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Exploring Science Fiction

Navigation Links: Quarter 2, Quarter 3, Quarter 4

Welcome to “Exploring Science Fiction!” In this course, we will delve into the rich history of science fiction literature, exploring some of the genre’s most significant works from its earliest days to its most recent forms. Through a combination of reading, viewing, and writing, we will examine the ways in which science fiction has evolved over time, while also considering the ways in which it continues to address timeless themes and issues related to technology, society, ethics, race, gender, and identity.

A list of the stories and novels we will read during this class can be found here.

A day with an asterisk (*) means there is something for you to print.

Day 1

1. Watch the video “What Is Science Fiction, Actually?”
2. Read “The Veldt” (1950) by Ray Bradbury.
3. Write a paragraph or two about the story. What happened in the story? What is the “novum,” or plausible connection to reality, that makes it science fiction? What do you think the story is trying to say?

Day 2

1. When we think of science fiction today, we may picture spaceships, robots, and other futuristic technologies. But the genre actually has its roots in the early 19th century, with the publication of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.” Published in 1818, “Frankenstein” tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a living being from dead body parts. When the creature he has brought to life turns out to be a monster, Victor must confront the consequences of his actions and the moral implications of his scientific experimentation.
2. What makes “Frankenstein” the first science fiction novel? For one, it introduces many of the key themes and ideas that have come to define the genre, including the dangers of unchecked scientific experimentation, the relationship between humanity and technology, and the moral and ethical implications of playing god. Perhaps most importantly, however, “Frankenstein” paved the way for future works of science fiction by challenging readers to think critically about the impact of science and technology on society. Shelley’s novel forced readers to confront the moral and ethical implications of scientific experimentation in a way that had never been done before, and set a precedent for science fiction writers to explore these issues in their own work.
3. Watch the Crash Course video, “Don’t Reanimate Corpses!
4. Watch the video The Real “Doctor Frankenstein” to learn more about the scientific experiments that inspired Mary Shelley’s work.
5. You are not required to read “Frankenstein” for this course, but if you would like to, you can find a free online copy here.

Day 3

1. Another notable early work of science fiction was “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (1864) by Jules Verne. This book paved the way for future science fiction writers by popularizing the idea of exploring the unknown and pushing the boundaries of human knowledge. Verne’s work was groundbreaking for its time because it combined scientific knowledge with adventure storytelling. He was one of the first writers to use scientific concepts as the basis for his fiction, and his works became a source of inspiration for generations of science fiction writers to come, such as H.G. Wells and Arthur C. Clarke.
2. Watch the video summary of “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”
3. Today you’re going to read one chapter from “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Read Chapter 39. (Here is the full book if you want to read more.)

Day 4

1. Today read all four parts of “The Damned Thing” (1893) by Ambrose Bierce.
2. Write a couple of paragraphs about the story. What did you think of it? This story explores themes such as fear, the nature of reality, and the power of the unseen. What specifically makes it a science fiction story instead of simply horror?

Day 5

1. The late 1800s saw science fiction becoming more popular, and one factor that contributed to its rise was the rapid pace of technological advancement during this period. The development of new technologies like electricity, telegraphy, and steam power captured the public imagination, and writers began to explore the implications of these technologies in their work. Meanwhile, growing interest in the natural sciences, particularly the fields of astronomy, biology, and physics provided inspiration for many science fiction writers, who used scientific principles and ideas to create imaginative stories and scenarios.
2. Another one of the early, influential works of science fiction from this period was H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” published in 1895. The novel explores the concept of time travel, a theme that would become a hallmark of the genre. Wells also used the novel to critique the social and economic systems of his day, continuing the use of science fiction as a means of social commentary.
3. Watch the summary and analysis of “The Time Machine.”
4. Read Chapter 3 of “The Time Machine.” (Here is a link to the complete text should you want to read it.)

Day 6

1. Watch the video about Jules Verne’s contributions to science fiction.
2. Watch the video about H.G. Wells and his contributions to science fiction.

