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Study information

Aliens Abroad: Science Fiction in Global Literature

Module titleAliens Abroad: Science Fiction in Global Literature
Module codeHUM3002
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Luciano Parisi (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Science fiction is a global phenomenon. This module introduces culturally important 20th and 21st-century science fiction from Argentina, China, Germany, Italy and Russia (including texts by Cixin Liu, Primo Levi, Samantha Schweblin, Anna Starobinets, and the brothers Strugatsky, all in English translation). You will explore the set texts through close readings, seminar discussion, student presentations, and lectures offering historical and cultural context. Science fiction writers assimilate the challenges of modernization; express anxieties about new technology; articulate their perceptions of the world order, or frame resistance to it. Recommended for interdisciplinary pathways, this module is suitable for specialist and non-specialist students.


This module can count towards a language for the purposes of your degree title, providing you engage with material in the relevant language in the assessment. Full details will be given at the start of the module.

Module aims - intentions of the module

You will analyse the main topics of the set texts, their characters, their key scenes and to consider the role that theyhave had in the recent history of their cultures. You will also discuss the nature of science fiction and find a definition (if any exists) that enables us to compare and contrast the set texts. You will be familiarized with the specific challenges of modernization in China, Germany, Italy, Latin America, and Russia. Finally, you will be taught transferable techniques of literary analysis and socio-political contextualization.


You will read the texts in translation in their entirety; lecturers will use close readings and discussion to check that essential passages are fully understood. Lectures will identify relevant critical points, sketch in the historical, social and cultural background to the books’ plots, and form the basis for your preparation. However, you are expected to reflect on the texts and other material independently and to be able to express your personal interpretation of these texts.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of the science-fiction texts studied and the role that the scientific component plays in them
  • 2. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of the scientific, technological and cultural changes connected to the development of science fiction

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Analyse complex literary texts, making appropriate use of critical and stylistic analyses
  • 4. Situate the texts within their socio-historical and intellectual contexts

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Adopt a critical approach to the selection and organization of material in order to produce, to a deadline, a written or oral argument
  • 6. Present a cogent and sustained argument orally / in writing, in English on a topic chosen from a range of options provided, following broad guidelines but selecting and adapting them as required

Syllabus plan

Topics covered might include:


  • Introduction
  • Science fiction in 19th century China: Race, Industrialisation, and National Salvation (Key text – Han Song, Chinese Science Fiction: A Response to Modernization)
  • History and Science Fiction: Liu Cixin’s depiction of the Cultural Revolution, a 21th century revisit of the 20th century Chinese Socialist nation-building (key text – Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem chapters 1 to 20)
  • Nationalism, Internationalism, or Cosmopolitanism: history of humanity and the strange stories of salvation in Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem


  • Science fiction in twentieth-century Russia, in the context of radical technological progress and the Communist Party’s reconfiguration of culture between 1917 and 1935
  • The Strugatsky brothers as dissident writers; the importance of samizdat literature in late Soviet culture
  • Science fiction and body horror: metamorphosis and reproductive technology as themes in contemporary science fiction


  • Science fiction in post-war Italy: the writers, the readers, the texts, the translations, the magazines
  • Primo Levi, his experience in the Nazi concentration camps and his science fiction, close reading of his Natural Histories (translated also as The Sixth Day)
  • Giorgio Agamben’s ‘Decay’, Anna Banti’s ‘The Women are Dying, Dino Buzzati’s short stories, Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics and Umberto Eco’s ‘The Thing’
  • Revision


Students in need of credits for a specific language should specialize accordingly in the assessments. This will be explained in detail in the first lecture (‘Introduction’)

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 16Lectures and class discussions (10 x 1 hour) + Seminars (5 hours) and a concluding hour
Guided Independent Study134Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short Essay750 words1-6Written feedback plus debriefing in class

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1003000 words1-6Feedback sheet

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (3000 words)Essay (3000 words)1-6Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment. 

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Set texts:

  • Han, Song, 'Chinese Science Fiction: A Response to Modernization', Science Fiction Studies 40:1 (March 2013), pp. 15-21
  • Liu, Cixin, The Three-Body Problem. Translated by Ken Liu. (London: Head of Zeus, 2015)
  • Schweblin, Samantha, ‘Preserves’ and ‘On The Steppe’, in Mouthful of Birds (Pájaros en la boca), trans. by Megan McDowell (London: Oneworld, 2019), pp. 15-24 and pp. 177-188
  • Starobinets, Anna. ‘The Icarus Gland’ and/or ‘Shhmoochie’, in The Icarus Gland: A Book of Metamorphoses, trans. by Jamie Rann (Warwickshire: Skyscraper, 2014), pp. 13-34 and pp. 110-155
  • Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris, Roadside Picnic, trans. by Olena Bormashenko (Gollancz, 2012)
  • Yefremov, Ivan, 'Cor Serpentis', from Russian Science Fiction, pp. 102-50
  • Twelve short stories by Italian authors Anna Banti, Giorgio Agamben, Dino Buzzati, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco and Primo Levi

Set Films:

  • Fritz Lang’s Metropolis
  • Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Recommended texts:

  • Der-Wei Wang, David, Fin-de-Siècle Splendor: Repressed Modernities of Late Qing Fiction, 1849 - 1911. (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1997), chapter 5
  • James, Edward, ed, The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. (Cambridgeâ�¯; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Liu, Ken, Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation. (New York: Macmillan, 2019)
  • Thieret, Adrian, ‘Society and Utopia in Liu Cixin’, China Perspectives No. 1 (101) (2015), pp. 33-39
  • Forrester, Sibelan and Yvonne Howell, ‘From Nauchnaia Fantastika to Post-Soviet Dystopia’, Slavic Review 72: 2 (Summer 2013), pp. 219-223
  • Khagi, Sofya, ‘One Billion Years After The End of the World: Historical Deadlock, Contemporary Dystopia, and the Continuing Legacy of the Strugatskii Brothers’, Slavic Review 72: 2 (Summer 2013), pp. 267-286
  • Krementsov, Nikolai, Revolutionary Experiments: The Quest for Immortality in Bolshevik Science and Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • McGuire, Patrick, Red Stars: Political Aspects of Soviet Science Fiction (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1977)
  • Schwartz, Matthias, ‘How Nauchnaia Fantastika Was Made: The Debates about the Genre of Science Fiction from NEP to High Stalinism’, Slavic Review 72: 2 (Summer 2013), pp. 224-246
  • Emmett, Lucie, Rewriting the Holocaust. Intertextuality in the Works of Primo Levi (Exeter: PhD dissertation, 2001)
  • Italian Science Fiction, special issue of Science Fiction Studies vol. 42, no. 2 (2015) edited by Arielle Saiber and Umberto Rossi
  • The Cambridge Companion to Primo Levi edited by Robert Gordon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Key words search

Anna Banti, Cixin Liu, Italo Calvino, Primo Levi, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Science Fiction, Argentina, China, Italy, Russia, Soviet Union, reproductive technology, body horror, technology, progress, anxiety, modernity, cosmopolitanism, internationalism, history

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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