Speculative fiction at the limits of narrative

Advanced-level option course on contemporary speculative fiction at the limits of human understanding.

How can we make sense of something that defies our senses? How can we stretch our imagination to reach nonhuman perception, futures transformed by climate change or robotization, or the dynamics of online social movements?

The focus of this course is on speculative fictions: narratives that build on the genre traditions of science fiction and fantasy and aim to represent human experience at the limit. These strange, defamiliarizing, and often difficult narratives use the conventions of SF to talk about environmental, societal, and personal transformation, and they make use of narrative techniques specifically aimed at destabilising the realist tradition of representation. The course sets out to explore those techniques, and develop an understanding of speculation as a mode of thinking.

The course is taught by scholars working in the research project Exploring the Limits of Narrative (part of the Academy of Finland consortium Instrumental Narratives: The Limits of Storytelling and New Story-Critical Narrative Theory, iNARR 2018-2022). https://instrumentalnarratives.wordpress.com/


By the end of the course, students can name and discuss specific techniques by which speculative fiction challenges the realist tradition of representation. They are able to analyze how these techniques are used in individual works of speculative fiction (including, but not limited to the selected works read during the course). Additionally, the students can articulate how the experience of reading strange and defamiliarizing narratives affects their personal experience. The learning methods of the course will also train the students in skills relevant in academic writing and scholarship more generally, including defining a research topic, articulating research questions and challenges, and participating in analytical discussion and collaborative thinking.

28 contact hours
14 weeks

14.1. Introductions + practicalities + orientation
21.1. Merja Polvinen: Speculation, Cognition and the Narrative Form
28.1. Bo Pettersson: Anthropocentrism, Anthropomorphism and Reading Animal Tales
4.2. Hanna Roine: Speculative Fiction and Communal Cognition in the Digital World
11.2. Kaisa Kortekallio: Estranging Embodied Experience: Mutant Figures and New Materialism
18.2. Jouni Teittinen: Precarious and Destroyed Futures
25.2. Parker Krieg: Historicizing Speculation
11.3. Esko Suoranta: Allegories of Late Capitalism and Start-up Dystopia
18.3. Speculative Thinking: Thought Experiment Exercise
25.3. Thought Experiments: sharing and discussion
→ pick your path (essay or fiction) by 29.3.
1.4. Writing workshop / groupwork
8.4. Groupwork / support
15.4. Groupwork / support
29.4. Peer feedback on course projects / final discussion / course feedback
Deadline for final essays: 17.5.
Assessment and grading finished by 31.5.

max 50 pages/lecture

21.1. Merja Polvinen
Brian McHale, “Speculative Fiction, or, Literal Narratology”, 2018, The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Narrative Theories. Edinburgh University Press, 317-331. [Available as an e-book through Helka]
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice

28.1. Bo Pettersson
Lars Bernaerts et al., "The Storied Lives of Non-Human Narrators", 2014, Narrative 22:1, 68-93
D. H. Lawrence, “Fish”
Ursula K. Le Guin, “Mazes”. Kokoelmassa The Real and the Unreal. The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin (New York: Saga Press), s. 391-396.

4.2. Hanna Roine
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice

11.2. Kaisa Kortekallio
Serenella Iovino & Serpil Oppermann, ”Material ecocriticism”, 2012, Ecozon@
O. E. Butler: Dawn (excerpt)

18.2. Jouni Teittinen
Pieter Vermeulen, “Future readers: narrating the human in the Anthropocene”, 2017, Textual Practice, 31:5, 867-885.
Steven Amsterdam, “Dry Land”. Chapter from Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming,
2009, New York: Pantheon Books, p. 48-70.
“The Portable Phonograph,” by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, 1942. Available online at http://www.mscruz.yolasite.com/resources/The%20Portable%20Phonograph.pdf You may also or alternatively watch the short movie by John Barnes, 1977 (https://archive.org/details/PortablePhonograph).

