This is an evolving version of the original concept, of which a copy is available upon request.


Dyson Spheres. Soylent Green. Dole yeast, dogs and man. Group discussions about society and the environment centered around works of science fiction. Tuesdays we discuss the week's readings, Thursdays we watch sci-fi movies (open to all). Registration is for credit (3 units) or to access readings on Stellar, but not required.

Tuesday and Thursday 2-5PM in 1-379

January 2004


Winter Break
































Readings on Stellar


Cherie Abbanat, Shariann Lewitt, Jerrad Pierce


The course is intended to examine the portrayal and use of overt and subtle environmental themes in science fiction. To demonstrate that beyond its sometimes prescient qualities science fiction can enrich environmental rhetoric as well as convey environmental messages to an otherwise unreceptive audience.

Some readings are available on Stellar, and most are still in publication if you prefer to hold dead trees. The books have been ordered and should be available at the MIT Coop 12/17/03. The MIT Science Fiction Society has a semi-public collection worth investigating as well.


Winter Break
Read: Fallen Angles by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn (385p). Also available for download free of charge at the Baen Library.

Nobody every accused Niven of writing literary SF, and yet some participants resented the (lack of) character development, Pournelle's influence on the portrayal of women etc. However, those grievances aside the piece makes a very good introduction to the course and many students quite enjoyed the book, even if it is "corny and predictable."

Read: "Life in the Extreme" by David Brin (18p) and "Thoreau's Country" by David Foster (19p).
Recommended: Get a Grip on Ecology by David Burnie (190p).

Unfortunately nobody bothered to get and read Burnie, which I felt a real shame, not counting the trouble of having the bookstore track down copies, because it's a really good and easy to read primer. Only one person bothered to read Foster's paper, which I grant is a little far afield but I still feel to be worth the effort, they did not see the applicability but didn't seem to think it a terrible read either.

Film: Silent Running, open to all.
Read: The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner (457p).
Recommended: Three Tales from Sky River by Vandana Singh (Online).
Lecture: Guest Speaker Vandana Singh

Sheep was a real gamble because none of the instructors had read it, but it received such great reviews in general, and in particular on the few web resources I found concerning the environment-SF juncture or dystopias that we included it. Lucky for us, because it is the best of the works we used.

Film: Soylent Green, open to all.
Read: Songs of Chaos by S. N. Lewitt (228p), "Microbe" by Joan Slonczewski (16p) and "Wetlands Preserve" by Nancy Kress (Online).

Songs of Chaos does not mesh well with the topic of the class and will be dropped in any future incarnations of the course. On the other hand the Kress piece was very well received.

Film: Princess Mononoke

Not particularly relevant, it's more fantasy than science-fiction and more of an ad hominem argument than a thoughtful treatise.

Read: TBA
Lecture: Group presentations.

I can't remember if we used this class to wrap-up and for an overall discussion, with the remainder of time for group work and presentations pushed back to the last day, or if we proceeded as planned in which case I have no idea what happened the last day.

Film: TBA, open to all.

The group projects were added towards the middle of the course in order to round out the end. Students worked in groups of three to create a potential backstory/world for a piece of SF with environmental themes. One example was of a dystopian/utopian split; somewhat inspired by Niven and Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer and the beginning of Ecotopia Emerging; where the global environment is quickly deteriorating and the city of Salem, Oregon decides to get away from it all, and build a giant dome. Here is that presentation.

Some additional resources not used in the original course follow. Bold indicates works that I particularly recommend.

Further viewing

Logan's Run
Omega Man, The
Shankar, Naren
Star Trek: The Next Generation "Force of Nature" (Season 7, Episode 9)

Further reading

Anthony, Piers
Atwood, Margaret
Oryx & Crake
Bacigalupi, Paolo
Pump Six and Other Stories
"Pocketful of Dharma"
"The Fluted Girl"
"The People of Sand and Slag"
"The Pasho"
"The Calorie Man"
"The Tamarisk Hunter"
"Pop Squad"
"Yellow Card Man"
"Pump Six"
"The Water Knife"
Baxter, Stephen
Evolution, Flood, Manifold: Space, Manifold: Time, "Gossamer"
Benford, Gregory
"First Commandment"
Beres, Michael
Grand Traverse
Brin, David
"An Ever-Reddening Glow"
Brunner, Jon
Standing on Zanzibar
Callenbach, Ernest
Ecotopia, Ecoptopia Emerging
Čapek, Karel
"War With the Newts"
Disch, Thomas (ed.)
Ruins of the Earth
Ballard, J. G.
"The Cage of Sand"
Brownstein, Michael
"The Plot to Save the World"
Dick, Philip K.
Disch, Thomas, M.
"The Birds"
Effinger, George Alec
"Wednesday, November 15, 1967"
Elmslie, Kenward
"Accident Vertigo"
Harrison, Harry
Houston, James D.
"Gas Mask"
Jonas, Gerald
"The Shaker Revival"
Kagan, Norman
"The Dreadful Has Already Happened"
Lafferty, R. A.
"Groaning Hinges of the World"
Leiber, Fritz
"America the Beautiful"
Mundis, Jerrold J.
"Do It for Mama!"
Rush, Norman
"Closing with Nature"
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr.
"Deer in the Works"
Wolfe, Gene
"Three Million Square Miles"
Effinger, George Alec
"And Us, Too, I Guess"

