LITR 4368
Literature of the Future

Homepage / Syllabus

Course webpage:

Craig White
Office: 2529-7 Bayou
281 283 3380

Office Hours: M 4-6, T 4-7, and by appointment

Graduate Seminar: Literary & Historical Utopias

Pre-Harvey syllabus

Syllabus details change with fair notice to students.

Fall 2017

Mondays 1-3:50pm
Bayou 2237

model assignments

e-texts & research links

Prof. White's home page

Course Texts

Scriptural texts: esp. Genesis (Creation) and Revelation (Apocalypse)


H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895)


Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993)


Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias, ed. K. S. Robinson (1994)


Virtually Now: Stories of Science, Technology and the Future, ed. J. Schinto (1996)


+ online texts & email handouts—see reading schedule below

Graded Work
Reading quizzes (app. 10%, more if results are far below average.)
Pre-Midterm (start Essay 1 + Essay 2 research proposal; 10-12 October, 20%?)
Midterm (In-class or email, 6 November; 30-40%)
Final Exam (
11 December, email by 12 Dec.; 40-50%)
Grades are not computed mathematically; percentages indicate only assignments' approximate relative weight. Only letter grades are given. Pluses and minuses may appear on component and final grades.

Class Presentations, participation, attendance (app. 10-20%, graded silently)
Future-Vision Presentation

Class preparation and participation

Attendance: One free cut allowed without comment or penalty. Two or more absences or partial absences, even with good excuses, lower final grade, potentially seriously.

Final grade report

Course policies

Course Objectives

including essential terms

(Objectives 1-5 provide central terms and themes for the premidterm, midterm, and final exam. As learning outcomes, students are expected to identify and use these terms or concepts in relation to each other and course texts. Objectives 6-9 are themes recurring throughout discussions, lectures, and readings that students are invited to develop in presentations and exams.)

Objective 1
Narratives of the Future:

decline, progress, or more than we can know?

(> Essay 1 for Pre-Midterm and Midterm)

1.     To identify, describe, and criticize 3 standard narratives or stories humans tell about the future: (progress, decline, or both?)

(linear time)

(alpha & omega)
1a. Creation / Apocalypse

(= Millennium, end-times, decline, etc.)

human time scale: hundreds > thousands of years

       1b. Evolution

cosmic / geologic time scales:
millions, billions of solar years, galactic years

1c. Alternative Histories & Futures

Objective 2—Visions / Scenarios of the Future (>essay for final exam)

2.     Identify, describe, and criticize typical visions or scenarios of the future (seen from 2016).  

a.      high tech; virtual reality—slick, cool, unreal, easy with power (+ cyberpunk style)

b.     low tech; actual reality—raw, intimate, messy, hungry, warm, real

c.    utopia / dystopia & ecotopiaperfectly planned worlds / dysfunctional world / + ecology

d.     off-planet / alien contact—exploring and being explored; self & other

Objective 3—Narrative, Symbols, & figures of speech

3. To comprehend basic theories of narrative, plot, or story + narrative's relation to symbol & other figures of speech.

  • Humans are story-telling creatures who live, react, learn, and decide via narratives that express symbolic fears and desires as people or other agents acting and speaking together in time;.
  • Narratives are both personal and collective; literary and historical—very inclusive concept.
  • Four traditional "narrative genres": comedy, romance, satire, tragedy, plus combinations.
  • The dominant popular narrative for literature of the future and especially science fiction is "romance," a.k.a. adventure, hero's story, survival & transcendence.
  • Symbol is a mental function in which common images create multiple meanings.
  • The Sublime: the aesthetics of rapid, apocalyptic change.

3a. Metaphor and analogy—expressing the unknown in terms of the known—as a creative and learning figure of speech in all literature, but especially science fiction and speculative fiction.

3b. Literature of the Future is somewhat unique in that the "reality" to which it refers does not yet exist, exposing how much all literature is an act of creative expression and interpretation.

Objective 4—standard or traditional Genres of literature about the future

4. To identify subject genres of future literature

Secondary Course Objectives
(Recurrent themes or issues you may develop in exams and presentations)

5. Is the future "written" (i. e., set, fixed, programmed, and usually apocalyptic) or "being written" ("open-ended" and usually evolutionary)?

