Fall 2018

Multiple images of Live Long and Prosper (Spock was a Half-Breed) by Debra Yeppa-Pappan
Debra Yepa-Pappan, “Live Long and Prosper (Spock was a Half-Breed)” (multiple images)

Alternate Americas: Science Fiction and Speculative Futures

This course meets M, T, W, Th - 3:30 - 4:50pm.

As a genre that posits a reality beyond what we currently know or experience, science fiction allows us to imagine alternate ways of being, forms of technology and knowledge, and human futures—both utopian and apocalyptic. This course will trace how and why science fiction in the Americas has emerged as a mode of narration with which to confront contemporary crises. Placing science fiction texts created by Caribbean, Native American, African American, and Latin American artists into conversation with one another, we will explore how these artists turn to stories about zombies and robots, time travel, utopias, and apocalypse (among others) to confront long histories of colonialism, slavery, and racism, and to create speculative or hypothetical futures that posit alternate futures for those histories.

To understand what is at stake in imagining alternate worlds and futures for Native, African American, Caribbean, and Latin American writers, we will examine novels, stories, films, graphic novels, video games, and other media and will draw on methodologies from literary and media studies, art history, critical race studies, and more. Questions we will consider include: How does science fiction engage the colonization of the Americas? How do science fiction genres draw on and transform contemporary science, both as a possibility of freedom and to critique a field that has been used to constrain some peoples’ freedoms? What alternative Americas do these artists envision, and how do they differ from present or historical realities? This course will include visits to NU media labs to experiment with virtual reality spaces; trips to Chicago-area theater performances, art museums, and archives; and (if funded) a visit to Indigenous mounds.

Assigned texts will include:

Eduardo Ladislao Holmberg, “Horacio Kalibang, or the Automata” (1879)

W.E.B. Dubois, “The Princess Steel” (1908)

Eduardo Urzaiz, Eugenia: A Fictional Sketch of Future Customs (1919)

Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17 (1966)

Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979)

Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring (1998)

Yoss, Planet for Rent (1998)

Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, selections from Oracles (2004)

Edmundo Paz Soldán, Turing’s Delirium (2006)

Pedro Cabiya, The Head (2007)

Nnedi Okorafor, Lagoon (2014)

Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom (2016)

Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves (2017)

Rebecca Roanhorse, selections from Trail of Lightning (2017)

Sofia Samatar, selections from Tender (2017)

Films

Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer (2008)

“A Robot Walks into a Bar.” (short, 2014)

Alejandro Brugués, Juan of the Dead (2011)

Elena Palacios Ramé, Los pueblos silenciosos (The Silent Towns, 2010)

Brujos (TV-Series, 2016/17)

Field trips may include:

  • A visit to the Media and Design Studio to play Never Alone (an Inuit-created video game that teaches the Inuit language and stories)
  • A visit to Northwestern’s Knight Lab to demo virtual reality spaces
  • A q&a session and screening with Alex Rivera, filmmaker and director of Sleep Dealer, “Cybraceros,” and “A Robot Walks into a Bar”
  • A performance from Otherworld Theatre, a Chicago theatre dedicated to staging works of science fiction and fantasy
  • Class session with Britt Rusert, author of Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture and editor of W.E.B. DuBois’s fantasy story “The Princess Steel”
  • A possible trip to one of the Indian mound sites near Chicago to explore Indigenous world building

Professors

Emily Maguire (Spanish & Portuguese) specializes in literature of the Hispanic Caribbean and its diasporas. She has taught courses on Latin American and Latina/o Literature and cultural production, Latin American science fiction, race in the Americas, and the relationship between literature and ethnographic writing. Emily is the author of Racial Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography (University Press of Florida, 2011). Her current book project explores the uses of science fiction in recent Caribbean narrative.

Juan Martinez (English & Creative Writing) is a professor of creative writing and contemporary literature. He is the author of Best Worst American, a story collectionHis current work explores the fantastical in the coast of Colombia. His stories have appeared inGlimmer TrainMcSweeney'sHuizacheEcotone, NPR's Selected Shorts, and elsewhere, and are forthcoming in Mississippi Review and the anthology Who Will Speak for America?

Kelly Wisecup (English & the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research) researches and writes on Native American literatures and science, especially before 1900. She has taught courses on protest and the Native American novel, colonialism and disease, race in the early Americas, and science and literature. She is the author of Medical Encounters: Knowledge and Identity in Early American Literatures (2013) and is currently working on a book about Native American interventions into evolutionary and ethnographic sciences before the twentieth century.