Alien Worlds and Contemporary Issues in Science Fiction

Pat Schwieterman

ENGL 195 02

Course Description:

Science fiction has long been seen as an “escapist” literature that actively avoids engagement with the most pressing concerns of contemporary life. However, the futuristic or extraplanetary settings of the genre actually offer writers opportunities to explore abiding concerns through thought experiments that heighten the tensions implicit in a given topic. For example, Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness explores the contingency of some aspects of gendered identity through the description of a human society in which gender is only temporary. And Octavia Butler examines immigrants’ negotiations of questions of identity in a boy’s coming-of-age story on a world where displaced human families are integrated with the families of the alien inhabitants. In this course we’ll look at these narratives and others, supplemented by a selection of non-fiction texts. 

This class will not be a formal introduction to the history of science fiction, but we will read a mix of novels and short stories – and view two films in class – in more or less chronological order, starting with works from the beginning of the twentieth century. Besides the works named above, the syllabus will probably feature texts by Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Ted Chiang, Pat Murphy, Mercurio D. Rivera, James Patrick Kelly, Ian McDonald, and others. We’ll also make a number of trips off-campus for movies and readings by science fiction authors.

Faculty Bio:

A Bay Area native, Pat Schwieterman earned undergraduate degrees in Environmental Science and Plant Science at UC Riverside, worked for over a decade as an indie-rock buyer for various record stores, and then obtained graduate degrees in English from UC Berkeley. His research focuses on medieval literature in Old French and Middle English, with a particular interest in supernatural beings such as fairies, demons and werewolves. At USF, he has taught courses in children’s literature, science fiction, and medieval literature, among others.