25.2. Parker Krieg
Uncertain commons: Speculate This! (excerpt) - http://wtf.tw/ref/uncertain_commons_speculate_this.pdf

11.3. Esko Suoranta
Dave Eggers: Circle (excerpt) - http://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/2013/09/29/magazine/dave-egge...
Viktor Skhlovsky: “Art as Technique”

+ Method literature (TBA)


The structure of the course is designed to gradually deepen the students’ understanding of the themes and techniques relevant to contemporary speculative fiction. In the first phase of the course (14.1.-11.3.), the ensemble of lecturers will offer a variety of perspectives on the course topic, each focusing on a particular narrative technique and a particular theme. In the second phase (18.3.-29.4.), the thematic and narratological insights gained on the lectures will be deepened through creative and analytical writing, groupwork, and peer feedback. All students will participate in a workshop on thought experiments (18.3.), aimed at exercising their skills in speculative thinking. After the workshop, the students will choose one of two options for their final project: 1) analytical essay OR 2) speculative fiction (i. e. extended/elaborated thought experiment).

Students choosing the analytical essay will deepen their understanding of the narrative techniques specific to speculative fiction via analyzing and discussing works of fiction. This option will entail additional theoretical readings to support the learning process. Based on the course readings, the students will collectively select a small number of fictional texts for the project, and each of them will develop their own analysis on one text of their choice. On each of the three groupwork sessions (1.4., 8.4., 15.4.), students will discuss questions relevant to their shared texts and individual learning processes. The themes for these discussions will be chosen in collaboration with the course coordinator, who will also help in choosing the supporting theoretical articles.

Students choosing speculative fiction will work on their skills in speculative and imaginative thinking via producing fictional texts. They will deepen their understanding of the estranging and transformative forces of speculative fiction through creative writing exercises (both individual and collaborative). The writing workshop on 1.4. will focus on enriching the thought experiment through bodily experience. During the groupwork sessions (8.4., 15.4.), the students will share and discuss their drafts in a structured manner. They will be encouraged to incorporate theoretical perspectives on narrative form and techniques in their own construction of fictional worlds. The course coordinator will help to navigate this challenge, and pick additional readings.

At the end of the course (29.4.), all students will take part in a peer feedback session. At this point, the final projects (essays and fiction) should be in presentable form (i. e. full length, references and logic in place, argument/narrative/effect as good as can be). The course coordinator will also read the drafts, and respond to practical questions (in class) and particular challenges (in one-on-one meetings). After the feedback, there will be three weeks for making the final revisions and submitting the project. All students will also be required to submit a short reflection paper elaborating their choice of topic and approach.

- Groupwork on the materials: each group discusses the materials beforehand and brings 3 questions for discussion (groups formed on 14.1.)
- Creative writing session (thought experiment)
- Peer feedback on course projects
Additional study methods FOR ESSAY WRITERS
- 3 groupwork sessions on SF and literary analysis (themes will be picked by the essay group by 29.3.)
Additional study methods FOR FICTION WRITERS
- 1 creative writing session (thought experiment & embodied experience)
- 2 groupwork sessions on speculative thought & experience (themes will be picked by the fiction group by 29.3.)

11.12.2018 at 09:00 - 8.1.2019 at 23:59


Here is the course’s teaching schedule. Check the description for possible other schedules.

Mon 14.1.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 21.1.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 28.1.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 4.2.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 11.2.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 18.2.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 25.2.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 11.3.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 18.3.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 1.4.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 8.4.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 15.4.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 22.4.2019
10:15 - 11:45
Mon 29.4.2019
10:15 - 11:45

Conduct of the course

- Final project: analytical essay or a fictional text (length: 25 000–30 000 characters).
- Reflection paper: a short reflective text elaborating your choice of topic and approach (length: 4000–5000 characters).
- 85 % participation on contact sessions required (i. e. 2 absences allowed).
- Responsibility for groupwork assignments:
- 1 time participation in formulating questions for a lecture
- 3 sessions of collaborative writing / discussion (details in the methods section)
Assessment criteria will be added to the Moodle site before the end of the course.





Upon completing this course you will

● understand some of the central thematic issues, historical contexts and theoretical debates related to the selected topic

● have a detailed grasp of the literary works selected for closer analysis

● be able to engage critically with previous research and develop your own thinking concerning the topic

● be able to communicate your knowledge to audiences within the field of literary studies.

First or second year of the master’s programme. The course will not be offered every year.

This course will provide a deeper understanding of a specific literary topic.

Specified in the teaching programme and/or in the first teaching session.

Specified in the teaching programme and/or during the first teaching session.

Students will be assessed according to how well they achieve the learning outcomes. The criteria will be specified in the teaching programme and/or at the first teaching session.

Grading scale: 0-5.

Completion methods vary from year to year and are announced in each year’s teaching programme.