The University of Liverpool MA in Science Fiction Studies Handbook 2003

* by Mr Andy Sawyer in September 2003
* I received this handbook as my course began



The MA in Science Fiction Studies has arisen in response to the interest of students in sf, and we aim to provide a relaxed but intellectually rigorous forum for discussing the many issues raised by this exciting and varied body of writing. We are aiming to build on this interest in science fiction shown by students, who will be asked to consider the formal and thematic aspects of a broad range of works. At the heart of science fiction lies a speculative energy which we examine in relation to such issues as gender and the limits of the genre. The course material will be mainly twentieth century and mainly written in English although we will include such Continental writers as Yevgeny Zamyatin or Stanislaw Lem.

The University of Liverpool houses the Science Fiction Foundation Collection which is the largest collection of its kind in Europe, and is thus an ideal place to study and research sf. The course is taught by a team of tutors who all share teaching and research interests in aspects of sf. We also work closely with colleagues elsewhere, and there may well be collaborative events during the year. We hope you'll find the course enjoyable and stimulating, and we welcome you to Liverpool and its University.

This introduction is designed to give you some brief information about the resources which back up the Science Fiction Studies MA, including the Library, the Science Fiction Foundation Collection, the Science Fiction Hub Project, and other resources which may be useful. There is also a brief section on "Planning Your Dissertation" which it will be worth reading.

More general information about the English Department, about studying at Liverpool, and about the procedures for assessment and preparation of essays and dissertations, will be in the Graduate Handbook.

Participating Staff and Their Research Interests

Mr. Andy Sawyer is the librarian in charge of the Science Fiction Foundation Collection, Reviews Editor of Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction. His particular interests are in the overlap between SF, Fantasy and other genres in the works of such figures as Arthur Machen and H. R. Hodgson, and in 1950s British Science Fiction. He has published essays on topics such as telepathy in science fiction, Terry Pratchett, Babylon 5, and adaptations of John Wyndham's fiction for the cinema, and contributed to many reference books in the field. He co-edited Speaking Science Fiction, a collection of essays arising from the 1996 conference in Liverpool, and was joint organiser of the 2001 "British Science Fiction Conference", also in Liverpool.

Professor David Seed teaches modern British and American Literature and is general editor of Liverpool University Press Science Fiction Texts and Studies. Research interests are mainly in modern fiction and the Gothic. He has published books on Thomas Pynchon, Joseph Heller, Rudolph Wurlitzer, and James Joyce and has edited a new edition of Vernon Lee's The Handling of Words. His latest publications include American Science Fiction and the Cold War and Imagining Apocalypse. He is currently completing studies of black humour and brainwashing.

Dr. Nick Davis works on later Medieval and Renaissance Literature, and on contemporary psychoanalytically informed literary theory, sometimes bringing the two interests together. He has recently published a book called Stories of Chaos, and is currently writing books on narrative theory and on Spenser.

Professor Stephen Clark is Professor of Philosophy and has had a long-standing interest in science fiction. He regularly draws on sf examples in his writings on philosophy, andhis publications include How to Live Forever, a study of the science fiction and the philosophical questions of immortality. He is writing a sequence of papers on the far future (and the end of the world), and may eventually get round to alien intelligence. [This module is not available in 2003/4]

Dr. Peter Wright (Edge Hill College) has published in the field of sf and horror film. His book on Gene Wolfe (Attending Daedalus) is due September 2003 from Liverpool University Press.


1) Libraries

2) General Course Bibliography

In addition to the bibliographies for each course module, the following are recommended as general reference material (all held in the Science Fiction Foundation Collection).

