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Big Issues

Big Issues in Reading Science Fiction

It's typical of a literary genre that as it develops it takes on a certain set of issues: partly because of the usual traits of the genre (for example, the possibilities for defamiliarization that science fiction allows and exploits), and partly because writers, reading in the genres they practice and prefer, are inspired to respond to the issues earlier authors in the genre have raised. Science fiction authors continue to engage the arguments and concerns of the classics everyone reads (for Russian SF writers, Dostoevsky especially), but the genre begins to demand that they address certain common issues. Čapek and Zamyatin become especially important after the Second World War.

Big Issues as of the end of February:

  1. What is the responsibility of scientists? What is, and what should be, their role in society?
  2. What is the nature of human beings' relationship with technology?
  3. What can or should technology do to, with, or for human beings?
  4. What is the place of logic and rationality, and what are their limitations?
  5. What is the nature of the near future, of the more distant future?
  6. What is the nature of progress? How does it take place, or through whom? What kind of progress should human society aim for?
  7. What should government's role be?
  8. What is the relationship of the individual to the collective?
  9. How do class issues play out in Russian or East European science fiction?
  10. What does it mean to be human/alien/cyborg/animal? What makes a human human?
  11. How do gender roles or other kinds of Otherness structure society?
  12. What are the roles of love, sex, and children (or: biological relationship and reproduction) in dystopian or other kinds of SF?
  13. What is the role of other worlds (imagined or real) in science fiction?
  14. How does, or how should, humanity respond to crisis?
  15. Eschatology has always presumed that humans could contribute to the end of the world (usually, by sinning so much that the Deity would end it all in disgust). How do the stakes of human choices change, if at all, as technology and a worldwide economy develop to the point where human beings could conceivably end the world by themselves (and is that really so different from the previous vision of Last Things)?
  16. What are humanity's particular traits or (in a crisis) secret weapons?
  17. Humans playing God?
  18. Animosity between human and nature; nature as an enemy that remains to make literature interesting once socialism has brought humanity to a higher level.
  19. How do the tools of science begin to enter the narrative as ways of seeing: means of observation and reflection.
  20. Where do we see industrial transformation changing society?
  21. How does science fiction enact criticism of society (be it Soviet or not)? (a "good" text can be read from a variety of angles (to critique human nature as well as particular historical episodes or political systems)
  22. What are the effects of illness/plagues/epidemics - as well as the human body changing?
  23. What are the outcomes of scientific progress?
  24. What characteristics are shown as typical of scientists - and what is the role of scientists as literary characters?
  25. How do human flaws or limitations impact their ability (or even desire) to create a more perfect society?
  26. How do works of sciecne fiction balance mutual benefit versus individual benefit?
  27. How able are humans to see (or not) an Other?


Sibelan Forrester

Office: Kohlberg 340
Phone: 610.328.8162

Office Hours:

Monday: 11:00-12:00
Tuesday: 10:00-11:00
Thursday: 1:30-2:30
...or by appointment