Pacific Seminar II -- Utopian Futures

Dr. Eric Sonstroem
Office: WPC 137  Phone: 946-2619 
Office Hours: TBA, or by appointment. 

Fall 2007
M, W, F 12:30-1:50
WPC 224

Website (where the official syllabus resides):


Dreaming up science-fictional utopias is a way some authors try to imagine and define “the Good Society.”  The word “utopia” was originally coined from two Greek terms, “eutopia” which means “the good place” and “outopia” which means “nowhere.”  Authors who write utopian fictions are often caught between both meanings of this word.  They optimistically imagine “the good place”--a society with just the right economics, politics, culture and technology to ensure a harmonious good life for all its people--while pessimistically realizing that such a perfect world may only be possible in the imagination, that it is literally “nowhere” in the real world.  Lewis Mumford thus calls utopias “the ultimate in human folly or human hope.”

This course will explore the way both historical authors and modern-day science fiction authors have tried to imagine the Good Society by creating fictional futures.  We will be reading texts, as well as analyzing some film and video.  We will critically explore why utopias get written the way they do, analyzing the way individual utopias reflect the cultural context from which they emerged.

Course objectives include the objectives that should be common to every Pac Sem II section:  for example, the development of critical thinking and improvement of written and oral communication and argument skills.  Specifically to this section, I want you to engage with the fictions we will study in a way that goes beyond “escapism” (science fiction, after all, is often regarded as escapist fiction).  We will study the social role of science fictional futures.  We will learn to read these utopian, science-fictional futures as thought experiments carried out in specific cultural contexts, with identifiable social goals.

Required Texts:

H. G. Wells. The Time Machine. ISBN: 0375761187

Thomas More Utopia  ISBN:  087220376X

Bruce Sterling. Zeitgeist. ISBN: 0553576410

Ursula Leguin. The Dispossessed.  ISBN: 006051275X



You will notice that there is a web page for the class, which you are reading now.  The url is   This more or less takes the place of both a syllabus and a xeroxed coursepack.  You will be required to access this web page throughout the semester, for readings, assignments and other material.  Some reading assignments will be placed on reserve (or electronic reserve) at the library.  Computer access is therefore vital to the class.

Written work will probably be submitted to me electronically.  Hard-copy assignments should be printed on white paper, in a standard 12-point font, with one inch margins. Your papers should be double spaced, and should contain my name, your name, the course number, the date, and a title.  Instigations can be single-spaced, and should be a paragraph or two.

Late papers will be marked down 1/3 of a letter grade for each calendar day they are late.  I will consider giving short extensions on assignments if you contact me ahead of the due date and you have a good reason for wanting the extension.  All assigned work must be completed to pass the course.

Attendance is required.  You may miss three "personal days" for any reason (and I don't want to know the reason).  After that, your final class grade will drop 1/3 of a letter grade for each additional day missed.  If you have a valid, pre-existing, documented reason for needing to miss more classes (eg, a valid medical reason) talk to me about that early in the course. Chronic or extreme lateness will also not be tolerated, and I may count those as absences as well.  The same applies to failure to participate in classroom discussion or activities.


Please refer to your Student Handbook (Tiger Lore) for a complete statement of the University Honor Code, an essential element in the academic integrity of our campus community.  If I believe you to be in violation of the University Honor Code I will refer the matter to the Office of Student Life.  Penalties for violating the Honor Code can include suspension from the University.  In other words, if you plagiarize in this class, I will probably catch you, and you will probably end up in serious trouble.

Plagiarism is the attempt to pass off someone else's text or ideas as your own. If you copy or paraphrase from any outside source, even another student, and fail to formally acknowledge this in your text, you are guilty of plagiarism. If someone else writes a paper for you, or even part of a paper for you, you are guilty of plagiarism. If you are found guilty of plagiarism, you will receive an F for the assignment, an F for the course, and a letter will be sent to your dean. There are no exceptions.


The bulk of your grade will be determined by two, formal five-page papers, one presentation, and one website.   There will also be a number of unannounced reading quizzes, which will be no problem if you have kept up with the reading. 

