English 393, Science Fiction

Special Focus: Cyberpunk and Augmented Humanity

Spring 2005


Meeting Times: Tu - Th 8:00 - 9:15

Classroom: P 265

Contacting Us



 Office Hours



Paul Thomas
P 241
10 - 11 am MWF
 Marty Wood

 HHH 433

9:30 - 10 am Tu 



Please do not call us at home -- use Email.



(available for purchase at the University Bookstore and other vendors)


A Word about Electronic Course Materials

Because we will be extensive users of the Internet and of the courseware found on D2L, many essentail course materials are provided without cost to you. However, there are a couple of things to consider. First, you will need to set aside regular times when you will use the UWEC network to access the course software, your own data storage, and the rest of the Internet (including McIntyre Library resources). You can access this network from labs on campus or from your own room, but you will have a more satisfactory experience if you use the fastest connection available to you (usually that means the ones in the labs). If you must use a dial-up modem from off campus, the slower service will degrade some of your activities.

For this course you will also need to become a wise user of computer data storage. It is always your responsibility to have backup copies of electronic files for the work you produce in college. Files kept on your remote server are automatically backed up every night, but that's only helpful if your remote server always has your most recent version of each file. This means that if you use removable media, you alone are responsible for making backup copies or for copying your files to the remote server. Computer crashes and storage media failures will never be an adequate excuse for late or missing work, because when you make frequent backups in reliable media you do not lose files. Students who don't make frequent backups will probably learn the hard way.

A special caution with D2L: when doing work online, you take a major risk if you write very much without saving. Often it's best to do your composing in a word processor (where you can save frequently) and then copy your work into the online writing areas.

General Course Policies and Procedures

Some general policies common to English courses at UWEC also apply in this course, including statements regarding attendance, classroom atmosphere, accommodations for student needs, the eleven baccalaureate goals, issues of academic dishonesty, and so forth. These policies and procedures constitute an addendum to this syllabus; click on the link above to consult them.

Sections in this document:


Course Method and Organization



Descriptions and Specifications for Each Formal Assignment

You will also need to consult the course calendar (on D2L) for a complete schedule of events, deadlines, and due dates


Course Goals:

In English 393 we aim primarily at introducing you to the pleasures and challenges available to the alert reader of science (or speculative) fiction, particularly those narratives in the "cyberpunk" style. We hope you will enjoy the stories, of course, but what you take from this course will have very little to do with story lines. Anyone can summarize a story line in a paragraph or two. Instead, we will concentrate our discussions and our assignments on what we can learn about human thought, human culture, and human behavior by studying this kind of literature.


Course Requirements:


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Course Method and Organization

How We Will Proceed

In this course we will read several popular short stories and novels by various authors. Our primary focus at first will be the plotlines themselves, and such standard literary matters as character, setting, language, and so on. Gradually, however, we expect to shift our focus to the philosophical issues arising from human fascination with the possibilities for Artificial Intelligence. Along the way, students will produce an analytical paper on an issue they've identified during class activities.

By the end of the class, all students should be able to present the results of independent group work on realted issues at the English Festival on May 5.

We will also have two exams -- a midterm and a final. In each exam, in addition to any questions that might simply review what the class has covered, we will also feel free to include material that students have encountered during their work on the group projects.


Our Typical Schedule

Although this course is registered for three hours of class time each week, we will make use of D2L's features to enable us to substitute some of our class meetings with a virtual classroom. Typically we will observe the following schedule:

Before the first day for each new reading assignment: Leading up to the first day of each reading, students will completely read the assigned text. Before 8:00 a.m. on the day before the class day, designated students (Discussion Leaders for that class period) will log in to D2L and post their thoughts online. Each Discussion Leader's posting establishes a "thread" for the rest of the class. These discussion-leading posts will be available for all other students to read and consider. Then, after 8:00 am, but before 6:00 am of the class day, all other students will read the discussion postings by their classmates in all three threads and post a responses to at least one of them. (Try to balance responses among all Discussion Leaders' threads - that is, no one should post a response to a Discussion Leader's thread that already has ten or more responses. Once they have responded to one thread, or once all three discussions have at least ten responses, students may post additional responses to any thread they wish). Then, in class, we will continue the discussions already started online; Discussion Leaders will continue their online role in class.

Before the second day of each text, we will repeat the process with a new set of Discussion Leaders. By the end of the semester, everyone will have been a discussion leader at least once. (Your performance as a discussion leader will be part of your grade, as will the quality of all your online postings.)

Special Film Screenings will happen four times during the semester. These four films are required texts in the course. If for any reason you cannot attend the specified screenings, you will be responsible for acquiring and viewing a copy of the films on your own. Consult the D2L Calendar for specific dates; all are on a Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. in HHH 101.

If all goes well, we will soon be able to cancel some class meetings, perhaps long enough in advance that you can make other plans. This assumes that we will all be using D2L actively and effectively.

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Short Homework Assignments

Each online posting is, in effect, a short writing assignment. These assignments will require students to think carefully about specific problems in the plays currently under study, and to discuss their thoughts with other class members. Any single discussion posting will not contribute mightily to a student's final grade, but the cumulative effect will make a difference. Needless to say, postings that simply say, "I agree with what others have said," or "I really didn't like this story because it was boring and so I have nothing more to say," or "This play was very special to me because I could relate to it, but it's personal so I don't want to write about it," will not contribute to a successful performance evaluation.

