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Speculative Fiction: The Weird, the Dark and the Wonderful


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Literary Studies, research master Literary Studies, research master Arts, Literature and Media and the two-year educational master in English from ICLON (other relevant MA on request and if places available, please contact the study coordinator).
Note: This course is intended for students from a limited number of programmes. Because of the limited capacity available for each programme, all students who will enroll are placed on a waiting list. Students in the MA program in Literary Studies will have priority. The definite admission will be made by Januari 15th.


Speculative Fiction is an umbrella term that groups together various genres of fantastic fiction. It gained widespread recognistion as a literary-critical term when the American author and editor Judith Merril used it to differentiate the stories written by more experimental genre-fiction writers in the 1960s from the more “traditional” science fiction, fantasy and (Gothic)horror that had dominated the popular fiction market until then. This course will focus on this “new wave” of fantastic fiction in literature and film from approximately 1960-1980.

Since its heyday in the 1960s, authors of speculative fiction on both sides of the Atlantic, have produced bestselling, often hybrid works of fantasy, horror and science fiction that have proven to be much more than escapist adventure narratives affirmative of the socio-political status quo. Authors such as J.G. Ballard, Samuel R. Delany, Ursula Le Guin and the Strugatsky brothers frequently employed the futuristic, the horrific and the supernatural to critically explore modern socio-political and intellectual topics: existential and atomic angst, technocracy, (sub)urbanization, and the potential catastrophic effects on humanity, and planet earth, of an ever-expanding industrial-capitalist consumer society.

Part of the experimental nature of speculative fiction lies in its authors’ use and transformation of classic literary genres like prophecy, pastoral, elegy, and satire, as well as the adoption of stylistic modes like the grotesque, the surreal, allegory and hyper-realism. Speculative fictions are often marked by the way in which they simultaneously appeal to a reader’s sense of wonder and vulnerability to fright.

In this course students will study and discuss various works of speculative fiction from Europe and North America. The stories will be studied in various socio-political and intellectual contexts, as represented by scholarly writings from the same period by Jacques Ellul, Herbert Marcuse, Carolyn Merchant and others.

In short, this course is a cultural history of the “new wave” of fantastic genre fiction from its beginnings in the 1960s to its entrance into the mainstream in the early 1980s.

Course objectives

  • Indepth knowledge of the form, function and development of “new wave” speculative fiction as socio-politically engaged fantastic genre literature.

  • The theoretical insight and analytical skills necessary to explore the relationship between artistic form and ideological signification in works of speculatice fiction. Beyond their academic studies, these skills will give students a more critical perspective of the popular culture they consume on a daily basis, which contributes to their overall development as independent critical thinkers in society, a crucial transferable academic skill.

  • The chance to further develop their academic reading, research and writing skills by means of a carefully developed research essay and other in-class assignments. Being able to construct and present coherent and persuavie analytical arguments is a key transferable skill needed in almost every academic-level professional career.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars/Workshops

  • Independent research

  • Response assignments

Assessment method


  • A poster presentation (30% of the grade) due in the Mid-Term week.

  • A research-essay proposal. The tutor will provide written feedback on the proposal. The proposal will be marked with a letter grade to indicate it’s academic potential.

  • A 4000 word research essay (70% of the grade), structured and presented according to the MLA style sheet. Following the MLA style sheet is a basic requirement for this course. Just as in any professional workplace, a young academic needs to learn to adapt his or her work to the demands of the field she is working in. The MLA style sheet is one of the most widely used stylesheets in the field of English-language literary scholarship, so learning about this style sheet is part of the job.
    The dates of coursework and resit submission deadlines will be posted on Brightspace in due course. The overall grade will be determined by the average of the mid-term assignment (30%) and the research essay (70%). Only when the overall average is 5,49 or less, can insufficient coursework assignments be revised and resubmitted during the resit period. Students will receive written feedback and a score form for both coursework assignments.

Students taking this course as part of the Tweejarige Educatieve Master/two-year MA Education programme are expected to write their end paper / research essay on a topic suitable for use in a secondary-school teaching context.


  • Poster presentation 30%

  • Research essay 70%


  • Revise and correct research paper

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized

Reading list


  • Various primary and secondary materials made available on Brightspace

  • J.G. Ballard, Concrete Island (Harper)

  • Ursula Le Guin, The Word for World is Forest (SF Masterworks)

  • Doris Lessing, Briefing for a Descent into Hell (Vintage)

  • Stanislaw Lem, Solaris (Faber & Faber)

  • Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic (SF Masterworks)


  • Jean-Luc Godard (dir), Alphaville (film)

  • George Romero (dir), Dawn of the Dead (film)

Note: the reading for week 1 is:
R.B. Gill, The Uses of Genre and the Classification of Speculative Fiction (2013), available via a link on Brightspace.

Damien Broderick, “New Wave and Backwash: 1960-1980” (2003), in The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, available as an e-text via the university library catalogue.


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.

When registering students of the MA Literary studies take priority. The deadline for registration is August 15. All other students should contact the coordinator of studies: ms. L.L.J. Kouters MA


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


For information on the reading for week 1: see Brightspace