Gwybodaeth Modiwlau

Module Identifier
WL32220
Module Title
Reading and Writing Science Fiction
Academic Year
2020/2021
Co-ordinator
Semester
Semester 2
Other Staff

Course Delivery

 

Assessment

Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Written Portfolio / Essay  3,500 words creative piece (60%) plus a 1,500 word learning journal (40%) OR a 4,000 word essay  100%
Supplementary Assessment Written Portfolio / Essay  Resit or resubmit failed elements and/or make good any missing elements  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1 .Demonstrate a critical understanding of the distinctive thematic concerns and formal innovations that characterize science fiction;

2. Demonstrate, in both creative and evaluative writing, an increased command of a variety of techniques of Science Fiction and Fantasy writing;

3. Locate and discuss science fiction in terms of its historical, social, and cultural contexts;

4. Attend responsively to the formal and stylistic features of the texts studied on the module;

5. Demonstrate, in reflective prose, an awareness of their own writing processes;

6. Demonstrate, by the revision of work previously discussed in workshops, an ability to improve their writing in response to criticism.

Brief description

This module explores science fiction as a vibrant and diverse literature with an established history and robust scholarly framework. Participants will investigate the development of the field though the reading and discussion of key texts (both creative and critical). They will develop their own creative and critical pieces through workshops and, in the process, enhance their understanding of science fiction as a form of professional creative practice and a legitimate field of academic study.

The module will begin with an introduction to the critical and theoretical approaches to the genre, before considering critical and creative perspectives on a series of recognisable SF tropes: stories about astronauts, starships, ‘big dumb objects’, alien planets, extraterrestrials, and so on. Students will be introduced to range of authors (such as Emma Newman, Ted Chiang, Alastair Reynolds, and Kameron Hurley), theoretical approaches and writing practices which will form a base knowledge for Writing Project work or even postgraduate study. Teaching delivery will consist of ten 2-hour seminar/workshops (the first hour of each class will involve the workshopping of student writing, the second a seminar style discussion). Participants will examine exemplar texts for each approach, aiming to learn as much as possible about their technical and artistic methods, as well as relevant critical approaches, enlarging their understanding of science fiction’s many different possibilities in the process. Particular attention will be paid to the manner by which science fiction often serves as an allegorical representation of the time in which it is written, as well as to the contemporary market for science fiction short stories. This is a dual assessment module, open to both English Literature and Creative Writing students, and students will have the option to receive formative feedback on either creative writing or literary analysis before their final assignment.​

Content

Session 1: ‘The Nine Billion Names of Science Fiction’
Introduction to the module and to the difficult question of ‘What is Science Fiction’? Students will test out various definitions and look at the appearance of common tropes via the close reading of an exemplar short story.

Session 2: ‘One Small Step’
Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova, Neil Armstrong, Mae Jemison, Chris Hadfield, Peggy Whitson… just some of the astronauts who have inspired writers for the last half century. But how should we approach stories about Astronauts, Cosmonauts, Taikonauts, and the like? How much realism do we require and how much is too much? This session will examine stories about men and women who travel into space and, in the process, will explore debates about the so-called ‘hardness’ and ‘softness’ of science fiction narratives.

Session 3: ‘Engage!’
Starships in SF do more than simply link planetary systems, they ply richly imagined routes between subgenres and even across the barriers between mediums. This session will look at the development of starships in fiction, at the different types of fictional starships, at how they are depicted as instruments of peace and of war, of exploration and of commerce (both legal and otherwise), and, ultimately, as vessels for human stories

Session 4: ‘Big Dumb Objects’
Space, as Douglas Adams wrote, ‘is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is’. This vast scope has long allowed writers to fill their work with immense structures and artefacts of both human and alien origin. This seminar will examine so called ‘Big Dumb Objects’ such as Dyson Spheres, Monoliths, Ringworlds, and Orbitals, and how we can use them to imbue our SF stories with a sense of awe and mystery.

