The Rhetoric of Science Fiction is a writing-intensive undergraduate course for lower-division students. First taught in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin, I designed this course to cultivate undergraduate analysis and writing skills. Over the course of three units, students engaged with a variety of primary and secondary texts, wrote two short essays, three long essays, and produced a short work of public scholarship (either a blog post or a presentation).
In Unit One, students confront various definitions of science fiction, reading primary sources by authors, editors, fans, and scholars that seek to define the genre. Students are asked to engage with these explicit arguments of definition, to compare them, and critique them. In this unit’s major assignment, students must compare and contrast two different definitions of science fiction. In Unit Two, students analyze the various ways authors have used science fiction to construct narrative arguments, using classical rhetorical theories as well as genre-specific theories such Darko Suvin’s idea of “Cognitive Estrangement.” Works studied include, but are not limited to, the The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), James Tiptree Jr.’s “The Women that Men Don’t See,” Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth but I Must Scream,” and Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The One’s Who Walk Away from Omelas.” In this unit’s major assignment, students analyze a work of science fiction of their own choosing. In Unit Three, students are asked to synthesize the various lessons of the previous two units such that they can articulate a position about science fiction as a genre or articulate a position about a specific work of science fiction.