Politics in Modern Science Fiction

2 Units, Pass/No Pass
WF, 3-4pm, 235 Dwinelle
Spring 2001
Began Wed., 31 January 2001

Instructor: Sumana Harihareswara

Essay prompt -- Essay due Wednesday, April 25, 2001


  • Card, Orson Scott: Ender's Game. 1985.
  • Le Guin, Ursula K.: The Left Hand of Darkness. 1969. (Interesting and helpful background info here and study questions here.)
  • Stephenson, Neal: The Diamond Age. 1995. (For both Stephenson books, an introduction to "cyberpunk" might be helpful; see the FAQ.)
  • Stephenson, Neal: Snow Crash. 1992.

Short stories in reader:

  • Allen, Steve: "The Public Hating." 1955. p. 611-617, The World Treasury of Science Fiction (ed. David G. Hartwell, 1989).
  • Asimov, Isaac: "The Evitable Conflict." 1950. p. 170-192, I, Robot. 1950.
  • Asimov, Isaac: "The Fun They Had." 1957(?). p. 157-160, Earth is Room Enough. 1957.
  • Asimov, Isaac: "Jokester" (one-page excerpt). 1956. p. 164, Earth is Room Enough. 1957.
  • Bringsvaerd, Tor Age: "Codemus." 1968. p. 769-781, The World Treasury of Science Fiction (ed. David G. Hartwell, 1989).
  • Kress, Nancy: "The Mountain to Mohammed." 1992. p. 160-178, Nebula Awards 28 (ed. James Morrow, 1994).
  • Morrow, James: "City of Truth." 1990. 228-317, Nebula Awards 28 (ed. James Morrow, 1994).
  • Rebetez-Cortes, Rene: "The New Prehistory." 1972. p. 141-145, The World Treasury of Science Fiction (ed. David G. Hartwell, 1989).
  • Vonnegut, Kurt: "Harrison Bergeron." 1961. p. 3-9, The World Treasury of Science Fiction (ed. David G. Hartwell, 1989).
  • Willis, Connie: "Even the Queen." 1992. p. 10-26, Nebula Awards 28 (ed. James Morrow, 1994).


Article online:

Course requirements:

Absences Three or fewer Regular participationIn class discussion Consistent performance of homework Possibly to be accompanied by brief weekly writing assignments One paper (short, less than five pages) due near the end of the semester To be graded Pass/No Pass

Weekly schedule (tentative):

  1. Week 1 (Jan 29-Feb 2):
    1. a) Introduction, definitions.
    2. b) Our most provocative experiences with science fiction.
  2. Week 2 (Feb 5-Feb 9):
    1. a) Discuss Brin's Star Wars/Star Trek article; Is Brin right that SW promotes a fascistic worldview, and ST an egalitarian one? And, larger issue: Does sci-fi affect our political views? How? Elitism and populism in science fiction; who is more privileged?
    2. b) Discuss Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness; how do gender and biology affect culture and politics?
  3. Week 3 (Feb 12-Feb 16):
    1. a) The Left Hand of Darkness; "The Other" as way to understand the self
    2. b) Discuss Willis, "Even the Queen." What health inventions could substantially change power distribution?
  4. Week 4 (Feb 20-Feb 23):
    1. a) Discuss Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron." What laws and norms privilege the weak, as Ayn Rand would have feared?
    2. b) Discuss Kress's "The Mountain to Mohammed." What laws and norms condemn the weak? What science fiction have you read that does so covertly?
  5. Week 5 (Feb 26-March 2):
    1. a) Discuss Card's Ender's Game; what will childhood be? What is childhood? What rights do children have? What rights would they have under a military government?
    2. b) Ender's Game: Threat of "The Other" forces earth into uneasy planetary alliance. Plausible? Is fascism ever justifiable?
  6. Week 6 (March 5-9):
    1. a) Discuss Stephenson's Snow Crash. Defining cyberpunk. How does technology affect the ability to govern? What about nanotechnology?
    2. b) _Snow Crash_. What is the future of the nation-state?
  7. Week 7 (March 12-March 16):
    1. a) Snow Crash. When is violence appropriate to resolve conflicts? How could the nature of violence change?
    2. b) Discuss Stephenson's Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. Open discussion on cyberpunk and government. Is anarchism or government more viable given technology?
  8. Week 8 (March 19-March 23):
    1. a) Diamond Age. How is international relations like family or personal relationships? How would interplanetary relations work? What would affect it?
    2. b) Diamond Age. How can technology change education? Why is The Primer effective?
  9. Week 9 (April 2-April 6):
    1. a) Discuss Asimov, "The Fun They Had" and page from "Jokester". How will education change? What sort of population and politics will this produce? And what skills and worldviews will be most useful in the near future?
    2. b) Discuss Morrow, "City of Truth." What one taboo or value, if strengthened or destroyed, would most change power distribution?
  10. Week 10 (April 9-April 13):
    1. a) "City of Truth." Norms control us; what norms are necessary? Which are disappearing?
    2. b) Discuss Rebetez-Cortes, "The New Prehistory." Where is the individual privileged over the group, and where is the opposite?
  11. Week 11 (April 16-April 20):
    1. a) Discuss Allen, "The Public Hating." In the sci-fi genre, irrationality and mob rule seem the greatest threat--why?
    2. b) Discuss "The Matrix" as political. What is "The System?" Does the film espouse anarchy?
  12. Week 12 (April 23-April 27): ESSAY DUE
    1. a) "The Matrix" as religious. What do the elements of Buddhism and Christianity mean in terms of empowerment for the individual?
    2. b) Discuss Bringsvaerd's "Codemus." Institutions could make us dependent on them. Why can't Codemus escape, though Neo does?
  13. Week 13 (April 30-May 4):
    1. a) Discuss Asimov's "The Evitable Conflict." Pro or con: If robots were benevolent and smarter than us, we would be justified in turning over government to them. Is scientific expertise the basis of authority? Robots in general. Data (Star Trek) vs. HAL ("2001"). Who has power over new forms of life?
    2. b) Attempt at closure.