LT321-6-SP-CO:
Possible Worlds: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, and Alternate History

The details
2022/23
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Spring
Undergraduate: Level 6
Current
Sunday 15 January 2023
Friday 24 March 2023
15
28 April 2021

 

Requisites for this module
(none)
(none)
(none)
(none)

 

(none)

Key module for

(none)

Module description

Possible Worlds is a module on speculative fiction in its many guises. Encompassing science fiction, apocalyptic fiction, graphic novels, and alternate histories, the literature and cinema of possible worlds is concerned with the precarious routes leading to and from our own present, and is characterised by an acute sense of the volatility and contingency of history.

These novels and films typically take as their starting point a hypothetical alteration in the course of events or a change in social or technological dynamics. From there, they extrapolate lines of development leading towards one or more possible worlds. In doing so, they serve to estrange us from the world as we find it and reawaken us to the variability and open-endedness of the human situation.

After an introductory session on the history of science fiction, we will go on to look at nine major examples of the literature and cinema of possible worlds, drawing on a diverse group of modern and contemporary writers and filmmakers: from the pioneering work of H. G. Wells at the end of the Victorian period through the work of key twentieth-century figures such as Philip K. Dick and Ursula Le Guin to recent science fiction cinema. Topics and themes addressed on the module include, but are not limited to: time travel, alien encounters, evolution, alternate histories, superheroes, science fiction as philosophy, feminist science fiction, utopias and dystopias, and speculative treatments of race, gender, and sexuality.

Module content note: topics may include sexual assault, animal cruelty, suicide, violence, torture (physical and mental), death, abortion, racism and racial slurs, sexism and misogyny, homophobia and heterosexism. Please contact the module supervisor if you have any questions.

Module aims

This module aims to foster students’ critical thinking and cultural awareness by inviting them to consider how a diverse group of twentieth- and twenty-first-century writers and filmmakers extrapolated from hypothetical alterations in the course of history or changes in social or technological dynamics to envisage lines of development leading towards one or more possible worlds. Through a close consideration of nine key examples of the literature and cinema of possible worlds, students will reflect on what such scenarios can teach us about society, history, politics, technology, race, gender, sexuality, and human nature. Students will acquire or deepen their knowledge of a range of texts, from established classics like H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds (1897) to much more recent works like Christopher Nolan’s film Inception (2010).

Module learning outcomes

After successful completion of the module, students should be able to:

1. display a detailed knowledge of the literature and cinema of possible worlds, encompassing science fiction, speculative fiction, and alternative histories;
2. appreciate how these works offer insight into the contingency of history and the variability and open-endedness of the human situation;
3. approach their own historical moment from a critical perspective informed by the literature and cinema of possible worlds;
4. demonstrate the knowledge and skills required to engage in intellectual debates around issues raised by science fiction, speculative fiction, and alternative histories;
5. plan, research, and write a critical essay.

Module information

Recommended reading:

Yevgeny Zamyatin, We [1924)] (London: Penguin, 1993)

William Golding, The Inheritors [1955] (London: Faber and Faber, 2015)

Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle [1962] (London: Penguin, 2015)

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness [1969] (London: Gollancz, 2017)

Octavia E. Butler, Kindred [1979] (London: Headline, 2014)

Samuel R. Delany, Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand [1984] (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004)

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen [1986–1987] (New York: DC Comics, 2014)

Sarah Hall, The Carhullan Army (London: Faber and Faber, 2007)

Naomi Alderman, The Power (London: Penguin, 2016)


Further recommended reading will be made available via Moodle and TALIS.

Learning and teaching methods

Anticipated teaching delivery: Weekly two-hour seminars Module materials will be available on Moodle We will offer a mixture of tailored online, digital, and campus-based teaching where it may be possible and as appropriate, along with personalised one-to-one consultation with academic staff.

Bibliography

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Written Assignment (4,000 words)  11/04/2023  95% 
Practical   Participation Marks    5% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%

Reassessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Sean Seeger, email: saseeg@essex.ac.uk.
Dr Sean Seeger
LiFTS General Office, email: liftstt@essex.ac.uk Telephone 01206 872626

 

Availability
Yes
No
No

External examiner

Dr Doug Haynes
University of Sussex
Reader in American Literature and Visual Culture
Resources
Available via Moodle
Of 8 hours, 8 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.

 

Further information

Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.