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C LIT 240 G: Writing in Comparative Literature

Meeting Time: 
TWThF 9:30am - 12:00pm
* *
Photo of Cynthia Steele
Cynthia Steele

Syllabus Description:

C LIT 240 G

Out of This World: Writing about Science Fiction

Early Fall Start 2020

TWTHF 9:30-12:00

Office Hours: TTh 1:00-2:30 by appointment

Cell Phone: (206) 503-4374

W Credit

Prof. Cynthia Steele

Tutor: Amanda McCourt

1-3 pm by appointment

W Credit

What does it mean to be human, and where is the dividing line between the human and inhuman (animal, machine, artificial intelligence, alien, clone, etc.)? How do fictional worlds help us to imagine the range of future possibilities, while critiquing our present societies? What sorts of dialogues have science fiction writers engaged in with each other, over the decades? For each class we will read one or two science fiction short stories that demonstrate how artists have imagined worlds complicating and challenging our own; for instance, global pandemics, post-apocalyptic landscapes, space exploration and inhuman life forms, including aliens, robots and clones, and shifting gender definitions and identities. Beginning with two foundational writers of the nineteenth century, H.G. Wells and Edgar Allen Poe, we will continue with several iconic figures of the U.S. Golden Age of the 1950s and 1960s and of Cyberpunk of the 1980s, and will conclude with five exciting contemporary authors. A first goal of this class, then, is to provide you with an overview of the greatest science fiction writers in English, from the mid nineteenth century to the present, as well as with techniques for the analysis of fiction. In the process we will also make connections between literary experimentation and lived experience, for instance, by comparing Poe’s ‘masque of the red death’ to COVID-19.

A second goal of the class will be to introduce you to concepts of film adaptation, by comparing five famous science fiction short stories to the iconic films they inspired: The Thing, 2001, Total Recall, A.I., and Arrival. We will watch these films outside of class on instant streaming.

The third goal of this course is to introduce you to analytical essay writing. You will keep a reading and film viewing journal and will develop two five-page essays, each comparing a pivotal issue in two or three of the stories and films we have studied. This course will provide you with guidance in conceptualizing, developing and refining short analytical essays, of the sort that you will be called on to write in many of your undergraduate courses at UW. Also, by taking this course you will satisfy the UW Composition requirement.

A final and equally important goal is to introduce you to how to be a student at the University of Washington. Although we can’t interact in person, we will take full advantage of the online learning environment by actively engaging in discussion forums and in various interactive classroom activities, such as entry and exit tickets, minute papers, ice breakers, think-pair-share, debate, and jigsaw. You will leave this course with a variety of new skills and understandings, as well as with a number of new friends.


All sixteen short stories are posted in pdf or Word form to our Canvas site under ‘Files.’ Please watch them before class on instant streaming. In addition, please read the following Ebook, following the calendar below:

Sherryl Vint, Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. ISBN 978-1441194602; free online access through UW Libraries:,contains,science%20fiction:%20a%20guide%20to%20the%20perplexed


Film 1. The Thing. (1982) dir. John Carpenter. 1 hr. 49 min.

free with a STARZ subscription to Amazon Prime: $3.99

Film 2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). dir. Stanley Kubrick. 2 hrs 29 min.

Film 3. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001). Dir. Steven Spielberg. 146 min.

rent $2.99

Film 4. Total Recall (1990). Dir. Paul Verhoeven, 113 min:

free to Netflix subscribers

rent $3.99.

Film 5. Arrival (2016). Dir. Denis Villaeuve.  116 min.


Links of Interest:

The Masque of the Red Death (1964 movie):

The Thing 2011 remake (rent for $4): Science Fiction Films Available Free on Swank:

 William Gibson Page:

Samuel Delaney Page:

Ken Liu Page:

 Distribution of Grades:

Journal One                   20%

Journal Two                   20%

Essay One                       20%

Essay Two                       20%

Class Participation    20%


Please write personal responses to each of the readings and films this term and turn in your journal in two segments. Write each segment (Journal One and Journal Two) as a single, double-spaced Word document with 12-point Times New Roman font. Write your name and ‘Journal One’ at the top of the first page and number the pages. Write about page of analysis on each of the items listed on the assignment sheet; number them and include them in the order given. In your discussion of the short stories and films, please avoid plot summary and analyze one or two specific issues. I will not take into account formal issues like grammar and punctuation in grading the journal; your main objective here should be to clearly express your thoughts and questions about the text.