6. To see literature of the future as reflections or projections of the present in which it is written. (How much change from normal can readers process?)

7. To note literary strategies and problems such as how to make the future both familiar and exotic. (Or “comforting / challenging”; “friendly / unfriendly”; “warm / cold”). See Wells's Law.

  • How do you end a story about the future?

8. To distinguish distinct temporal dimensions of the future

  • Near future; short-term; day-after-tomorrow (often dramatic or apocalyptic change, such as alien contact)

  • Deep future, long-term (usually evolutionary change involving changing environments and adaptations)

  • Alternative depths of future between, beyond, parallel, or skew


Attempt at summary of objectives: The foremost appeal of science fiction and prophecy is as a literature of ideas, but literature also must work on emotional or subconscious levels engaged by symbols, narratives, and figures of speech.

Reading & Presentation Schedule (modified since Hurricane Harvey)
LITR 4368, Fall 2017

Initial guide to course anthologies: FP = Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias ed. K. S. Robinson (1994); VN = Virtually Now: Stories of Science, Technology and the Future

Monday, 28 August: Class meeting cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey

Monday, 4 September: Labor Day HolidayNo class meeting


Monday, 11 September

Readings:  Preview Scriptural Texts of Creation & Apocalypse


terms: decline or progress


symbols and narratives; genres; romance narrative; the sublime; science fiction


welcome, Harvey, syllabus, website, daily windows, time
review assignments; 2016 homepage
presentation preferences + handout
Presentations for next Monday? > email later this week
critical terms: mimesis
symbols and narratives > genres, romance narrative
midterm > 3 narratives (obj. 1); nature of time

preview next week's texts & discussion questions

Discussion Questions:

1. Have any of you ever taken a course like this before? What expectations or wishes?

2. How much should this course teach prophecy and science fiction as genres with qualities you can find in other forms of literature, or concentrate on what's special about prophecy and science fiction?

3. What attitudes are possible for reading religious scripture as literature? How is religious scripture read differently from everyday literature? What conflicts might arise?

4. What attitudes toward Biblical Creation & Evolution? What values or appeals for either?

5. Genesis as Origin Story / Creation Story: familiarity with genre?

6. How does the Creation story in Genesis set up Revelation?

Creation / Apocalypse

Monday, 18 September: Apocalyptic scriptures

Readings: Read through Scriptural Texts of Creation & Apocalypse

terms: Millennium / Apocalypse, prophecy, sublime, symbol

Discussion-starter:  Greg Bellomy

Future-vision presenter: Erin Bates

Web-highlighter (midterms): instructor

terms: images, symbols, genre, utopia, narrative genre, romance narrative

Panel on science of time (cf. relativity and evolution; no one knows the hour)

Agenda: emails, presentations + info sheets, Assign Parable of the Sower; discussion-starter next week?

Reading quiz on reading assignments

Discussion-starter: Greg

symbols & narratives; Nibiru; dystopia > millennium > utopia;


web-highlight: Pre- & Midterm assignments, Model Assignments (developing your essay, using terms)

future-vision: Erin

romance narrative

apocalyptic music: Carl Orff, Carmina Burana; Beethoven, Ode to Joy

Discussion Questions: 1. Creation-Apocalypse narratives exemplify the linear model of time, but what parts of today's apocalyptic texts suggest a more complex model or dimensions beyond "Point A to Point B?"


2. Narrative genres: How does the plot-pattern of Revelation resemble the plot narrative of a romance? Pay attention to the gradual revelation of the central character of Jesus—how does he appear? How is he like a hero in a romance-rescue story? How are the Satanic figures like the villain?


3. Symbols are among the most striking and obvious devices of prophecy and apocalyptic literature, e.g. popular references to "666," "The Beast," "Anti-Christ," "The Whore of Babylon," "Signs in the Heavens," etc. What can we learn about symbols' functions in literature generally from their power in apocalyptic literature? How may religious literature help students understand the operation of symbols in human language, thought, and society?


Special questions for End-Times literature and reading or teaching scripture as literature. (We can't get to all of these, but they suggest millennial literature's many points of interest for literary and cultural criticism.)


