2020-21 MM Polarizing Fiction: Science in Popular Literature

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  • Course: 3.02.980
  • Time: Thursday 10-12h
  • Venue: online via Stud.IP, BBB meetings
  • Course Description: In this course, we will focus on two novels that fit a wide range of categories: both Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica (1997) and Michael Crichton's State of Fear (2004) have been read and discussed under the umbrella of various genre buzzwords. As popular fiction (respectively, science fiction and techno-thriller), these novels are set apart in their production, circulation and reception from what is commonly known as literary fiction. As polar fiction, they belong to a tradition of texts set in the extreme landscape of the North or South Pole. As science novels, they take scientists, their methods and practice centre-stage. As climate fiction, Robinson's and Crichton's novels participate in a highly politicized debate. In fact, the authors have often been placed on or become the spokesperson of opposite sides of the public discourse on global warming. It is at this crossroads that their oeuvre becomes of interest to a literary and cultural investigation of these texts from the perspective of questions regarding the canon and its margins.

Please, buy and read the following novels:

  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Antarctica (1997).
  • Crichton, Michael. State of Fear (2004).
  • as well as one other science thriller / science fiction text by either of these two authors: [to be discussed individually]

PLEASE NOTE: All primary materials will be made available at the CvO bookshop. Please use the time until the beginning of term to immerse yourself in the reading of the first two novels. Additional materials for preparation, as well as the detailed syllabus, will be made available here and/or on Stud.IP. There will be a Handapparat in our library.

Session 1: 22 Oct 2020

  • Welcome: Please read my message under 'Ankündigungen on Stud.IP'; familiarize yourself with the draft syllabus that you find here and note the course requirements for 9 KP (talk to me individually about the 12 KP or 15 KP options and the respective 'project'):
  • (1) written responses and textual analysis assignments (upload weekly to Stud.IP)
  • (2) three RPOs (1 per novel, 1 page each; upload to Stud.IP)
  • (3) one seminar paper (15-20 pp), based on the topic of one of your RPOs (upload to Stud.IP and hand in as print version by 15 March).
  • We will meet on Stud.IP (go to our course --> 'meetings' --> no camera, mute microphone (we will add these as we proceed)

Session 2: 29 Oct 2020

  • Context I: Science and Scientists in Fiction
  • Reading and discussion:
  • Please, read Haynes in Public Understanding of Science (2014); ZAA 2016 (Schaffeld; as well as Kirchhofer & Roxburgh); Engelhardt and Hoydis, "Introduction" (2019)
  • We will discuss some major topics in 'literature and science studies' based on your reading.
  • Further reading: Martin Willis on Literature and Science; Haynes, From Madman to Crime Fighter: The Scientist in Western Culture and From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature; as well as Holland (2019) and others (see Seminarapparat)
  • Tasks: mind-map and responses (see Stud.IP)

Session 3: 05 Nov 2020

  • Context II: Popular Fiction, or a Horizontal Approach to Literary and Genre Fiction
  • Reading and discussion:
  • To begin with, please, read Rachel Donadio's essay on "Revisiting the Canon Wars" (2007)
  • To provide some background to the various perspectives resulting from this debate, you may read the introduction to Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, and JD Porter's pamphlet of the Stanford Lab
  • For our discussion of what constitutes 'Popular Fiction', please read Ken Gelder's "Popular Fiction: The Opposite of Literary Fiction?" (2004),
  • Possible further reading: Murphy and Matterson's "Introduction: 'Changing the Story' - Popular Fiction Today" (2018); Ken Gelder's "The Fields of Popular Fiction" (2016); Scott McCracken's "The Half-Lives of Literary Fictions: Genre Fictions in the Late Twentieth Century" (2006); extracts from John Sutherland's Bestsellers (1991) and Tony Bennett's Popular Fiction (1990), see Seminarapparat.
  • Our main reading, however, will consist of Popular Fiction and Social Change, ed. by Christopher Pawling (1984), esp. Pawling's "Introduction: Popular Fiction: Ideology or Utopia", Martin Jordan's text on science fiction and Jerry Palmer's on thrillers.
  • Task: excerpts (see Stud.IP)

