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Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination

Trace the history of science fiction and explore how it developed as a response to the newfound pressures of science and technology.

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Overview

This course traces the history of science fiction and explores how it developed as a response to the newfound pressures of science and technology in the European Industrial Revolution. Some of the influential authors covered include Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury.

About

Eric S. Rabkin

It is correct to say that fairy tales teach morals. This is true for those shaped by oral transmission through generations and for those, like many of Aesop’s fables, that may have been invented by a professional storyteller.

INSTITUTION

University of Michigan

Dr. Eric S. Rabkin is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He earned his bachelor's degree at Cornell University and his Ph.D. at The University of Iowa. Professor Rabkin received the Golden Apple Award, given annually by students for the outstanding teacher at the University of Michigan. Other awards include the University Teaching Award, the LS&A Excellence in Education Award, and the University of Michigan Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award. He also received a fellowship from the American Council for Learned Societies, and research funding from the American Philosophical Society. Dr. Rabkin is well known for his large, popular lecture courses on science fiction and fantasy and for his many teaching innovations. His research examines fantasy literature, science fiction, and graphic narrative, among other topics. He is credited with more than 160 publications. His more than 30 books include Narrative Suspense; The Fantastic in Literature; Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision (with Robert Scholes); Teaching Writing That Works: A Group Approach to Practical English (with Macklin Smith); and Mars: A Tour of the Human Imagination.

By This Professor

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the Emergence of Science Fiction

01: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the Emergence of Science Fiction

From its mythic roots, science fiction evolved from a sense of ambivalence created in the early 19th century by science and technology. Suddenly at one with the limitless universe as a result of new developments in science, many humans felt small and weak. By 1818, the Industrial Revolution and its technological advances had led to conflicts between the haves and have-nots, the white minority and the exploited peoples. Science fiction was born to deal with these fundamental problems.

48 min
Jules Verne and the Popular Passion for Science

02: Jules Verne and the Popular Passion for Science

The first great science fiction editors felt science fiction had a mission to create a love for science and to inspire people to become scientists. In this way, the popular passion for science had a role in the genre's evolution. Jules Verne's desire to travel, to see things, to learn of them, and get their names right, is part of that passion for science.

48 min
H.G. Wells and Science Fiction Parables of Social Criticism

03: H.G. Wells and Science Fiction Parables of Social Criticism

Many people consider H. G. Wells the single greatest influence on the formation of science fiction. His works are grounded conceptually in a metaphor system that depends on the notion of evolution but are aimed at giving profound analysis to what is going on in the world. Wells's prolific work can be divided roughly into four stages, throughout which Wells stresses tolerance and asks the reader to look for a sense of community.

46 min
Pulp Culture, World War II, and the Ascendancy of American Science Fiction

04: Pulp Culture, World War II, and the Ascendancy of American Science Fiction

The early evolution of science fiction was European, but thanks to pulp culture, modern science fiction is a largely American phenomenon. In contrast to highbrow writers such as Verne, Shelley, and Wells, pulp writers were paid by the word and so had no incentive to be brilliant or concise. The literary values were poor, but pulp novels sold like crazy and established an enormous cultural presence.

46 min
And the Winner Is…Robert A. Heinlein

05: And the Winner Is…Robert A. Heinlein

John W. Campbell, Jr., continued Hugo Gernsback's tradition of publishing by pushing what came to be known as Hard SF, but fan culture soon took off in a different direction. Of all the popular genres, science fiction has the strongest interconnection among writers, editors, and readers. Hard SF has had a tremendous defining influence on the field, but most science fiction is fiction first and science second.

46 min
Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin, and the Expansion of Science Fiction

06: Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin, and the Expansion of Science Fiction

Ray Bradbury received wide popular acceptance and accolades as a science fiction writer despite those who feel he is not a science fiction writer at all. "The Martian Chronicles," a prototypically American tale, was honored by a medal from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. With Bradbury, Samuel Delany and Ursula K. LeGuin introduced new perspectives and furthered the appeal of science fiction.

46 min
Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Modern Science Fiction Film

07: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Modern Science Fiction Film

German Expressionist films provided background for the American science fiction films in the 1930s. By the 1950s, science fiction B movies had become the medium of political warning. Stanley Kubrick, considered a mainstream director and one of the best in the industry, became a science fiction pioneer in the 1960s. With the stage set for science fiction film as high art, Ridley Scott's 1982 "Blade Runner" became the first postmodern film.

46 min
New Wave, Cyberpunk, and Our Science Fiction World

08: New Wave, Cyberpunk, and Our Science Fiction World

With science fiction's adoption of modernism and subsequent movement into postmodernism, there has been a geographic movement in science fiction to the West and a dispersion of it into our culture as a whole. We live in a world constructed of science fiction images, where science fiction is no longer truly a separable genre. Just as Victor Frankenstein feared, the spawn of science has escaped, and it has conquered the world!

46 min

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