Day 7

1. “The War of the Worlds,” written by H.G. Wells and published in 1898, holds a significant place in the history of science fiction literature. This classic work is one of the earliest pieces of literature to deal with aliens, and explores the invasion of Earth by Martians, captivating readers with its vivid depiction of alien encounters, advanced technology, and the ensuing struggle for survival. The novel’s impact and enduring popularity stem from its groundbreaking narrative style, social commentary, and lasting cultural influence.
2. Historically, “The War of the Worlds” emerged during a period of scientific advancements and growing public interest in astronomy and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Wells skillfully tapped into the fears and uncertainties of the time, weaving a tale that combined scientific speculation with social critique. The story reflects the anxieties surrounding the unknown, the fear of technological advancements, and the consequences of unchecked imperialism.
3. Wells employed a realistic and journalistic writing style, which lent credibility to the narrative and immersed readers in a world under alien attack. The depiction of Martians and their tripods, destructive heat rays, and toxic black smoke was revolutionary at the time, pushing the boundaries of imagination and raising the bar for science fiction literature. The novel’s descriptions of devastated cities, panicked masses, and humanity’s vulnerability resonated with readers, invoking a sense of awe, terror, and introspection.
4. Beyond its literary merits, “The War of the Worlds” has had a profound impact on popular culture. It has inspired countless adaptations, including radio plays, films, television series, and stage productions.
5. Watch the video about The War of the Worlds and how science at the time influenced H.G. Wells’ portrayal of Martians.
6. Read Book I, Chapter IV of War of the Worlds: “The Cylinder Opens.” (Here is a link to the full book if you want to read more.)

Day 8

1. Today read Part I of “The Machine Stops” (1909) by E.M. Forster.

Day 9

1. Today read the rest of “The Machine Stops” (1909) by E.M. Forster.
2. Write a few paragraphs about the story. What is your reaction to it? How do you think E.M. Forster’s predictions of the future translate to our time? What do you believe to be the central message?

Day 10

1. Watch the video about the forgotten foundations of science fiction.
2. Here are links to some of the texts mentioned in the video:

3. Choose at least one of these books and read a chapter or two.

Day 11

1. “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs is a novel that has had a significant impact on the science fiction genre. Published in 1912, it introduced readers to the fascinating world of Barsoom (Mars) and the adventures of its protagonist, John Carter. This pioneering work of planetary romance has left a lasting legacy and played a crucial role in shaping the science fiction genre.
2. Burroughs crafted a vibrant and imaginative depiction of Barsoom, filled with unique cultures, warring factions, and strange creatures. This vivid portrayal captured the imaginations of readers and set a benchmark for future science fiction writers to create rich and detailed extraterrestrial settings. The novel’s blend of adventure, romance, and swashbuckling heroics also had a profound impact on the genre. John Carter, the heroic Confederate soldier transported to Barsoom, became an iconic figure in science fiction literature. He embodied the archetype of the daring and capable hero, traversing dangerous landscapes, engaging in battles, and displaying chivalry.
3. “A Princess of Mars” also challenged traditional gender roles in science fiction. The character of Dejah Thoris, the titular princess, defied expectations by being strong-willed, intelligent, and capable. She was a significant departure from the passive female characters often seen in early science fiction works. Burroughs’ portrayal of a strong and empowered female character had a lasting impact, influencing the representation of women in the genre and inspiring future authors to create more diverse and complex female characters.
4. Watch the video “John Carter of Mars Origins.”
5. Read chapter 11 of “A Princess of Mars” (With Dejah Thoris). Here is a link to the full book if you want to read more.

Day 12

1. “The Lost World” (1912) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a novel that has had a significant impact on the science fiction genre and popular culture. Inspired in part by “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” this pioneering work of adventure and exploration skirts the line between science fiction and science fantasy, but set the stage for numerous later works and influenced the development of science fiction literature.
2. The novel follows a group of explorers led by Professor Challenger as they embark on a perilous expedition to a remote plateau in South America. There, they encounter an array of prehistoric creatures and primitive humans. This concept of a hidden world filled with ancient life forms captivated readers and became a recurring trope in science fiction and fantasy literature, inspiring works such as “King Kong” and “Jurassic Park.”
3. “The Lost World” also established the archetype of the fearless and intrepid explorer-scientist. Professor Challenger, with his larger-than-life personality and relentless pursuit of knowledge, became an iconic figure in the genre. His character set a precedent for future adventurers and scientists who would delve into the unknown and confront extraordinary discoveries.
4. Read chapter X of “The Lost World” (The Most Wonderful Things Have Happened). Here is the link to the full book if you want to read more.

