Course Information


  • Number: ENGL 642
  • Title: Studies in Genre: Science Fiction and the Man-Machine
  • Term: Spr 2023
  • Meeting: M 12:40-3:40, LAAH 503


  • Name: Andrew Pilsch
  • Contact:
  • Office Hours & Locations:
    • WF 1-2, Zoom

Course Description

This seminar will consider the history of American science fiction in the 20th century and will also focus on the human-machine relationship therein. We will not just consider robots, but also the cybernetic usage of people as machines and the creation of cyborgs (hybrids of human and machine). Students can expect to gain a better understanding of the development of a particular topic within a particular genre and to better understand the relationship between computation and culture in the 20th and 21st centuries.


The following are available from the campus book store or wherever you prefer to purchase books:

  1. Samuel R. Delaney, Babel 17
  2. Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
  3. The Future is Female, vol. 2 ed. Lisa Yaszek
  4. William Gibson, Neuromancer
  5. Octavia Butler, Dawn
  6. Marge Piercy, He, She, and It
  7. Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice
  8. Martha Wells, All Systems Red


Assignment Due Date Value
Discussion Questions Weekly 25%
Position Papers See Schedule 30%
Final Paper 2023.05.08 45%

Discussion Questions

By 11:30AM before class each week, post a discussion question to the relevant discussion board on Canvas. These questions will help start our conversation and will help to structure our knowledge of the course topic as we move forward.

Each question needs to be generative but can be specific. If you don’t understand a particular scene or wonder why the writer chose to portray a particular detail in a particular way, ask. If you notice a theme developing across several readings and find it reflected in this story, ask.

If a day has multiple assigned readings/viewings, you only need to post a question on one reading/viewing for that day.

Questions may be posted earlier, if you are unable to attend class.

Position Papers

Twice (in weeks 6 and 12), you will produce a short paper (2-3 pages, double-spaced) that takes a position on a particular selection from one of the texts we have read so far in class.

These papers will cover material that has already been discussed in class but has not been covered by a position paper. The first paper, due at the start of week 6, will cover material from the first five weeks of class. The second paper will cover texts from week 6 through week 11.

These position papers ask you to show insights and raise questions in response to the reading and course discussions. Papers that merely summarize an argument or restate the selected passage will receive a failing grade. You need to explain why the passage in question is thought-provoking, or unsettling, or unclear and suggest how you respond to this challenge.

Final Project

For your final project, you may choose one of the following options:

Traditional Seminar Paper

Your Position: An Americanist, interested in 20th century literature, or posthuman theory. Someone who hasn’t written a lot of seminar papers yet.

You Produce: A traditional seminar paper; 8000-900 words with a sustained argument about American science fiction, artificial intelligence, cybernetics, or posthuman theory. Engage with 1-2 course texts, targeting a specific intellectual issue.

Your Work: Extensive research on the text and the topic you’ve chosen (literary history, technical background, and theory); fashioning an argument and proofreading a long-form essay; developing a thesis

Benefits to You: Practice writing academic articles the size of journal articles or proto-dissertation chapters; deeper knowledge of science fiction, science studies, and/or theory.

Your Position: Specialist in another literary field, literary period, or humanist discipline who also hasn’t written many seminar papers yet.

You Produce: Seminar paper bridging one aspect of course materials with your speciality or with a different class you are taking this semester. 8000-9000 word sustained argument linking a topic in our course readings to a text, author, theorist, concept, method, or historical development in your own discipline or other current class

Your Work: Same as above, but may also involve some reference reading about science fiction in general, current methods in science fiction criticism, or history of computing.

Benefits to You: Same as above, plus broadening your horizons and allowing you to focus on research and writing processes, over and above the argument.

Handbook of Encyclopedia Chapter

Your Position: A student wanting to synthesize course takeaways (see the big picture of the whole semester); a student just starting grad school or nearing comprehensive exams.

You Produce: Handbook or encyclopedia chapter about artificial intelligence, cyborgs, cybernetics, or the posthuman in science fiction. 5000-6000 word comprehensive, neutral reference work with extensive bibliography attached (categorized and/or briefly annotated).

Your Work: Recalling and skimming course readings/discussions; performing a complete survey of existing academic publications on our course topic; writing for concision, accuracy, and completeness

Benefits to You: Practice writing reference materials (teaching/informing rather than persuading), a skill not often taught; becoming efficient at finding, skimming, and summarizing sources.

Conference Paper with All Practical Apparatus Included

Your Position: A student intent on professionalizing (hence planning to present at a conference in the near future).

You Produce: Conference paper with all practical apparatus included. 8-10p. double-spaced paper with slideshow, bibliography, and MP3/screencast of you delivering it, plus info about which conference you would attend, how you’d budget, 250-word abstract, and 100-word personal biography

Your Work: Writing a complete but short argument with appropriate slides/visuals; selecting a conference appropriate for your time, budget, topic, and discipline; practicing reading the paper aloud many times.

