ENG480H1S - L0401

Advanced Studies Seminar: Canadian Speculative Fiction


Thursday 2 pm - 4 pm


Dr. Vikki Visvis

E-mail: vvisvis@chass.utoronto.ca

Brief Description of Course

If speculation beyond the directly observable natural world is the hallmark of speculative fiction, then, the emphasis on realism in historical surveys of Canadian fiction means the elision of genres such as science fiction, fantasy, and horror. However, Canadian literature betrays a marked commitment to speculative fiction, from Margaret Atwood’s now archetypal feminist dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale to the inception of cyberpunk with William Gibson’s Neuromancer. This course will specifically examine how works of Canadian speculative fiction respond to three timely issues: American socio-politics, Canadian settler-colonialism, and experiential displacement. We will begin by appraising how Canadian futuristic dystopian narratives offer critiques of and convey anxieties about the socio-political dynamics of their US neighbours, whether in terms of misogyny, reproductive rights, religious extremism, totalitarianism, terrorism, biological warfare, a second American Civil War, and climate change. We will continue by evaluating how Indigenous “Wonderworks,” Indigiqueer speculative fiction, and Afrofuturism not only uncover Canada’s own problematic history of residential schooling, two-spirit discrimination, anti-Black racism, and ghettoization but also celebrate the power of cultural resurgence to combat settler-colonial legacies. The course will close by considering how post-apocalyptic pandemic settings and the genre of cyberpunk display the dynamics of displacement and alienation, be it as a stateless refugee or as post-human. Ultimately, by investigating the ways Canadian speculative fiction responds to American socio-politics, marginalized cultures, and conditions of displacement, this course exposes how fantastic worlds are far from escapist avoidance; they are, in fact, vehicles for new forms of critical engagement that educate us about our immediate reality and enable us to navigate our future.

Required Reading(s)

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale; Omar El Akkad, American War; Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves; Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring; Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven; William Gibson, Neuromancer; short stories by Adam Garnet Jones, Kai Minosh Pyle, Mari Kurisato, and Nazbah Tom from Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, Ed. Joshua Whitehead.

First Three Authors/Texts

  • Margaret Atwood
  • Omar El Akkad
  • Cherie Dimaline

Method of Evaluation

  • Five short response assignments (1-2 pages each) 15%
  • Participation 10%
  • Seminar presentation (15 minutes) 20%
  • Essay proposal and annotated bibliography 20%
  • Final long essay (15-18 pages) 35%