Day 13

1. In 1920, a significant work of science fiction was published by Czech writer Karel Čapek. His play was titled “R.U.R.” It stands for “Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti” – Rossum’s Universal Robots. This work marks the first use of the word “robot” meaning an artificial mechanical being.
2. Set in a future where humanoid robots are created to serve humanity, “R.U.R.” delves into profound themes surrounding artificial intelligence, humanity, and the consequences of scientific progress. One of the key contributions of “R.U.R.” lies in its portrayal of robots. While earlier works had explored automata and mechanical beings, Čapek’s play introduced a new concept of artificial life, imbuing robots with emotions, desires, and a yearning for freedom.
3. The impact of “R.U.R.” on science fiction persists today. The term “robot” introduced in the play has become deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness, shaping our perception and understanding of artificial beings. Čapek’s work paved the way for future explorations of robots and artificial intelligence in science fiction literature and film. The themes and ideas presented in “R.U.R.” have endured throughout the decades, influencing subsequent works in the genre, including Isaac Asimov’s robot stories and films like “Blade Runner.” The play continues to inspire discussions about the ethics of technology, the nature of humanity, and the potential consequences of our creations.
4. Today watch the video “A History of Robots.”

Day 14

1. Pulp magazines of the 1920s played a pivotal role in the evolution of science fiction. The inexpensive, widely accessible nature of these publications provided an outlet for groundbreaking authors like H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert E. Howard to explore speculative fiction, laying the foundation for the genre. These magazines took science fiction from the hands of an academic elite to the common reader. They encouraged the exploration of futuristic concepts, alien life, and technological advancements, paving the way for mainstream science fiction.
2. ‘Amazing Stories,’ a magazine launched by Hugo Gernsback in 1926, played a particularly significant role. It focused exclusively on what Gernsback termed ‘scientifiction,’ the precursor to modern science fiction, introducing themes such as space travel, time manipulation, and future societies. The pulps’ influence reached far beyond their time, shaping science fiction in all forms of media and establishing enduring themes of exploration, progress, and human potential. Without the pulp magazines, science fiction as we know it today might not exist.
3. Watch the video “Pulp Magazines in the 1920s.”

Day 15

1. The 1927 German film “Metropolis,” directed by Fritz Lang, helped to lay the cornerstone for many science fiction tropes that proliferated in the genre’s cinematic future. It presented audiences with a dystopian future, a stratified society divided between the laboring masses and the privileged few. Its depiction of this vast, mechanized cityscape, with monolithic buildings reaching for the sky, set a visual template for urban futures that persists even today, seen in films like “Blade Runner” and “The Fifth Element”. The tale of a robot that assumes a human form embodied fears of technology’s potential to dehumanize us, a theme revisited by countless sci-fi tales in the following decades. The struggle of humanity against its own creations echoes in works like “I, Robot” and “The Terminator”. But above all, “Metropolis” demonstrated that science fiction could be more than mere pulp adventure; it could be a canvas for examining social issues, a genre where the human condition could be probed and dissected under the harsh light of future’s scalpel. In that, it was not just influential, it was revolutionary.
2. Watch the video “1927: Metropolis – How Cinema Changed the Way We See the Future.”

Day 16

1. The infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast by Orson Welles aired on October 30, 1938. This radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’s classic novel simulated a news broadcast of an alien invasion, and is often cited as causing widespread panic among listeners who supposedly believed it to be a real news report. However, the reality is a bit more complex. Listen to some of the 1938 radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds.”
2. Watch the video “The Story Behind the War of the Worlds.”

Day 17

1. Watch the video about Lovecraft & Howard.
2. Read part II of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu” (1928), The Tale of Inspector Legrass. (Scroll down.)

Day 18

1. Watch the first video about Isaac Asimov.
2. Read part I of “Nightfall” (1941) by Isaac Asimov.

Day 19

1. Read Part II of “Nightfall.”
2. Write a paragraph or two about the story. How does Asimov use themes of light and darkness? What does it say about human nature? How does the solar system he set up influence the development of society on that planet?

Day 20

1. Watch the video about Robert Heinlein.
2. Read “The Green Hills of Earth” (1947) by Robert A. Heinlein. (The story begins on page 4.)

Day 21

1. Watch the video about the 3 Laws of Robotics.
2. Read “Liar!” (1941) by Isaac Asmiov. (The story begins on page 3.)

Day 22

1. Read the first part of “Foundation” (1942) by Isaac Asimov. Stop reading on page 45, just before the paragraph that begins “Lord Dorwin…”

Day 23

1. Finish reading “Foundation” (1942) by Isaac Asimov.
2. BEFORE you watch the video, write down what you think the solution to the Foundation’s problem is.
3. Watch the video about Asimov and Foundation.

Day 24

1. Read part 1 of “Bridle and Saddle” (1942) by Isaac Asimov to see what the solution is. Were you able to guess it?

Day 25

1. Finish reading “Bridle and Saddle” (1942) by Isaac Asimov.
2. What do you think of the Foundation stories? The story takes place over a span of several thousand years and is stretched out across time with different characters approaching a central problem, making it quite unusual compared to many science fiction stories.

