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Speculative Fiction: The Weird, the Dark, 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 January 15th.


In 1959, the writer, critic and editor Judith Merril invoked the term “speculative fiction” to distinguish new, experimental and hybrid forms of science fiction from works that adhered to established genre conventions. In 1961, the critic Peter Schuyler Miller defined many of the same authors as the “New Wave.” Between 1960 and 1980, writers associated with these two journalistic labels (Ballard, Delany, Le Guin and others) became known and were lauded for deliberately amalgamating genre conventions (mixing SF, Horror, Fantasy, Hard Boiled Crime Fiction) not only to develop new and more complex popular genre categories, but also to develop a new language, new images and new perspectives to address serious contemporary socio-political concerns about existential and atomic angst, the rise of technocracy, mass-urbanization and alienation, and the catastrophic effects on the environment of an ever-expanding industrial-capitalist consumer society. In other words, speculative fiction, sometimes set in the past or future, on distant planets or in dream worlds, is directly engaged with the here-and-now.
In this course students will study and discuss various works of speculative fiction from Europe and North America, produced in the formative period 1960-1980. The stories will be studied in various socio-political and intellectual contexts, as represented by the writings of Jacques Ellul, Herbert Marcuse, Carolyn Merchant, Jan Carew, amongst others.

Course objectives

At the end of this course, students will have:

  • In-depth knowledge of the forms, themes and development of speculative fiction/New Wave SF as a socio-politically engaged, hybrid, genre literature.

  • The theoretical insight and analytical skills necessary to explore the relationship between artistic form and ideological signification in works of speculative 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 persuasive 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

  • Seminar

  • Research

  • Poster Conference

Assessment method


  • A mid-term academic poster assignment

  • A research-essay proposal

  • An MLA style Research Essay


  • A mid-term academic poster assignment (30% of final grade)

  • A research-essay proposal (not graded, but feedback given)

  • An MLA style Research Essay (70% of final grade)

  • The final grade is the average of the mid-term poster assignment and the research essay.


Students with a final grade lower than 6 will have to resit the insufficient parts of the courserwork.

Inspection and feedback

Written feedback will be provided to both assignments. Students should scrutinize this feedback and can contact the tutor to discuss it.
Students taking this course as part of the “Tweejarige Educatieve Master” are expected to write their research essay on a topic suitable for use in a secondary-school teaching context. As such they should critically reflect in writing, at the end of their essay, on the nature of this suitability.
Students taking this course as part of the “Research Masters” are expected to develop a more thorough theoretical framework/critical methodology for their research and analysis and to reflect critically on the suitability of their chosen approach to works of speculative fiction.
Students taking this course as part of the “Literature and Society Track” of the MA Literary Studies should develop an essay topic with a clear socio-political theme.
Students taking this course as part of the French, German or Italian Track of the MA Literay Studies, or as part of the MA Dutch Studies can write on French, German, Italian or Dutch works of speculative fiction, but their essay will have to be written in English.

Reading list


  • Several e-texts available via links on Brightspace

  • J.G. Ballard, Concrete Island (Fourth Estate)

  • Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia (Banyan Tree)

  • Brian Aldiss, Hothouse (Penguin Modern Classics)

  • Ursula Le Guin, The Eye of the Heron (Tor)

  • Doris Lessing, The Making of the Representative of Planet 8 (HarperCollins)

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

  • Jean-Luc Godard (dir), Alphaville (film) – legal streaming, download or DVD

  • George Romero (dir), Dawn of the Dead (film) – legal streaming, download or DVD


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website


  • 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