Aldiss, Brian & Wingrove, David, Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction
Barron, Neil, Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction
Bleiler, Everett F., Science Fiction Writers
Bleiler, Everett F., Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years
Brown, Charles N. & Contento, William G., Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror: A Comprehensive Bibliography
Clute, John & Nicholls, Peter, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
Clute, John & Grant, John, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy
James, Edward, Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century
Kincaid, Paul, A Very British Genre: A Short History of British Fantasy and Science Fiction (* a limited number of copies of this are available for sale)
Magill, Frank Northen, Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature
Magill, Frank Northen, Survey of Science Fiction Literature
Pederson, Jay P., St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers
Pringle, David, St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers

The Science Fiction Foundation Collection also contains current and back issues of the major critical, review and fiction magazines.

3) Web-Based Resources

There is a huge array of science fiction resources on the Web, some good, some not so good. In particular, sf bibliography and author sites are well covered. The Science Fiction Foundation Information Page (http://www.liv.ac.uk/~asawyer/sf_info.html) will give you a survey of many of the more interesting. As a brief summary, essential sites include:

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database (http://library.tamu.edu/cushing/sffrd/)
Searchable online access to bibliographical records of over 54,000 historical and critical items about science fiction, fantasy and horror. Compiled by Hal W. Hall.

General Resources:
Locus Online (http://locusmag.com/)
The web pages of Locus, the newspaper of the science fictin field.
The Science Fiction Resource Guide (http://www.sflovers.org/SFRG/)
Some links can be out of date, but it is one of the most conprehensive sites.
SFF World (http://www.sffworld.com/)
Nothing to do with the Science Fiction Foundation. This is Science Fiction and Fantasy World, with an excellent set of links to reviews and other sf sites.
※ The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (http://www.sfwa.org/)

All these, and the Science Fiction Foundation Information Page, will give good sets of links to Author pages.

Galactic Central (http://homepage.ntlworld.com/philsp/gcp/index.html)
A site maintained by Phil Stephensen-Payne, editor/publisher of the Galactic Central.
The Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections (http://www.best.com/~contento/)
Compiled by William G. Contento. "This index is intended to be a standard reference for locating stories that have appeared in English language science fiction anthologies and collections of stories by one author"
The Locus Index to Science Fiction (1984-1998) (http://www.locusmag.com/index)
Compiled by Charles N. Brown and William G. Contento. This replaces the annual printed volumes and is one of the most comprehensive current bibliographical databases, created from the monthly "Books Received" column in Locus Magazine and listing the contents of anthologies, single-author collections, and magazines.

The Science Fiction Foundation (http://www.sf-foundation.com/)
The International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts
The Science Fiction Research Association (http://www.sfra.org/)
The British Science Fiction Association (http://www.bsfa.co.uk/)
The British Fantasy Society (http://www.britishfantasysociety.org.uk/bfsindex.htm)
The Society for Utopian Studies (http://www.utoronto.ca/utopia/)

The IAFA and SFRA also have email discussion lists where you will find many of the field's most knowledgeable and expert scholars. You will also find links to the journals produced by these organisations, as well as other journals such as
The New York Review of Science Fiction (http://ebbs.english.vt.edu/olp/nyrsf/nyrsf.html)
Science Fiction Studies (http://www.depauw.edu/sfs)

Subject-Specific Sites:
Again, there are many more than these, but you should certainly find the following useful:

Alternate History (http://www.uchronia.net/)
Artificial Intelligence (http://www.ex.ac.uk/secs/resource/IT/ai.html)
Cyberpunk (gopher://gopher.well.sf.ca.us/11/cyberpunk) and also the
Mirrorshades site (http://www.well.com/conf/mirrorshades/)
Feminist Sf (http://www.feministsf.org/femsf/index.shtml)
Future Studies (http://ww.futurestudies.co.uk/)
Robots (http://www.aaai.org/Pathfinder/html/robots.html)
Time (http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/t/time.htm)
Utopias (http://users.erols.com/jonwill/utopialist.htm) and try also the
Political Futurists and Radical and Utopian SF Authors Site

Science Fiction Fandom:
If you wish to explore fandom, try the following sites:

The Fanac Fan History Project (http://fanac.org/)
Memory Hole (http://www.gostak.demon.co.uk/)

Webzines can be of highly variable quality, but strongly recommended are:

