nl en

Speculative Fiction: The Weird, the Dark and the Wonderful


Admission requirements

A BA degree.


Spectulative 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 William Barrett, 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 timetable is available on the Literary Studies website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars/Workshops

  • Independent research

Course Load

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

  • ±24 hours of tutorials/workshops

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

  • ±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

  • A writing assignment (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 Blackboard 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.


Blackboard will be used to:

  • a repository for primary and secondary materials to be studied.

  • uploading assignments and essays via Turnitin.

  • announcements and email communications from the tutor to the students.

Reading list


  • Various primary and secondary materials made available on Blackboard

  • 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 Blackboard

  • Damien Broderick, “New Wave and Backlash: 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 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:


For information on the reading for week 1: see Blackboard.