See also, "And Them, Too, I Hope" by Paul Di Filippo

Elwood, Roger & Kidd, Virgina (eds.)
The Wounded Planet; originally released as Saving Worlds
Anderson, Poul
Carr, Terry
"Saving the World"
Disch, Thomas
Two Poems
Lafferty, R. A.
"Scorner's Seat"
MacLean, Katherine
"Small War"
Malzberg, Barry N.
"The Battered Earth Syndrome"
Neville, Lil & Neville, Kris
"The Quality of the Product"
Norton, Andre
"Desirable Lakeside Residence"
O'Neil, Dennis
"Noonday Devil"
Price, D. M.
Two Poems
Saxton, Colin
"The Day"
Silvert, Robert
"The Wind and The Rain"
Snyder, Gary
"The Smokey the Bear Sutra"
Thomas, Cogswell
"Paradise Regained"
von Vogt, A. E.
"Don't Hold Your Breath"
Wolfe, Gene
"An Article About Hunting", "Beautyland"
Zebrowski, George
"Parks of Rest and Culture"
Geston, Mark
"The Allies"
Gould, Steven & Mixon, Laura J.
Levinson, Paul
"The Mendelian Lamp Case"
Manley, Seon & Lewis, Gogo (eds.)
Nature's Revenge: Eerie stories of revolt against the human race
Allen deFord, Miriam
"Murder in Green"
Bradbury, Ray
"The Wind"
Cail, Carol
"Garden of Evil"
Dickens, Charles
"The Rat That Could Speak"
Manley, Seon
"The Most Beautiful Birds in the World "
Ransom, James
"Fred One"
Rice, Jane
"The Idol of the Flies"
Schmitz, James H.
"Balanced Ecology"
Martin, George R. R.
Tuf Voyaging
Mather, Matthew
Atopia Chronicles
McIntyre, Vonda M.
"A Modest Proposal for the Perfection of Nature"
Niven, Larry
"The Flight of the Horse", The Legacy of Heorot, The Mote in God's Eye, "Ringed in Black", Ringworld

The first in this list is the source of the "dole yeast, dogs and man" reference in the course description.

Pitkin, Joe
Robinson, Kim Stanley
Green Mars; Three Californias: Pacific Edge; The Capital Trilogy: Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Sixty Days and Counting, also available in condensed form as Green Earth
Robinson, Kim Stanley (ed.)
Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias
Bisson, Terry
"Bears Discover Fire"
Callenbach, Ernest
Emshwiller, Carol
"Looking Down"
Jeffers, Robinson
Kilworth , Garry
"Hogfoot Right and Bird-Hands"
Lafferty , R.
"Boomer Flats"
Le Guin, Ursula K.
"Newton's Sleep"
Murphy, Pat
"In the Abode of the Snows"
Park, Paul
"Rangriver Fell"
Pollack, Rachel
"The Bead Woman"
Silverberg, Robert
"House of Bones"
Turner, Frederick
excerpt from The New World
Waldrop, Howard
"Mary Margaret Road-Grade"
Wolfe, Gene
"'A Story' by John V. Marsch"
I was rather underwhelmed by this collection.
Schmitz, James H.
Schroeder, Karl & Buckell, Tobias S.
Sheffield, Charles (ed.)
Andrews, Arlan
"Souls On Ice"
Beason, Doug
"Defense Conversion"
Clough, B.W.
"The Product Of The Extremes"
Hogan, James P.
"Zap Thy Neighbor"
Kirkwood, James
"The Invasion Of Space"
Koja, Kathe & Malzberg, Barry N.
"Buyer'S Remorse"
Landis, Geoffrey A.
"The Meetings Of The Secret World Masters"
Niven, Larry
"The South Los Angeles Broadcasting System"
Oltion, Jerry
"My Soul To Keep"
Pollotta, Nick
"Raw Terra"
Pournelle Jerry & Sheffield, Charles
"Higher Education"
Turzillo, Mary A.
"The Guatemala Cure"
Watt-Evans, Lawrence
Stephenson, Neal
Snowcrash, Zodiac
Thomson, Amy
"The Color of Distance"
Traviss, Karen
"City of Pearl"

I've not yet read these

Barrett, Neal
Bear, Greg
Moving Mars
Brin, David
Earth, Startide Rising
Card, Orson Scott
Future on Fire, Treason
Herbert, Frank
LeGuin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, The Word For World Is Forest
Robinson, Kim Stanley
Antarctica, Blue Mars, Red Mars
Simak, Clifford D.
"You'll Never Go Home Again!", "Drop Dead"
Slonczewski, Joan
Daughter Of Elysium, Door Into Ocean
Spinard, Norman
Songs from the Stars

Other People's Lists

Not as exhaustive as one might expect from the name
12 works of climate fiction everyone should read
It seems the buzzword du-jour is "climate fiction", although that's only a subset of this sub-genre and may veer more into popular literature with the less of an emphasis on the science and environmental themes.