4. If Revelation and other apocalyptic texts are among the most popular parts of the Bible, why? What literary appeals? (<in contrast to appeals to faith, religious belief, etc.) How does Revelation seem different from other Biblical or scriptural texts like the Gospels? (Eastern Orthodox churches don't include Revelation in the Bible.)


5. What impulses for social or personal change, or what social consequences, result from apocalyptic texts and thought? How does apocalyptic thinking influence attitudes toward decline or progress?


6. Jesus was crucified around 30-36AD, and the Book of Revelation was written between 70 and 95AD. Matthew 24.34 records Jesus saying, "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." What social or evolutionary consequences to perennial belief that "ours is the last generation?"


Added question: Apocalyptic thinking and literature are always popular to some degree, but why are Millennials naturally fascinated by apocalyptic films (alien invasion, zombie apocalypse), post-apocalyptic romance narratives (young adulty dystopias like Hunger Games, Maze Runners, The Giver), and more traditional scriptural apocalypses (Left Behind series, + ISIS jihadism is apocalyptic-cultish).

(alpha & omega)




Monday, 25 September

Readings: Parable of the Sower (read app. half, at least through chapter 14 or p. 166)

optional reading: brief bio of Octavia Butler (pre-mortem [2006]) &

interview with Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler obituary 2006

Discussion-starter:  Cynthia Cleveland

Future-vision presenter: Clark Omo

Agenda: presentations update, pre-midterm & midterm
attractions / detractions of Apocalyptic / evolutionary narrative [millennium]

science fiction; hard, soft, speculative fiction

future-vision: Clark



discussion: Cynthia

creation / apocalypse & evolution

utopia / dystopia YA Dystopia?


Discussion Questions: 1. Conclude Apocalyptic scriptures: upsides / downsides of interpreting Scripture as literary text? Attractions / detractions of apocalyptic narrative?

2. Compare Parable to Revelation. How are both apocalyptic? How are the opening chapters also like an origin story?

2a. Describe Parable of the Sower as science fiction / speculative fiction. (Compare / contrast Genesis, Revelation, etc. as scripture—status, prestige, authority, etc.)

2b. As
science fiction, how does Parable incorporate evolution? What familiar assumptions or terms do characters use that identify an evolutionary mentality?
(For instance, human behavior as change and adaptation? Contrast to sin and virtue, or faith vs. lack of faith?)

2c. Science fiction is not just science but also fiction (see genres): How is Parable fictional in representational form, and how is its narrative romance? (instructor will lead)

2d. Lauren also develops her own theology--compare, contrast her father's Baptist faith? (Both use aphorisms, both predict future?)


3. Compare biblical apocalypse and environmental apocalypse?


4. Compare Parable of the Sower (1993) with more recent YA dystopia / post-apocalyptic novels like The Hunger Games (2006-10) and other young adult dystopias?

Monday, 2 October: apocalypse and evolution

Readings: Parable of the Sower (complete)


Discussion-starter: Dylan Putt


Future-vision presenter: Kyle W. Abshire


Instructor's presentation: Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents (1998) > (next class?)

Agenda: assignments, discussion next week?

scripture / prophecy, science fiction & subgenres; preview Butler later in semester + Parable of Talents


quiz (announcement) & short break

discussion: Dylan

Parable of the Talents


future vision: Kyle


utopia / dystopia YA Dystopia?


pre-midterm & web resources

Discussion Questions: 1. Continue comparisons with Genesis / Revelation and other apocalyptic texts. Does Lauren qualify as a "prophet?" Earthseed as prophecy? Earthseed community as utopia? (cf. heaven at end of Revelation)

2. Discuss blending of apocalypse and evolution in Parable of Sower (and later texts like Time Machine).

2a. How are both present? How account for co-presence instead of mutual exclusion?

2b. Where do apocalypse and evolution diverge? Where do they meet? Can you reconcile seeing the world as both apocalypse and evolution, rather than one excluding the other? If so, how?

2c. What are the signs, symbols, or keywords of creation-apocalypse and evolution?

