Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
Yesterday was a day I’d been looking forward to since the beginning of the semester, the project conference organised for the very amazing module I have mentioned in almost every article published since January. I am obviously talking about “New Worlds: Science Fiction and Beyond”!
The way in which the module was organised worked perfectly: like for Cultures of Suburbia, we studied our texts and films in the first 9 or 10 weeks. After that, the rest of the module is dedicated to working on our projects. Yesterday (week 11, the first week back after the Easter break), both groups gathered with both seminar leaders, Matt Taunton and Jake Huntley, to do short presentations about our project ideas – not matter how vague or developed. I love this system and think that it works very well, firstly because it forces you to think about your ideas early, secondly because it helps you organise your arguments, and finally because you can get some feedback from your peer or seminar leaders. In the next two weeks (also the last ones, sad sad sad), we will work in small groups and meet up to discuss our progress… Before the deadline.
Another thing that was really cool about this conference, apart from the fact that calling it a “conference” feels classy and professional, was the fact that we were all put into different panels based on our ideas or the books we want to study in our projects.
Seeing the variety of ideas people have come up with was amazing and I found all the presentations really interesting! Now I really want to read everybody’s essays when they’re done. However, this variety didn’t surprise me at all because of how varied the texts studied throughout the semester were. Projects focus on time, space, politics, feminism, fate, free will, animals, robots…
So I guess it’s time for me to talk about my idea – but I’ll keep very brief because I don’t know if it’s okay for me to talk about this now before the deadline (paranoid me doesn’t want someone to copy what I’m postinghere) and also because at the time I am writing this article, I’m freezing and falling asleep on the sofa (I woke up at 7:30 and started working at 9 this morning, I impress myself more and more every day!).
Right! Halfway through the semester, I became slightly obsessed with the theme of evolution in several (most?) texts we read for the seminar. My first idea was therefore to write an essay on evolution and Darwinism. I didn’t know how far this would take me but I kept this idea in mind, which is why I did all my formative assessments on Darwinism – which turned out to be super useful and interesting.
But then, I think that’s after I watched Blade Runner for the second time with my housemate, I realised I wanted to include it in my essay too (although I thought the film itself was average, I love the themes and concerns it raises). With that in mind and after we did the week on “insects” I decide to do one essay about everything.
That was both a good idea and a terrible mistake. Let me explain: as usual, I start with my usual basic idea and then crippling self-doubt gets into my mind. “Oh no, I will never manage.” “My ideas are shit and there is never going to be enough to write a 5,000 words essay.” So I did a TON of research. I took everything I could find that seemed relevant out of the library, spent days going through these books, found lots of essays and articles online too, copied all the quotes I found useful and ideas I had. I ended up with a Word document that’s over 40 pages long. Obviously, I wasn’t going to use 40 pages of quotes in my project but all this research was really helpful and gave me so many ideas! I sometimes feel like the amount of further reading I do is useless (it’s not) and ridiculous (it is) but without all this I probably wouldn’t have had ideas in the first place.
By that point I’d decided to use evolution and Darwinism as a starting point to investigate the questions of “becoming Other,” posthuman, and animals (the vegetarian side of me couldn’t miss this opportunity!). But since I had Blade Runner to include too, I decided to use “anxiety” as a framework to englobe everything, talk about possible new forms of life and challenge the boundary between human, animal and machine.
In the end, my project title is: ‘Becoming “Other”: evolution, metamorphosis and posthumanism.’ I’m quite happy with it so I doubt I will change it now.
Works studied: The Time Machine, The Food of the Gods, The Incredible Shrinking Man, ‘The Metamorphosis,’ The Fly and Blade Runner.
Throughout the essay, I kept two ideas in mind: that Science Fiction is a medium for socio-political criticism (or SF as a new ‘social realism’) and that confrontations with the ‘Other’ (outside or within) forces us, as readers or viewers, to re-evoluate our position – whether this be on an evolutionary scale, on earth (compared to other species), or in the universe (philosophical approach).
