English 192
Science Fiction
Spring 2002
Professor William Warner

Course Overview



Study Materials

Course Policies

Lecture 1: Defining Science Fiction

What is Science Fiction?

Rule-bound system for finding the truth about nature
Breeds technology = [GK: tekhne (craft) + logia (the systematic knowledge about)]
Engages a certain ideology of progress
Implies a rationalistic code for reading

Narrative that tells stories that follow chronology
Stories that do not claim to be true, but ask "what if...?"
Implies a code for reading: enchantment, amazement, suspense

Science + Fiction = ?
There's a bit of science in fiction
There's a tendency toward fiction in science:

( observation + hypothesis + experiment = a finding)
Science and Fiction share a "joy in newness"

Philip K. Dick defining science fiction

I will define science fiction, first, by saying what science fiction is not. It cannot be defined as 'a story set in the future,' [nor does it require] untra-advanced technology. It must have a fictitious world, a society that does not in fact exist, but is predicated on our known society... that comes out of our world, the one we know:
This world must be different from the given one in at least one way, and this one way must be sufficient to give rise to events that could not occur in our society…
There must be a coherent idea involved in this dislocation…so that as a result a new society is generated in the author's mind, transferred to paper, and from paper it occurs as a convulsive shock in the reader's mind, the shock of dysrecognition.

[In] good science fiction, the conceptual dislocation---the new idea, in other words---must be truly new and it must be intellectually stimulating to the reader…[so] it sets off a chain-reaction of ramification, ideas in the mind of the reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader's mind so that that mind, like the author's, begins to create…. The very best science fiction ultimately winds up being a collaboration between author and reader, in which both create---and enjoy doing it, [experiencing] the joy of discovery of newness.

--Philip K. Dick, The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Carol Publishing, 1999, xviii-xiv.

The central elements of s/f

  1. The alternative world
  2. The encounter of human and the alien / other /monster
  3. Technological objects: toy or taboo; salvation or cure;...
  4. The humanoid non-human: robot and the cyborg
  5. Space travel and/or time travel
  6. Character types: the scientist; the action hero; the feminine medium;...

Testing the definition of science fiction: the opening scene of Star Wars.

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.