Benefits to You: Practice with public-speaking skills; finding a potential lead for a real conference presentation to add to your CV; knowledge of how to record and share an MP3 or a screencast (hint: Audacity is a good, free option).

Digital Project

Your Position: A student wanting to branch out entirely, collaborate, or pursue a DH certificate.

You Produce: Digital project. Zotero library, reference website, podcast, digital edition, digital map, reviews of existing related DH projects, infographic or other visualization.

Your Work: Identifying a topic the public needs to know more about; shaping a digital project appropriate for these goals; learning a new technology.

Benefits to You: Gaining new technical and/or collaboration skills; generating a project worthy of putting on your CV or pursuing grants or DH certificate.

(Source: This chart was used with permission from Shawna Ross.)


Week 1

Mon 01/23

Week 2

Mon 01/30

  • Cordwainer Smith, “Scanners Live in Vain”
  • Lester Del Rey, “Helen O’Loy”

Week 3

Mon 02/06

  • C.L. Moore, “No Woman Born”
  • Watch Metropolis

Week 4

Mon 02/13

  • Isaac Asimov, from The Complete Robot:
    • “Robbie”
    • “Reason”
    • “First Law”
    • “Feminine Intuition”
    • “Bicentennial Man”

Week 5

Mon 02/20

  • Samuel R. Delany, Babel 17

Week 6

Mon 02/27

  • Readings from The Future is Female, vol. 2
    • James Tiptree Jr., “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”
    • Vonda McIntyre, “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand”
    • Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Position Paper #1 Due

Week 7

Mon 03/06

  • Readings from The Future is Female, vol. 2
    • Lisa Yaszek Visit

Week 8

Mon 03/13

No Class

Spring Break

Week 9

Mon 03/20

  • Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Week 10

Mon 03/27

  • William Gibson, Neuromancer

Week 11

Mon 04/03

  • Octavia Butler, Dawn

Week 12

Mon 04/10

  • Marge Piercy, He, She, and It
  • Position Paper #2 Due

Week 13

Mon 04/17

  • Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice

Week 14

Week 15

Mon 05/01

  • Martha Wells, All Systems Red

Course Policies

Student Visiting Hours

At the times listed in the sidebar throughout this site, I am in my office and it is your time to come talk to me about anything related (or unrelated) to class. This time is yours, I am not (supposed to be) doing anything else; you will not be interrupting me. If you have questions about class or have other questions I might be able to answer, please drop by.

Email Hours

I am available to answer email from 9:00am until 5:00pm Monday through Friday. Emails arriving outside of that time will be answered at my earliest convenience, but do not count on a quick answer to emails sent late at night or on the weekends.

Office Door

If my door is closed and it is not during office hours, please do not knock. I open my door when I’m available to chat outside of office hours, but close my door if I am working and cannot be disturbed.


Attendance in class is mandatory and is necessary for you to get what you need out of this course. You may have 2 unexcused absences. Every absence after 2 will result in a 5 point deduction from your attendance grade. I must have documentation (doctor’s notes, schedule for sports, etc) for excused absences. Please talk to me in advance if you have any extenuating circumstances.

Regardless of kind (excused or unexcused), missing more than 10 classes in the semester will result in your failing the course.

Late Work

Under Student Rule 7.4, I am under “under no obligation to provide an opportunity for the student to make up work missed because of an unexcused absence.” However, I do accept late work and will take off 5 points for every day late. A paper that would have received an 85% that was 3 days late will receive a 70%.

Extension Policy

Additionally, if you are falling behind on a project and feel that you are not going to finish on time, email me 24 hours before the assignment is due to request an extension. In this email, propose how many additional days you will need to finish the assignment. Requests for extension that do not contain this information will not be honored.


In the 21st century, it is unreasonable to accept “my computer died” as an excuse for late work. If you are working on assignments on a computer, please back up your work offsite. Sites such as Dropbox and Google Drive provide space for storing copies of your work; even a USB drive can be enough. I have recently started using BackBlaze and found it to be a great and inexpensive online, automated backup. Save multiple times throughout each work session to both your backup and your computer’s copy. In this class, I hold you accountable for making sure your technology is working correctly.

University Policies

Attendance Policy

The university views class attendance and participation as an individual student responsibility. Students are expected to attend class and to complete all assignments.

Please refer to Student Rule 7 in its entirety for information about excused absences, including definitions, and related documentation and timelines.

Makeup Work Policy

Students will be excused from attending class on the day of a graded activity or when attendance contributes to a student’s grade, for the reasons stated in Student Rule 7, or other reason deemed appropriate by the instructor.

Please refer to Student Rule 7 in its entirety for information about makeup work, including definitions, and related documentation and timelines.

