HMB 444:





Fall 2007: Wednesdays 12-2 pm, Vic #303 (subject to availability)

Faculty: Nikolai Krementsov, Associate Professor

Office hours: Thursdays, 2-4 pm, at Vic # 312

e-mail: <>

Class Size: Cap of 20 students

Prerequisite: ASSPE:1050, 1472,2013, 2045, 2575

Exclusions: None





This advanced undergraduate seminar explores the interactions of biological sciences, social issues, and literature. The course is structured chronologically and thematically around a series of classic “SF” novels and popular writings by prominent twentieth century biologists. Through a close reading of these works in their historical, scientific, and thematic contexts, we will examine how major biological concepts and their development over time—from evolution to biotechnology—dramatically affected the understanding of life, society, and the future of humanity during the course of the twentieth century. 





1.         To become familiar with a sample of popular science writings by prominent twentieth century biologists.

2.         To become familiar with a sample of      classic “SF” writings and their scientific, historical, and thematic contexts.

3.         To develop the ability to think critically about the societal implications of human biology, past and present.

4.         To deepen the understanding of major biological ideas in their historical and social contexts.

5.         To hone skills in oral presentation and debate, research, and writing.





1. Introduction. Human destiny: religion, science, literature

Part I. “Old” biology

2. What is (human) life? Mary Shelley

3. The future of the species: H. G. Wells

4. The future of the individual: Friedrich Nietzsche


Part II. “Visionary” biology

5. Julian Huxley

6. J. B. S. Haldane

7. J. D. Bernal

8. H. J. Muller

9. Alexis Carrel

Part III. “Prophetic” literature

10. Aldous Huxley

11. Olaf Stapeldon

12. Robert Heinlein

13. Frank Herbert


The course is arranged into 13 two-hour seminars. Each seminar will be divided into two sections. The first section will be devoted to individual book reports; the second to a general discussion. Each week, we will read a SF book or a selection of popular writings by a particular biologist. All students are expected to have read the assigned readings and to participate actively in class discussion, including days when oral and written assignments are due.

Every week, in the first section, a team of 3 students will present three books to frame and direct the general discussion of the readings. One student—the biographer—will familiarize the class with the biographical details of the author whose work is discussed. Another student—the historian—will provide the class with historical contexts of the readings. And the third student—the commentator—will supply the class with comments pro and contra main ideas expressed in the readings. Depending on the size of the class, each student will have to read and report on 2 to 4 books during the semester (see below).

In the second session, we will have a general discussion of the readings coordinated by the instructor with the help of the presenters’ team.

Students are encouraged to have as many discussions with the instructor as they need during his office hours.

Due to the heavy reading load there will be no mid-term and final exams, but there will be several oral and written assignments:


1) Oral book reports: The three rapporteurs must coordinate their presentations to avoid repetition. Each report should be carefully prepared and delivered in 10-12 minutes. It should familiarize class members with the identity and background of the author, the book's subject, structure, and its central theme, using carefully-chosen concrete examples, quotations, pictures, and diagrams, as appropriate. The purpose of the reports is to set-up and frame discussion relating to the week's central topic/figure. Before structuring their report, rapporteurs should read the readings and then their assigned book thoroughly in relation to the week's theme. Presenters should bring copies of a one-page list of discussion points for the members of the class. Discussion points may include criticisms, disagreements, support, and queries of the readings. For further suggestions on preparing a book report, see George Sarton, “Notes on Reviewing the Learned Books,” Isis, 1950, vol. 41, pp. 149-158 (available on-line through UofT Libraries).

The roster of book reports will be scheduled on the first day of class.


2) Analysis of the readings: Each week every student will be required to hand in a one page paper analyzing the required readings and raising two “big questions” relevant to the theme of class discussion. The paper should be analytical, not simply a summary of the readings.

Due at the beginning of class every week.


3) A final paper: Each student will write a popular account of or a short SF story based on the student’s personal scientific research or interests (10-20 pages). Students are encouraged to start thinking about their final paper as early as possible. The subject of the paper must be approved by the instructor no later than on the fifth week of classes.

A detailed outline of the final paper (2-3 pages) is due at the beginning of the eighth week.

The final paper is due on the last day of class.


The lateness penalty for all assignments is 5% of your total mark a day!!! The cut-off date for the final paper is one week after the last class (I will not accept any papers after that date and you will get “zero” for the assignment). All written assignments must be printed, doubles-spaced, using 12 pt font. E-mail submissions will not be accepted!


