English 335:  SF as Social Criticism                                                                                                                                                                        Novel Essay Assignment  [20%--200 Points]


Write a 5-6 page [1,600-2,000 word] essay on one of the three novels covered before week thirteen:  Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel, or Philip K. Dick's Blade Runner.  Rather than requiring you to address specific issues of my own design  in one of the novels,  I am asking you to evaluate any one of these four novels as a work of science fiction.  To score well, however, your evaluation must be sustained by your understanding of fundamental issues in science fiction that we have discussed over the course of the semester.  That is, you are not discussing whether or not you "liked" a particular novel.  Instead, your task is to defend the selected work as a quality piece of science fiction because it conforms to generic expectations through its creation of a science fictional world or through its address to common science fiction thematic concerns or issues as we have defined them over the course of the semester. In addition to the novel that you have chosen to discuss, you will be required to incorporate information from at least three sources found through library research. The procedures for identifying useful information about the novels through library research will be demonstrated in class.


Rely on our on-line guides and study questions for these novels as well as on posted information throughout the syllabus to help you to focus your address to the novel of your choice.  To further assist you, I list below some of the concerns central to each novel.  These are by no means exhaustive lists, nor are they meant to define the only acceptable approaches to the novels.  They are simply reminders of some of the issues that we will define as important to these novels as we discuss them in class. I will add topics to each list as we cover each novel. Of course, I cannot anticipate every emphasis and issue that will arrive through class discussion; therefore, each of you has the option of establishing alternative approaches based on your reading of the novels and on our classroom discussions. If you want to discuss an aspect of one of the novels not identified in the lists below, simply provide me with a preliminary thesis statement and I will do my best to direct you on this project.


While the paper will not formally be due until Tuesday, April 12, I urge you to complete and submit the paper early if you choose to write about either The Moon is a harsh Mistress or Caves of Steel because the more time you allow to write about a novel after we have read and discussed it, the more difficult the process becomes. Ideally, if you choose to write about Heinlein's novel, for example, you should submit the paper no more than a week or two after we have finished our discussions. Before submitting your paper, you must clear your approach with me by submitting a paragraph stating your proposed purpose and thesis. The proposals are to be submitted by e-mail attachment.




The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein's Politics [Does Professor de la Paz speak for Heinlein?]

Heinlein's Treatment of Women [Gender in the Novel]

Character Analysis of Mike/Michelle [Is Mike "alive"?]

Historical References and Allusions in the Novel [How do Heinlein's choices reveal his philosophy or politics?]

Heinlein's Technology


Caves of Steel

Technology as threat to human culture

Prejudice [Focused primarily through Lige Baley's attitudes but supported by other characters as well]

Gender, especially representations of women

Nostalgia [longing to recover an idealized past] vs. Progress [accepting the C/Fe culture]


Blade Runner

 Simulated vs. "Real" experience

The nature of truth

The human vs. the artificial

What Defines Something as Human



Again, I am not limiting you to discussion of any of the issues noted above.  These are just short lists of some of the issues that I intend to cover in class.  Note that your primary goal is to evaluate the novel as a work of science fiction.  That is, you'll have to establish your argument by defining what makes a quality SF novel while referencing issues that we've covered in this course.  This opening definition of what results in a quality SF novel, of course, should be tailored to lead to a discussion of features of the novel that you have selected.



 Paper Length:  5-6 pages [1,600-2,000 words]

 Paper Due Date:  Tuesday , April 12.  [Of course, you may submit the paper earlier by e-mail attachment in MS Word.]