IDH 2931   Undergraduate Honors:

                   American Science-Fiction Literature and Film


Professor Andrew Gordon  Fall 2004

Section 1417   W 9-11 (4:05-7:05)   Little 119

Office:  4323 TUR

Office Phone:  392-6650 ext. 254

Office Hours: W 5-7 (11:45-2:45); or by appointment

Mailbox:  4301 TUR






1. To survey twentieth-century American science-fiction (SF) literature and film.


2. To develop critical skills in thinking about the role of SF within contemporary American culture.  We will consider SF as the literature of science, technology, and change, and as perhaps the most characteristic American literature since 1945, a genre affecting all areas of our popular culture.


3. To develop analytical skills through writing about science-fiction stories and films.



Texts (at Goering's, 1717 NW 1st Avenue, next to Bageland; phone 377-3703):


Science Fiction:  The SFRA Anthology ed. Warrick, Waugh, and Greenberg

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (Ace)

Dune by Frank Herbert (Berkley)

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Ace)

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (Avon)

Neuromancer by William Gibson (Ace)

Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson (Bantam Spectra)

Kindred by Octavia Butler (Beacon)

Screening Space by Vivian Sobchack  (Rutgers)

Science Fiction After 1900 by Brooks Landon (Twayne)

The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction  eds. Edward James, Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge )


A packet of stories and articles (at Custom Copies and Textbooks, 309 NW 13 St., 375-2707): ATwilight@ by Campbell, AHeat Death= by Pamela Zoline,  AThe Thing in All Its Guises,@ AAlien and the Monstrous Feminine,@ ABack to the Future,@ and sample reaction papers.


About the Instructor


Andrew M. Gordon specializes in American fiction since WW II, Jewish-American fiction, and SF literature and film.  He wrote  An American Dreamer: A  Psychoanalytic Study of the Fiction of Norman Mailer, co-edited with Peter Rudnytsky  the anthology Psychoanalyses/Feminisms, and co-authored with Hernan Vera Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness.  He has published many articles and reviews on contemporary American science fiction and film, including the SF of Samuel Delany, Robert Silverberg, and Ursula Le Guin, and the SF films of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and the Wachowski brothers.  He served as an editorial consultant on SF film for the journal Science-Fiction Studies and directs the Institute for the Psychological Study of the Arts.  Currently he is completing Wish Upon a Star: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg.





1. Ten one-page (200-300 words typewritten) responses on the stories, novels, critical articles, or films.  Due dates are listed on the schedule.  These should concern one work from the previous week or one work assigned for  that week.  They must be handed in at the class meeting (each response is worth 2%, so unexcused late responses lose .4%  per school day and will not be accepted once they are more than five days late).  Keep the responses tightly focused on one aspect of the work, such as characterization, style, or a central idea; don't give plot summaries.  You can also analyze your emotional response to a work and why the work may have elicited such a response in you.  Alternately, these responses can expand on topics raised in the class the week before or can argue for or against ideas from the critical works we will be reading.  The responses are intended to keep you reading and thinking about the works and coming to class.  They may also develop ideas you can expand in the longer papers.  These short responses will be returned with comments but ungraded; everyone gets the credit for doing them. 


Short responses= 20% total.


2.  Two papers.  Paper 1, due by 4 pm Friday, September 24, should be about four-five typed pages (1000-1250 words) and concern a novel, story, or film covered in Weeks I-V.  Keep it tightly focused on one topic.   You may revise Paper 1 if your grade is less than a B (79 or below).  It may not be revised if it was a late paper.  The revision and the original graded paper are due a week after the paper is returned.   

Paper 2, due by 4 pm Friday, December 3, should be six-seven typed pages (1500-1750 words) and compare any two works (novels, stories, or films) from the course, except the one you wrote on in Paper 1.  It should show evidence of research from at least three critics.  Use MLA format.  You may also write about works not on our reading list, but clear this with me in advance.   

In both papers, I encourage you to apply not only what you have learned in this class but also what you have learned in other courses, whether history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, political science, economics, biology, physics, or chemistry.  Science fiction is the meeting ground of the humanities, social sciences, and hard sciences, and any or all of these approaches may be valid for particular works.

            Alternately, with my prior permission, Paper 2 may be a science-fiction story of at least seven pages.  But in this case, you must submit a first draft in class November 3; I will make suggestions for revisions but reserve the right at that point to ask you to do the paper instead of the story.  The grade is based on the final draft of the story submitted December 3.

Contact me before the due date if you need extra  time.  Unexcused late papers lose two points per school day.    


Paper 1= 25%.  Paper 2= 35%.


3.  One oral report to the class.  You may report on an assigned author, novel, or film, or on another author or work of science-fiction literature or film.  (These reports may also help you prepare for your papers.)  Alternately, you may discuss such topics as the Star Trek or Star Wars phenomenon, an SF (science fiction) TV series, SF music, SF comics or magazines, SF in ads; SF videogames, computer games, or role-playing games; science fiction saturates our entire popular culture.  You can use, if you wish, cassette tapes, slides, videotape, or power point (let me know so I can get the equipment).  Two students may collaborate on a project.  Limit yourself to approximately five minutes per person.