The Alien Online (http://thealienonline.net/)
Emerald City (http://www.emcit.com/)
Infinity Plus (http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/iplus/)
Scifi.com (http://www.scifi.com/)

4) The Science Fiction Foundation Collection

Librarian/Administrator: Andy Sawyer, Special Collections and Archives, Sydney Jones Library

The Science Fiction Foundation Collection is housed in the Special Collections Department in the Sydney Jones Library, and consists of some 30,000 books and magazines in the fields of science fiction and related genres, such as fantasy and horror. The University of Liverpool also holds the Olaf Stapledon Archive, the Eric Frank Russell Archive and the John Wyndham Archive.

The SFFC is the research library of the Science Fiction Foundation, together with associated collections such as the British Science Fiction Association Library and the Myers Collection of Russian-language science fiction. It is the largest publicly-available collection of material relating to science fiction in the UK, and one of the most important world-wide, with an international reputation.

The Science Fiction Foundation itself was founded in 1971 as a semi-autonomous association of writers, academics, and others with an active interest in science fiction, with Arthur C. Clarke and Ursula K. Le Guin as patrons. There were four main objectives:

* To provide research facilities for anyone wishing to study science fiction.
* To investigate and promote the usefulness of science fiction in education.
* To disseminate information about science fiction.
* To promote a discriminating understanding of the nature of science fiction.

The Foundation has sponsored talks and exhibitions, including the highly successful "British Science Fiction" conference in June 2001, and has acted as a network for the public and media interest in science ficiton. Its two major activities have been the establishment and maintenance of what is probably the largest and most important library of English-language science fiction and related subjects outside the USA, and the publication of the academic journal Foundation: the International Review of Science Fiction. It has also published books on sf including The Parliament of Dreams: Conferring on Babylon 5 (now out of print) and Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature (currently out of print, but which may be reprinting during 2004).

The Collection consists of:
* Science fiction and fantasy novels, collections and anthologies
* Critical works about science fiction
* Critical journals specialising in the study of science fiction and related topics, including the Science Fiction Foundation's own journal "Foundation".
* Non-fiction with some relationship to science fiction, (e.g. spaceflight, robotics and pseudo-science)
* A large collection of science fiction magazines, (microfilm copies of some titles are also available)
* Manuscripts, correspondence and legal papers etc. of a number of prominent SF writers on deposit with, or on loan to, the Collection. Recent deposits have been papers and mss from Colin Greenland and the estate of the late John Brunner. Of particular interest are the manuscripts of local horror writer Ramsey Campbell.

Other strengths of the Collection are its archive of fanzines, its foreign-language holdings (especially from Eastern Europe), and audio tapes of talks given by well-known science fiction authors.

* Journals held by the SFFC include Extrapolation, Foundation, The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Locus, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Para* Doxa, Science Fiction Chronicle, Science Fiction Studies, Utopian Studies, and Vector
* Magazines held by the SFFC include Analog, Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Interzone, and Spectrum

You can find what is in the Science Fiction Foundation Collection, and Liverpool's other sf holdings via the Library on-line catalogue. Please follow the links from the home page (http://www.liv.ac.uk/~asawyer/sfchome). For further information about the catalogue see The Science Fiction Hub below. The Collection is housed on rolling stacks in the Special Collections Department of the Sydney Jones Library. Use is restricted only in the sense that it is a reference-only collection, but there may be occasions when the Librarian/Administrator of the collection is elsewhere.

Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction
Foundation is published three times a year. It combines critical analysis with lively book reviews, and contributors include many well-known sf writers. For further information about Foundation contact the Foundation Membership Secretary (address below), access the journal's website on http://www.sf-foundation.org/publications/foundation.html, or simply ask the Reviews Editor, Andy Sawyer, from whom back issues are available.

