Science Fiction, LMC 3214: Proto-SF, Voyages Extraordinaires, and Scientific Romances

Today’s class was chocked full of lecture and discussion.

We began by going over the final paper assignment on applying definitions of science fiction to a single work of SF or SFnal that we did not discuss as a class. Since many of the students might not have written literary criticism before, I framed the assignment as an experiment:

  • Identify a problem: Choose a work of fiction (book, short story, film, video game, etc.) that: 1) we did not discuss as a class, and 2) has some science fictional aspect—either strongly or weakly. Pose the question: Is this SF (or SF of a particular type)?
  • Form a hypothesis about the work being SF or not.
  • Choose data for testing your hypothesis: Write about specific themes, examples, and scenes from the work that you choose.
  • Test your hypothesis: Using at least two of the attached definitions from the list, argue for and against your hypothesis.
  • Draw a conclusion: In your discussion, you should: 1) explain why or why not your example work is SF, and 2) build your own definition of SF and write it in your own words.

I believe that having students get their hands dirty with definitions while trying to formulate their own definition will lead to a deeper understanding of SF discourse.

The bulk of our class was spent on laying foundational lecture material for this week’s material. I introduced them to the cultural forces needed for SF to emerge, early practitioners of proto-SF such as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jules Verne and his Voyages Extraordinaires, and H.G. Wells and Scientific Romances.

For today’s class, we discussed H.G. Wells’ “The Star” (and I introduced them to Voyager’s Pale Blue Dot photograph) and E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” (which led to an AMAZING discussion about social media and contemporary communication technologies).

Tomorrow, we will discuss the Pulps, Hugo Gernsback, C.L. Moore’s “Shambleau,” and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.”

CFP: Eaton 2009, Extraordinary Voyages: Jules Verne and Beyond

Rob Latham recently sent out a CFP for next year’s Eaton Conference on “Extraordinary Voyages:  Jules Verne and Beyond.”  I haven’t had an opportunity to go to the Eaton Conference, but I hope to soon.  Definitely check out the CFP below, and read more about the conference on their official site here!

The 2009 Eaton Science Fiction Conference

Extraordinary Voyages: Jules Verne and Beyond

April 30-May 3, 2009          

University of California Riverside

Extraordinary voyages have shaped world literature since the Biblical Flood and The Odyssey, but no single writer has done more than Jules Verne to forge this device into a narrative template for addressing modern issues.The UCR Libraries’ Eaton Science Fiction Collection, in coordination with the North American Jules Verne Society, proposes a three and one-half-day conference that will examine the traditions Verne exploited, Verne’s own extraordinary work, and his far-ranging influence in modern fiction and culture. In 1863, Jules Verne published the first of the sixty-four novels and short story collections that would become known as the “Extraordinary Voyages.” Verne’s influence on the hardware and the locales of modern science fiction: the center of the earth, the bottom of the seas, outer space, is widely recognized. More significant is his influence on the shape of modern SF: the extraordinary voyage has become a foundational motif by which scientific knowledge is linked to the exploration of richly-imagined worlds. This conference will explore the implications of the extraordinary voyage as a narrative and ideological mode that resonates in world SF down to the present day.

The conference welcomes scholars, collectors, and enthusiasts of the extraordinary voyage and will address, but not necessarily be limited to, the following sets of questions. What is the place of the extraordinary voyage within the complex of genres that makes up early or proto-science fiction: the utopia, the scientific romance, the hollow-earth tale, the Robinsonade, etc.? How has the extraordinary voyage been linked to discourses of travel and tourism, to scientific and technological revolutions, to the history of European colonialism and the rise of industrial militarism? In what ways does a detailed focus on the mechanisms of locomotion (balloon, rocket, steamship, submarine, train, aircraft) transform the imaginary voyage into an extraordinary voyage, and how has this technique influenced other SF traditions? Does the theme of travel, of transit across physical borders and toward extreme destinations, serve as an allegory for contact and communication across other sorts of boundaries (linguistic, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, national)? How do 20th-century writers (such as the so-called “steampunks”) rework legacies of Verne and other 19th-century SF, whether earnestly or satirically, as paradigm or as pastiche? What accounts for the remarkable afterlife of Verne’s characters, and those of 19th-century SF more generally, who appear in numerous revisions and elaborations by 20th- and 21st-century SF writers? What are the influences of the Vernian paratext: the thousands of maps, illustrations, photographs, and ornately colored and ornamented bindings of the first editions’ on contemporary works of imaginative fiction? How has the extraordinary voyage been translated into other cultures and other media, from comic books, graphic novels and film to theme parks and digital texts, and with what consequences?

Abstracts of 300-500 words (for papers of 20-minutes in length) should be submitted by December 15, 2008 to Melissa Conway, Head, Special Collections & Archives, UCR Libraries at Melissa.Conway [at]

Contact us: eatonconference [at]