Major Writing Assignment

The other kind of written assigment is the analytical essay. It will be a limited research paper on a specific issue or problem in one or more of the plays. It will focus on a concept or issue that we have covered in class or is suggested by something we've done. Details about this assignments will appear below in the section called Descriptions and Specifications for the Essay Assignment.

Group Presentations

Students will form groups of three for the purpose of presenting an interesting issue from the class to an audience at the English Festival. Students in each group should choose a novel or story (or a group of them), read and study carefully, and decide among themselves what to identify as its major themes, conflicts, problems, or significant issues of some related kind. Then they should prepare a presentation that highlight the texts' important issues and then focuses on the one central issue they've identified. Each group presentation should run approximately 15 minutes total.


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Note: this section has the following subsections:

Class Participation and Procedures

Students in this course will learn only a limited amount of material by listening to our lectures. The greatest amount of learning, by far, is the kind that will happen as students become active participants in their own education. In part this refers to the kind of participation we teachers typically talk about -- reading the assignments, contributing to discussion, completing homework assignments. But it's also pretty obvious that all of these kinds of participation can be performed without significant personal enagement. In this course we will attempt to evaluate your total growth as a learner of the subject we study. This means we will be looking for evidence of active engagement in every area of the course, in every kind of activity we conduct. Certainly each person will perform better in some areas than in others -- it isn't necessary for you to show evidence of excellent engagement in everything in order to receive a top grade in the course. But you will need to show evidence of significant engagement in every area, and of excellent engagement in some areas, in order to get an A.

It may work best for you to assess your own skills as the course goes along, and concentrate most of your intensive energies on the areas that work best for you. For example, if you realize that you don't like talking spontaneously in class, then be sure to work harder on your participation in the online discussions, or in reporting to the class about what you've learned in them. There are many ways to engage actively in the course, and the more you employ, the more you will learn; the more you learn, the higher your grade.

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Your grade for this course will be determined largely by three factors: (1) the quality of your work on the writing assignment; (2) the quality of your contributions to discussion, including online and in-class, (3) the quality and evenness of your group's presentation, and (4) your success on the exams. In specific terms, 20% of your grade will be determined by each item. "Participation and attendance" will simply add a plus (+) or minus (-) to your grade unless you miss a very high number of classes.

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Although we do not include a specific penalty for non-attendance, it should be obvious by now that the student who misses classes will not be able to keep up with the work of the course. In accordance with UWEC policy, we will allow limited make-up opportunities for students who miss class for documented cases of illness, emergency, and (with advance notification) religious observance. Without such documentation, we will accept no make-up work, and in any event, students who miss classroom discussion will obviously be unable to make up for their lost opportunity to demonstrate engagement on that occasion. In severe cases - for example, absences amounting to a fifth of the course - students must expect their grade to suffer severely, directly as well as indirectly.

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Descriptions and Specifications for the Essay Assignment


In the required paper for this course you should advance a thesis on one of the following topics generated by the content of the course. You should defend that thesis with a combination of textual evidence, careful reasoning, and, where appropriate, selective use of additional reading material.

1. Use at least one of the artificial-intelligence essays (Turing, Searle, or Dennett) to help explain the meaning of at least one of our works of fiction (I, Robot; Man in the High Castle; “Super Toys Last All Summer”; I, Robot [the film]). For example, in Turing’s discussion of the imitation game, to what extent is intelligence really tested – and how does this shed light on the circumstances facing the special robot in the film I, Robot?

2. In Man in the High Castle, two different kinds of characters are shown attempting to adapt to challenging circumstances: the dominant Japanese (eg Tagomi and Kasouras) trying to establish an identity that spans both their national origin and their role in the conquered Pacific States of America; and the subordinated Americans (Childan, Frink) trying to live comprehensible lives in a changed culture. Choose one or more of these characters and examine some aspect of their stories that helps you understand what Dick means in this book. For example, how do different characters use the I Ching, and how does its use affect their choices of action?

3. Select a thread of discussion opened by one of our discussion leaders so far and follow its implications more thoroughly and systematically than any of us were able to do in class. While doing so, be sure to bring into your discussion at least one of the artificial-intelligence essays and at least two of the fictional texts. For example, in Sam’s first discussion, he refers to the absence of a proper tool for making moral decisions; discuss what this absence reveals about the meaning of both the film and book versions of I, Robot.



Length: approx. 3 pages (double-spaced, laser/jet-printed, size 12 type)

Primary Sources:

Secondary Sources:



Successful essays will use all three pages efficiently, setting forth a tightly focused and achievable thesis (main point), well supported with argument and evidence adduced from the texts. More ambitious or more challenging theses, if successfully executed, will receive correspondingly higher evaluations, all other things being equal. No credit for verbiage that mostly takes up space.


Paper Due: Feb 24 at noon (D2L dropbox deadline); paper copy required also, noon deadline in Dr. Thomas's office (P 241) or mailbox

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Note: For additional general information about this or any other English course, see Descriptions from UWEC Course Catalogue.

Marty Wood
Professor and Chair
Department of English

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Last Updated: 2/17/2005