2014-15 AM Speculative Fiction

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  • Time: Thu, 10:00 - 12:00
  • Venue: A01 0-010 b
  • Course: 3.02.140
  • Lecturer: Anna Auguscik
  • Modul: ang614 Genres: Cultural, Historical and Theoretical Perspectives
  • Course Description:

What is speculative fiction? Is it a synonym for science fiction or does it function as an umbrella term for sci-fi and fantasy? Does it only apply to future scenarios or could it also be applied to fictional representations of alternative histories? The term was first mentioned in an 1889 review in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine but was only defined and put to use by writer Robert A. Heinlein half a century later. Recently, 'speculative fiction' has had a comeback in literary debates about the relationship between 'literary' and 'genre' fiction - not least due to Margaret Atwood's Maddaddam trilogy (2003, 2009, 2013).

In this seminar we will track the different meanings of speculative fiction, its history, its proponents and contestants. We will read two novels which were (controversially) discussed as speculative fiction in journalistic and academic criticism - Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. In the fifth week of the seminar we will attend a reading by and conversation with philosopher and novelist Rebecca Goldstein in Bremen. In addition, we will have a guest lecturer from Canada, Professor Janine Rogers, who will not only join our discussion of Oryx and Crake but who will also offer a workshop on teaching 'literature and science' - a thriving field of research and education which will be of core interest to any current/future educator.

Please, make sure to purchase and read the two novels in advance (both will be made available at the CvO bookshop). Your reading of them is prerequisite to the course.

  • Margaret Atwood. Oryx & Crake [2003]. London: Virago, 2013.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro. Never Let Me Go [2005]. London: Faber and Faber, 2010.
  • Additional materials for preparation, as well as the detailed syllabus, will be made available here.
  • Course Requirements
  • Requirements for 6 KP: regular attendance and a written/oral contribution in the form of a project, with a term paper of ca. 10-12 pp. based on the topic of the project.
  • As part of the "Aktive Teilnahme" regulation:
    Die aktive Teilnahme besteht aus folgenden Komponenten
    - regelmäßige Anwesenheit: max. 2 Abwesenheiten und gegebenenfalls Nacharbeit
    - Vor- und Nachbereitung des Seminarstoffs (Gruppenprojekte, Vorbereitung/Lektüre von Texten) 
    - Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Fragestellung aus dem Problembereich des Seminars, durch:
      *Übernahme von Ergebnispräsentationen und 
      *(nur falls Seminararbeit angestrebt, verschriftlicht, ansonsten als Teil der Präsentation) 
       Entwicklung einer Research Paper Outline im Laufe des Semesters (die Zeitangaben verstehen sich als Empfehlungen): 
       Wahl eines Themenbereichs (bis ...),
       Abstract mit Fragestellung inkl. Forschungsbibliographie (RPO) (bis ...), 
       Vorstellung der Fragestellung in der letzten Semestersitzung.

Session 1 Thu, 23 Oct

Session 2 Thu, 30 Oct

Session 3 Thu, 6 Nov

  • Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake: narration and characterization
  • prepare: character constellation chart; narration; focalisation, cf. Narratology

Session 4 Thu, 13 Nov

  • Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (with Janine Rogers)
  Workshop on Teaching Literature & Science with Janine Rogers: Mon, 17 Nov (9-14h) or Tue, 18 Nov (16-20h)

Session 5 Wed, 19 Nov

Session 6 Thu, 27 Nov

  • Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go: narration and characterization

Session 7 Thu, 4 Dec

  • Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go: themes and plot structure
  [Specify research interest until 5 Dec at the latest]

Session 8 Thu, 11 Dec

  • Oryx and Crake as Speculative Fiction

Session 9 Thu, 18 Dec

  • Arts & Culture in Speculative Fiction

Session 10 Thu, 8 Jan

  • Characters and Narration in Speculative Fiction

Session 11 Thu, 15 Jan

  • Never Let Me Go as Speculative Fiction: Science and Ethics

Session 12 Thu, 22 Jan

  • Never Let Me Go as Speculative Fiction: Identity and the Human

Session 13 Thu, 29 Jan

  • Discussing Genres
  • evaluation
  [Hand in RPOs until 30 Jan at the latest]

