English 490/951 and 491H/951: Combined Majors/Honours Seminar (Summer 2022)

Combined Majors/Honours Seminar – Summer Term 2 MW 12:00-2:00 p.m.

Dr. Gisèle M. Baxter

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Horror/Science: Gothic Echoes in Science Fiction

“It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.” – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, Chapter IV.

Over 40 years ago, Patrick Brantlinger argued in “The Gothic Origins of Science Fiction” that a problem in reading Science Fiction as “realistic prophecy … arises from the fact that the conventions of science fiction derive from the conventions of fantasy and romance, and especially from those of the Gothic romance. Science fiction grows out of literary forms that are antithetical to realism.” More recently, two 2019 essays by Daniel Pietersen on Sublime Horror, “The universe is a haunted house – the Gothic roots of science fiction” and “Spiders and flies – the Gothic monsters of sci-fi horror,” explore the intersection of terror and horror tropes in what we can only call Gothic Science Fiction.

This course is not about slick shiny optimistic visions of the future. It’s also not about magical and supernatural creatures (even if some of its characters might resemble them). It’s not about science research that has vastly benefitted worlds and their inhabitants: it’s about bizarre singular passion projects and their progeny, about science gone wrong, about the byways of pseudoscience and paranormal investigations. We will examine the theoretical bases of contemporary approaches to the Gothic and apply them to various examples of fiction and film.

The foundation texts will be Frankenstein (1818 edition), The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr HydeThe Island of Dr. Moreau, I Am Legend, and The Haunting of Hill House (I have ordered all through the UBC Bookstore). And we will look at E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 story “The Sandman” (elements of which are echoed in the ballet Coppelia and the opera The Tales of Hoffmann) and his 1814 story “Automata” (available through Library Online Course Reserves). As well, we will examine the films Alien, Ex Machina, and Blade Runner 2049 (all available to stream online through the UBC Library). If you work on Ex Machina, you might also want to look at the published screenplay, which is available as an ebook on Kindle, Kobo, and GooglePlay (though sadly not through the UBC Library).

Please email me (Gisele.Baxter@ubc.ca) if you want a list of texts I’ve requested be put on Library Online Course Reserves. At the start of term, this material will be accessible to your on our Canvas site. Roughly one week before term starts I will send you, through the SSC, a detailed course outline and syllabus.

Evaluation will tentatively be based on a seminar presentation, a formal research paper, contribution to discussion both in class and on the course’s Canvas site, introduction of a relevant critical/theoretical work and a primary text not on our finalized reading/viewing list, and a take-home final reflection essay.

Keep checking this post for updates concerning the course, its texts, and its requirements.

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