English 335:  SF as Social Criticism                                                                               Novel Essay Assignment  [25%--250 Points]

Write a 4-5 page [1,300-1,600 word] essay on Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel, or Philip K. Dick's Blade Runner.  Essay topics will be covered during our discussions of each novel. Some suggested subjects appear below. To score well, your analysis 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 discuss the selected work as a quality piece of science fiction through analysis of common science fiction thematic concerns or issues as we have defined them over the course of the semester. Since Science Fiction as Social Criticism is approved as an Upper-Division Integrative Elective in the Foundational Studies Program, the major paper submitted in this course must be a documented analysis involving library research. You are responsible to locate articles discussing the novel of your choice, issues in science fiction, or historical context or scientific research relevant to the fiction to support your analysis. Examples will be provided during our class discussions, and you are welcome to raise issues relative to your research and approach to the paper during our class discussions.

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. Each of you, I'm sure, can establish alternative approaches based on your reading of the novels or on our classroom discussions. However, if you devise a thesis unrelated to the issues listed for the novel in question, you are obliged to clear your choice with me by submitting a brief paragraph explaining what you intend to cover. This will allow me to help you to focus your concerns in an attempt to insure that you do well on the assignment.



Of course, you may always submit your paper earlier than April 13; in fact, I urge you to submit the paper within two weeks of our completing discussion of the novel. The longer you delay, the more difficult writing about a novel becomes.

The Sparrow Topics:

Social Criticism [Russell's depiction of the Earth's economy or of Church vs. Civic Authority, for example]

Binary Reasoning vs. Jesuitical Casuistry

The Definition of Humanity

The Novel's Narrative Structure

Father Emilio Sandoz's Crisis of Faith     DUE DATE: SUNDAY, OCTOBER 19, BY 11:59 PM.

Caves of Steel Topics:

Social Criticism [What aspects of 1940s and 1950s America form the basis for Asimov's depiction of this futuristic society?]

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]     DUE DATE: SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 2, BY 11:59 PM.

Blade Runner Topics:


Social Criticism [What social and political issues of the 1950s and 1960s does Dick extend to create his society?]

Simulated vs. "Real" experience

The nature of truth

The human vs. the artificial

What Defines Something as Human?     DUE DATE: SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, BY 11:59 PM.


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 we will cover in class. As we discuss the novels, I will add topics generated by the discussion and by your expressed interests.To insure that you remain on task while producing final copy of your essay follow these guidelines.


Do not use a title page. Number your pages in the upper right hand corner of the page beginning with page 1. Do not underline your title or put it in italics or quotation marks.

In the upper left hand corner of the paper, put the following information:

Your Name

ENG 335

Professor Jake Jakaitis

Date of Submission

Introduce the novel's title, author, and year of publication in your opening sentence or two. Provide a brief plot summary keyed to the specific issues that you will discuss.  Your opening paragraph (or at very least second paragraph) should end with a specific thesis statement that explains or identifies the purpose of the essay, what will be proved, and how it will be proved through a list of topics to be discussed.

Begin body paragraphs with topic statements, statements of opinion about story facts (interpretations), and not with the next item in the story sequence or with a wordy delay phrase like "Another way that the concept that I am discussing is shown in the way that the story was written is..."

Use italics for the titles of novels and place quotation marks around the titles of stories.

When you summarize plot, use present tense. Since the reading of a piece of fiction always has occurred in our past before we begin writing, we tend to think of the action as having happened in the past. However, by convention, when we write about fiction, we summarize the action in present tense. Write "Father Emilio Sandoz refuses to give Giuliani an account of the events on Rakhat," NOT "Father Emilio Sandoz refused to give Giuliani an account of the events on Rakhat."

Introduce your quotations, establishing the speaker and context, and document properly using the MLA format:  As Robert E. Lee approaches President Conroy the evening before hijacking the Alabama, he wonders, "Does he suspect? Has he learned of the conspiracy?" (21).  If the quote itself is a question, the end punctuation remains inside the quotation mark. Periods, however, are placed after the parentheses.

After presenting a quotation, be sure to discuss its significance or to explain how the quotation furthers your argument, unless the quote is simply illustrating a point made in the material immediately preceding the quote.

Indent and Block quotations that take up three or more lines of your text.  Never end a paragraph or an essay with a block quote, or any undiscussed quotation.

Avoid the following wordy delay structures:  In my opinion, I think, I feel, I believe, There is, There was, There are....Do not open sentences with wordy phrasings like "Another way that..." or "One of the reasons that" or any similar structures.  Make subjects act through verbs in the beginning of your sentences.  Instead of "There are many ways that Gillis affects the colony's chances for survival."  write, "Gillis affects the colony's chances for survival by consuming 20% of their stored food during his 32 years alone on the Alabama."  Note that the second version of the sentence includes specific details of Gillis's actions, while the "There are" opening tends to lead into vague references to his actions--"many ways."  List or name the ways instead of writing general references.

Submit your paper to me by e-mail attachment; make your family name the first word in the title of your Word file. For example, if your name is John Smith and you are writing about Asimov's Caves of Steel, title your file Smith Asimov Paper or Smith Caves of Steel paper. As long as you are using Microsoft Word [either for PC or Mac] I will be able to open the file. I will return the paper to you by the same method, using "track changes" and "insert comment" to type my responses to your work. I will evaluate the papers in the order in which I receive them and return each paper as I finish evaluating it.

Paper Length:  4-5 pages [1,300-1,600 words]


Paper Due DateSee the above due dates for papers on each novel. [Of course, you may submit your paper prior to any established due date.]