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Essay Two 23-24

Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies

EN2F5/EN3F5 Alternative Lifeworlds

Assessed Essay Topics

Term/Essay 2


Intermediate year: 3000 words

Finalists: 4000 words.


Consult essay deadlines on departmental website for due date.

The following topics are suggestions. You may modify them, or devise one of your own, but should do so only in consultation with your seminar tutor (either by email or in person). You may, if you wish, use a question from those published for Term One (but not the one you answered then).

While you may range as widely as you like in AL texts, not necessarily confining yourself to books studied on the module, you should make detailed reference to at least TWO texts studied during TERM TWO. *

*Unless answering the final question.

1. LET’S START WITH THE END of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to the more interesting things.

PROLOGUE, The Fifth Season


Is the post-apocalypse more significant than the apocalypse in alternative lifeworld fiction? Answer with reference to at least two texts we have studied in term two.


2. ….their habitat was Zone One.

 Zone One


“What’s there to understand?”, I say. “It’s the Zone . . .”

“Sit down,” says Dick. “Sit down and have a drink.”

“The Zone . . .” I repeat, and I can’t stop. “The Zone . . . The Zone . . .”

 Roadside Picnic


“Feed Area X but do not antagonize it, and perhaps someone will, through luck or mere repetition, hit upon some explanation, some solution, before the world becomes Area X.”



Discuss the role and function of sites, spaces and places of exception and/or separation and/or abandonment in at least two Alt Lifeworlds texts.


3. “When cyborg subjectivities are expressed within cultural narratives, traditional understandings of human life come into strong conflict with modes of discursive and technical production oriented towards the machine values of assembly and disassembly. The conflict cannot be reduced to either the human or machine orientation, for the cyborg contains both within itself.” (N. Katherine Hayles, “The life cycle of cyborgs”)


Make a reading of at least two T2 AL texts based on this statement.

4. Write an essay on the significance of a/the ‘thing’ in at least two term two texts. (You are free to interpret and define ‘thing’ the way you see it – a material object, artifact, creature, strange phenomenon, etc.)



Sf is fundamentally about the striving for a better world. Is it not? Answer, with reference to at least two T2 texts.


6. “…in the study of Solaris, emotion is a hindrance to the explorer. Imagination and premature

theorizing are positive disadvantages in approaching a planet where – as has become clear – anything is possible […] the freakish character and gigantic scale of these phenomena go too far outside the experience of man to be grasped by anybody observing them for the first time….” (Solaris, “The Monsters”)


SF is built on the assumptions of scientific rationalism and therefore follows an identifiable internal logic, relying on our implicit or explicit belief in the plausibility of the story. The weird, by contrast, is resolutely committed to the inexplicable. Both, however, use horror to disrupt our reliance on realist modes of representation that flatter our epistemological certainties.

Betsy Huang, ‘Sf and the Weird’, in Cambridge Companion to American Horror (Shapiro & Storey)


Why and in what ways do Alternative Lifeworlds texts posit critical questions concerning the inexplicable and/or unrepresentable and/or the unknowable and the limits of human knowledge?


7. Sf is not about the future; it uses the future as a narrative convention to present distortions of the present. (Samuel R. Delany, Starboard Wine [1984])

In what ways can AL texts be read as consistent (or, if you prefer, inconsistent) with this assertion?

8. The reason I like it [“Weird Fiction”] is because it was a tradition that stressed the grotesque but also had a blurry line between the fantastic and the science fictional, which is a division that some people are very invested in and that others of us, like me, think is a spurious distinction. I don’t buy it. A tradition that glories in that blurriness is very attractive to me, very appealing, so that was one of the reasons I enjoyed using the term.” (China Miéville, “Interview” with David Naimon, Missouri Review)

Write an essay demonstrating how sf texts we have studied this term span or blur lines between literary and cultural genres or subgenres.

9. “This planet called Earth will be an everlasting monument to our memory!” Cixin Liu, The Wandering Earth (Ch.3)

There is no Planet B! Earth is our only possible home!

Kim Stanley Robinson, “Our Generation Ships Will Sink” (Boing Boing, 2015)


“The monsters were a kind of weather, after all.”

Colson Whitehead, Zone One





a) write an essay on the planetary aspects of alt lifeworld fiction.




b) write an essay on the capabilities and/or vulnerabilities of ‘the Earth’ in AL fiction.




c) Write an essay on the significance of the ecologically transformed world, or the radically transformed earth in any two AL texts we have studied in Term 2.


10. “So much for the distinction between authentic living humans and humanoid constructs.” Deckard, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  


Using this statement as your guide, write on this distinction in at least two texts we have studied this term.


11. “Was this another example of her being exploited, used like a piece of brute equipment?” Under the Skin (p. 152)


Make a class-based and/or feminist reading of any two AL texts we have covered this term.


12. How and why is reconstitution and/or reanimation and/or de-composition a feature in Term 2 texts?


13. “…the lexicon of science-fictional catastrophes might profitably be considered as the obverse of the celebratory narratives of exploration and discovery, the progress of civilization, the advance of science, and the unfolding of racial destiny that formed the Official Story of colonialism […] the repetitious quality of science fiction’s vocabulary of catastrophe is based in large part on the strong and pervasive relationship science fiction has continuously borne to the political and ideological realities of colonialism.”

(John Rieder, “Science Fiction, Colonialism, and the Plot of Invasion.”, Extrapolation (2005))


Does all or any of this statement accord with your reading of AL texts in Term Two?


14. Write an essay on the importance of one of the following in Term Two texts: the Law; language; labour and/or forms of work; the colony; bureaucracy; commodities and/or commodification; nature; AI; animals; race and/or racism; bio/necro-politics; memory; energy; travel and/or transport; magic and/or folklore and/or fantasy; the State; corporate power; research and scholarship; nature and/or natural (or “unnatural”) habitats; climate change.


15. Make a case for the inclusion of a text you have read/seen/played that is not on the syllabus. Your essay must refer in detail to at least one set text from Term Two by way of comparison. (“Text” is not necessarily confined to a work of fiction such as a novel. It can also mean a play, poem, etc., but also non-fiction work, or films, video games, etc. – run it by your tutor first!)