Course: Artificial Births in Speculative Fiction from "Frankenstein" to the Present

HC 223H

Professor: Elizabeth Raisanen

Ever since the 1818 publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, artificial births have been a recurring plot point in many works of speculative fiction. Heralded by many as the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein explores a world in which new life is artificially created by a technological rather than a natural process, a theme that subsequent authors have engaged with in order to call into question the very categories of the “natural” and the “artificial” when it comes to reproduction. In this course, we will read works of speculative fiction by Mary Shelley, Aldous Huxley, Marge Piercy, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree, Jr., Octavia Butler, and Kazuo Ishiguro in order to explore how these authors’ imaginative renderings of the social norms, values, laws, and technologies that govern reproduction reflect back upon the conditions surrounding pregnancy and birth in the world that we actually live in (especially with the advent of cloning and other types of genetic engineering). Inquiry into these texts will encourage us to discuss how our conceptions of gender roles and maternal identities change when women are no longer necessary in the creation of new life, or when women themselves develop alternative reproductive technologies that allow them to reproduce without men. Indeed, our readings will prompt us to explore how all birth practices are socially constructed and thus “artificial” in some way, and how, conversely, all kinds of birth practices and family formation (whether aided by technology or not) can be defined as “natural.”