Sophomore Seminars

After 2001: A 21st Century Science Fiction Odyssey

ENGLISH 17Q

In 1968, Stanley Kurick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey imagined the future in the then distant year of 2001. Now that year is more than 20 years in the rearview and his science fiction future is now our past (with fewer PanAm flights to the moon and a stunning dearth of murderous AI).

What is science fiction in the 21st century?

What does it do?

Who writes it?

And, importantly, who is it for?

In this class we will explore the questions of topic, author, audience, and community through the lens of the Hugo winning short stories since 2001. Hugo Awards are chosen by the fans, so this will allow us to examine the ways in which fandom and popular culture have changed in the last two decades in ways that has made the genre broader and more inclusive of writers and readers of every gender, race, and sexuality, while at the same time provoking a reactionary response in a minority of writers and fans who consider themselves decentered by these developments.

Readings will include the Hugo winning short stories, some classic science fiction stories, and contemporary reports about the annual science fiction convention where these awards are given (WorldCon), and articles about science fiction fan culture. We will also view some of the science fiction visual works that have been important or influential in the past two decades. Timing and health permitting, we will attend a local science fiction convention.

This course will be reading- and writing-intensive but will also offer opportunities for spirited discussion. We will be engaging with sensitive subjects such as race, class, gender, and sexuality. Assignments include weekly short essays, discussion leadership, individual presentations, and a final research paper.

 

Meet the Instructor(s)

Dr Stevenson presenting at San Diego Comic Con in a Star-Trek-like dress

Melissa Stevenson

"I am a first-generation college student and a second-generation geek. I grew up obsessed with science fiction and was delighted when I discovered (during my tutorial at Stanford’s BOSP program in Oxford) that I could approach these narratives with the same critical care and consideration that is given to Shakespeare and Austen, Morrison and Twain. In my work, I explore what science fiction worlds, whether textual or visual, tell us about the more mundane (though often no less wondrous or terrible) worlds in which they were written, and what they tell us about ourselves.

"After graduating from Stanford in 1996, I went to UC Santa Barbara where I completed a PhD in English. My dissertation ranged from Frankenstein to The Matrix, examining the ways in which specific technological developments across the centuries force us to reconsider the nature of what it means to be human.

"My interests include contemporary American literature, cultural studies, film theory, new media studies, short fiction, graphic narratives, video games, and children’s and young adult literature. I have presented at ComicCon and WorldCon to audiences composed of academics, cosplayers, cosplaying academics, and academic cosplayers. I have recently presented papers on Westworld, Stranger Things, and Brian K. Vaughan’s Paper Girls.

"I’m currently a Lead Undergraduate Advising Director with an office in FloMo. I help students navigate Stanford and answer questions about life, the university, and everything."