Day 26

1. Watch the video about the Golden Age of Science Fiction.
2. Read the story “-And He Built a Crooked House” (1941) by Robert Heinlein.

Day 27

1. “1984” by George Orwell holds a significant place, not just within science fiction, but in the larger literary landscape. This work essentially propelled dystopian narratives from being a subgenre to a pivotal theme in science fiction. It vividly imagines a society under constant surveillance by an entity referred to as ‘Big Brother,’ a concept which might seem predictive of our digital age. Orwell’s novel gave us vocabulary for discussing concerns of privacy, censorship, and authoritarian governance. Terms that originated from the book, such as “Big Brother,” “doublethink,” and “newspeak,” have become embedded in our everyday language. The term “Orwellian” is often utilized to describe any scenario that echoes the oppressive control depicted in the novel. The novel’s influence has not been confined to the literary world; it has shaped our conversations about and understanding of societal structures and human nature.
2. Watch the video about “1984.”
3. Read Part 2, chapter 1 of “1984” (1949) by George Orwell.

Day 28

1. Today watch the Crash Course analysis of 1984, both Part 1 and Part 2.

Day 29

1. Read “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1950) by Ray Bradbury.
2. Write a paragraph or two about the story. What has happened before the story starts? What historical events do you think may have influenced this idea? What theme is this story trying to express?

Day 30

1. Today read “The Sentinel” (1951) by Arthur C. Clarke.
2. Watch the video about Arthur C. Clarke.

Day 31

1. “The Day of the Triffids” (1951) by British author John Wyndham, is a post-apocalyptic novel that has made a significant impact on the science fiction genre. Often credited with the creation of the “cosy catastrophe” sub-genre of science fiction, it typically involves global disaster scenarios in which the destruction of the old world allows for the possibility of starting anew. Unlike many of its contemporaries, Wyndham’s novel shows ordinary people coping with extraordinary circumstances, and the small-scale stakes it introduced influenced many subsequent science fiction works.
2. Today read pages 1-30 of “Day of the Triffids.” (Stop at the chapter “Shadows Before.”)

Day 32

1. Read pages 30-64 of “The Day of the Triffids.” (Stop at the chapter “Conference.”)

Day 33

1. Read pages 64-93 of “The Day of the Triffids.” (Stop at the chapter “Tynsham.”)

Day 34

1. Read pages 93-120 of “The Day of the Triffids.” (Stop reading at the chapter “Shirning.”)

Day 35

1. Read from page 120 to the end of “The Day of the Triffids.”

Day 36

1. In “The Day of the Triffids,” the triffids, the comets, and even the plague that wiped out so many in London are speculated to have been caused by humans pushing the boundaries of science. For example, the consequences of having satellites orbiting the Earth were still unknown, and some possibilities were explored in the book. What are some examples of current scientific advances (or ones that might happen in the near future) that people are afraid of?
2. Write a paragraph about the ethics of scientific exploration. Should there be limits on what people are allowed to try and do? Who gets to decide that?

Day 37

1. Today read “To Serve Man” (1951) by Damon Knight.

Day 38

1. Today read “The Last Question” (1956) by Isaac Asimov.

Day 39

1. Read chapters 1-5 of “The Minority Report” (1956) by Philip K. Dick. (The ‘online flipbook’ format may be easier to read. If you use this one, you will finish on page 27.)

Day 40

1. Finish reading “The Minority Report.”

Day 41

1. Today read “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953) by Arthur C. Clarke.

Day 42

1. Today you are going to begin reading “The Caves of Steel” (1954) by Isaac Asimov. This book is significant for the way that it blends the genres of detective mystery and science fiction. It also examines prejudice and the ethics of mechanization replacing human labor while speculating on humanity’s future trajectory. “The Caves of Steel” came to be regarded as the earliest installment of the “Foundation” series, and elements of it have found their way into movies, later works of fiction, and even modern discussions about AI and how technology impacts humanity.
2. Today read chapters 1-3. (Click on ‘next page’ at the bottom to proceed.)
3. Create a document called “Caves of Steel Notes” and summarize the events of the book so far.

Day 43
1. Today read chapters 4-6 of “The Caves of Steel.”
2. Summarize the events of today’s reading in your document.

Day 44

1. Today read chapters 7-9 of “The Caves of Steel.”
2. Summarize the events of today’s reading in your document.

Day 45

1. Today read chapters 10-12 of “The Caves of Steel.”
2. Summarize the events of today’s reading in your document.

Please proceed to Quarter 2.