Writing is an essential skill in this course and I highly recommend that you buy and carefully study a small, but very useful book, Elements of Style by W. Strunk, Jr and E. B. White (preferably, fourth edition). UofT also offers help with perfecting your writing skills and I urge you to use it:

Advice on Academic Writing: ;

Plagiarism: ; plagiarism is the most serious academic offence and could lead to your expulsion from the university

Critical Reading leads to Critical Thinking:  


THE GRADING for the course will be distributed as follows:


Class participation (weekly discussions and papers)                                                       20%

Book reports in class (2-4 total)                                                                                    30%

Outline of the final paper                                                                                               15%

Final paper                                                                                                                   35%


REQUIRED READINGS are mostly available on-line. You should access/download them at least two weeks prior to the session they are assigned for. Paperback editions of 3 SF novels (Stapeldon, Heinlein, and Herbert) could be purchased at the UofT bookstore (St. George Campus), or any of the second hand bookstores in the area. 


Recommended background readings:

For general overviews on the history of twentieth century biology, see Garland E. Allen, Life Sciences in the Twentieth Century (revised edition); and Jan Sapp, Genesis (Oxford University Press, 2003). Also look at the Journal of the History of Biology–available on-line through UofT.

For popular science writings see Popular science monthly (London, 1872-1950) available at Gerstein and its current version Popular Science (1984-2006) available on-line.

For background on particular authors and themes of SF writings, see John Clute and Peter Nicholls, eds., The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (Orbit, 1999); Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh, eds., Science fiction A to Z: a dictionary of great s.f. themes (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982); and Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

For readings on the history of SF, see James Gunn, Inside Science Fiction (Scarecrow Press, 2006); Brian Aldiss, The Trillion Year Spree (Atheneum, 1986); on films, Phil Hardy (ed.), The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction (Overlook Press, 1994).

For a more focused analysis of the relationship between biomedical sciences and science fiction, see Gary Westfahl and George Slusser, eds., No Cure for the Future: Disease and Medicine in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002); George Slusser, Gary Westfahl, and Eric S. Rabkin eds., Immortal Engines: Life Extension and Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Athens: University of Georgia press, 1996).

For readings on utopia, dystopia, and anti-utopia see Harry Ross, Utopias old and new (Nicholson and Watson, 1938); Lewis Mumford, The Story of Utopia (Viking, 1963); Roland Shaffer, Utopia (New York Public Library, 2000); Andrew Milner, Matthew Ryan and Robert Savage, eds. Imagining the Future: Utopia and Dystopia. (North Carlton: Arena Publications Association, 2006); or read a classic utopia: Plato, The Republic; Thomas More, Utopia; or Francis Bacon, The New Atlantis; or H. G. Wells, A Modern Utopia. Many of the classic books are available on line at various sites, like this one:






            Introduction to the course.




Session 2. WHAT IS (HUMAN) LIFE?: Mary Shelley

Frankenstein (any edition) available on-line via UofT library



Biography: Bonnie Rayford Neumann, The lonely muse: a critical biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Salzburg University, 1979) [available at E.J. Pratt & Robarts, call #: PR5398 .N4]

History: Susan Lederer, Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002). [available at Robarts, call #: PR5397 .F73 F75 2002]

Critics/supporters: B. C. A. Windle, What is life? A study of vitalism and neo-vitalism (Sands, 1908). [available at Gernstein call #: Biol W (old class?); SMC Kelly  call #: QH325 .W56 1908 SMC]



The Time Machine (available on line at Project Gutenberg: )



Biography: Michael Coren, The invisible man: The life and liberties of H. G. Wells (Random House, 1993). [available at: Graham (Trin.) call #: PR5776 .C58 1993 TRIN; Robarts call #: PR5776 .C597 1993; Laidlaw (UC) call #: PR5776.667 1992 UNIV]

History: Peter Bowler, Biology and Social Thought: 1850-1914 (University of California press, 2003); Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (Beacon Press, 1964). [available at Gernstein call #: QH333 .B69 1993]

Critics/supporters: H. G. Wells, Modern Utopia (any edition) [ available at: Robarts call #: HX811 .W45 2005; SMC Kelly call #: HX811 1904 .W52; Graham (Trin.) call #: HX811 1904 .W52]


Session 4. THE FUTURE OF THE INDIVIDUAL: Friedrich Nietzsche

Thus Spoke Zarathustra (available on line at Project Gutenberg: )



Biography: Rudiger Safransky, Nietzsche: a philosophical biography (Norton, 2002). [available at: E.J. Pratt call #: B3317 .S2413 2002; SMC Kelly call #: B3317 .S2413 2001 SMC; Robarts call #; B3317 .S2413 2002X]

History: Gregory Moore and Thomas H. Brobier, eds. Nietzsche and Science (Ashgate publishing, 2004); [available at: Robarts call #: B3318 .K7 N53 2004]

Critics/supporters: Aleksandr Bogdanov, Red Star (any edition) [available at: Robarts call #: PG3467 .M29 A27 1984]





Session 5. Julian Huxley

* The topic of the final paper must be approved by this day.

