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In Frankenstein's Footsteps: Science Fiction in Literature and Film

Course unit fact file
Unit code UCIL20801
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Do scientists play God? Is it possible to understand an alien? Will machines rise up and enslave us? Does the rapid pace of scientific and technological change point towards a future paradise—or a hell on Earth? Or just to a different world that seems equally “normal”?

These are questions which authors and film-makers have long explored through fiction, for a wide variety of reasons: to make money by providing popular entertainment; to explore philosophical questions about the nature of humanity, technology or civilisation; to promote possible future projects in real life, or to warn of emerging dangers; to comment on the politics, social issues and cultural assumptions of their own times.

This course uses science fiction literature and film from the nineteenth century to the present day to explore the changing place of science in the cultural imagination. We ask how science fiction has revealed—and sometimes changed—public dreams and anxieties around technology, the power of science, the future of our earth, and what it means to be human.



None. The unit is accessible to students who have no background in its themes, but is also designed to help more experienced students understand how they relate to other areas.


To explore through science fiction literature and film the cultural responses to science and technology. This course takes a selection of classic texts and films from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries to explore the popular imagining of science and
technology over this period.


Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, you will be able to

  • examine the historical development of approaches to science, technology and medicine in literature and film
  • understand science fiction’s role in shaping the cultural meanings of science, technology and medicine
  • analyse science fiction as a genre
  • understand how scientific images and knowledge are constructed, interpreted, and transformed for and by science fiction
  • produce an essay delivering a focused argument relevant to the course themes
  • understand how scientific images and knowledge are constructed, interpreted, and transformed for a range of audiences
  • identify a topic for a research project and produce a critical essay or alternative submission (short documentary, online resource, etc) based on primary and secondary source material.


The exact course content may vary, depending on staff availability and recent developments in the field, but a typical weekly schedule runs as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Creating a monster? Frankenstein and its legacy
  • Professionals and amateurs: science fiction in the late nineteenth century
  • Nuclear fear: hell-bombs and last survivors
  • Anxiety in the UK: decline and invasion fears in national context
  • From robots to replicants
  • Reimagining gender and sexuality
  • Cyberpunk and virtual worlds
  • Going viral: infection fears and medical speculative fiction
  • Wider worlds: diversifying sci-fi
  • After the flood: climate fiction and environmental crisis


Teaching and learning methods

Each week’s teaching will include two main elements:

  • around one hour of video from the unit lecturer. This will be pre-recorded for you to view at your own convenience. We use this format because much of the course content is based on film, TV and online sources: the videos will feature clips of source material, and pointers to resources for independent study, alongside analytical commentary. Each week’s videos will also introduce the required reading or viewing, and introduce the wider course unit themes it relates to.
  • a 50-minute discussion seminar hosted by the unit lecturer or GTA. Each seminar will be themed around the week’s required reading or viewing, and will build on the ideas presented in the video through general discussion and group activities and offer a chance to raise questions. Seminar groups will meet face-to-face on campus.

The videos will be available in advance of each teaching week, and can be viewed at any time.

You will need to attend one of the following times for the weekly live seminar:

  • Thursday 11am
  • Thursday 12 noon
  • Thursday 2pm
  • Friday 12 noon

We may be able to offer additional or alternative seminar arrangements, depending on the course unit’s overall recruitment. If you would like to sign up but can’t make any of these times, please contact the unit lecturer with details of your availability and we’ll do our best to include you.

The unit lecturer offers a weekly on-campus office hour for drop-in meetings, and bookable Zoom appointments at various times through the week for advice on coursework and other questions.

Assessment methods

The unit is assessed by three pieces of coursework:

  • Assignment 1: a source analysis of 1500 words, worth 25% of the total score
  • Assignment 2: an essay of 1500 words, worth 25% of the total score
  • Assignment 3: a 3000-word essay or equivalent project, such as a video or website, worth 50% of the total score.

There is no exam for this unit.


Feedback methods

Detailed feedback on assessed coursework is provided using Turnitin via Blackboard.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 178

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
James Sumner Unit coordinator

Additional notes

UCIL units are designed to be accessible to undergraduate students from all disciplines. UCIL units are credit-bearing and it is not possible to audit UCIL units or take them for additional/extra credits. You must enrol following the standard procedure for your School when adding units outside of your home School.

If you are not sure if you are able to enrol on UCIL units you should contact your School Undergraduate office. You may wish to contact your programme director if your
programme does not currently allow you to take a UCIL unit.
You can also contact the UCIL office if you have any questions.

This unit is also available in a 10-credit version, UCIL20301, which does not include the independent research project. The lecture video component and seminars are the same.

This unit is also available with a different course unit code. To take a UCIL unit, you must choose the unit with a UCIL prefix.