Session 4: 12 Nov 2020

  • Context III: Polar Fiction, or Antarctica in Fiction
  • Reading and discussion:
  • Browse through the list of polar genre fiction and compare to literary/historical polar fiction, both compiled by Prof. Laura Kay
  • In order to provide some contexts for current discussions of polar issues, please read Dodds and Nuttall (2016), followed by the specific aspects of Antarctica's territory and politics in Hemmings, Dodds, and Roberts (2017).
  • A scholar who has extensively researched fiction about Antarctica is Elizabeth Leane. Please, read the introduction and first chapter from her book Antarctica in Fiction: Imaginative Narratives of the Far South (2012), focusing esp. on the subsection on KS Robinson's Antarctica, and her chapter on "Fictionalizing Antarctica" in The Handbook on the Politics of Antarctica in which she uses Crichton's State of Fear for her arguments.
  • Task: list of questions and arguments (see Stud.IP)

Session 5: 19 Nov 2020

  • Reading and Discussion: Robinson's Antarctica
  • Goal: Textual analysis and representations of science
  • Task: see Stud.IP
  [Hand in RPO #1 in the week of session 6]

Session 6: 26 Nov 2020

  • Antarcticain Academic Criticism

Session 7: 3 Dec 2020

  • Discussion of Antarctica RPOs/abstracts

Session 8: 10 Dec 2020

  • Reading and Discussion: Crichton's State of Fear
  • Goal: Textual analysis and representations of science
  • Task: see Stud.IP
  [Hand in RPO #2 until session 9]

Session 9: 17 Dec 2020

  • State of Fear in Academic Criticism

Session 10: 7 Jan 2021

  • Discussion of State of Fear RPOs/abstracts

Session 11: 14 Jan 2021

  • Exchange and discussion of research problems regarding the third novel
  [Hand in RPO #3 in the week of session 12]

Session 12: 21 Jan 2021

Session 13: 28 Jan 2021

  • Discussion of third novel RPOs/abstracts
  • evaluation

Session 14: 4 Feb 2021

  • discussion of research papers
  • feedback on evaluation
  [Hand in research papers until 15 March 2021]


Primary Reading

  • see above

Secondary Reading

  • will be made available via Stud.IP; the "Handapparat"; and/or via the university's online access:

Further Reading

  • cf. Stud.IP/Files and Seminarapparat/Library
  • Antarctica:
  • 'The Moment Is Here … and It's Important': State, Agency, and Dystopia in Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Telling By: Moylan, Tom. pp. 135-153 IN: Baccolini, Raffaella(ed. and introd.); Moylan, Tom(ed. and introd.) Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination. New York, NY: Routledge; 2003. xi, 264 (book article)
  • Scripts Deep Enough: Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica By: Voermans, Paul. The New York Review of Science Fiction ; 1999 Jan; 11(5 [125]) 1, 4-5. Dragon (journal article)
  • Antarctica as a Scientific Utopia By: Leane, Elizabeth. Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction ; 2003 Autumn; 32(89) 27-35. Science Fiction Foundation (journal article)
  • Spoiler Alert: Scott, Science, and Forms of Reenactment in Contemporary Expedition Narratives By: Auguscik, Anna. Anglistik ; 2019 Summer; 30(2) 47-64. Universitätsverlag Winter GmbH (journal article)
  • Dead Penguins in Immigrant Pikchard Scandal: Telling Stories about 'The Environment' in Antartica By: Vint, Sherryl; Bould, Mark. pp. 257-273 IN: Burling, William J.(ed. and preface) Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company Publishing; 2009. viii, 303 (book article)
  • Le Relativisme épistémologique dans la science-fiction contemporaine By: Chabot, Hugues. pp. 87-100 IN: Berthelot, Francis(ed. and introd.); Clermont, Philippe(ed. and introd.) Science-fiction et imaginaires contemporains. Paris, France: Éditions Honoré Champion; 2007. 465 (book article)
  • State of Fear
  • Fear of Reason: Michael Crichton's State of Fear By: Benford, Gregory; Hoffert, Martin. The New York Review of Science Fiction ; 2005 Apr; 17(8 [200]) 15-16. Dragon (journal article)
  • Nationalism, Masculinity, and the Politics of Climate Change in the Novels of Kim Stanley Robinson and Michael Crichton By: Hamming, Jeanne. Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy ; 2013 Spring; 54(1) 21-45. Liverpool University Press (journal article)
  • Apparent Truth and False Reality: Michael Crichton and the Distancing of Scientific Discourse By: Genty, Stéphanie. ASp: La Revue du GERAS ; 2009; 55 95-106. Groupe d'Etudes et de Recherche en Anglais de Spécialité (GERAS) (journal article)
  • Nitzke, Solvejg. "The Adaptation of Disaster: Representations of Environmental Crises in Climate Change Fiction." Komparatistik Online (2018): 38-58.
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Green: Air Travel, Climate Change and Literature By: Garrard, Greg. Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism ; 2013; 17(2) 175-188. Routledge (journal article)