ENGL 546 A: Topics In Twentieth-Century Literature

Utopian Writing and Contemporary Science Fiction

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
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Tom Foster
Tom Foster

Syllabus Description:

Schedule of Readings:

Works not included in the books ordered for the class are available as pdfs on the “Files” page of the course Canvas site; see the link at the left border of the site.  Works available online have links included in the schedule below.  Works listed as “suggested only” are not required, and I will not assume that you have read these works.  I will typically refer to them during our class meetings, and they are included here (and on the “Files” page) for students who have a special interest in the topic and wish to do further reading or research for your written work. 


Week 1.

January 5: Introduction


January 7: Definitions and examples

                   Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, chapters 1 and 4

                   Bruce Sterling, “Maneki Neko”

                   Sofia Samatar, “The Red Thread”; available on the "Files" page, but also available online at http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-red-thread/


Suggested only: Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, chapter 2, sections 1 and 2, pages 16-27            



Week 2.

January 12: Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, chapter 3

                     Lyman Tower Sargent, “Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited”; available online at https://www.jstor.org/stable/20719246

                     Fredric Jameson, “Introduction: Utopia Now,” from Archeologies of the Future


January 14: Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, vol. 1, chapter 17

                     James M. Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), “The Women Men Don’t See”

                     Ray Bradbury, “Way Up in the Middle of the Air”


Suggested only: “Introduction” (pages 1-8), from The Utopia Reader, eds. Sargent and Claeys



Week 3.

January 19: Problems of colonialism and race

                     Gwyneth Jones, “Metempsychosis of the Machine”

                     John Rieder, Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction, chapter 1

                     Robert Heinlein, “Columbus Was a Dope”

                     James Blish, “Watershed”

                     Arthur Clarke, “Reunion”

                     Robert Sheckley, “The Native Problem”

                     Ken Liu, “Ghost Days,” available online at http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/ghost-days/


Suggested only: Bill Ashcroft, Utopianism in Postcolonial Literatures, chapter 1    


January 21: Alien-ation and xenophilia

                     Steven Shaviro, “Thinking Like a Philosopher,” chapter 1 from Discognition

                      Clifford Simak, “Desertion”

                     Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life”    

                      Rachel Swirsky, “Eros, Philia, Agape”


Suggested only: Octavia Butler, “Amnesty”

Suggested only: Ken Liu, “Seven Birthdays”

Suggested only: Catherine Moir, “The Education of Hope: On the Dialectical Potential of Speculative Materialism” 



Week 4.

January 26: Queer theory and/or utopia          

          Jose Munoz, Cruising Utopia, introduction and chapter 1

          Ramzi Fawaz, “Introduction: Superhumans in America

          Judith Merril, “That Only a Mother”


Suggested only: Lee Edelman, No Future, chapter 1

Suggested only: Robyn Wiegman and Elizabeth A. Wilson, “Introduction: Anti-Normativity’s Queer Conventions”


January 28: Reading utopia

                      Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, vol. 1, excerpts from part 3

                      Fredric Jameson, “Varieties of the Utopian,” chapter 1 from Archeologies of the Future

                      Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading”

                      “The Communications Officer’s Tale” (Rheanna, “Lunch and Other Obscenities”), from The Fanfiction Reader, ed. Francesca Coppa


Suggested only: Henry Jenkins, “How Texts Become Real,” chapter 2 from Textual Poachers

Suggested only: Leslie Fish, “Shelter” and “Poses,” available online at


Suggested only: Fredric Jameson, “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture”; available online at http://www.english.ufl.edu/mrg/readings/Jameson,%20Reification%20and%20Utopia.pdf



Week 5. The example of Edward Bellamy: Utopian temporality and post-capitalism

February 2:  Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward 2000-1887

                      William Morris’s review of Bellamy and Bellamy’s review of Morris’s News From Nowhere, in The Utopia Reader, 2nd ed., Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent, eds., pages 315-320 and 339-340


Suggested only: The Utopia Reader, excerpt from William Morris, News from Nowhere, pages 320-338


February 4: Bellamy, Looking Backward 2000-1887


Suggested only: Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, chapter 8, pages 170-193



Week 6.

February 9: The technological utopia: Problems of determination

                     Benjamin Rosenbaum, “The Guy Who Worked for Money,” available online at http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-guy-who-worked-for-money

                     Ted Chiang, “Liking What You See: A Documentary”

                     Cory Doctorow, “Ownz0red”

                     Peter Frase, “Communism: Equality and Abundance,” chapter 1 from Four Futures: Life after Capitalism”


Suggested only: Francis Bacon, “New Atlantis,” from The Utopia Reader, pages 135-142

Suggested only: Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, chapter 6, in Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work

Suggested only: Aaron Bastani, “What Is Fully Automated Luxury Communism?”


February 11: Black utopian traditions and interventions

                        Edward Johnson, Light Ahead for the Negro

                        Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

                        N.K. Jemisin, “The Ones Who Stay and Fight”

Suggested only: Alex Zamalin, “Turn-of-the-Century Black Literary Utopianism,” chapter 2 from Black Utopia

Suggested only: Tom Moylan, “The Literary Utopia,” chapter 3 in Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination



Week 7. Feminist utopian traditions and interventions

February 16: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland

                        Frances Bartkowski, Feminist Utopias, “Introduction”


February 18: Gilman, Herland


Suggested only: Joanna Russ, “When It Changed”



Week 8. Contemporary reworkings of utopian literary traditions

February 23: Samuel R. Delany, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

                       Mark Jerng, “Introduction: Racial Worldmaking,” from Racial Worldmaking: The Power of Popular Fiction


Suggested only: Isiah Lavender III, “Introduction: On Defining Afrofuturism, from Afrofuturism Rising: The Literary Prehistory of a Movement


February 25: Delany, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand


Suggested only: Fredric Jameson, “Utopia and Its Antinomies,” chapter 10 from Archeologies of the Future



Week 9:

March 2: Delany, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand


Suggested only: Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias”; available online at http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/foucault1.pdf      

Suggested only: Philip Brian Harper, “Introduction: The Postmodern, The Marginal, and the Minor”


March 4: Nisi Shawl, Everfair


Suggested only: Avery Gordon, “Something More Powerful Than Skepticism,” chapter 25 in Keeping Good Time



Week 10:

March 9: Shawl, Everfair


Suggested only: W.E.B. DuBois, “The Hands of Ethiopia”


March 11: Shawl, Everfair

Last updated: 
October 23, 2020 - 10:12am