Absences related to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 may necessitate a period of more than 30 days for make-up work, and the timeframe for make-up work should be agreed upon by the student and instructor” (Student Rule 7, Section 7.4.1).

“The instructor is under no obligation to provide an opportunity for the student to make up work missed because of an unexcused absence” (Student Rule 7, Section 7.4.2).

Students who request an excused absence are expected to uphold the Aggie Honor Code and Student Conduct Code. (See Student Rule 24.)

Academic Integrity Statement and Policy

“An Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.”

“Texas A&M University students are responsible for authenticating all work submitted to an instructor. If asked, students must be able to produce proof that the item submitted is indeed the work of that student. Students must keep appropriate records at all times. The inability to authenticate one’s work, should the instructor request it, may be sufficient grounds to initiate an academic misconduct case” (Section, Student Rule 20).

You can learn more about the Aggie Honor System Office Rules and Procedures, academic integrity, and your rights and responsibilities at

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Policy

Texas A&M University is committed to providing equitable access to learning opportunities for all students. If you experience barriers to your education due to a disability or think you may have a disability, please contact Disability Resources in the Student Services Building or at (979) 845-1637 or visit Disabilities may include, but are not limited to attentional, learning, mental health, sensory, physical, or chronic health conditions. All students are encouraged to discuss their disability related needs with Disability Resources and their instructors as soon as possible.

Title IX and Statement on Limits to Confidentiality

Texas A&M University is committed to fostering a learning environment that is safe and productive for all. University policies and federal and state laws prohibit gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

With the exception of some medical and mental health providers, all university employees (including full and part-time faculty, staff, paid graduate assistants, student workers, etc.) are Mandatory Reporters and must report to the Title IX Office if the employee experiences, observes, or becomes aware of an incident that meets the following conditions (see University Rule 08.01.01.M1):

  • The incident is reasonably believed to be discrimination or harassment.
  • The incident is alleged to have been committed by or against a person who, at the time of the incident, was (1) a student enrolled at the University or (2) an employee of the University.

Mandatory Reporters must file a report regardless of how the information comes to their attention – including but not limited to face-to-face conversations, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. Although Mandatory Reporters must file a report, in most instances, you will be able to control how the report is handled, including whether or not to pursue a formal investigation. The University’s goal is to make sure you are aware of the range of options available to you and to ensure access to the resources you need.

Students wishing to discuss concerns in a confidential setting are encouraged to make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

Students can learn more about filing a report, accessing supportive resources, and navigating the Title IX investigation and resolution process on the University’s Title IX webpage.

Statement on Mental Health and Wellness

Texas A&M University recognizes that mental health and wellness are critical factors that influence a student’s academic success and overall wellbeing. Students are encouraged to engage in proper self-care by utilizing the resources and services available from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS). Students who need someone to talk to can call the TAMU Helpline (979-845-2700) from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. weekdays and 24 hours on weekends. 24-hour emergency help is also available through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255) or at

Department Policies

University Writing Center

The mission of the University Writing Center (UWC) is to help you develop and refine the communication skills vital to success in college and beyond. You can choose to work with a trained UWC peer consultant in person or via web conference or email. Consultants can help with everything from lab reports to application essays and at any stage of your process, from brainstorming to reviewing the final draft. You can also get help with public speaking, presentations, and group projects. The UWC’s main location is on the second floor of Evans Library; there’s also a walk-in location on the second floor of the Business Library & Collaboration Commons. To schedule an appointment or view our helpful handouts and videos, visit Or call 979-458-1455.

Statement on Generative AI

We in the Department of English believe that writing is central to the production of knowledge. The written word is how ideas circulate but, more importantly, the act of crafting words, sentences, paragraphs, and essays refines thoughts into ideas that matter. As such, we strongly stand against the usage of generative artificial intelligence—applications such as ChatGPT or Bard—as a replacement for the act of writing that has been the bedrock of human knowledge for thousands of years.

Writing has always incorporated tools as well as the voices and ideas of other people. GenAI can be a powerful tool in any writer’s arsenal, but its use is not without risk. While GenAI’s ability to convincingly string words together has a place in the writing process, it also risks introducing factual inaccuracies and, more importantly, risks making invisible the important connections between writing and thinking we are cultivating in this class.

If you use GenAI tools to assist your writing process, I ask you to provide a short (1-2 page) GenAI Statement that includes the following:

  1. What GenAI Tools Did You Use?
  2. What Prompts Did You Provide to the Tool?
  3. How Did You Incorporate AI-generated Material Into Your Writing?
  4. How Did Your Use of GenAI Shape Your Thinking About the Assignment?

Without this documentation, usage of AI will be considered plagiarism and subject to the university’s academic integrity policy. Also, you are responsible for fact-checking any GenAI; errors in citation or other basic facts will also be considered a violation of academic integrity