Please write two five-page comparative essays on two or three of the short stories and/or films that we have studied, double-spaced in 12-point Times New Roman font. For specifics please see the assignments that I will upload to Canvas. Please number your pages and write your name at the top of the document. For these two essays I will grade you on how well focused your essay topic is, how well you organize, develop, and express your ideas, and how well you follow formal conventions, including the basic structure and development of an analytical essay, conventions of grammar, spelling and punctuation, and the MLA Formatting and Style Guide.

Academic Honesty

 You are responsible for understanding and observing the UW guidelines regarding academic honesty. All your written work will be submitted through Canvas, which utilizes VeriCite to detect and provide a detailed report on any instances of plagiarism. Please let me know if you have any questions about this.

Students with Disabilities

To request accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 ((V/TTY). If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating that you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss such accommodations.


Week 1

 Tuesday, August 25


Wednesday, August 26

Sherryl Vint, Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed, Ch 1.

Short Story 1a. Edgar Allen Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842), 6 pp

Short Story 2. H.G. Wells, “The Star” (1897), 5 pp

Thursday, August 27

Vint, Ch. 2, “Technologically Saturated Societies / The Golden Age.”

S3. Stanley Grauman Weinbaum, “A Martian Odyssey” (1934), 17 pp

Friday, August 28

S4. JohnW. Campbell, “Who Goes There?” (1938), 40 pp

Film 1. John Carpenter, The Thing (1982), 109 min.

Week 2

Tuesday, September 1

S5. Arthur C. Clark, “The Sentinel” (1951), 6 pp

Film 2: Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), 2 hrs 29 min.

Wednesday, September 2

S6. Judith Merril, “That Only a Mother” (1948), 7 pp

S7. Pamela Zoline, “The Heat Death of the Universe” (1972), 9 pp

A1. Hewitt, Elizabeth. “Generic Exhaustion and the ‘Heath Death’ of Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 21, no. 3 (Nov 1994), pp. 289-301.

Thursday, September 3

Vint, Ch. 4: “The Megatext.”

S8. Brian Aldiss, “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” (1969), 7 pp

Film 3: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001), 146 min.

A2. Heffernan, Teresa. “A.I. Artificial Intelligence: Science, Fiction and Fairy Tales.”

English Studies in Africa, vol. 61, no. 1 (2018), pp. 10-15.

Friday, September 4

Critique Introduction of Essay One (bring 6 hard copies to class)

Week 3

Tuesday, September 8

S9. Philip K. Dick, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” (1966), 19 pp

Film 4: Total Recall (1990), 113 min.

7 pm: Journal One Due to Canvas

Wednesday, September 9

Vint, Ch. 5: “Speculative Fiction.”

S10. J.G. Ballard, “The Cage of Sand” (1962), 17 pp

S11. Frederick Pohl, “Day Million” (1966), 3 pp

A3. Rossi, Umberto. “A Little Something about Dead Astronauts.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 36, no. 1 (March 2009), pp. 101-120.

7 pm: Essay One Due to Canvas

Thursday, September 10

Vint, Ch. 6: “Communities of Practice / Cyberpunk.”

S12. William Gibson, “Burning Chrome” (1982), 25 pp

Friday, September 11

Vint, Ch. 7: “The Literature of Ideas.”

S13. Samuel Delaney, “Ay, and Gomorrah” (1967), 11 pp


2:30: Zoom visit with Samuel Delaney

S14. Ursula Le Guin, “Nine Lives” (1969), 20 pp.

Critique Introduction to Essay Two (bring 6 hard copies to class)

Week 4

Tuesday, September 15

Vint, Ch. 8: “The Literature of Change.”

S15. Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life” (1998), 39 pp (first half)

A4. Richard, David Evan. “Film Phenomenology and the ‘Eloquent Gestures’ of Denis

Villeneuve’s Arrival.” Cinephile, vol. 12, no. 1 (Spring 2018), pp. 41-47.

Wednesday, September 16

S15. Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life” (1998), 39 pp (second half)

Film 5: Arrival (2016), 116 min.

Thursday, September 17

Vint, Ch. 9: “Science Fictionality.”

S16. Ken Liu, “The Algorithms of Love” (2004), 12 pp

7 pm: Essay Two Due to Canvas

Friday, September 18


7 pm: Journal Two Due to Canvas

Catalog Description: 
Comparative approach to literature and a workshop in writing comparative papers in English. Emphasis on cross-cultural comparison of literary works. Readings in English with an option to read selected texts in the original languages Offered: AWSp.
Department Requirements Met: 
Pre-req to Declare Literature Major
GE Requirements Met: 
English Composition (C)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
June 28, 2020 - 9:12pm