Monday, January 19, 2015

Course topics: eras and themes

Chronological Examinations of Science Fiction:

Pre-pulp SF, and the early Gernsbeck Years
(Wells, shelly, Jules Verne, ??, Amazing)

Planetary Romance and the later pulp years
Burroughs. Burroughs Burroughs. EARLY FANDOM.

Golden Age of SF
Camble/astounding. House writers and the big 4. Camble ideas as written by various house writers (mirror themed novels). Non-astounding Golden Age material. Compare US to British in this era (very different mix. Also, Orwell, and non "genre" science fiction of era).  Serial Structure... or why those golden age novels are structured the way they are. Fix Ups.  Transitions from Fantasy markets to Science fiction markets (How Pern and Darkover became science fiction). Fandom.

The New Wave
Early Galaxy deviations from the golden age norm, and other new Wave Anticedents.  Feminist SF. New worlds/morchock and Harrison.  Changing standards of paperback publishing (more explicity sex allowed) and now that fueled the later half of the new wave period.  Again, not differences/similiarites in Britsh/American SF during this period. Fandom.

Gibson's first published shorty story, Fact Sheet Five, through the publicaction of Snowcrash, which offically ended the "cyberpunk" era. Cover some antecedents. (brunner?). 

Trends in Modern SF (The last 30 years):
New Space Opera, Dystopia, Steampunk, HardSF Renascence,  and other big fat reprint anthologies

Thematic and other ways to look at SF

Young Adult and juvenile Adventure Science Fiction:
 Tom swift to Heinlien to Suzanne Collins

Feminist Science Fiction Revolutions
The Language of the Night (Le Guin, 1979) and How To Suppress Women's Writing (Russ, 1983).

British Science Fiction Traditions and trends
Orwell, brunner and Ballard, with Whindim and others.  Banks. New Space Opera.

Utopian Traditions: advocacy vs observation
Early pre SF utopian Novels, Rand, KSR, etc etc 

Dystopian Literature
Brave New World, Orwell, brunner, ballard, Kim Stanly Robinson, Atwood, paolo.

Apocalyptic and post apocalyptic literature
M. P. Sheil, Walter Miller, The Road, Kim Stanley Robinson

 Alternate History
Turtledove to Kim Stanley Robinson. Steampunk.

Paradox of Other in Science Fiction literature
Disproportionately homogenous nature of Science fiction literature and fandom, and how this is at odds with its immigrant roots and thematic concerns. Writers of Color, and how minority writing communities view Science Fiction. Passing vs not passing (pseudonym)

How Science Fiction won the War and made itself irrelavant.
larger examination of science fictions influence and presence in other facets of popular culture, and how this impacted the literature of SF.

Science Fiction and Imperialism:
British and American science fiction. Steam Punk and Alternate history. Dystopian reflections on empires in decline.

Dying Earth Traditionns in SF
Hodgson, Jack Vance, Wolfe and beyond...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Survey of Science Fiction?

Every time someone comes into the bookstore and says they are teaching a class on Science Fiction, I get excited. And just about every time I talk to them, I end up sad and disappointed. Either they have a very narrow and skewed vision of what science fiction is, or they have very little real experience with science fiction literature, and probably know less than their students. 

I'm not trying to be catholic or anything... but words have meanings. Even words used to described science fiction.  When you say "Speculative fiction is real, and Science fiction is not..." I get concerned. When you say "Hard SF... Like Robert Heinlein" I get REALLY concerned.  I know there's plenty of back and forth discussions about terms and labels and meanings... but there are some very real, and useful classification systems that have proven to be valuable in creating a shared language to talk about science fiction, or have at the very least have been beneficial in terms of sparking debate and critical dialog.

So instead of bitching about the dearth of quality Science fiction course work out there, I'll try and do something about it.  I  am about to embark on a full set of course work and syllabus, modeled after various English lit programs, designed to convey a complete view of Science Fiction Literature..... A Science Fiction Certification program, if you will. Get this certificate and you should be able to confidently, and competently teach an Science Fiction class. Or at least argue about it online in a really well informed manner.

The beginnings of any English degree is usually the dreaded "Survey" Course:
British Lit 1600-1800, followed by British lit 1800 - 1920. Followed by Modern British Literature.  I'm sure all you English majors remember the bane of the Norton Anthologies, and the undergraduate reading lists...   Survey courses are usually not terribly exciting stuff...

Except... Most people don't have a sense of science fiction as a literature.  They have a sense of the pop culture and movie bits... but science fiction lit is mostly invisible...

First first stop is to gather together all of the "Written as text books" anthologies, and examine how and why they were organized.  I'm leery of a straight chronological overview...  its all well and good to start out with H. G. Wells and Jules Verne... but I don't think they are the best place to START talking about science fiction... The history and prehistory might be a good upper division specialty course, but I don't think it should be the first thing a modern reader with no genre experience should be presented with. Science fiction is a populist literature about the present.  It should be fun. Not dusty and dry and unrelated to the contemporary reader's life.

I remember when The Norton Anthology of Science Fiction first came out there was a huge outcry from SF grognards. "Where was Heinlein" and "This is focused to much on contemporary writers" where the two big complaints I remember.  Looking back, these two things seem to be one of the books strong points, and not weaknesses. (sorry Bob... its true... Your work doesn't age very well.  I'd slot Heinlein into two different SF courses:  "Golden Age"  and "Juvenile and YA SF")

Anyway... That's where I want to start... Anthologies that serve as a Survey of Science Fiction Literature:

  • There was The Norton Anthology of Science Fiction edited by Ursula K. Leguin.
  • There was Age of Wonders edited by David G. Hartwell
  • and There's the Weislian Anthology of Science Fiction edited by Arthur Evans and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay

Who else has attempted to create a "survey course" framework for Science Fiction, via Anthology?  I'd love to hear about any others out there... either contemporary, or older ones.... Getting a sense of the different frameworks to present the genre is what I'm looking for. Barring an actual anthology, I'd love to see course syllabi and reading lists from teachers who have attempted this on their own.

Please pass this query around, and make any recommendations in the comments or send me an email, if you prefer. Right now I'm focused on presenting SCIENCE FICTION... but I'll consider ancillary course work in Fantasy and horror fiction down the line. :)