MAS S95: Science Fiction to Science Fabrication -or- Pulp to Prototype

Instructors: Sophia Brueckner and Dan Novy
Meeting Time: Wed 6-9 in E14- 525
FALL TERM — (Wednesday, Sept. 4, through Wednesday, Dec. 11)
15 Wednesdays + Final Exam Week.


‘Pataphysics (French: ‘pataphysique): The science of imaginary solutions.

For decades, science fiction authors have explored both our wildest dreams and greatest fears for where technology might lead us. Yet, science fiction is fueled by the concerns of today just as much as it is about fantastic imaginings of the future. This class ties science fiction with speculative/critical design as a means to encourage the ethical and thoughtful design of new technologies.

With a focus on the creation of functional prototypes, this class combines the analysis of classic and modern science fiction texts and films with physical fabrication or code-based interpretations of the technologies they depict. Topics will include virtual/augmented reality; networks; artificial intelligence; nanotechnology; humanism and transhumanism; cyborgs and robotics; environmental issues; biology; utopias and dystopias; surveillance; music and art; interfaces; wearables; and/or religion, culture, and society. Guest lecturers and representatives from sponsor companies working in these areas will contribute to select project critiques. Requires regular reading, discussion, bi-weekly projects, and a final project.

TOPICS – 2 weeks each, short story selections and topic order may change


Dates: Sep 4th, Sep 11th
Novel: Neuromancer – William Gibson
Short stories: “The Veldt” – Ray Bradbury, “Immersion” – Alliette de Bodard, “True Names” – Vernor Vinge, “Fast Times at Fairmont High” – Vernor Vinge, “The Cookie Monster” – Vernor Vinge (novella)
Films: Matrix


Dates: Sep 18th, Sep 25th
Kill Decision – Daniel Suarez
Short stories: Transmetropolitan (graphic novel) – Warren Ellis, “The Planck Dive” – Greg Egan, “The Day Before the Revolution” – Ursula K. Le Guin
Films: THX 1138
Guest Speaker: Daniel Suarez (TBA on some day between Sep 22-24th)
Project: Project 1 due Sep 25th


Dates: Oct 2, Oct 9
Novel: Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson
Short stories: “Blood Music” – Greg Bear, “Robot Dreams” – Isaac Asimov, “Axiomatic” – Greg Egan, Nanotech – compilation of short stories by Greg Egan and Jack Dann
Film: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


Dates: Oct 16, Oct 23
Novel: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
Short stories: “The Electric Grandmother” – Ray Bradbury, “Flowers For Algernon” ­- Daniel Keyes, “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” ­- James Tiptree, “None So Blind” – Joe Haldeman, Charles Stross short story (“The Boys” or “Generation Gap”), Vernor Vinge?, “TAP” – Greg Egan
Non-fiction readings: Excerpt from Cyborg by Steve Mann, “A Cyborg Manifesto” – Donna Haraway,
Films: Blade Runner, Ghost In the Shell
Project: Project 2 due Oct 30


Dates: Oct 30, Nov 6
Novel: TBD novel by Stephen Baxter (or lots of shorts)
Short stories: Short story by Elizabeth Bear, “Day Million” ­- Frederick Pohl, “Tangents” – Greg Bear, “Lobsters” – Charles Stross, “Time is a Helix of Semi-precious Stones” – Delany, “Babel-17” – Samuel Delany
Project: Project 3 due Nov 26


Dates: Nov 13, Nov 20 (Elizabeth Bear visiting on Nov 13)
Novel: “Riders of the Purple Wage” – Philip Jose Farmer (novella)
Short stories: “First Sally (A)” – Stanislaw Lem, “Singing Statues” – J. G. Ballard, “The Preserving Machine” – Philip K. Dick, “Unaccompanied Sonata” – Orson Scott Card, “The Geometry of Narrative” – Hilbert Schenck
Non-fiction readings: “Interrogative Design” – Krzysztof Wodiczko
Films: Art 21 episodes

7) ancient beliefs & future tech/culture/society/behavior in general (Or: Science Fiction isn’t about the future)

Dates: Nov 27, Dec 4
Short stories: “The Sentinel” – Clark, “The Word is World for Forest” – by Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Day Before the Revolution” – Ursula K. Le Guin, “Speech Sounds” – Octavia Butler, “Concrete Jungle” – Charles Stross
Film: 2001 Space Odyssey
Project: Final project due Dec 11


Grading will be based on attendance, thoughtful participation in class discussion and project critiques (25%), and how successfully each of the four projects incorporate concepts addressed in readings and class. Each unexcused absence will result in losing a letter grade. The first 3 projects will be each worth 15%, and the final project will be worth 30% (including documentation). Projects may be collaborations or done alone. The final project may build on one of the previous three.

40 thoughts on “Syllabus

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  11. Brian

    This class sounds incredibly interesting, but considering the nature of the subject, would it not make sense to add this to OpenCourseWare? I’d love to be able to peruse through the material online without having to attend in-person.

    1. novysan

      It’s in the works! This is the first time we’ve offered this class and it’s somewhat experiemntal. We’re working closely with the OCW team so check back often,

  12. Arlan Andrews, Sr.

    Check out our website–SIGMA has been supplying such futurism to Federal agencies via science fiction and game writers. As a former engineer and manager at Bell Labs and Sandia, plus at a few high-tech startups (Muse Technologies, Inc.; Kinetic Biosystems, Inc.), I always was inspired by, and used, SF for invention, applications, planning and strategy.

    -Arlan Andrews, Sr. Sc.D., PE
    Founder and Director, SIGMA


  14. Dirrogate

    Found out about this via a Reddit post. Excellent idea.
    I’d like to submit a hard science novel that might provide ideas for AR and AI in bringing near science fiction to reality…sooner.
    Memories with Maya. –
    The story details a controversial use of Augmented Reality – Digital resurrection.

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