Since discussion will be an important part of class, it will also be an important part of your grade.  Students who contribute thoughtfully to discussion, and who listen respectfully to their classmates, will be rewarded.  Students who don't contribute, or who attempt to dominate discussions at the expense of their classmates, will not be rewarded.  Here's how to prepare for discussion:

To help get the discussions started, students will be divided into five groups of "discussion instigators" at the beginning of the semester.  On a rotating basis, members of these groups will prepare a short (one or two paragraph) response to that day's reading, which raises some kind of question or discussion issue about the reading.  You will be responsible for five instigations throughout the course of the semester.  Be prepared to turn these in on your instigation day.


Papers----- 15% each
Website----- 20%
Presentation----- 20%
Reading Quizzes----- 10%
Participation & Instigations----- 20%
Total----- 100%


Schedule of Classes:

Always check the website for the updated class schedule.  The website is the official class syllabus.  Readings are should be completed before class on the day listed on the schedule.  Instigation group days are the numbers in red.  

This is the first time I have taught this class, which is exciting but which also introduces some healthy uncertainty.  I have a pretty good idea of some of the places this class will end up, but I can't be completely sure until we get there.  I reserve the right to make changes to the reading schedule to help focus the class themes as they emerge over the course of the semester.


  Week 1 Begins 1-15
M   MLK Holiday.  No Class.
W   Welcome.
F   Ursula Le Guin, "Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness" (on reserve); James Gunn, "Science Fiction and the Future" (on reserve); Michael Swanwick, "Growing Up in the Future" (online)


  Week 2 Begins 1-22
M 1 Thomas Disch, "Big Ideas and Dead-End Trills" (on reserve); William Gibson, "The Gernsback Continuum" (on reserve)
W 2 The Time Machine, Introduction to p. 32.
F 3 The Time Machine p. 32-66. (chapters 5-8)


  Week 3 Begins 1-29
M 4 The Time Machine p. 66-86. (chapters 9-end)
W 5 from Fabian Essays in Socialism, on reserve.
F   Movie: The Time Machine (1960) (possible other reading)


  Week 4 Begins 2-5
M   Movie: The Time Machine (1960) (possible other reading)
W   Movie: The Time Machine (2002) (possible other reading)
F 1,2,3 Discussion of movies.


  Week 5 Begins 2-12
W   Paper 1 draft due.  Peer revision workshop.
F   Paper 1 final draft due.


  Week 6 Begins 2-19
M No class President's Day
W 5 More, Utopia, pages 90-107
F 1 More, Utopia, pages 127-160


  Week 7 Begins 2-26
M 4 LeGuin, The Dispossessed, Chapter 1-2
W 2 LeGuin, The Dispossessed, Chapter 3-4
F 3 LeGuin, The Dispossessed, Chapter 5-6


  Week 8 Begins 3-5
M 4 LeGuin, The Dispossessed, Chapter 7-8
W 5 LeGuin, The Dispossessed, Chapter 9-10
F 1 LeGuin, The Dispossessed, Chapter 11-13







  Week 9 Begins 3-19
M   Movie: Brazil (1985)
W   Movie: Brazil
F 2, 3 Discuss Brazil


  Week 10 Begins 3-26
M   Paper 2 Draft Due, Peer workshop
W   Paper 2 Due.  Screening:  Futurama and Equilibrium
F 4, 5, 1 Discuss Futurama and Equilibrium.

Assign Meeting Schedule


  Week 11 Begins 4-2
M   Final Project Topic Meetings
W   Final Project Topic Meetings
F   Final Project Topic Meetings


  Week 12 Begins 4-9
M No Class Student Travel Day, No Class
W   HTML Workshop 1  (Class meets in the Library Classroom)
F   Project Draft Meetings


  Week 13 Begins 4-16
M   PowerPoint Workshop (Class meets in the Library Classroom)
W   Project Draft Meetings
F   HTML Workshop 2: Optional Class for trouble-shooting your website.

 Meets in the Library Classroom


  Week 14 Begins 4-23
M   Student Presentations: Chelsea, David K, Alex
W   Student Presentations: Corbett, Moritz, Kalei
F   Student Presentations: Mark, Ruth, Sam W., Meredith


  Week 15 Begins 4-30
M   Student Presentations: Hunter C, Vegerd, Sam T., David R.
W   Student Presentations: Tariq, Sam F, Hunter S, Aileen
F   Student Presentations: Thomay, Jess, Christian, Alysse


  Week 16 Begins 5-7
M   Last Day of Classes

Final Website due