EN 4241  Utopias and Dystopias

2011/2012, Semester 2

Professor Rajeev S. Patke



Course Description and Objectives


The module provides students an opportunity to read dystopian fiction as narratives that affect our sense of what is real, plausible and possible, and create a new awareness of the conditions of human life systems and societies.


During the course of this module we will examine the s/ f genre of utopias and dystopias in fictional literature in terms of the following questions:

  • What is the appeal of utopias and dystopias?

  • What is the relation of such fictions to the world of contemporary reality?

  • To alternative ways of conceiving life, experience, or reality?

  • To traditional history?

  • To the future of human societies?

  • How does the imaginative construction of dystopias address the changing relation of science and technology to human life as we know it, to the human individual, to human society, and to the many institutions and notions (such as gender, sexuality, race, family, nation, religion, and species) through which the relation of the individual to the group is mediated in time and place?

Dystopian and Utopian fiction will be studied as imaginative constructions of extrapolations from current technology and science, or as possible worlds with alternative selves, life-forms, ecosystems, or histories.



Primary Texts

  1. Walter Miller, Jr.


A Canticle for Leibowitz  (1960)


  2. Anthony Burgess

 A Clockwork Orange (1962)
 3. Philip K. Dick

 The Man in the High Castle (1962)
 4. Frank Herbert



  Dune (1965)

 5.  Ursula le Guin 

 The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
 6. Margaret Atwood

 The Handmaid's Tale (1985)


Assignments & Continuous assessment


The module has 100% CA.


Class Seminar/Presentation:


Essay:  End-of-semester submission


Class Test: Mid-term


End of semester class test


Total: 100% CA


Presentation: Each student will do one presentation during the semester, of approximately 20 mins, and submit a handout or written version.

Class test 1: The class test will be of 90 mins duration. The test format will be put up nearer the start of semester.

Long Essay: Between 2,000-2,500 words (including references). To be submitted on the Monday of Week 13 of semester (late submissions will be penalized). This essay is expected to be comparative in orientation, and should pursue an independent line of inquiry/analysis/argument based on at least one text from the syllabus and any one (or more) of the following texts (which will not be discussed in class, but can be read by students as additional resource material for the module):

(a) Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (1921)  LINC: PG3476 Z24W

(b) Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932) LINC: PR6015 H986B 2004

(c) George Orwell, 1984 (1949) LINC: PR6029 O79N

(d)  Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let me Go (2005)  

Class test 2: Duration: 50 mins. The test will comprise short-answer quiz-type questions covering texts discussed during the latter half of semester.




Links to web pages on topics and authors will be set up at the star of the semester:

1a. Introduction & working definitions

1b. General issues concerning utopias and dystopias

[To be uploaded later during the semester:]

2a. Miller: Topics for Discussion

2b: Paul Brians Site

3. Burgess: A Nadsat Dictionary

4. Burgess: Topics for Discussion

4. Dick: Topics for Discussion

6. Herbert: Topics for Discussion

7. Le Guin: Topics for Discussion

8. Atwood: Topics for Discussion




Suggested approaches to presentations & essays

(These are sample topics, to which more will be added throughout the semester.
For presentations & essays, you are encouraged to come up with similar topics of your own)
     Background topics/questions to keep in mind throughout the semester:
  • What are the ways in which sf narratives resemble "ordinary" realist fiction?
  • In what specific ways do sf narratives differ from realist narratives?
  • Why, when and how do writers turn and return to a utopian mode of thought about human life and societies?
  • Why, when and how does the utopian impulse turn or twist into dystopianism?
1. Single text topics
  • Miller: What is the attitude to the cyclic rise and fall of scientific knowledge in the 3 narratives of the novel?
  • Burgess: What are the roles assigned to force, coercion, manipulation and deception in terms of human resource management in A Clockwork Orange
  • Dick: To what degree to do you think The Man in the High Castle vindicate the logic of writing "alternative histories"?
  • le Guin: In what sense does The Left Hand of Darkness promote the cause of cultural relativism?
  • Herbert: How does a desert ecology affect and determine the kind of religious system and religious leader that the novel invents?
  • Atwood: What is the role assigned to Christianity by the novelist in her representation of Gilead in The Handmaid's Tale?
2. Comparative topics (any two or three novels [of which one can be outside the syllabus] can be compared with a focus on the following perspectives:
  • The relation between utopian thinking and its inversion/negation/distortion/or what-have-you by the dystopian imagination in specific sf narratives.

  • The relation between the "speculative" element and the "(quasi-)science" element in utopian/dystopian fiction.

  • How technological developments affect human beings at the levels of the individual and of society.

  • The relation of the fictive conditions imagined by sf novels to the specific circumstances (historical, cultural, political, technological,  religious, etc) in which those narratives were written.

  • The role played by gender politics in the development of plot and character in utopian/dystopian narratives.

  • Contrast the role assigned to sexuality and gender roles in any 2 or 3 sf novels you've read for this module.

  • "One person's utopia may turn out to be another person's dystopia." Comment. 

  • Discuss the usefulness of the Foucaldian idea of "heterotopia" in relation to "utopia" and "dystopia".



Lecture/Seminar Schedule: Fridays 1-4pm, AS5/0309




 Presentation Topic

 Presentation by:


13 Jan

 The historical & conceptual contexts of utopian/dystopian fiction    


20 Jan  Miller  1. Miller  Tham Zhen Teng; Ow Yeong Wai Kit; Tay Min Zhi


27 Jan  Miller/Burgess 2. Miller &/or Burgess

 Denise Lee & Michelle Lee;  Peck Xin Hui; Jennifer Champion


3 Feb  Burgess 3. Burgess

 Goh Naomi & Zainul Ariffin; Chan Delle; Samuel


10 Feb  Dick 4. Dick  Joel; Daryl & Tan Shi Jing; Teo Shu May & Grace Yu


17 Feb  Dick /le Guin 5. Dick  &/or le Guin  Damien; Wong Desmond; Tan Valerie-Ann
  18-26 Feb  RECESS    


2 Mar  Mid-term class test  (90 mins) /Discussion of long essay topics    


9 Mar  le Guin 6. le Guin  Tan Teck Heng; Justine;  Chew Wei-Shan


16 Mar  Herbert

 7. Herbert



23 Mar  Herbert 8. Herbert  Aparna & Grace


30 Mar  Atwood 9. Atwood  Hannae, Nayantara & Eunice; Melissa Leong, Nithya & Nicole


6 April  Atwood (Good Friday holiday)    


13 April   Make-up for 6 April slot 10. Atwood Melissa Chue; Woo Jacqueline; Goh Wee Gin; Jennifer Yeh
  Final class test (50 mins)


Supplementary Reading



J. Clute & P. Nicholls (ed), The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993) 


Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the future: the desire called utopia and other science fictions (2005)

Richard Gerber, Utopian Fantasy 1973) 

Alexandra Aldridge, The Scientific World View in Dystopia (1984) 

Ursula le Guin, The Language of the Night (1979) 

Ursula le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World (1989)

Tom Moylan, Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination (1984) 

Brian Stableford, The Sociology of Science Fiction (1987) 

Frances Bartowski, Feminist Utopias (1989) 

Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (1993) Jenny Wolmark, Aliens and Others: Science Fiction, Feminism and Postmodernism (1994) 

Neil Barron, Anatomy of Wonder 4 (4th edn., 1995) 

Damien Broderick, Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction (1995) 

Brooks Landon, Science Fiction After 1900 (1997) 


Science-Fiction Studies 


Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction





Herbert, DUNE Timeline





Last Updated 10 February 2012