Spring 2020 - ENGL 385 D100

Across Time, Across Space (4)

ST–Imagined Meetings

Class Number: 1443

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 6 – Apr 9, 2020: Wed, 9:30 a.m.–1:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    Two 100 division English courses, and two 200 division English courses.



Explores influential works of literature with a particular emphasis on how they exist across temporal and/or spatial divides, how they alternately bridge and reinforce differences of time, culture, and place. May be repeated for credit once if different topic is taught.


“If a lion could speak, we could not understand him” — Wittgenstein 

In this course we will focus our attention on some imagined meetings — often called “contact” or “first arrival” — between our species and aliens. Because we do not know what we will (eventually?) meet if and when we meet alien life forms, everything we say and think now about those meetings will necessarily be speculative. This is of course downright Kantian, and depressing, because we are talking about something unrepresentable. Of that which we cannot speak, perhaps we should remain silent? But where is the fun in silence? Imaging aliens can be entertaining as well as depressing. Moreover, speculation is also liberating because it is clear that as we imagine aliens, we are to some degree also imagining ourselves and our own forms of life.

The course will proceed via alternating readings and film screenings. We will begin with two novellas: Wells’ influential The War of the Worlds and Ted Chiang’s “Story of your Life” (adapted for the screen as Arrival). We’ll move on to two contact classics by John Wyndham and Arthur C. Clarke, and will screen The Day the Earth Stood Still. Then we will cover The Old Man’s War by John Scalzi and The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. The course will be capped by a study of the Alien film.

Students should be prepared to view a number of films, some in class and some at home. 



Regular attendance and enthusiastic participation (20%)

Response papers (4 x 5% = 20%)

First essay 5-7 pages, due midterm (30%)

Second essay 5-7 pages, due end-of-term (30%)



War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells

Any edition, including Kindle or cheap Dover Edition

The Old Man's War, John Scalzi (Tor Science Fiction, 2007)
ISBN: 978-0765348272

The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (Modern Library, 2003)

The Modern Library edition is a great recent paperback, but any edition will work
ISBN: 978-0812967128

The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu (Tor Books, 2016)
ISBN: 978-0765382030

Rendezvouz with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke (Spectra, 1990)
ISBN: 978-0553287899

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html