Science Fiction

Englit 0626 @ Pitt-Greensburg

Autumn 2017; Class meets T H 1 -2:15 pm in 111 Powers Hall

Schedule of Readings and Assignments

Course enrollment and electives info:


Elisa Beshero-Bondar

Office Hours in FOB 204:

Course description

Science fiction is a time-sensitive subject in literature. Usually (but not always) futuristic, science fiction speculates about alternative ways of life made possible by technological change, and hence has sometimes been called “speculative fiction”. Like fantasy, and often associated with it, science fiction envisions alternative worlds with believably consistent rules and structures, set apart somehow from the ordinary or familiar world of our time and place. Distinct from fantasy, however, science fiction places emphasis on technologies as transforming the conditions of our existence and changing what it means to be human. Science fiction as “speculative fiction” is the genre that considers what strange new beings we might become—what mechanical forms we might invent for our bodies, what networks and systems might nourish or tap our life energies, and what machine shells might contain our souls.

This course looks backward on “speculative fiction” from a twenty-first-century vantage point. My choices in texts are certainly not the only good science fiction in the known universe, but they do represent important milestones that speak to our moment in especially provocative ways. We will be investigating a set of challenging readings that break with conventional approaches to plot and characterization, so we can see how science fiction can work as an inventive approach to literature. In taking this course I hope you will discover many parallels to science fiction films, TV series, and texts not on this syllabus. My goal is to provide you a selection of foundational and groundbreaking texts with a strong emphasis on the second half of the twentieth century, to give you an educated frame of reference for exploring and enjoying science fiction on your own.


Texts to purchase

Here is the list of books in the order we are reading them:

  1. H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds, Ed. Martin A. Danahay (Broadview, 2003) ISBN: 978-1551113531

  2. Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Random House (DelRey), 1996. ISBN: 978-0345404473

  3. Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey. New York: Penguin (Roc), 2000. ISBN: 978-0451457998

  4. Alan Moore, Watchmen. New York: DC Comics, 2014. (Paperback ed.) ISBN: 978-1401245252

  5. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor, 1998. ISBN: 978-0385490818

  6. Octavia E. Butler, Lilith’s Brood. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2000. ISBN: 978-0446676106

  7. Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl. Night Shade Books, 2015 (Reissue edition). ISBN: 978-1597808217


Your grade for this course will be based on Class Participation and In-Class Exercises (15%), Short Exercises (20%), Three Papers (30%), Midterm Exam (15%), and one Final Exam (20%).

Class Participation and In-Class Exercises (15%):

This portion of your grade reflects the extent to which you attend class regularly and take an active role in class discussion, contributing thoughtful questions and observations based on the readings, as well as responding to my questions. Your grade in this area will reflect the quality of your class participation, and your performance on announced and unannounced quizzes as well as group exercises. If you keep up with the readings listed on the schedule, and come to class each day prepared to discuss them, you will certainly do well with this component.

Note: Your attendance is vital to this course and your achievement in it. Missing more than three classes will reduce your grade. You may miss three classes for any reason without penalty, but your Participation Grade will be reduced for additional absences. You’ll also be missing in-class activities that will certainly impede your performance on assignments and exams.

Short Exercises (total: 20%):

Short exercises will be scheduled throughout the course, to reflect on the course materials, engaged in threaded discussions, and to introduce digital tools for and/or annotations and sound compositions. These assignments will ask you to analyze and/or research some challenging aspects of the course readings, and they will have specific prompts arising sometimes out of class discussion or on other guidelines I will provide. I expect you to work closely with the readings, quoting and/or referencing specific passages. These exercise will lose points for lateness.

Two Longer Writing Assignments (15% each, for a total of 30%)

Two writing assignments involving extensive close analysis and/or research will be due as marked on the schedule. These writing projects will build on our class discussions and short exercises, will require research on your part, and will give you a choice to write analytically or creatively in a way that involves your research.

Midterm Exam (15%) and Final Exam (20%)

The exams may consist of essay questions, identifications of passages, and brief responses regarding significant events, terms, and concepts and aspects of the readings we have discussed in class. The Midterm will be given in class on the date scheduled. The Final Exam will be given during Final Exam week, and will be partially comprehensive with emphasis on the material in the second half of the course.

Grading Scale for Assignments and Exams:

A: 93-100%, A-: 90-92%, B+: 87-89%, B: 83-86%, B-: 80-82%, C+: 77-79%, C: 73-76%, C-: 70-72%, D+: 67-69%, D: 60-66%, F: 59% and below .

Class Policies and Guidelines

Classes and Readings:

This class is fast paced with very challenging reading. To do well in this course it is vital that you attend class regularly and keep up with the readings! Read all the material assigned before class on the day it is scheduled so that you can discuss the material in class, raise questions about it, and intelligently respond to my questions and comments. Stay alert for any changes to the class schedule, which I will announce in class and online on Courseweb and e-mail.

Classroom Courtesy:

Please take this classroom space and time seriously as a forum for expression and contemplation. Arriving late and leaving early disrupts the important collective mental activity of class. So does in-class texting and checking your cell phone. While class is in progress, talking disruptively, leaving the classroom, texting or using a cell phone or computer, reading a newspaper, or other distracting behavior will be actively discouraged, and may result in a deduction in your Participation grade. Please respect what we do in the classroom: attend class regularly, and come prepared to contribute your ideas.

When an assignment is due:

I expect that you will carefully edit and proofread your documents, and that you will turn in your assignments on time at the beginning of class or by the posted deadline for Courseweb assignments. If you need an extension, ask me courteously at least a day ahead of time. Do not ask for an extension on or after the day the paper is due.

Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism

Plagiarism falsely represents another source’s words or ideas as your own, and, if you commit plagiarism in this course, you will receive a final course grade of F and be reported to the Vice President of Academic Affairs. Representing the voice of another individual as your own voice constitutes plagiarism, however generous that person may be in “helping” you with an assignment. To avoid plagiarism, cite your sources whenever you quote, paraphrase, or summarize material, or use digital images from any outside source (including websites, articles, books, course readings, Courseweb postings, or someone else’s notes). Turning in an assignment generated collectively under the name of a single individual is considered plagiarism. When instructed to collaborate on a project, project collaborators share collective authorship and should identify themselves directly as a team. When using the “copy” and “paste” features as you read and research, be sure that you are carefully marking that these passages are unprocessed from their source, so that you know to process it later. Forgetting to do so not only produces sloppy work but (whether you intended it or not) results in a false representation. As long as you make a good faith and clear effort to cite your sources, you will not be faulted for plagiarism, but your work will be penalized if citations are inaccurate, unclear, or lack important information. Cheating on exams or exercises will also receive a final course grade of F and be reported to the Vice President of Academic Affairs.

Online Policies

GitHub and Courseweb:

E-mail Correspondence

I frequently send announcements to my classes through Courseweb, which also conveniently forwards them to your e-mail addresses. To make sure you’re receiving my announcements, find out whether your account is active and functioning, and get in the habit of checking your messages daily. If you are forwarding your messages to another account, make sure your forwarding works. All of my announcements will also be posted on the Courseweb announcement page.

Send e-mail to me when you have questions or want to meet with me, but please identify yourself by name (first and last), and provide a Subject Line when you do so. I prefer you do not submit your papers to me by e-mail; see directions below for submitting assignments in print and online.

Disability Services:

If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and the Director of the Learning Resources Center, Dr. Lou Ann Sears, Room 240 Millstein Library Building (724) 836-7098 (voice) or los3 at as early as possible in the term. Learning Resources Center will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.