Be creative and have fun with your reports: for example, you can have a debate, do a skit, or conduct a mock-interview with an author.  They are required but ungraded.


Oral report= 10%


4.  Class attendance and participation. Missing one class means missing an entire week's work.  Everyone is allowed one unexcused absence; after that, contact me with a valid explanation.  Each subsequent unexcused absence means three points off your final grade.   Each unexcused late entrance into class or early departure counts as half an absence. 

Attendance alone is not enough; everyone is encouraged to participate.

Classroom etiquette:  please, no reading of newspapers, sleeping, or chatting while class is going on. 


Attendance and participation= 10% .


5.  There are no quizzes, exams, or final exam in this course.




Grading Policy:


            A= 92-100; B= 80-91; C= 70-79; D= 60-69; E= below 60.  


I am an English Professor and will pay close attention to your writing.  The short response papers will give you a good idea of how I read and correct your writing.  If you want to improve your writing, I am always happy to work with you outside of class . You can see me during office hours, make an appointment, submit rough drafts in class, put them in my mailbox (4301 TUR), or e-mail me questions.








I           Aug 25           Introduction.  Film: The Day the Earth Stood Still.


II          Sep 1              Precursors of SF:  stories by  Hawthorne, Wells ("Star"), Forster (in  SFRA Anthology).  AGolden Age" SF:   Weinbaum,  Campbell, AWho Goes There?@ (SFRA Anthology), ATwilight,@ and AHeat Death@ (in packet).  Landon, Preface, Chapter 1-2 (to p. 58).  Cambridge Companion Introduction.  R (Response Paper) 1 due.    


III         Sep 8             SF of 40s and 50s:  Asimov, Moore, Sturgeon, Bradbury.  Sobchack

                                    Chapter 1.  Cambridge Companion: Icons of  SF.  Film:   The Thing.  R2 due.


IV        Sep 15            SF of 50s:  Blish, Smith, Bester.  AThe Thing in All Its Guises@

 (packet). Sobchack, Chapter  2.  R3 due.


V         Sep 22           SF of 50s:  Starship Troopers.  Landon 58-71. Cambridge

 Companion: Hard SF, Marxist Theory and SF, Politics and SF.  Clips from film  Starship Troopers.  PAPER  1 DUE FRIDAY SEP.  24 BY 4PM.


VI        Sep 29           SF of 60s:  Dune (to p 240).  Sobchack, Chapter 3.  Film: 2001.  R4 due.


VII       Oct 6             SF of 60s:  Conclude Dune.   Zelazny.  Conclude film 2001.  R5 due.


VIII      Oct 13            60s "New Wave":  Delany, Dick, Ellison.  Landon 107-22, 145-58. Clips from film Dune.  R6 due.

IX        Oct 20            The New Women:  Le Guin, "Nine Lives" and Left Hand of Darkness.

Landon 123-44.  Cambridge Companion: Feminism and SF, Gender and SF. R7 due.


X         Oct 27            The New Women:  Russ, McIntyre, Tiptree, Butler.  Sobchack,

Chapter 4.  Film: Alien.  R8 due.


XI        Nov 3            The New Women: Kindred by Octavia Butler. Cambridge Companion: Race and Ethnicity and SF. Conclude Alien.   FIRST DRAFT OF SHORT STORY DUE.


XII       Nov 10           SF of 70s: Vietnam in Space:  Forever War.  AAlien and the

 Monstrous Feminine@ (packet).   Film:  Blade Runner.  R9 due.


XIII      Nov 17           80s Cyberpunk:  Neuromancer. Landon 159-66.  Cambridge Companion:  Postmodernism and SF.  Conclude Blade Runner.  R 10 due.   AFTER  CLASS PIZZA PARTY, LEONARDO=S.  


XIV      Nov 24           THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY.


XV       Dec 1             1990s and Beyond 2004: Snowcrash (to p. 258).  ABack to the Future@ (packet).  Landon, 167-79.  PAPER 2 OR FINAL  DRAFT OF SHORT STORY DUE FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3 BY 4 PM. 


XVI      Dec 8             Finish Snowcrash.  Cambridge Companion: SF 1980 to Present.  All papers and stories will be returned and you will get  your grade for the course.








Rules for Writing (these are jokes; each memorably illustrates the rule by breaking it):


1. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.

4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

5. Avoid cliches like the plague.

6. Also always avoid annoying alliteration.

7. Be more or less specific.

8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.

9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

10. No sentence fragments.

11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.

12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.

14. One should never generalize.

15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

16. Don't use no double negatives.

17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

18. One‑word sentences? Eliminate.

19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

20. The passive voice is to be ignored.

21. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.

22. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.

23. Kill all exclamation points!!!

24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

25. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth shaking ideas.

26. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed.

27. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it well.

28. Puns are for conversation and children, not groan readers.

29. Go all around Robin Hood's barn to avoid colloquialisms.

30. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

31. Who needs rhetorical questions?

32. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

33. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.







My Rules (joking aside):



1.  Grading Criteria: 

A (92 and above)=  distinguished work, well

written, free from all serious defects,

shows originality and insight.

