Courtney Brown, Ph.D.
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Dr. Courtney Brown
Spring 2006
Political Science 190
Class location: 116 Tarbutton Hall
Office Hours: Tuesday 10:00-11:00
Class Time: T-TH 8:30-9:45
Office: 318 Tarbutton Hall
Email: polscb@emory.edu

Science Fiction and Politics (POLS 190 — Freshman Seminar) (revised 30 December 2005)

Course Content and Objectives:
SNAPSHOT: It has long been known that science fiction often seeks to foretell future technological developments. But it is also true — although less often noted — that science fiction has often offered explicit commentaries on the political and social evolution of our societies. Fritz Lang’s biting critique of human society in his science fiction movie "Metropolis," and H.G. Well’s similarly powerful perspective on social and political development as portrayed in his novel "The Time Machine," are two such examples. This freshman seminar examines the role of science fiction as a powerful vehicle for social and political commentary, especially as it relates to the evolutionary tendencies of human societies.

EXTENDED VIEW: Science fiction is a literary genre of speculative fiction within which an author may extrapolate with respect to the evolution of our society. Unlike the fantasy genre that does require the author to connect an imaginary world with the real world, nearly all science fiction must in some way resonate with a reader’s understanding of current or potential problems of this world with little or no ambiguity. Thus, when the plot of a science fiction novel takes place in the future, it is clear that the author wishes the reader to imagine a possible future that could potentially evolve from the current world. The reason for doing this may be to show how an aspect of contemporary society which may seem of minor significance at present develops in the future into a horrific problem or dilemma. For this reason, science fiction is at its best when it depicts how our human societies may evolve — not just technologically — but socially and politically as well.

Science fiction commentary on social and political evolution is best identified through broad categories, many of which have long occupied the attention of social scientists. A number of such categories that are often (and sometimes profoundly) addressed by science fiction are listed below:

1. The struggle between collectivism and individualism
2. Population growth and environmentalism
3. Utopianism (portrayed through the lenses of anarchism, class struggle, pastoralism, Marxism and socialism)
4. Dystopianism (the flip-side of "utopianism")
5. The politics of gender
6. Artificial intelligence, slavery, and political reason
7. Bioengineering and the value of artificially created genetic strains among both humans and non-humans
8. Apocalypse and war
9. Corporatism, cyberpunk, and technological dependency
10. The struggle to control the evolutionary development of a civilization following the collapse of a previous social or political order (involving religious, political, economic, and technological themes)

This course introduces students to many of the political and social ideas listed above from the perspective of science fiction. Thus, this a course about politics, not science fiction. Science fiction is a vehicle that lends itself well to isolating the crucial elements inherent in the political and social debates which can be found in the above categories. This course is designed to enliven a greater understanding of the seriousness of such debates by allowing science fiction to guide the tone of the discussions. In many cases, this will occur through a careful examination of the extrapolations from our current human condition made by science fiction authors to futures in which problems only hinted at in contemporary society become major elements of social and political organization.

Class Requirements:

This course is as a seminar. Weekly reading assignments are matched with class discussions, all focusing on the interpretation of the science fiction works with respect to society and politics. Each student is required to submit short bi-weekly writing assignments, and there is a final (longer) paper as well. The course grade depends on the evaluation of all writing assignments, as well as class participation and attendance.

There are no exams. All students will also be required to watch assigned films as well as access the Internet, the library, and various other sources in order to obtain material for class discussions and for the short papers. The grades are determined as follows:

10% Attendance (Two absences are permitted without penalty. After that, ..., you don't want to know.)
60% Writing assignments (30% style and 30% content, only one of which can be handed in late without penalty)
10% Class participation
20% Final paper

The Department of Political Science has a grading standard that applies to all courses. You can read about it here.

The Honor Code is strictly enforced in this course. Plagiarism is an honor code violation. Signature forgeries on attendance are an honor code violation.

Disabilities Statement:

It is the policy of Emory University to make reasonable accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. All students with special requests or need for accommodations should make this request in person as soon as possible after first visiting the Office of Disabilities.

Required Texts:

Science Fiction Titles (These are listed below in alphabetical order by author's name. For more about some of these novels, see the selected bibliography.)

