#AnthroSciFi

It should come as no surprise that anthropologists are Sci-Fi fans, and I’ve never made a secret of my influences (see the quote in the sidebar…). Last night there was a flurry of conversation on twitter initiated by Ryan Anderson around the idea of an anthropology through/of/in/about sci-fi course as well as some kind of sci-fi session at the upcoming AAA meeting. I’ve used sci-fi stories and films in my intro to anthropology classes before, and I think they can be used in almost any course – not just one specifically oriented around anthropology and science fiction – to highlight issues and raise important questions. With this post, I just want to start collecting some ideas for stories that could be used for different topics/themes in a syllabus. The list is obviously limited by my own limited reading (and my terrible memory), but hopefully it can provide some starting points and others can share, brainstorm, and add as needed.

Gender

  • Aye, and Gomorrah by Samuel Delany
  • Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand by Samuel Delany
  • Blood Child by Octavia Butler
  • Ancillary Justice

Race

  • The Magical Negro by Nnedi Okorofor
  • The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemison

Technology

  • Moxyland by Lauren Beukes
  • Railsea by China Miéville
  • Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • VALIS by Phillip K. Dick

Environment

  • Pumzi by Wanuri Kahiu (short film)
  • The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin
  • The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

Encounters with Others

  • Lagoon by Nnedi Okorofor
  • Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
  • Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler
  • Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers
  • Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem
  • There Lies the Wub by Phillip K. Dick
  • Blindsight by Peter Watts
  • The Things by Peter Watts

Health/Medicine

  • The Evening and The Morning and The Night by Octavia Butler
  • Lock In by John Scalzi

Religion

  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock

Politics

  • The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin
  • The City and The City by China Miéville
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (I know….)

 

Now that I’ve got something of a list together, I realize how difficult it is to categorize many of these stories – they really touch on so many issues, and I think that’s some of their value as potential pedagogical tools. Another thing I thought of as I write this is that it’s important to always bring these stories back to things that are happening here and now, and the potential they offer for us to think through ways to deal with real, concrete issues. It’s easy to talk about gender or race when you’re talking about a galaxy far far away, but how does that help us understand and relate to the variety of gender expressions and racial conflicts that shape our world today? Treading that line is hard, and something to always be conscious of…

7 thoughts on “#AnthroSciFi

  1. This is a great list. I’d add Le Guin’s “Left Hand of Darkness” to the Gender sublist.

    And possibly “The Lathe of Heaven”. Encounters, religion and race are all themes, sewn together with “what the hell is the nature of reality, anyway”.

    1. Yeah, it’s to my shame that I haven’t read those two yet. I’ve read a lot of other Le Guin, but just haven’t gotten to these – probably her most anthropological books aside from Always Coming Home.

      1. Always Coming Home is great. The very landscape is a character. I started reading the book when I first moved to California. The juxtaposition of her far-future imaginings with my own explorations of the here-and-now landscape, it was all pretty trippy.

  2. There are other books to add, such as Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and many others. Also, some episodes of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone also raise these issues.

    1. Of course, many others could be added to the list! And a lot more films and TV series as well. I bet someone could design an entire course – Anthropology Through Star Trek. 🙂

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