 “Biology in Utopia”; “The meaning of death”; “Elixir vitae,” in Julian Huxley, Essays in popular science, (London: Chatto & Windus, 1926). [available at: E.J. Pratt call #: Q H982eP; Gernstein call #: QH81 .H92]

“The tissue culture king,” Yale Review 15 (1926): 479-504

Religion without revelation (1957); excerpts; [available at: E.J. Pratt call #: Periodicals (PER); Robarts call #: AP2 .Y2]



Biography: John Randal Baker, Julian Huxley, scientist and world citizen 1887 to 1975: a biographical memoir (Unesco, 1978).  [available at: Gernstein call #: QH31 .H88 B34; OISE call #: 509.2 H986 B167J]

History: R. Scholes and E. S. Rabkin, Science Fiction: History-Science-Vision (Oxford University Press, 1977). [Robarts Library: PN3448 .S45 S195 ]

Critics/supporters: Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Charles G. Waugh. eds., Caught in the organ draft: biology in science fiction (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1983), excerpts [not in U of T]


Session 6. J. B. S. Haldane

Daedalus or Science & the Future (any edition); available on-line at various sites, for instance, .

“Last Judgment,” in J. B. S. Haldane, Possible worlds (London: Chatto & Windus, 1927), pp. 287-312. [available at: Graham (Trin.) call #: Q171 .H154 1930; E.J. Pratt call #: Q H129p; Gernstein call #: Q171 .H246)

What is life? (Boni and Gaer, 1947); excerpts. [available at: Gernstein call #: Q171 .H255 1947]



Biography: Ronald William Clark, J.B.S., the life and work of J. B. S. Haldane (Oxford University Press, 1984) [available at: Graham (Trin.) call #: QH31 .H27 C55 1984; Gernstein call #: QH31 .H27 C55; SMC Kelly call #: QH31 .H27 C55]

History: Mark B. Adams, “Last Judgment: The Visionary Biology of J. B. S. Haldane,” Journal of the History of Biology, 2000, 33: 457–491; on-line.

Critics/supporters: Bertrand Russell, Icarus, or, the Future of Science (any edition) available on-line at; C. S. Lewis, Out of a silent planet (any edition) [available at: SMC Kelly call #: PR6023 .E926 O54 1996 SMC; E.J. Pratt call #: PR6023 .E926 O8; Graham (Trin.) call #: PR6023 .E926 S68 1965 no.1 TRIN)


Session 7. J. D. Bernal

The world, the flesh and the devil (1929), (any edition); available on line at



Biography: Maurice Goldsmith, Sage: a life of J. D. Bernal (Hutchinson, 1980). [available at: Gernstein call #: QC16 .B456 G6]

History: Marie O'Mahony, Cyborg: The Man-Machine (London: Thames & Hudson, 2002). [Engineering & Computer Science Library: T14.5 .O43 2002]

Critics/supporters: M. A. Bulgakov, Heart of a dog (Grove Press, 1987). [available at: SMC Kelly call #: PG3476 .B78 S613 1987 SMC]


Session 8. H. J. Muller

* an outline of the final paper is due

Out of the Night. A Biologist’s View of the Future (New York: Vanguard, 1935); excerpts. [not in U of T]

Man's future birthright; essays on science and humanity (State University of New York Press, 1973); excerpts. [ available at: Gernstein call # QH431 .M942; OISE call #: 301.243 M9582M]

The modern concept of nature: essays on theoretical biology and evolution (State University of New York, 1973); excerpts. [available at: SMC Kelly call #: QH430 .M84 1973 SMC; Gernstein call #: QH430 .M84 1973]



Biography: Elof Axel Carlson, Genes, radiation, and society: the life and work of H. J. Muller (Cornell University Press, 1981). [available at: Gernstein call #: QH429.2 .M84 C37)

History: Garry Werskey, The Visible College (Free Association Book, 1987). [available at: Robarts call #: HX243 .W45]

Critics/supporters: Ray Hammond, The modern Frankenstein: fiction becomes fact (Blandford, 1986) [Gerstein; QH442 .H344 1986]


Session 9. Alexis Carrel

Man the unknown (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1935); excerpts.

