th-century knowledge or takes a mythic perspective on scientific issues. sf that favours an animate, mysterious or supernatural universe can be called fantasy when it ends in escape and joy, and horror when it ends in entrapment. We will read different forms of post-WW2, largely North American sf originally published from 1949 to 1995 for a mass audience. Most writers discussed in this course are alive and active in publishing. They include half a dozen winners of the field's prestigious Nebula and Hugo awards. Canadian writers have a high profile among speculative fiction writers internationally (e.g., Gibson and Green).
          Some works on this course realize themes of traditional sf: AI (Adams, Gibson), space and time travel (Adams, Herbert, Niven, Piercy), feminist utopias (Russ, Piercy, Butler), the end of the world (Adams), alternate history (Dick), and new species and worlds (Adams, Card, Herbert). Recent themes include ecological disaster and holocaust (Amis, Butler) and chaos theory (Herbert, Simmons). In these ways, sf addresses our century's hopes for intelligent machines, new knowledge, increased powers for the human mind and body, freedom, and worlds better than our own. sf is a literary forum both for optimists convinced that the lot of humanity can be improved (e.g., Butler, Card, Piercy, and Russ) and for pessimists who disagree (e.g., Dick and Herbert).
          The defining work of postwar fantasy and horror, the counterweight to science fiction, is Tolkien's 3-volume Lord of the Rings. Typical themes of fantasy and horror include the world of "faerie" (Tolkien, Card), time distortions (Amis, Green), and ESP (King). Three striking attempts to fuse the three forms, science fiction, fantasy, and horror, are Frank Herbert's Dune (faster-than-light travel, a classical Greek setting, and religious fanaticism), Larry Niven's Ringworld (Dyson spheres, the Wizard of Oz, and racial enslavement by aliens), and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (AI, intelligent creatures, and holocaust).

2. Textbooks and Provisional Schedule

The fiction (all paperback) is available at the university's textbook store. It will also have Understanding SF, a collection of my essays on which course lectures are based.

After week 1, lectures will normally be on Mondays and Wednesdays, and tutorials normally on Fridays. The following schedule is subject to change at short notice.