University Writing and Research | After Eden:
Stories of Progress and Dystopia in Scott’s Blade Runner, Wright’s A Short History of Progress, and Atwood’s Oryx and Crake

Location: Cowichan (700), classroom 140
Class Hours: Wed. 4:30 pm– 7:20 pm
Office Hours: Wed. 3 pm – 4 pm
(or by appointment)
Office: Room 306

“The best books … are those that tell you what you know already.” —George Orwell, 1984

Perhaps more than ever we need critical thinking to help deal with the threat of losing our personal and communal liberties. Given the fears around the destruction of our current civilization, including the various local and global cultural groups under threat therein, rapid developments in technology, demagogues in power, and untenable rises in population, it is perhaps unsurprising that dystopian literature is more popular now than ever. In this course we will examine works that converge around the theme of progress, as we contemplate what can we do after our metaphorical expulsion from the Garden of Eden. We will examine what defines progress, relating questions of rapid population growth and technological development to the practice of university reading and writing. We will watch and discuss Ridley Scott’s neo-noir dystopian film, Blade Runner, read and discuss Ronald Wright’s Massey Lecture Series, A Short History of Progress, and end the course with Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, which focuses on biotechnology, and asks the useful question, “As a species we’re doomed by hope, then?” Equally vexing, is the question we must ask ourselves: What can we do? Dealing with the periodic crises of our time, we will venture to ask the difficult questions, using the vantage points of the various works. In this course students will develop a critical voice, analyze discourse, learn how to write a research paper and properly cite material, engage with pertinent social issues, such as the global environmental crises, and learn how various rhetorical strategies, particularly juxtaposition and point of view, are essential to university writing. As dense and dark as this course sounds, we will also have a lot of fun!

Required Texts:

  • The Broadview Pocket Guide to Writing (Broadview Press)
  • Scott Bukatman, Blade Runner (BFI Film Classics, 2nd)
  • Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress (Anansi)
  • Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (Vintage Canada)


Participation 5%
Writing Prompts 10%
Short Essay (600-750 words) 15%
Open Book Midterm 15%
Research Essay
*Annotated Bibliography 5%
*Essay Workshop 5%
*Final Paper (1500-1800 words) 25%
Final Exam 20%

Assignment Breakdown:

  1. Participation (5%)

 Since discussion is an important part of this class, active participation and critical thinking about the assigned reading is fundamental to the course. Careful and engaged reading will allow you to achieve success and will prepare you to pose questions, raise problems, and engage with your peers during class discussions. I am an ardent advocate for the dialogical process of pedagogy, and believe that my students should have an equal opportunity to express their opinions with their peers and instructors.

  1. Writing Prompts (10%): Due Periodically

 There will be four writing prompts, but only the top three marks will count. See the schedule for when these writing assignments take place. These prompts are intended to test students’ ability to critically engage with the text or texts assigned for that day. Each assignment is marked out of 10. Please note that your grade is based on quality rather than quantity. Please take time to formulate your ideas rather than writing for the sake of writing. All in-class writings are open book unless otherwise specified by the professor.

  1. Short Diagnostic Essay (15%): Due March 1st

The short research essay (600-750 words) asks you to research and write about a specific aspect of the film Blade Runner. You are to include three sources using proper MLA or APA citation, including the film, the Scott Bukatman book, and one additional academic source. This assignment will teach you the value of summary, how to formulate a thesis, and incorporate evidence from multiple sources.

More details, as well as short essay questions, will be provided during our second meeting together (and posted to D2L).

  1. Open Book Midterm (15%): March 29th

 There will be an open book in-class essay on Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress. Details will be provided in class closer to the date.

  1. Annotated Bibliography (5%): Due April 5th

In preparation of your final paper, you will create three entries for an annotated bibliography. You are to choose three critical texts—articles, books, films, recordings—but two must be academic and one must be a book (digital books are fine). Each entry must consist of a bibliographic citation, in MLA or APA format, for the text you’ve chosen, and a one (max two) paragraph annotation, in which you explain the relevance of this text to your chosen essay topic, defining its theoretical position(s). How would this text be useful to you in the critical project you have undertaken for this course? What are its key points? Going back to our discussion on being engaged close readers, what do you take from it?