Session 14 Thu, 5 Feb

  • discussion of RPOs
  • feedback on evaluation



  • Robert A. Heinlein. "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction." [1947] Of Worlds Beyond. The Science of Science Fiction Writing. Ed. Lloyd Arthur Eshbach. London: Dennis Dobson, 1965.
  • Margaret Atwood. In Other Worlds. 2011.
  • (check Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories by C.S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper, [1966])
  • Thomas, P. L.. "A CASE FOR SF AND SPECULATIVE FICTION: An Introductory Consideration." Science fiction and speculative fiction: Challenging genres. Rotterdam, Boston, Taipei: Sense, 2013.
  • Gill, R. B. "The Uses of Genre and the Classification of Speculative Fiction." Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 46.2 (2013): 71-85.

Oryx and Crake

  • Sean Murray. "The Pedagogical Potential of Margaret Atwood's Speculative Fiction: Exploring Ecofeminism in the Classroom." Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Ed. Chris Baratta. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2012. p111-125.
  • Karen F. Stein. "Problematic Paradice in Oryx and Crake." Margaret Atwood: The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake. Ed. J. Brooks Bouson and Sarah Graham. New York, NY: Continuum, 2010. p141-155. Continuum Studies in Contemporary North American Fiction New York, NY.
  • Angela Laflen. "'There's a Shock in This Seeing': The Problem of the Image in The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake." Amerikastudien/American Studies 54.1 (2009): p99-120.

Never Let Me Go

  • Karl Shaddox. "Generic Considerations in Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go." Human Rights Quarterly 35.2 (May 2013): p448-469.
  • Keith McDonald. "Days of Past Futures: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go as 'Speculative Memoir'." Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 30.1 (Winter 2007): p74-83.


Further Reading

  • Maxwell, Lauren Rule. "Desperate Times, Desperate Measures: Atwood's Speculative Fiction and Environmental Activism". Margaret Atwood Studies: 3.2 (2010 Aug.), pp. 4-10.
  • Batty, Nancy, and Robert Markley. "Writing Back: Speculative Fiction and the Politics of Postcolonialism, 2001." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 33.1 (2002): 5-201.
  • Gomez, Jewelle. "Speculative Fiction and Black Lesbians." Signs 18.4 (1993): 948-55.


