English 213: Studies in American Literature (Post-Apocalyptic Speculative Fiction)

Chacchoben Mayan Temple near Costa Maya, Mexico (picture taken in June 2012, courtesy of Roger Weeks)

Chacchoben Mayan Temple near Costa Maya, Mexico (picture taken in June 2012, courtesy of Roger Weeks)


Course description

The world has ended many times over for centuries, at least in myths and stories. This course uses the legend of the Mayan calendar’s prediction of the end of the world in December 2012 as a tongue-in-cheek reference point to consider the profound questions raised by post-apocalyptic science fiction. In particular, we will examine how the fictional societies “re-build” themselves, with often disturbing results, which will also lead us into the dystopian tradition within the genre as well.

We will read these works primarily for the ideas and content they include and the questions they raise, but we will also examine how they use medium, genre devices, and other elements of fiction to tell their stories. This course is designed both for students who are avid speculative fiction fans as well as those who have no prior experience with the genre.


Course Texts

The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood)

V for Vendetta (Moore and Lloyd)

Lathe of Heaven (LeGuin)

Hunger Games (Collins)

Catching Fire (Collins)

Mockingjay (Collins)



Half of the grade in this course is based on the student’s role within the class conversation (both in person and online) and the other half on work as an individual.

Class Participation                                                                            10%

Discussion Board conversations (weekly; contract basis)       20%

Group Presentation                                                                         20%

Response Papers (4)                                                                        20%

Expanded Response Paper                                                             15%

Final Exam (take-home)                                                                 15%


Active Research Options

Each Response Paper provides for an active experiment through which students could engage with the novel(s) in unconventional ways.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Sit for an hour, doing nothing, as Offred often must do. After those sixty-minutes, write a reflection about that experience and compare it to her descriptions of those “blank times.”

V for Vendetta: Keep a list of all the information sources you encounter each day, for at least three days. Write down what the source is, how you accessed it, what you learned, etc. Then, for your Response Paper, imagine what life would be like if you only had the Voice’s broadcast available to you, like the people do in the novel. What would you not know? How would your life be different?

Lathe of Heaven: Keep a record of your interactions with others for at least three days. Write down why the interaction happened, with whom, what occurred, etc. Then, for your Response Paper, identify which of those interactions would be “change-oriented,” using the conversation between Orr and Haber on pages 139-40 as your primary source for a definition. Then, identify those that are interactions of “stillness.” Examine why you made those distinctions and the connections you see between your daily interactions and the tensions between Haber and Orr in Lathe of Heaven.

Hunger Games: For seven days, keep a record of everything you do that requires electricity. Conduct a thought experiment where you compare your day-to-day life with Katniss’s description of life in District 12 in terms of technology and power (electricity). How different would your life be if you lived in District 12? What could you still achieve, but through radically different means? What would be impossible?


Fall 2012 Syllabus: English 213



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