For a useful resource on Annotated Bibliographies please visit the VIU Library guide on Annotated Bibliographies:

  1. Long Essay Workshop (5%): Due April 12th

You will come to class with the introductory paragraph that will provide your essay’s projected argument (with a thesis). You will also include an outline (in point form with topic sentences) that shows a critical engagement with secondary criticism. You must also provide a works cited list of four to five sources that extend beyond the assigned readings for the course. You do not need to include any of these sources in your final essay, but they should clearly pertain to your argument and/or focus. You will take this outline to class for a workshop in which you will give and receive feedback and advice from fellow students. We will cover best practices in class leading up this assignment. I will sign a copy of your marked-up workshop, which you will then attach to your final papers. More detailed instructions (and a handout) will be provided.

  1. Final Paper (25%): Due April 19th

The final research essay will be around 5 pages in length (1500-1800 words), not including a works cited list. You are required to actively engage with three academic secondary sources in the body of this research paper—course material does not count. Please note that although secondary research is a necessary component of this assignment, your own ideas and engagement with these resources, rather than your ability to perform and incorporate research, will be graded. I will be grading this assignment based on well-formulated and focused arguments. More detailed instructions, including a list of possible topics, will be provided and uploaded to D2L. You are encouraged to write an essay on a topic of your own choosing.

  1. Final Exam (20%): April 26th

Part passage analysis / essay (focused primarily on Atwood’s Oryx and Crake).

Class Schedule:

Please note that this schedule is subject to change as the term progresses.

Feb. 1  
Introduction: Course outline; Expectations; Departmental grading policies
Writing: Planning; Reading to form an interpretation
Discuss: “Nose Dive” from Black Mirror

Feb. 8
Approaching an essay assignment; Discussion of short essay assignment, due March 1st; Writing About Texts” (Broadview Guide 47-52)
Discuss: Thomas King, “You’ll Never Believe” (I) and “What is it About Us” (V)
Listening: Thomas King
Prompt #1

All King audio, here.

Louis CK

Feb. 15
Writing: Using appropriate and inclusive language (see Broadview Guide 63-80); Summary versus synthesis; Evaluating sources; Constructing reasonable arguments; Thesis Statements (see Broadview Guide 32-33)
Start Blade Runner

A short analysis of Blade Runner by Steven Benedict

Feb. 22
Writing: Avoiding plagiarism (Broadview Guide 175-78); Integrating sources using MLA-style documentation (skim Broadview Guide 190-241)
In-class exercises for MLA and APA style
Discuss: Blade Runner
Prompt #2

Mar. 1 
Short formal five-paragraph essay due (500-750 words)
Discuss Ronald Wright Part I
Library orientation with VIU research librarian in Lab. 130 @ 4:30 pm
Audio of A Short History of Progress

Mar. 8
Writing: Read sample papers; Evaluating arguments (Logical fallacies)
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part II and III
Bill Nye on GMOs
Brinkman, “Gilgamesh

Mar. 15
Writing: Avoiding fragments and run-ons
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part IV and V
Prompt #3

Mar. 22   
Surviving Progress (documentary); review Midterm and Annotated Bibliography

Mar. 29   
Midterm Exam (first half)
Writing: Paragraphing (see Broadview Guide 14-15)
Discuss: Margaret Atwood, Oryx & Crake (pgs. 1-46, Chapters 1-3)

April 5
Writing: Revising
Discuss: Oryx & Crake (pgs. 49-144, Chapters 4-6)
Prompt #4
Annotated Bibliography Due
Atwood on Q.
Oryx and Crake video animation
Human Pig Hybrid Embryo

April 12
Peer-Review Workshop for research paper
Writing: Apostrophe (Broadview Guide 139-140) and Comma usage (132-135)
Discuss: Oryx and Crake (read until page 280, chapters 7-11)

April 19
Discuss: Oryx and Crake (finish novel, chapters 12-15); exam review
Essay Due

AquAdvantage Salmon

Atwood on the Hunger for God.


April 26