The entire book is available on line through



Biography: W. Sterling Edwards and Peter D. Edwards, Alexis Carrel: visionary surgeon (Thomas, 1974) [Gerstein: R507 .C34 E36]; Joseph T. Durkin, Hope for our time: Alexis Carrel on man and society (Harper & Row, 1965) [available at: SMC Kelly call #: R504 .C34 D8]; Andres Horacio Reggiani, God's Eugenicist: Alexis Carrel And the Sociobiology of Decline (Berghahn Books, 2006) [not in U of T].

History: Jon Turney, Frankenstein’s Footsteps: Science, Genetics and Popular Culture (London, 1998). [Q 175.5 .T87 1998X GERSTM]

Critics/supporters: Rene Dubos, Dreams of Reason: Science and Utopias (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961). [Gerstein: Q171 .D73]




Session 10. Olaf Stapledon

Last & First Men. (1930) (any edition) [available at: Robarts call #: PR6037 .T18 L3 1931; SMC Kelly call #: PZ2119 .T36 L29]



Biography: Leslie A. Fiedler, Olaf Stapledon: A man divided (Oxford University Press, 1983) [available at: Robarts call #: PR6037 .T18 Z66 1983]

History: Steven J. Dick and James E. Strik, The Living Universe (Rutgers University Press, 2004) [available at: Gernstein call #: QH325 .D53 2004X]

Critics/supporters: Erwin Chargaff, Voices in the labyrinth: nature, man, and science
(Seabury Press, 1977). [available at: Gernstein call #: Q175.5 .C49]


Session 11. Aldous Huxley.

Brave New World. 1932 (any edition); available on line through



Biography: Harold Bloom, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (Chelsea house Publishers, 2003) [available on-line:]

History: Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics (New York: Knopf, 1985) [available at: SMC Kelly call #: HQ751 .K48 1995 SMC; Robarts call #: HQ751 .K48 1985]

Critics/supporters: C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures: and a second look (Cambridge University Press, 1959) [available at: Graham (Trin.) call #: AZ361 .S57; E.J. Pratt call #: AZ361 .S56 1964; Robarts call #: AZ361 .S56 1964]


Session 12. Robert Heinlein

Beyond This Horizon (1942/1948) (any edition). [available at: Robarts call #: PS3515 .E32 B49 2001]



Biography: Leon E. Stover, Robert A. Heinlein (Twayne Publishers, 1987). [available at: SMC Kelly call #: PS3515 .E288 Z88 1987; Robarts call #: PS3515 .E32 Z88 1987]

History: Mark B. Adams, “The Quest for Immortality: Visions and Presentiments in Science and Literature,” in Stephen G. Post and Robert H. Binstock, eds., The Fountain of Youth: Cultural, Scientific, and Ethical Perspectives on a Biomedical Goal (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) [available at: Gernstein call # RA776.75 .F675 2004X]; Diane B. Paul, The Politics of Heredity: Essays on Eugenics, Biomedicine, and the Nature-Nurture Debate (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), excerpts. [available on-line:]

Critics/supporters: Joseph S. Alper, The double-edged helix: social implications of genetics in a diverse society (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002); (on-line at UofT); Gattaca [available at: SMC Kelly call #: PN1997 .G37 1998 DVD SMC; Media Commons call #: VideoDVD 750844]


Session 13. Frank Herbert

* Final paper is due

Dune (1965) (any edition) [available at: Robarts call #: PS3558 .E65 D8 1984; SMC Kelly call #: PS3558 .E63 D8 1965]



Biography: Daniel J. H. Levack, Dune master (Meckler, 1988). [available at: Robarts call #: Z8398.27 .L48 1988]

History: Anna Bramwell, Ecology in the 20th century: a history (Yale University Press, 1989) [available at: Gernstein call #: QH541 .B7 1989; SMC Kelly call #: QH541 .B73 1989; Graham (Trin.) all #: QH541 .B7 1990]

Critics/supporters: Rachel Carson, Silent spring (any edition) [available at: Gernstein call #: SB959 .C3 1994; Earth Sci. call #: SB959 .C3 1994]