The Science Fiction Foundation
For further information about the Science Fiction Foundation, membership and donations, see http://www.sf-foundation.org/joining.html and http://www.sf-foundation.org/donations.html

5) Science Fiction Texts and Studies

Liverpool University Press publishes the "Science Fiction Texts and Studies" series; series editor is Professor David Seed. The series has gathered glowing reviews and is increasingly seen as one of the most important collections of critical works on sf. Recent titles includes:
Mike Ashley, The Time Machines: The Story of the Science-Fiction Pulp Magazines from the Beginning to 1950
S. T. Joshi, A Dreamer and a Visionary: H. P. Lovecraft in His Time
S. T. Joshi, Ramsey Campbell and Modern Horror Fiction
Patrick Parrinder, Learning from Other Worlds: Estrangement, Cognition and the Politics of Science Fiction and Utopia
Warren G. Rochelle, Communities of the Heart: The Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin
Peter Swirski, Between Literature and Science: Poe, Lem and Explorations in Aesthetics, Cognitive Science and Literary Knowledge
Andy Sawyer & David Seed (eds.), Speaking Science Fiction

6) The Science Fiction Hub (http://www.sfhub.ac.uk/)

The "Science Fiction Hub" project is a three-year development project (beginning in April 2002) funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board. The purpose is to enhance the catalogue records for the sf collections held by the University of Liverpool and provide web access to these records and other sf collections, databases and scholarly sites. During 2002/3 the contents of a number of journals were indexed and the records are now available via the University Library Catalogue. In addition, handlists to various archive collections were prepared. These are to be made available via the Web during 2003/4. The Science Fiction Hub will be a major international resource for scholars of all areas of science fiction and the fantastic, bringing attention to the location of primary sources and critical material which has not been available in this form.

For further information contact Mr Andy Sawyer.

7) Bookshops

8) Events


(Much of this information will be relevant to planning the essays you will have to write during the year.)

The first stage in planning your dissertation will be the "Dissertation Project" described in the general MA course handbook. Please read this. As the handbook says, this project is not designed to "cover" the proposed topic. It is more a feasibility study for the Dissertation itself. You will be expected to give an oral presentation of about 20 minutes, and to hand in a written project of 1,500-3,000 words. The focus should be on not so much the subject of your dissetation itself but how you will tackle it, the resources you have identified that will help you tackle it, some of the problems whch might arise, and the approach you will take. It is quite normal that there will be differences between the planned Dissertation at this stage and the final result: for example you might find that an original plan to look at a topic by covering several authors is too ambitious and there is enough material if you drop one or more authors.

At this beginning stage you may or may not have an idea what you want to writer a 15,000-word dissertation about. If you haven't, that's normal. You will arrive at a topic through discussion with your tutors and, of course, your own interests and study. The Dissetation is meant to reflect your own interests but it is also meant to demonstrate an awareness of the "existing state of scholarly/critical knowledge and opinion in the field." (MA Handbook) The "Project" stage of the Dissertation is designed to allow you to look at the material you might find useful and assess it, therefore the bibliographical and critical materials you have been recommended to use will be of great importance. Use them, and use their bibliographies and references: an article on a subject you are interested in will guide you to further writing on that subject. Within the field of science fiction study there has been a great deal written about some authors and topics, and very little about others, so you will need to use your judgment in assessing material. Some tips:

1. Please do not, because this is a "Science Fiction" Dissertation, confine yourself to the specialist sf critical field -- science fiction is often discussed elsewhere, even in mainstream works of literary criticism!

2. However, don't neglect the fan field. Depending on your topic, you may find that the major assessments of your chosen author/theme appear in fanzines and small press books.

3. Don't be intimidated by a disagreement with a "major critic". Major critics are as capable of misjudgments and errors as anyone else. But see no. 6.

4. Avoid generalisations like "Early science fiction was predominantly male" or any sentence which begins "Science Fiction is ......". Most generalisations are untrue. (That may, or may not, be a generalisation.)

5. Don't be seduced by critical theory, but don't assume that critical theory has nothing to say unless you have tried it. And remember that there are many, often competing, "critical theories". And do read Carl Freedman's Critical Theory and Science Fiction.


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