Sunday, November 27, 2005

Spring Teaching

My science fiction course is taking shape. I've decided we'll read five novels and a number of short stories, and we'll watch 2-3 movies and some episodes of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

The novels we'll read are Dawn by Octavia Butler, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, The Telling by Ursula Le Guin, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, Jr., and Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune. In addition to the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episodes, I know we're going to watch Bladerunner, and I think we're going to watch Minority Report (and read the short story upon which it is based). I'm also thinking about showing Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind, but I'm also tempted to show War of the Worlds and Mars Attacks!.

The issues of short stories is more vexed, but my current short list includes:

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars"

  • Robert Silverberg's "Good News from the Vatican"

  • Nancy Kress' "Out of All Them Bright Stars"

  • Candas Jane Dorsey's "(Learning About) Machine Sex"

  • Isaac Asimov's "Robbie" and/or "Robot Dreams"

  • William Gibson's "Johnny Mnemonic" and "Burning Chrome"

  • Arthur C. Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God" or "Second Dawn"

  • Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"

  • Cordwainer Smith's "The Ballad of Lost C'mell"

  • Phil K. Dick's "Minority Report"

  • James Trptree, Jr.'s "The Women Men Don't See"

  • H.P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu"

Who and what that are missing from that list is depressing. Really, I continually debate myself over the wisdom of teaching both science fiction short stories and novels in the same course. As a reader, SF novels were and are much more important to me than SF short stories, but the short story is of vital importance to the history of SF, and one can hardly touch on the complexity of the genre in the span of one semester by just reading novels. The first time I taught a SF class, I went with novels and 4 short stories. Clearly, I'm still sticking with novels, but I'm trying to bring in more stories. I need to browse my SF anthologies and anthologies in the library before I finally decide which stories to include. Please feel free to make suggestions.

The class itself is already full. It usually fills quickly. And I'm glad to see that more than a third of the class is women. Last time I taught it, women made up less than 10%. Though, to be fair, I taught a course that was added late by dividing the already existing and fully enrolled SF course into two courses and the other instructor was a women. Her class was about 40% women.

Finally, I've decided to make use of the free wiki service Schtuff, which has a built in blog. I'm not keen on the blogging software my school's made available, and I can use Schtuff as the course web site, blog, and wiki all from one URL. We'll be using the wiki for a collaborative project working with the short stories. I'll post more about that later.

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At 8:49 PM, Anonymous marcia said...

A while back I took a science fiction class and when we read Tiptree, we read it paired with Joanna Russ's “A Few Things I Know About Whileaway”.

We also read: “The Imagination of Disaster” by Susan Sontag and “The New Atlantis” by Ursula K. LeGuin

I'm not advocating these strongly for inclusion because it's been too long since I've read them for me to be able to comment intelligently on them -- just tossing them out as ideas.

However, one of the novels that I most enjoyed was: The Gate to Women's Country by Sherri Tepper.

Good luck with the course. Sounds fun!!

At 12:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Oh! I left Joanna Russ off my list above, didn't I? I do intend to include something by her. I'll take a look at "A Few Things I Know About Whileaway,” which I have on hand in The Norton Book of Science Fiction.

As a rule, I'm not including short stories by authors whose novels we're reading, and I'm only breaking that rule with Le Guin because I want to start the course off with "Omelas" and Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu," both of which push the boundries of the genre. We're going to discuss some definitions of science fiction on the first day of class, and follow that discussion up with these two stories before we jump into stories that are clearly science fiction.

That said, thank you for the suggestions, and please feel free to mention anything else that comes to mind!

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Neil said...

Wow, your course sounds like a lot of fun. I wish there was something like that here. (Here being Indiana and IPFW.)

At 3:14 AM, Blogger lisa schamess said...

Hi John, I just posted today about the viewing of Terry Gilliam's Brazil which begins in my high school class tomorrow. In my research I turned up many interesting FYIs, among them that Gilliam was J.K. Rowling's first choice to direct the first Harry Potter film.

I am finding Brazil, like the Matrix, to be a nice broad vehicle for many, many themes, from dystopia and technocracy to the war between collective and individualistic thinking. "The ghost in the machine, eh lad?" is one of the most famous quotes in the movie.

For what it's worth.

Bonus with this movie is that, having been made in 1985, it is unfamiliar to most students ages 15-22.

At 7:12 AM, Blogger John said...

Oh, Lisa, that's a good idea. I think it's been 12 years or so since I've last seen Brazil. I'd thought about using 12 Monkeys. I'll check out Brazil.


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