Session 5: ‘An Infinity of Worlds…’
Scientists, in recent decades, have confirmed what science fiction writers have always known: the universe beyond our solar system is teeming with other planets. Worlds where it rains diamonds or where molten lava bubbles across the surface. Hot Jupiters and ice giants. Super-Earths in their star’s ‘Goldilocks Zone’ or rogue worlds ejected from their solar systems and wandering the darkness alone. Maybe we will send human explorers or maybe we will send robots. Either way, we’re going to need to know how best to evoke them in our writing.

Session 6: ‘Life… But not as we know it’
Science fiction has been fixated on alien intelligence for hundreds of years, from contact narratives externalising the anxieties of colonialism and imperialism, to interventions both violent and benign, to advanced beings who may not notice out existence. This session will look at fictional aliens that run the gamut (which is a small, mammal-like creature found on Hexachord VII) from the allegorical to the incomprehensible. We will look at strategies for creating convincing aliens and alien cultures, consider the relationship between biology and environment, and discuss what these approaches offer the SF writer.

Sessions 7: ‘01000001 01110011 01101001 01101101 01101111 01110110’
Robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence are recurring tropes in science fiction and, increasingly, are part and parcel of our everyday lives (“Alexa, tell me about Asimov’s Laws of Robotics?”). This session will discuss a variety of relationships between humans and artificial life (such as master/slave, creator/creation, and human-machine teaming) with participants asked to reflect on canonical texts in our contemporary, machine saturated times.

Session 8: ‘A Klingon, a Dalek, and a Xenomorph Walk into a Bar…’
Recursive SF is best thought of as science fiction about science fiction. It is a metafictional subgenre concerned with its own nature as a genre text, is self-conscious about language, form, literary conventions, and directly or indirectly drawing attention to its status as an artefact. This session will look at how writers often use Recursive SF as a form of parody or as a tool to comment on the relationship between the science fiction genre and wider culture.

Session 9: ‘I Hate Temporal Mechanics!’
Session 1 will… No, I’m kidding. Session 9 will focus on time travel: Is it best to travel by DeLorean or Police Box or via a closed timelike curve? What happens if you meet yourself or if you step on a butterfly? Can you kill Hitler? Can you murder one of your own grandparents? There’s no way this session doesn’t get weird as we examine how to plan and execute a time travel story, how the subgenre differs from Alternate History, and how maybe we ought to just stop worrying and learn to love the paradoxes. Of course, the best part is you’re already travelling through time right now. Think about it.

Session 10: ‘All These Worlds are Yours…’
A final session to revise the key themes of the module, discuss the thematic through-lines which connect the set texts, and to offer advice ahead of the assessment.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number
Communication Written communication skills are key to the work students will do on this module. Moreover, oral interaction in group discussion will be essential to the seminars and workshops.
Improving own Learning and Performance Students will be expected to improve their understanding of science fiction literature in response to discussion with the tutor and other students, as well as to develop their own approaches to the writing and criticism of said literature.
Information Technology Student will be required to make full use of library facilities and master online/digital research.
Personal Development and Career planning This will be discussed during the course and is implicitly embedded in the assessed work and in the feedback of course tutor and peers.
Problem solving Employing the skills of critical engagement, assessment of writing technique, and analysis of structure and genre will arise and be dealt with during seminars, in workshops, and in assessment. The effectiveness by which the student has solved problems is evident in the planning of and quality of the finished work.
Research skills The assessment on this module will reflect the student’s ability to read widely and to engage with literature with a critical eye as well as construct effective narratives of their own. They will have to apply this knowledge to make informed decisions about their own approaches to science fiction.
Subject Specific Skills Practical proficiency in the specific skills of writing science fiction, as well as literary analysis and criticism, which will prepare students for their dissertations and postgraduate work .
Team work Students will have the opportunity to work in small group discussions during workshops and seminars.

Notes

This module is at CQFW Level 6