3. Broadly, how does Parable of the Sower succeed (or not) in making you care about the future? Or does it just make you want to buy guns, hoard gold, hide, and distrust anyone who's not in your family or church?

4. Science fiction and many other forms of popular literature do not age well. Parable of the Sower is now 20+ years old. How out of date is it already? How much closer are we to its time-frame? If the novel survives and remains readable and interesting, why? What literary qualities make it somewhat timeless or classic?

5. Compare Parable of the Sower (1993) with more recent YA dystopia / post-apocalyptic novels like The Hunger Games (2006-10) and other young adult dystopias?


Monday, 9 October

Readings: "Stone Lives" (email PDF) and "Bears Discover Fire" (FP 17-28)

Discussion-starter: Tanner House ("Stone Lives"); Mason Cabirac "Bears Discover Fire"

Future-vision presenter: Keri Loctor

Web-highlighter (pre-midterms): instructor

Instructor's presentation: Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents (1998)

Agenda: Time Machine assignments

Parable of Sower as evolution / creation-apocalypse; Butler later in semester + Parable of Talents


future-vision: Keri

[quiz + break]


"Stone Lives" discussion: Tanner

"Bears Discover Fire" discussion: Mason

evolution in "Stone" and "Bears":

Discussion Questions: 1. What key terms, symbols, or ways of thinking signal that these stories operate in a world built on evolutionary premises? (Consider terms or ideas like change, adaptation, , extinction, survival, + plenty of animal characters and symbols.)


1a. How is "Stone Lives" potentially apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic? How are its apparent apocalypses or catastrophes absorbed into a larger evolutionary narrative?

2. What picture of humanity do these stories (and evolutionary models) create? What assumptions about how nature, time, and society are organized, esp. in contrast to creation-apocalypse?


3. Preview high tech / low tech scenarios (13 & 20 Nov.): Are "Stone Lives" & "Bears" high tech or low tech sf? What different appeals?

4. "Stone Lives" is our most typical popular-literature, old-fashioned science fiction story all semester—How? Discuss formulaic gender, depiction of world, and esp. romance narrative (esp. macho-superhero protagonist tasked with saving a pre- or post-apocalyptic scene while babes swoon and die).

5. "Bears" is an unusually humorous
sf story—how? What makes it amusing? Consider low tech + How does its narrative fit the definition of comedy? How may humor or comedy serve science fiction's function of making science familiar or comfortable to non-scientific readers?

10-12 October: pre-midterm due by email (includes midterm Essay 1 introduction & Essay 2 research proposal)

Monday, 16 October

Readings: "Somebody up there Likes Me" (VN 208-237); begin The Time Machine (through ch. 5).


Discussion-starter: Tommy Brewer (Time Machine)


Future-vision presenter:  Neil LeBoy


Agenda: premidterm updates, schedule, midterm

assignments / Mozart handouts / transition to alternative futures

presentation: Neil

quiz > break

Time Machine / Somebody discussion: Tommy

evolutionary signs & narratives (obj. 1)

Discussion Questions:

1. Science fiction has built-in problems as classic literature, but H. G. Wells maintains status and influence as the greatest "classic" science fiction writer. What qualities distinguish his style? What models does he create for science fiction in terms of style, action, and character? What mix of science and fiction? Compare to Parable of the Sower?

2. The Time Machine was written in 1895, a generation after Darwin's Origin of Species (1859): What signs, terms, or symbols of evolution in Time Machine? Is its plot evolutionary or apocalyptic?

3. Evolution as progress or decline? How does changing the time scale (from near to distant future) change the perception?

4. Identify "Social Darwinism" (e.g., "survival of the fittest") with cultural, class, or biological developments in The Time Machine or post-liberal USA.

5. "Somebody up there Likes Me": How is Wells's industrial-era evolution updated to digital-era technology? What styles or symbols are updated in terms of gender, action, humor?
 How are both evolution and creation-apocalypse present in the same text?


5a. "Somebody" (cont'd): Published in 1994, this might be Literature of the Future's most current, hippest test. What feels current or futuristic about its language or scenario?

