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Speculative Fiction: The Weird, the Dark and the Wonderful


Admission requirements

A BA degree.


Spectulative Fiction is an umbrella term that groups together various forms of twentieth-century “fantastic” fiction. It was coined late in the nineteenth century and gained widespread recognistion when the author and editor Judith Merril used it to differentiate the stories written by experimental writers in the 1960s from the more “traditional” science fiction, fantasy and (Gothic)horror that had dominated the popular fiction market until then. Since its heyday in the 1960s and 70s, authors of speculative fiction, have produced bestselling, often hybridic works of fantasy, horror and science fiction that have proven to be much more than escapist adventures affirmative of the status quo. Speculative fiction authors frequently employ the futuristic, the horrific and the supernatural to critically explore very 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 and hybridic nature of speculative fiction lies in its authors’ use and transformation of established literary genres like prophecy, pastoral, elegy, and satire, as well as the adoption of stylistic modes like the grotesque 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 influential works of English-language speculative fiction, from the foundational short stories of the pulp-magazine era to the bestelling novels of the 70s. The stories will be studied in various socio-political and intellectual historical contexts, represented by the writings of Oswald Spengler, John Kenneth Galbraith, Herbert Marcuse, and Carolyn Merchant, amongst others. In short, this course presents students with a cultural history of speculative fiction from its beginnings to its entrance into the mainstream. It will be of particular interest to readers of contemporary authors like Neil Gaiman and China Mieville, whose works are rooted in the kind of literature studied in this course .

Course objectives

This course will give students:

  • Indepth knowledge of the form, function and development of twentienth-century speculative fiction as a socio-politically engaged popular genre.

  • the theoretical insight and analytical skills necessary to explore the relationship between artistic form and ideological signification in works of popular 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. 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 timetable is available on the Literary Studies website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

  • Self-motivated study and research

  • An individual tutorial on a self-devised research topic

Course Load

The course load is 10 ECTS = 280 hours of study.

  • ±24 hours of tutorial

  • ±150 hours of studying primary and secondary material in preparation for tutorials

  • ±106 hours for independent research and writing of coursework
    This is an approximation; some students read quickly and write slowly and vice versa.

Assessment method

Students are expected to attend the tutorials and to prepare some brief assignments in preparation for tutoruals that will facilitate classroom discussion.

Students will write a research proposal (25% of the grade). This research proposal will be evaluated by and discussed with the tutor before the end of the semester. A schedule for evaluation meetings will be posted in due course outside the tutor’s office.

Having discussed the research proposal, students will research and write a 4000-5000 word research paper (75% of the grade), following the rules of 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 deadline will be posted on Blackboard in due course. There will be one resit deadline. This dealine will fall within one of the resit periods of the English department and will be posted on Blackboard in due course.


Blackboard will be used to:
-post reading materials available as PDFs or online.
-post power point slides used in the tutorials.
-share useful and informative links to online sources concerning Speculative Fiction.
-communicate with students via the Blackboard mail service or the announcement.

Reading list

  • A selection of e-texts made available via Blackboard (

  • Ray Bradbury, Stories Volume 1 (Harper)

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

  • Philip K. Dick, Ubik (Gollancz SF Masterworks)

  • Stephen King, The Dead Zone (Hodder)

  • Tanith Lee, The Birthgrave (Daw)

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

  • John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids (Penguin)


Enrolment through uSis for classes, exams and final paper for classes, exams and final papers is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

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: Jurjen Donkers.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


For questions concerning the course content or blackboard module contact the instructor of the course: E.J. van Leeuwen.

Literary Studies departmental office

Coordinator of studies: Mr. J. Donkers, MA


Reading for Week 1:

  • Ray Bradbury, The Night, There Will Come Soft Rains, The Fog Horn, Night Call, Collect and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (in Stories Volume 1).

  • R.B. Gill, The Uses of Genre and the Classification of Speculative Fiction Mosaic 46.2 (June 2013): 71-85. This essay is available as an e-text via the university library catalogue when you search in “All Content” using the search terms “Gill” (author) and “speculative fiction” (title).