  • Robert A. Heinlein: "Speculative fiction is not fantasy fiction, as it rules out the use of anything as material which violates established scientific fact, laws of nature, call it what you will, i.e., it must [be] possible to the universe as we know it. Thus, Wind in the Willows is fantasy, but the much more incredible extravaganzas of Dr. Olaf Stapledon are speculative fiction—science fiction." (Grumbles from Grave, 1990 [1949])
  • Veronica Hollinger: "Speculative fiction: a heterogeneous group of texts ranging from the most "realistic" of hard SF novels to the most allegorical of experimental fictions. Perhaps the only thing these texts have in common is their activation—to different extents and for different purposes—of the various themes, images, and narrative conventions typically associated with science fiction." (Rev. of Marleen S. Barr, Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction; in: Science Fiction Studies 20: July 1993)
  • Amy Goldschlager and Avon Eos: "A catchall term for science fiction and fantasy. It applies to work that answers the question "What if...?" Sometimes it is also applied to fiction considered more "literary" in nature that includes elements of SF or fantasy. Examples include Nicholas Christopher's Veronica and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Within science fiction, the term speculative fiction refers to novels that focus less on advances in technology and more on issues of social change, such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's 1984, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick." ("Science Fiction & Fantasy:A Genre With Many Faces", The SF Site, 1997)
  • Henry Leperlier: "In its beginning and under the editorship of Hugo Gernsback in the United States in the 1920ts, SF, in the form of the magazine Amazing Stones: The Magazine of Scientification, was mainly aimed at an adolescent and youthful, technologically oriented readership. Later, under the influence of John W. Campbell, SF needed a wider public and found a more sophisticated literary purpose as the exploration of the effects of science on humanity and our way of life. It then moved slowly from the realm of pulp fiction to the expensive hardbacks that carried with them a greater prestige and acceptability, a demonstration of the effect that packaging can exert on the judgement of content. This craving for acceptability motivated many writers and publishers to propose an alternative to the term "science fiction;" "Speculative fiction," "anticipation" (in French) and "futuristic fiction" were some of the terms that had fleeting vogues. None of them succeeded, and science fiction or "SF' has become the accepted term for better or worse, one reason being that science is an important element in bringing out the oxymoron of realistic illusion that is the essence of SF, as opposed to fantasy. SF is structured and written around technology or science, while the inclusion of science in fiction does not necessarily make it SF. Antoni Smuszkiewicz has a solution to this problem of defining science in SF by analyzing the role of props. […]It is this link to our perceived reality that differentiates SF from fantasy, where the reader is asked to accept a totally new environment with no explainable or required relation to Our own. Well-written SF will rely on these props, on particular terminology or on scientific elements (extrapolated from Our empirical environment) and then relegate them to the background in order to bring out other elements that are part of fiction, such as the protagonists' thoughts, or human dilemmas brought about by a scientific prop. It is the estrangement resulting from the inclusion of scientific elements in a different empirical environment from the one where the reader expects them to be that produces the fantastic character of SF and therefore the pleasure of reading it." (Canadian Science Fiction: A Reluctant Genre, 1998)
  • Akiko Ebihara: "The talents of authors such as Ursula le Guin, James Tiptree Jr., Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler and Suzy Mckee Charnas put "serious literature" writers in the shade, producing works that went beyond conventional science fiction territory and establishing a new genre of writing called speculative fiction." ("Japan's Feminist Fabulation: Reading Marginal with Unisex Reproduction as a Key Concept", Genders 36: 2000)
  • Margaret Atwood: "What I mean by "science fiction" is those books that descend from HG Wells's The War of the Worlds, which treats of an invasion by tentacled Martians shot to Earth in metal canisters – things that could not possibly happen – whereas, for me, "speculative fiction" means plots that descend from Jules Verne's books about submarines and balloon travel and such – things that really could happen but just hadn't completely happened when the authors wrote the books." (The Guardian, 14 Oct 2011)
  • Sam Weller: "Genre mash-ups are de rigueur these days. Of course, writers like Margaret Atwood have been tight-roping the misty border between literary fiction and speculative fiction, fantasy and mystery for years. But a new outcropping of younger upstarts, such as Michael Chabon, Charles Yu and Jonathan Letham, have been contorting the lines in new and unexpected directions. Genre fiction, it would seem, is no longer relegated to the back of the bookstore or the dominion of the geek. Examining the borderlands between what is traditionally deemed "literary" and what is "genre," inverting, twisting, defying and fusing traditional genre tropes with meta-modernist craft, is all part of this new genre renaissance." ("Review: 'Every Boy Should Have a Man' by Preston Allen", Chicago Tribune, 14 Jun 2013)
  • David C. Downing: "Mark R. Hillegas exclaimed in 1960 that "in C. S. Lewis's trilogy, science fiction has up to now reached its highest level as literature" (27) But two years later, in a conversation with Kingsley Amis and Brian Aldiss, Lewis remarked that "probably the great work in science fiction is yet to come." (Unreal 93). Since that time, there have indeed been a good many novels of speculative fiction which have been acknowledged and studied as important works of literature--novels by writers of the first order including Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, Anthony Burgess, Doris Lessing, Ursula Le Guin, and Jorge Luis Borges. Yet Lewis's contribution to the field rests secure, both as a pioneering critic who helped establish the criteria for assessing this new genre, and as an imaginative writer who produced classic works of their kind." (Chapter Twelve: "Otherworlds of the Spirit: Lewis on Science Fiction", date unknown)