B (80)=  good work, above average performance, no

                        serious weaknesses in form or content. 

            C (70)=  acceptable work, unobjectionable.  A C paper

                        usually has more writing errors than the A

or B paper and does not show as much depth,

                        originality, or insight.

D (60)=  below average work:  serious or

many defects in form and/or content.

E (55 or under)=  unacceptable.

0=  failure to turn in an assignment may result in failure in the course.


A grade such as A-/B+ means that your paper was on the borderline between the two grades.


2.   Pick a carefully focused topic you can handle in a few pages:  not "The Character of Holden Caulfield in Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye" but "Holden and Phoebe" or "Holden and the Movies."


3.   State your thesis (an argument or point worth proving) at the end of the first or second paragraph.  For example:  "The automobiles and the way they are driven in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby reflect the character of the people who own or drive them."


4.   Be sure your argument is original and worthwhile.  Don't waste your time and mine restating the obvious, reciting critical commonplaces, or retelling the plot.


5.   Your title should reflect your specific topic:  not The Great Gatsby but "Cars in Gatsby."


6.   Do not underline or put in quotation marks your own title.


7.   Support your argument with references to characters, incidents, and relevant quotations.


8.   Recount narrative action in present tense:  "At Myrtle's party, everyone gets drunk and Tom breaks Myrtle's nose."  Exception:  action which is antecedent to the "present tense" of the narrative:  "Gatsby had always been given to grandiose dreams, dreams which seem realized when he met Daisy in 1917."


9.   Use "   " even when quoting only a few words from the text.


10.  Avoid long quotations, especially in short papers.  If a quotation is longer than 50 words, set it off by indenting and single-spacing it.  You don't need to use "   " then since it is already set off from your text.


11.  When you are quoting two lines of poetry as if they were prose, put them in "     " and use a slash / to indicate line endings.  When you are quoting three or more lines of poetry, indent, single-space and write them out exactly as they appear on the page in the original text.  You don't need to put them in "   " then.         


12.  Dialogue is already in "   " in a story, so quote dialogue using double quotation marks:  "=    '" (13).


13.  Follow American punctuation:  commas and periods go inside the quotation marks, unless a parentheses follows.  Thus:

          "         "          or   "    ."

           But       "         " (13),  or   "    " (13).


14.  Novel but "Short Story."  In other words, underline (or italicize) the titles of long works but use "   " around the titles of short works.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald but "The Swimmer" by John Cheever.


15.  Number all pages (except cover page and page one).


16.  Keep a copy of the paper for your protection.


17.  Never end a line with a hyphen.


18.  Avoid paragraphs that are too short (one or two sentences) or too long (one page).


19.  A hyphen is indicated by a -.  A dash is indicated by a --.  Don't confuse the two.


20.  A  three-dot ellipsis (. . .) indicates that something has been omitted from the middle of quoted matter.  You don't need the ellipsis at the beginning of a quotation (it is obvious that something has been omitted if your quotation does not begin with a capital letter).  A four-dot ellipsis (. . . .) indicates that the end of a sentence or a sentence or more has been omitted (the fourth dot is the period ending the sentence).


21.  Use brackets [   ] not parentheses to indicate your own insertions within quoted matter:  "His [Jim's] notion was wrong."  Parentheses within quoted matter are taken as the original author's.


22.  I don't expect perfection in papers because I don't find it in my own work.  Everyone can use a good editor.  Writing errors are evidence that you are doing your own work and honestly trying.  Use your mistakes: learn from them and learn to be your own editor. 


23.  I value papers that do some original thinking and teach me something new about a novel or story.  When you're writing, remember:  you're the teacher.


24.  Some abbreviations I use in correcting or commenting on papers:


AWK= awkward


BA= Not only x but also y.   Keep these parallel:  x must be grammatically equivalent to y:

People have not only an enormous capacity to err but also an enormous desire to learn from their mistakes.


CHOP= choppy writing.  Too many short sentences in a row; this usually goes along with W, O-U, and R.


CL= cliché


D= diction (word choice:  check dictionary or thesaurus)


FS= fragment sentence.  For example:  He wanted to run.  Although he could barely walk.

The second sentence is FS (a subordinate clause belonging to the first sentence).


H= On the one hand. . . . On the other hand. . . .  Don=t use one without the other.  Think of a pair of handcuffs.


O-U= omit unneeded words


PSV= avoid passive tense (not "the ball is hit by me" but "I hit the ball").  Emphasize the person doing the action.


R= needless repetition.  (Note:  a lot of what I do in reading papers is simply crossing things out:  unnecessary or repetitious  words, phrases, sentences, or occasionally entire paragraphs.)


RO= run-on sentence


RO/CS= run-on sentence, comma splice (using a comma where a period, semicolon, or comma plus coordinating conjunction is called for).  For example:  He wanted to go, however, he couldn't.  That's RO/CS.  Correct to:

                  He wanted to go.  However, he couldn't.  

                  He wanted to go; however, he couldn't.

                  He wanted to go but he couldn't.


SP= spelling


T= wrong tense


U= unclear


V= vague


W= wordy


 & = paragraph


 T  = good point