Alternative Futures

Monday, 23 October (transition from evolution to alternative futures)

Readings: conclude The Time Machine (ch. 6 through epilogue); Bruce Sterling & Lewis Shiner, "Mozart in Mirrorshades" (email PDF)

Discussion-starter: Neil LeBoy  (either Time Machine or "Mozart" or both)

Future-vision presenter: Kelsie Cavazos

Agenda: premidterm, schedule, midterm

"Somebody Up There Likes Me"

science fiction and evolution; [metaphor, analogy] Wells
future-vision: Kelsie

Time Machine / Mozart discussion: Neil

alternative futures & assignments

Sphinx in Time Machine

Discussion Questions:
Time Machine
: Conclude Evolution Section; continue questions above +

1. conclusion of Eloi-Morlock story: apocalyptic or evolutionary? How like a romance narrative? How is the ending like "Stone Lives?"


2. Late in novel, very deep future—what storytelling challenges to deep-future science fiction? (cf. evolution narrative)


3. Summarize science fiction style + problems or issues with "classic science fiction." How does Wells survive as "classic sf" when so little sf does?

"Mozart in Mirrorshades": Begin Alternative Futures.


1. Look for key terms in quantum & temporal physics: probability, temporal physics, time holes, parallel worlds.


2. Alternative futures--note metaphors of "branching" ("Garden of Forking Paths")

3. How does "Mozart in Mirrorshades" exemplify sf as a way to make a topic like alternative futures friendly, non-threatening, or accessible to average readers? Compare wit, humor, satire, and / or comedy to "Bears Discover Fire."

time as maze or labyrinth

Alternative Futures

time as multi-branching tree or forking paths

Monday, 30 October : Alternative Futures

Readings: "Garden of Forking Paths"; William Gibson, "The Gernsback Continuum"; "Better Be Ready 'bout Half Past Eight" (VN 22-47) [<title from lyrics to "Darktown Strutters' Ball" (1917)]

Discussion-starter: Ryan Smith

Future-vision presenter: Laura E. Wilson (canceled or postponed)

Web-highlighter (midterms): instructor

Agenda: assignments post-midterm, Mozart, alternative futures, midterm, lecture v. discussion,
web highlights: instructor model assignments

quiz > break
discussion-starter: Ryan

Discussion Questions:

1. How convincingly do today's texts represent or make you feel the possibility of Alternative Futures, either through literary techniques or scientific references? If you have problems with these texts, how much do those problems result from the inherent difficulties of imagining alternative futures?


1a. What metaphors or analogies make this disconcerting concept familiar or imaginable? What mental images of alternative futures, besides "Garden of Forking Paths?" Branching tree? Maze or labyrinth? Altered mentality? Alternative sexuality? Multiple personality? Music in concert?


1b. Especially in "Gernsback Continuum", observe glimpses of scientific background for alternative futures, esp. quantum physics as "probability." What is the effect on a non-scientific reader of such references?


2. What attractions, repulsions to alternative futures, compared to apocalyptic and evolutionary narratives?


3. How may alternative futures correspond not only to postmodern physics but postmodern humanity's evolution to a multicultural, alternatively gendered society? Where do the stories show glimpses of a multicultural or alt-gendered society co-evolving with alternative futures?


4. How does "Better Be Ready" (1993) show a contemporary style comparable to "Somebody Up There Likes Me?" (1994).

Monday, 6 November: official date of midterm exam email midterms due to by 11:59pm, Wednesday, 8 November
No regular class meeting; attendance not required. Instructor keeps office hours during midterm period. Bayou 2529-7; 281 283 3380;

Visions / Scenarios of the Future
(objective 2 > final exam)

high tech;
virtual reality

Cyberpunk Style
slick, cool, sharp, unreal, & easy with power

Google-Glasses: a human-machine interface that didn't quite happen

Monday, 13 November: high-tech future, cyberpunk literature

Readings: William Gibson, "Johnny Mnemonic"; William Gibson, "Burning Chrome"; Richard Goldstein, "The Logical Legend of Heliopause and Cyberfiddle" (VN 159-180).

Discussion-starter:  Stephanie Matlock

Future-vision presenter: Andrew Pagitt (Jules Verne?)

