Science Fiction & the City (ASTU 400D / 002) is a Student Directed Seminar that ran in Spring 2009 at UBC Vancouver, designed by Matthew Blunderfield and sponsored by Dr. Gisele M. Baxter. Below is a general introduction to the project:
Science fiction has traditionally been about space – outer space, the space of distant planets and imagined landscapes. It goes without saying, however, that any good fiction is also about inner space – about the character of human kind as manifest in the past, the present, the future. In our capacity as the creatures most prone to shape the outside world, out of this inner environment comes an undeniable and unstoppable influence on an intermediate space, that place which starts immediately outside our heads, and continues to the visible horizon – in which the dialogue between mind and matter is expressed in the creation and rearrangement of objects and environments…It is, in every sense, where we live – and it behoves us to understand it.
–Michael Marshall Smith, Lost In Space: Geographies of Science Fiction(2002).
The ability of science fiction to produce and engage with future environments enables an interesting kind of retrospection: “Just as the existing landscape records our past, these future worlds and environments are an expression of our internal present” writes Smith, and the truth of this statement is undeniable. Spatial concepts and realities have been fragmented, distorted and heavily manipulated in conjunction with exponential developments in technology and communication, forcing disparate notions of space toward new and chaotic interaction. The spaces we inhabit no longer exist in clear physical dimensions, but instead confuse the stark geometries of tangible environments with digitally mediated and more cognitively oriented (non)spaces of new media, communication, and habitation as well. Certainly, our ‘internal present’ is in a state of rapid inversion, as we traverse the increasingly hybridized spaces of the digital/tangible, the cognitive/physical – the imagined and the real. Put another way, we are on the edge of inside and out. Cities now hold a majority of the global human population, and so to address what space has become and the ways we live within it, is to address ‘the City’ itself. This course is interested in textual productions of space, and concerns itself explicitly with intersections and implications of science fiction and the urban landscape.
Concerning materials, the course will centre on a core set of science fiction novels of particular value to the concerns and interests mentioned above. These texts will span the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries and hold a primary focus on literature produced from mid-century to present, as this period frames the rapid development of technologies and theoretical dispositions that will form a kind of paratext to the literary work being discussed. A tandem consideration of the core novels and various cinematic, urban and architectural projects (of a primarily speculative nature, and thus wholly in line with the spirit of the main literary works) will therefore be encouraged, calling for an interdisciplinary mode of investigation which this course will readily promote and facilitate.