As planned, I managed to get the first draft of this essay done before the end of the Easter break which I’m very happy about! It took me ages though because working at home is impossible. So many plans, people to see, places I wanted to go too, the sunshine, the beach… Part of it was even written on a road trip in the car, not the best place to work but four hours is a long time (I miraculously managed to write something decent AND avoided to vomit in the car!)
As you can imagine and thanks to my foreshadowing… there was no way this project was only going to be 5,000 words long (+ or – 10%). My first finished draft was 8,500 words long. Yep. I just wanted to cry inside (and still do, a bit). My essays always end up being way too long but this is a new record. After editing it (almost only rephrasing stuff and removing all the useless words and repetition), it’s now ‘only’ 7,000 words long. I know what you’re thinking: just delete one part? …YES BUT WHICH ONE?! I find all of theme relevant, but I’m thinking maybe The Food of the Gods because it’s the novel I enjoyed the least. For now, I’m in complete denial about the fact that I’m going to get rid of one of my ‘babies.’ I’ll see if I can find a way to keep all my parts but for now I think I just need to step away from it and I’ll send it to some friends for feedback about which part they think should be removed.
This is it for today, this article was supposed to be very short and it isn’t: now you see why my essays end up being way too long!
I know the semester isn’t quite over yet but it is in a way, especially now that the Conference is over. I already miss Science Fiction seminar so much but I’m so glad I got this module! I’d recommend it to literally everyone. Do it! And also super happy I discovered a new genre that I love and authors I want to explore in the future (particularly Wells, Ballard, Vonnegut). This module reminded me what it felt like to be genuinely excited to open a book and read! 🙂
I got 76% on this project, which is my best grade ever recieved at university! I now wanted to share the essay’s introduction with you. I hope you find it interesting. It was a really fun project to work on and I am honestly still so happy I got to do with amazing module. I’d recommend it to anyone.
“While the term ‘Science Fiction’ (SF) is relatively new, the genre is not. A product of the Enlightenment, scientific and technological advances, examples of early SF can be found in the seventeenth century, with utopias such as Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis or Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World. However, for the purpose of this discussion, I will focus on the fiction and films produced from the late nineteenth century onwards. Difficult to define, SF englobes a wide range of sub-genres generally focusing on the ‘impact of scientific or technological advancement on human beings.’ Despite its recurring use of futurism and being the literature of ‘cognitive estrangement,’ SF is concerned with the human and the present. Using ‘nova’ as media for social, political and philosophical meditations, the genre displays writers’ anxieties regarding society’s progress and defining the Human. Seed describes the genre as ‘the new version of social realism’ – a thought experiment – while Ballard illustrates his desire for SF to further explore the human condition: ‘it is inner space, not outer, that needs to be explored.’ This essay will thus study works representing SF’s recurring concerns through the themes of transformation and becoming Other. I will use The Time Machine as a starting point: Darwin’s ground-breaking evolutionary theory reshaped Wells’ world and allowed new readings of human history, blurring the line between human and animal. In subsequent parts, with works dealing with scale, animal-metamorphoses or artificial life, this essay demonstrates that SF authors inscribe themselves in a postanthropocentric position, forcing readers to re-define the Human, meditate on life, society and our impact on Earth and finally, to re-evaluate the boundaries between human, animal and machine. I will also argue that these pieces illustrate humanity’s desire to transcend itself and conquer its meaninglessness and will evaluate the extent to which this is doomed to fail.”
 George Slusser. ‘The Origins of Science Fiction.’ In David Seed, A Companion to Science Fiction (Oxford: Blackwell 2005). P. 28.
 Darko Suvin. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1979). P. 4.
 Ibid, p. 4. ‘I want to begin by postulating a spectrum or spread of literary subject matter which extends from the ideal extreme of exact recreation of the author’s empirical environment to exclusive interest in a strange newness, a novum.’
 David Seed. A Companion to Science Fiction (Oxford: Blackwell 2005). p. 2.
 Ibid, p. 4. ‘Exploration lies at the heart of SF. It was an imperative which J.G. Ballad’s famous insistence in 1962 did not question: “it is inner space, not outer, that needs to be explored” (Ballad 1996: 197).’
 H.G. Wells. The Time Machine (CruGuru.com 2008).