Agenda: midterms, assignments, final
scenarios, high-tech, low-tech (JM 7.1-2) (final)

class discussion

future vision: Andrew
discussion: Stephanie

Backgrounds: Cyberpunk in the 1980s and 90s represented a major "mainstreaming" of science fiction into literary fiction, with William Gibson ("The Gernsback Continuum") as the movement's defining figure. Gibson's writings, beginning with Neuromancer (1984), influenced the metaphors and visiosn with which writers, film-makers, and everyday people imagined or described the high-tech world of virtual reality and the human-machine interface.

Discussion Questions: 1. What do you like or dislike about cyberpunk style and why? ("Cyber" = cybernetics or artificial intelligence; "punk" = 70s-80s countercultural street style or attitude)


2. Gibson is admired as one of science fiction's best stylists, but his writing often leaves students cold.


What strengths? What resemblances to literary fiction? (e.g. imagery, metaphor, range of reference or allusion)


What weaknesses? (e.g. thin characterization, plot-turns on subtle shifts in human or machine relations rather than formulaic characterizations and whiz-bang action of popular science fiction)


What metaphors for computers, their users, and their realities does his style create?

What human-machine interfaces that we've seen elsewhere in course? (e.g., bionic implants, human penetration of machines)

Gender stylings? (stereotypical background: sf for geeky white guys > implications for women's identities?) (recall "Stone Lives")

3. What attraction-repulsion of high-tech future? Consider organic / non-organic; actual / virtual reality; real people / social media.

 low tech;
actual reality

raw, organic, intimate, messy, hungry, warm, real

thanks to

Monday, 20 November: low-tech: organic human nature & tradition in high tech world

Readings: "The Onion and I," (VN 8-21)."Drapes and Folds," (VN 126-139).Octavia Butler, "Speech Sounds" (VN 91-108).

Discussion-starter:  Kelsie Cavazos

Future-vision presenter: Vaneza M. Cervantes

Web-highlights (final exams): Katie Morin  (1-2 examples from Essay 1 & Essay 2)

Agenda: midterms > final exam > web review: Katie

future vision: Vaneza



discussion: Kelsie

assignments / scenario term-sites

Discussion Questions:

1. If you didn't (or did) like the cyberpunk / high-tech / virtual realities stories, what opposing values or appeals of content or style do these low-tech stories offer?

2. What utopian / dystopian elements? Identify different appeals of low-tech and high-tech.

3. Contrast organic or biological appeals of low-tech with non-organic or tech appeals of high-tech.

4. What elements of Romanticism and romance narrative? (e.g., nostalgia for organic nature, sentimental human bonds of family; quest for transcendent meaning in antagonistic environment.)

5. Octavia Butler, author of Parable of the Sower, wrote "Speech Sounds"—how do you recognize her style and subject matter?

thanks to
utopia / dystopia & ecotopia

perfectly planned worlds / dysfunctional world / + ecology

Monday, 27 November: ecotopia

Readings: K. S. Robinson, “Introduction” to Future Primitive; "Chocco" (FP 189-214); "House of Bones" (FP 85-110)

Jeet Heer, "The New Utopians" (read as far as you can, but for sure read the final paragraphs on "solarpunk")

Chaco Canyon

Discussion-starter: Jojo Hunter

Future-vision presenter: Ryan Smith

Agenda: final exam; final class assignments

future vision: Ryan

quiz  + evaluations / break


Chocco, House of Bones discussion: Jojo

Discussion Questions: 1. What are your experiences reading, studying, or teaching utopian or dystopian fiction in American middle schools and high schools? E.g., Brave New World, Anthem, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, The Giver, The Hunger Games and other Young Adult Dystopias. What are the attractions of these genres or sub-genres? Why does American reading go more toward dystopias than utopias? (See Laura Miller on YA Dystopian fiction.)


1a.What is utopian or potentially dystopian about the "ecotopias" in today's texts or in popular culture? (e.g., "small is beautiful," "voluntary simplicity")

2. Art or literature "entertains and educates". Some literature entertains more, some educates more; Where do the two stories fall on this spectrum? (related terms: didactic literature; Literature of Ideas; what terms for pleasure-reading?).

If "Chocco" is more didactic or instructional, what fictional features make it somewhat more entertaining, or relieve the educational edge? What kinds of literary pleasures does "Chocco" offer? (Consider characterization.)

