English 192
Science Fiction
Spring 2002
Professor William Warner

Course Overview



Study Materials

Course Policies

The Gender of Science Fiction:

I, Robot: misogyny and the heroic irony of Dr. Susan Calvin


The male bias of early science fiction

  • Historical reasons: audience of adolescent boys
  • Fantasy allure of science: geek bodies and phallic objects (rockets, weapons)
  • S/f conducts the gender stereotypes of its audience and authors

Dr. Susan Calvin as an object of ridicule

  • The "woman scientist" as a contradiction in terms
  • Calvin as an object of scorn: name, appearance, radically alone
  • But, Calvin emerges as the 'hero' of I, Robot: why?

"Little Lost Robot"

  • Calvin's understanding of the resentment of domination
  • Hiding by dissimulating difference
  • Calvin's solution: 3 tests
  • "She understands robots like a sister"
  • Calvin as the hero who solves the problem
  • Calvin's irony about man; her grasp of the positive potential of robots


The Evolution of the Robot/ Computer in I, Robot

Story (first publication)

The evolving morphology of the robot the problem for humans

"Robbie" (1940)

Robot (Robbie) as a cool toy:
domestic social problem: is this the proper playmate for a human child?

"Runaround" (1942)

Automated worker robot (Speedy) with some independent functions:
how can we get this tool to behave the way we want him to?

"Reason" (1941)

A robot (Cutie) who has powers of independent speculative thinking:
if we cannot refute its ideas, how can humans control of this intelligent agent?
If it does its job better than humans, why bother?

"Catch That Rabbit" (1944)

Robot (Dave) who manages other workers:
how prevent robot anxiety at moments of decision?


A mind reading robot (Herbie) who takes an interest in humans:
how can we stop it from obeying our covert rather than overt commands? responding to our unconscious rather than conscious desires?

"Little Lost Robot" (1947)

A robot (Nestor 10) whose intelligence rivals mans:
how prevent it from developing a superiority complex and challenging human priority?

"Escape!" (1945)

non-humanoid computer, "the Brain," as a center of control; only it can understand the space ship it designs and then controls:
how prevent this complex mainframe brain from treating humans with condescension, (here) from making us the butt of its jokes?

"Evidence" (1946)

The development of the humanoid robot (Stephen Byerley) to the point of perfect simulation: the cyborg is conceived:

why shouldn't these humanoid robots be accepted as full participants in our social and political life?
Won't their mental and ethical superiority make them our natural leaders?

"The Inevitable Conflict" (1950)

The humanoid robot (Byerley) invistigates the "machine" that controls the world economy:
why shouldn't we accept a regime of total control by the machines?


Dr. Susan Calvin's sublime irony

"Evidence" (1946)
  • Calvin judgment: "Robots are essentially decent"
  • Invalidating the results of the 1st test
  • After Byerley's "sting" of Quinn: "he's human": Calvin to reporter
  • Calvin and Byerley's mid-night talk: "She smiled broadly, her thin face glowing."
"The Inevitable Conflict" (1950)
  • Male rivalry with the Machines: 'the Society for Humanity"
  • Calvin to Byerley: why not let the Machines run human history?


How do women get into S/f films?

Forbidden Planet (1956)
Dir: Fred McLeod Wilcox




"Them!" (1954): woman and the mystery of monstrous reproduction

Alien (1979): Ripley androgenous bravery as the science officer of the Nostromo
Colossus: the Forbin Project (1970): the triumph of masculine control

This page was composed by Professor William Warner. Last changed 4/2/02. This course is part of the Transcriptions Project of the Department of English at UC /Santa Barbara.