Possible Worlds: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, and Alternate Histories
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 13 January 2020
Friday 20 March 2020
03 May 2019
Requisites for this module
During the twentieth century, a distinctive form of fiction emerged at the meeting point of several related strands of modern literature. Drawing on science fiction, speculative fiction, and alternate histories, the literature and cinema of possible worlds is concerned with the precarious routes leading to and from our present situation and is characterised by an acute sense of the contingency of human 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 potential 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.
This module considers nine major examples of the literature and cinema of possible worlds drawn from a diverse group of twentieth- and twenty-first-century writers and filmmakers. Topics and themes addressed on the module include, but are not limited to, science and technology, utopia and dystopia, human evolution, alternate histories, time travel, superheroes, feminist science fiction, and speculative approaches to race, gender, and sexuality.
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 eight 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 Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness to more recent works such as Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Naomi Alderman’s The Power.
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.
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We [1924)] (London: Penguin, 1993)
William Golding, The Inheritors  (London: Faber and Faber, 2015)
Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle  (London: Penguin, 2015)
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness  (London: Gollancz, 2017)
Octavia E. Butler, Kindred  (London: Headline, 2014)
Samuel R. Delany, Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand  (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.
Ten two-hour seminars
Module materials will be available on Moodle
- Samuel R. Delaney. (1967; ) Babel-17, London: Gollancz.
- Moore, Alan; Gibbons, Dave. (no date) Watchmen, New York: DC Comics, c 1987.
- Yevgeny Zamyatin. (no date) We, New York, NY: Penguin Books.
- Le Guin, Ursula K. (2017) The left hand of darkness, London: Gollancz.
- Tarkovsky, Andrei. (no date) Stalker (1979).
- Butler, Octavia E. (no date) Kindred, London: Headline.
- Hall, Sarah. (2017) The Carhullan army, London: Faber & Faber.
- Dick, Philip K. (no date) The Man in the High Castle, London: Penguin Books.
- Schaffner, Franklin J. (no date) Planet of the Apes (1968).
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
||Essay (2,500 words)
||120 minutes during Summer (Main Period) (Main)
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Sean Seeger
LiFTS General Office, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone 01206 872626
Prof Duncan James Salkeld
Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature
Available via Moodle
Of 53 hours, 44 (83%) hours available to students:
9 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).
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