ENGL 269/ENST 265: Science Fiction and the Environment
DEPARTMENT: English/Environmental Studies
DESCRIPTION: This course examines the ways that science fiction challenges ideas about nature, culture, society and politics.

Students in the class Science Fiction and the Environment dive into different forms of science fiction in both novels, such as “Parable of the Sower,” and films, such as “District 9” and “Children of Men.” From these works, they explore various themes that connect to conditions of today’s environment and world. Annie Culver, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in English, is the instructor. 

Environment is a sort of elastic term and has been treated in a lot of different ways by different scholars and fields,” Culver said. “It’s important to think about not just the way these popular topics are operating in these texts, but the way that they’re related to a lot of our history of capitalism and environmental degradation, which is deeply entwined with racism and sexism.” 

Grace Templeton, a Jones College junior and a piano major in the Shepherd School of Music, said she took this class because she liked the idea of learning more about both science fiction and environmental issues. “It ended up being a really cool way to learn about a lot of politically relevant topics and also use my imagination,” Templeton said.

Each class opens with what Culver calls “quick hits” — a round-robin session where each student gives an observation or idea they had about the assigned reading or film. “So [the quick hits exercise] is a double-sided strategy that [makes] people engage with the text, and then also gives people who may not be as comfortable speaking up a way to engage with the class.”

Students in this class get to see firsthand how the environmental issues of today can shape the dystopian worlds of the science fiction genre. “We’re seeing major innovation in science fiction, especially in relation to its treatment of the environment, and especially now with the proliferation of the discussion around climate change,” Culver said.