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Spacebooks. An Introduction To Extraterrestrial Literature

University of Zurich via Coursera

4 Reviews 176 students interested
Found in Literature

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Since the invention of the telescope in 1608, outer space has been turned into an abode, a place scientific speculation and literary imagination could thrive on simultaneously. The human mind was sent on a journey to visit other planets – and time after time it returned from there with breathtaking news, disturbing images or philosophical insight. And, of course, with a lot of questions: Why funeral customs on the Moon include cannibalism and orgies? Is it true that the people of Mars do live according to higher moral standards than we do? And where does this weird alien obsession with terrestrial paper actually come from?

These are some of the questions we will be addressing within this course. Moreover, we will watch the birth of the alien reader, we will explore the logics of space invasion and the history of space colonies well. We will examine the inventory of extraterrestrial libraries and survey the competing projects of galactic encyclopedias. Next to well-known authors as Kepler, Cyrano de Bergerac, Stapledon or Lem, you will also be introduced to neglected and forgotten texts. Finally, we might even understand how literature itself was transformed by this journey throughout the universe – and how it finally became a true interstellar medium.

The soundtrack to this MOOC will be provided by Swiss artists Bit-Tuner and Darkspace.

Keywords: Science Fiction, Sci-Fi, Extraterrestrial Literature, Spacebooks



Main Source: Jonathan Swift, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships (1727), Part III, Chapters 1-3.

Learning objective: Literature is not a interstellar medium of a second order, but organizes outer space as we see it.
Main Source: Johannes Kepler, The dream, or a lunar astronomy (1609/1634)

Lesson 1: The Book And The Telescope - Kepler vs. Galilei
Lesson 2: The Demon And The Mind's Eye - Kepler's "Dream"

Learning objective: The early-modern age reflects interstellar travelling as a journey made possible by literature and literary imagination.
Main Sources: Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone (1629/1638)  / Cyrano de Bergerac, The Other World: Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1657)

Lesson 3: Godwin or The Secret Passage Of Fantasy
Lesson 4: Cyrano or The Universe As A Literary Market

Learning objective: The idea of an inhabited solar system evokes a cosmical hierarchy of morals. 
Main Sources: Eberhard Christian Kindermann, The Speedy Journey (1744) / Immanuel Kant, Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven (1755), Part Three, paragraphs 1-12 / Emanuel Swedenborg, Earths In The Universe (1758), Passages 27-29.

Lesson 5: The Golden Chain Of The Cosmos - Kindermann's Trip To The Martian Moon
Lesson 6: Kant, Swedenborg, And The Nature Of The Alien Reader

Learning objective: The Age of the Martians is linked to the galactic expansion of evolutionary theory.
Main Sources: Kurd Lasswitz, Two Planets (1897) / H.G. Wells, The Crystal Egg (1897) 

Lesson 7: The Canals or The Rise (And Fall) Of Martian Utopia
Lesson 8: Colonizing Earth, Colonizing Mars

Learning objective: The organization of Space Fiction in magazines shapes the perception of the genre - and the perception of its consumers as well, including sexual stereotypes. While the superficial notion of space fiction registers a vivid tradition of sexist clichés, outer space is in fact a fertile ground for diversive concepts of sexual identity.
Main Sources: Pulp / Donna Haraway, Monkeys, Aliens, and Women: Love, Science, and Politics at the Intersection of Feminist Theory and Colonial Discourse(1989)

Lesson 9: The Cosmos Of Pulp
Lesson 10: The Gender Of Space

Learning objective: As outer space becomes an arena of political conflicts, wars become an integral element of space fiction. However: The emergence of the Galactic Empire shows us that space politics have less to do with enemies and warfare than with control and communication.
Main Sources: Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers (1959) / Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

Lesson 11: Empire As A Drug - Frank Herbert's Dune
Lesson 12: Empire As A Suit - Robert A. Heinlein's Starship troopers

Learning objective: Organizing cosmic knowledge is not longer a bureaucratic task, but a story in itself, a turning point in literary consciousness.
Main Sources: Ludovico Ariosto: Orlando Furioso (1516), Canto 34 / Isaac Asimov, Foundation (1942-1950) / Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978-1980)

Lesson 13: The Dump
Lesson 14: The Archive

Learning objective: Despite being confronted with »true« interstellar media, literature finds its place in an earthless universe.
Main Source: Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) / Carl Sagan, Contact (1985) / Reinhard Jirgl, Nichts von Euch auf Erden/Deserted Earth (2013) / Christopher Nolan, Interstellar (2014)

Lesson 15: Books Vs. Signals or The End Of Human Totalitarianism
Lesson 16: Man Beyond Earth, Books Beyond Man

Taught by

Philipp Theisohn, Krystina Schaub and Julia Nauer


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Reviews for Coursera's Spacebooks. An Introduction To Extraterrestrial Literature
4.8 Based on 4 reviews

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  • 1
Kristina Š
4.0 6 months ago
by Kristina completed this course and found the course difficulty to be easy.
This was an interesting take on the depiction of space and extraterrestrial life in early and modern literature. I liked the reading material (I think a better way would be to include some non-copyrighted excerpts, this way people aren't that motivated to read it all if it's not easily available), and the lectures were short enough not to be a problem. It's great to enjoy a short review, and then indulge into reading. Quizzes were maybe to specific, but there is a wide array of possible topics to choose from when writing a peer-reviewed essay. I hope that the next iterations will include more forum discussions! It's a 4 for now since it's a young course, but I believe it will turn into a great one, once some mistakes are corrected.

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Monica G
5.0 4 years ago
Monica completed this course.
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Annamaria M
5.0 3 years ago
by Annamaria completed this course.
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Anastasia B
5.0 4 years ago
by Anastasia completed this course.
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