Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies
EN2F5/EN3F5 Introduction to Alternative Lifeworlds Fiction
Assessed Essay Topics
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 can also use and/or adapt a question from those published in Term One.
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 reference to at least TWO texts studied during TERM TWO.*
Unless answering the final question. Download Term Two Essay
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
Using this statement as a loose guide, write an essay exploring the connections between the post-apocalypse and the apocalypse in at least two texts we have studies in term two.
2. “They ran away from . . . it. To this day, I will never really know what “it” was, o.’ Lagoon (206).
Write an essay on the treatment and presentation of the inexplicable and/or the ‘Weird’ in at least two texts we have read this term.
3. ….their habitat was 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 . . .”
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 in at least two Alt Lifeworlds texts.
4. Use of and access to superior technology is often a significant feature in alternative lifeworld narratives. Write an essay exploring ways in which this registers in at least two novels we have read in T2. (Try not to confine yourself solely to describing how that technology operates – extrapolate on what themes and issues it throws up, or how it registers on a formal level, etc.)
5. “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.
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”)
Why and in what ways do Alternative Lifeworlds texts posit critical questions not only concerning the unknowable and the limits of human knowledge, but also about the potentiality and possibility of human achievements?
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 )
In what ways can AL texts be read as consistent (or, if you prefer, inconsistent) with this assertion?
8. In what ways are material objects and/or artifacts critical things in AL texts?
9. When one looks closely at most of what passes as sf, much of it only has a tentative relationship to scientific fact. Instead, sf is a cultural mode that struggles with the implications of discoveries in science and technology for human social lives and philosophical conceptions. The genre is interested in real science, to be sure, but it is equally concerned with mythologies of science […] sf participates in both promoting this myth of technological mastery and transcendence, and deflating it. (Sherryl Vint, Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed )
Write an essay responding to this statement (or any component part of it), as registered in at least two texts studied in Term Two.
10. Today, our monsters are robots, cyborgs, genetically altered creatures, and aliens who attempt to take up residence within a necessarily altered human domestic sphere, or within human sites of production, including human bodies. Instead of enforcing cultural and political norms, these constructed beings function as interpolators: their presence within causes breakdowns, interrupting, disrupting and redistributing power. Unlike the god-made monsters faced by Odysseus, contemporary monsters are products of human technology, or are alien constructs produced by their authors for the express purpose of creating opportunities to successfully confuse, destroy or recombine oppositional dualisms such as human/nonhuman.” (Anne Weinstone, “Resisting Monsters: Notes on Solaris”)
Taking this statement (or any particular part of it) as your cue, write an essay on “our monsters”, referring to at least two AL texts in your discussion.
11. Imaginary representations of apocalypse and catastrophe help us better prepare for the world to come. Do you agree? Write with reference to at least two texts.
12. Write an essay on the significance of the abandoned world, or the radically de-populated world or species extinction in any two AL texts we have studied in Term 2.
13. 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)
AL texts have often been embroiled in debates about genre.
Either Using at least two texts as your guide, write an essay responding to the (often disparaging) accusation that AL fiction is essentially “genre fiction”.
Or: Using at least two texts as your guide, write an essay on the multiple or blurred genres apparent in AL fiction.
14. Write an essay on the importance of one of the following in Term Two texts: the Law; the city and/or the country; bureaucracy; commodities and/or commodification; work and/or labour; 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; paranoia and/or insanity; research and scholarship; 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 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!)