ENGL 243/001: Speculative Fiction
Term 2 | TTh 12:30-2p
Synthetic Humans; Posthuman Dystopias
“We make Angels. In the service of Civilization. There were bad angels once … I make good angels now.” – Niander Wallace, Blade Runner 2049
“Whole generations of disposable people.” – Guinan, “The Measure of a Man”, Star Trek: The Next Generation (season 2)
The near-future and alternate-reality landscapes of science fiction are often terrifying places and have been since Gothic and dystopian impulses intersected in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shelley’s landmark tale evokes dread in the implications of Victor’s generation of a humanoid Creature; this dread echoes in more recent products or accidents of science: clones, robots and replicants, artificial intelligences, cyborgs. Such texts raise issues of gendered exploitation, consciousness and rights, research ethics, and fear, in the realization that these creatures are, ultimately, not human but posthuman, yet often more sympathetic than their makers. However, despite their apparent superiority, such humanoids tend to be defined as commodities. In this course, we will consider the posthuman element of dystopian speculations reflecting on the present and recent past, especially concerning threats of mass surveillance, profit-motivated technology, environmental crisis, and redefinitions of human identity. Core texts include William Gibson, Neuromancer; Madeline Ashby, vN, Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski, The Matrix: Shooting Script; Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go; Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland), and Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve). Evaluation will tentatively be based on a formal essay requiring secondary academic research, a group project where each group will use course texts and materials to “build” a synthetic human(oid) then present their project at the end of term, and a short informal final reflection essay, as well as ongoing contribution to in-class and Canvas-based discussion.
Keep checking this post for updates concerning the course, its texts, and its requirements.
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