How and why is "House of Bones" more entertaining as fiction than "Chocco?" In what ways may it still succeed as "instructive" or "educational?"

Any questions or comments generally about today's readings?

3. What are the urgencies and difficulties of discussing overpopulation and climate change? Does science fiction provide a way to discuss? What upsides, downsides to fiction as learning? What metaphors or symbols enable us to imagine a sustainable future?


4. Why is it difficult to write stories that make people care for the environment? What inherent challenges are there to ecological literature or to making people think and care collectively on a grand scale?

Ecology requires collective responsibility for a shared world with no escape. Apocalypse may not save anyone or anything, but it makes for good story-telling.

Most stories require individual heroes, family or tribal dynamics, and simple solutions or escapes in short time-frames; apocalypse or end-times are no problem as long as someone else takes the heat! Human sustainability requires longer time-frames; evolution takes generations.

humans = Rambo; aliens = super-terrorist reptiles or insects

alien contact

exploring and being explored;
self & other

We come in peace!
(Aliens as cuddle-toys)

Monday, 4 December: Alien Contact

Readings: "They're Made out of Meat," (VN 69-72)."The Poplar Street Study" (VN 140-148); "The Belonging Kind"; "Hinterlands"

Discussion-starter: Tanner Houser

Future-vision presenter: Tanner Houser

video: Fermi Paradox (Fermi Paradox)

scale of solar system

Agenda: review last class + question 3


final exam / alien contact

solar system

quiz  + [break]

discuss alien-contact fiction:

Fermi Paradox

Discussion Questions: 1. How do today's readings fulfill the scenario for Alien Contact?


2. What do we learn about ourselves and the unknown as a result of reading Alien Contact stories about the future?

2a. What literary techniques make you understand, care, and learn about the unknown? (e.g., metaphor, allusion, irony, the sublime)

2b. How does alien-contact science fiction change our view of humanity on earth? If humans and aliens represent "the self and the other," what do "they" reveal about "us?"
2c. Given the scale and mystery of the universe, how much does alien contact literature feel religious in some sense? Cf. the sublime (Hinterlands 3.1, 3.7)

3. How successfully do the stories get beyond predictable formulas or conventions of popular science fiction and become literary fiction? (e.g. characterization, interior complexity, ambiguous conclusions instead of triumphalism?)

3a. How much do characters escape the good guy-bad guy-confused woman characterization of popular science fiction or the aliens-as-terrorists models from The War of the Worlds, Independence Day or other standard "Earth vs. Aliens" movies in which aliens automatically appear as apocalyptic terrorists or as innocent child-like wise men (e.g., E.T., Yoda)?

3b. How can you identify William Gibson's style in "The Belonging Kind" and "Hinterlands" from our previous readings ("Gernsback Continuum"; "Johnny Mnemonic""Burning Chrome")? Consider extended metaphor and anti-hero characterization.


General pop-culture questions: 4. Since alien-visitation or "contact" is about as true or likely as ghost stories but is frequently represented in popular literature and film, what purposes does this subject serve for us? Why do we prefer stories about aliens to stories about our environment?


5. How do alien-contact futures represent our future narratives of apocalypse, evolution, or alternative futures?

Monday, 11 December: official date for final exam; email exams due by 11:59pm Tuesday 12 Dec..


No regular class meeting. Attendance not required. instructor holds office hours 1-4, 7-10pm 11 December.


Final grade reports will be emailed approximately a week after due date.



Laura Miller, 2012 review of Elaine Pagels, Revelations

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, "The Future will not be Cool"

"Chatter of Doomsday Makes Beijing Nervous," New York Times 19 Dec. 2012

Michael Lind, "Stop Pretending Cyberspace Exists," Salon.Com 12 Feb. 2013

"Why are Birthrates Falling around the World? Blame Television." Washington Post 13 May 2013

Hubble space telescope pictures

Humans Need Not Apply

Three Pound Brain: The Future of Literature in the Age of Information

Maintained by: Craig White -
Copyright © 1995 University of Houston - Clear Lake
2700 Bay Area Blvd.
Houston, TX 77058