I. Asimov, Isaac. Foundation. Spectra; Revised edition (October 1, 1991)
ISBN: 553293354

II. Asimov, Isaac. Foundation and Empire. Spectra; Revised edition November 1, 1991)
ISBN: 0553293370

III. Asimov, Isaac. Second Foundation. Spectra; Reprint edition (October 1, 1991)
ISBN: 0553293362

IV. Bear, Greg. Darwin’s Radio. Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345435249

V. Brin, David. The Uplift War. Spectra (August 1, 1995)
ISBN: 0553279718

VI. Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game. Tor Science Fiction; Reprint edition (July 15, 1994)
ISBN: 0812550706

VII. Dick, Philip K. 1966. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Del Rey; Reissue edition (May 28, 1996)
ISBN: 0345404475

VIII. Gibson, William. Neuromancer. Ace Books; Reissue edition (May, 1995)
ISBN: 0441569595

IX. Haldeman, Joe. Forever War. Eos; 1st Eos Tr edition (September 1, 2003)
ISBN: 0060510862

X. Heinlein, Robert. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Orb Books (June 15, 1997)
ISBN: 0312863551

XI. Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Harper Perennial
ISBN: 0060929871

XII. Le Guin, Ursula K. 1969. The Left Hand of Darkness. Ace; Reissue edition (March 15, 1987)
ISBN: 0441478123

Nonfiction Texts
Howe, Stephen. Empire: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 0192802232

Internet Resources:

Emory University Library's Resource Guide for Science Fiction and Politics
The Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards
AwardWeb: Collections of Literary Award Information and Photos
Science Fiction Resource Guide
New England Science Fiction Association Hugo Recommended Reading List
Emory's Citation and Plaigarism Guide

Weekly Topical Outline

Weeks 1 & 2
Theme: Empire I
Featured Author: Asimov - Foundation, and Foudation and Empire
Nonfiction Readings: Howe

Week 3
Theme: Empire II
Featured Author: Asimov - Second Foundation
Nonfiction Readings: Howe
SPECIAL MEETING: Emory University's library representative for the social sciences, Chris Palazzolo, will be visiting our class on 7 February to discuss library resources relevant to this course.

Week 4
Theme: Information control and the circumvention of revolution
Featured Author: Huxley
Nonfiction Readings: Students are to read two articles of their own choice from our nonfiction readings and be able to relate the ideas in those articles to the issues raised in this week's assigned science fiction novel.

Week 5
Theme: Gender Struggles
Featured Author: Le Guin
Nonfiction Readings: Students are to read two articles of their own choice from our nonfiction readings and be able to relate the ideas in those articles to the issues raised in this week's assigned science fiction novel.

Week 6
Theme: Genetic engineering and liberty
Featured Author: Brin
Nonfiction Readings: Students are to read two articles of their own choice from our nonfiction readings and be able to relate the ideas in those articles to the issues raised in this week's assigned science fiction novel.

Week 7
Theme: Genetic engineering and evolution
Featured Author: Bear
Nonfiction Readings: Students are to read two articles of their own choice from our nonfiction readings and be able to relate the ideas in those articles to the issues raised in this week's assigned science fiction novel.

Week 8
Theme: Children soldiers, genocide, and morality
Featured Author: Card
Nonfiction Readings: Students are to read two articles of their own choice from our nonfiction readings and be able to relate the ideas in those articles to the issues raised in this week's assigned science fiction novel.

Week 9
Theme: War and Exploitation
Featured Author: Haldeman
Nonfiction Readings: Students are to read two articles of their own choice from our nonfiction readings and be able to relate the ideas in those articles to the issues raised in this week's assigned science fiction novel.

Week 10
Theme: Labor and Exploitation
Featured Author: Dick
Nonfiction Readings: Students are to read two articles of their own choice from our nonfiction readings and be able to relate the ideas in those articles to the issues raised in this week's assigned science fiction novel.

Week 11
Theme: Utopianism and anarchy
Featured Author: Heinlein
Nonfiction Readings: Students are to read two articles of their own choice from our nonfiction readings and be able to relate the ideas in those articles to the issues raised in this week's assigned science fiction novel.

Week 12
Theme: Mass manipulation and control, corporatist balkanization of government, cyberpunk
Featured Author: Gibson
Nonfiction Readings: Students are to read two articles of their own choice from our nonfiction readings and be able to relate the ideas in those articles to the issues raised in this week's assigned science fiction novel.

Week 13
Theme: Review
Nonfiction Readings: Students are to read two articles of their own choice from our nonfiction readings and be able to relate the ideas in those articles to the issues raised in this week's assigned science fiction novel.