Starman and Le Guin voted off the island

At the conclusion of every course, I take a poll to determine what students liked and didn’t. Eleven students remain standing, and they were all present to vote. Interestingly enough this time, each book on the reading list was someone’s favorite, though Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven got only one vote as favorite and four least favorite. Like last year Murakami split favorite/unfavorite down the middle with three votes for each. Dick and Bester also got 3 each as favorites and no least favorite. The Road was the least favorite of three and the favorite of one. Part of the problem with Le Guin may have been my lackluster teaching. The book is getting stale to me, and I need to give it a rest anyway. Hard-Boiled Wonderland etc. may also need to sit on the sidelines for different reasons. I’ve read it a half-dozen times now, but my students come to it fresh and confused. It’s hard to get on the same page. As for the films, the voting was lopsided in both categories. Starman was trounced with eight negative votes. Alien was the clear winner with six favorite votes. Children of Men did well also with four favorite votes. So once again, the books and films from the 80’s are problematic. Maybe I should just skip that decade… Actually, I’m considering reinventing the course as a topical survey, with a book and movie for each of five sf tropes—aliens, time travel, end of the world, etc. Any suggestions for topics and books and films are always welcome. There are anthologies out there I could use, but I dearly hate lugging the damn things and prefer teaching novels or single-author collections.

16 thoughts on “Starman and Le Guin voted off the island

  1. One might hate it BECAUSE it’s perfectly bleak and hard to shake. I’ve been in relationships like that… Seriously, though, I’ve read The Road several times now and don’t find it very persuasive anymore. I love it for the man and the boy and the writing. The profundity, however, strikes me increasingly as a rigged game. How do the good family with two kids who take in the boy feed themselves? McCarthy’s planet’s dead, dead, dead.

  2. That’s an interesting collection to teach. I’d be particularly interested in your reasons for choosing the particular selections.

    For example, to showcase Le Guin, why Lathe and not The Left Hand of Darkness or The Word for World is Forest?

  3. I’m trying for a very rough historical survey. 50’s, 60’s, 70’s 80’s, new. Bester’s Stars holds up better than most any 50’s sf I know of, and students consistently rate it highly. I enjoy re-reading it every time. I guess that’s the first criterion: I have to enjoy rereading it. I tried Fahrenheit 451 last time. Nobody liked it. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is my favorite Phil Dick, and I like it better each time. I’ve considered others—Ubik, The Man in the High Castle—but I always come back to Androids. I used to teach The Dispossessed, my favorite Le Guin, but another criterion is length. This is a five-week summer course. Lathe of Heaven is short, and The Word for World is Forest isn’t currently in print (another key criterion). For the 80’s the obvious choice to me is Gibson and if I teach the class next summer, I might do Count Zero. I wearied of Neuromancer, a novel I still love, dying a dreadful death with an overwhelming majority of students. I’ve commiserated with other sf teachers, and they’ve had similar experiences. Murakami was a wild idea that had mixed results. I change the new stuff as often as possible, whenever anything truly new and/or interesting comes along. Children of Men and The Road seemed like obvious choices, though I had great success with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in previous years. Many fine recent novels are too damn long to include. I’m seriously considering restructuring the course entirely, but I’ll think about that tomorrow at Tara.

  4. No Starman? I love that movie. Kids these days, I swear.

    As for Alien, I don’t know if I could associate with anyone who didn’t approve of it. It’s such a perfect switch from the Plastic Bubble Toga Wearing Logan’s Run-era to the claustrophobia to come in the 80s. And also it was the first movie that I remember ever watching. Still haven’t shaken the nightmares from when I was 6.

    MAYBE you could make the kids watch Dune. Now that would be great for a laugh.

    Do students respond well to DADOES still? I love it, but really, the opening scene just lays me flat every time I read it. For a speed-freak, Dick really was with it. Though lately…I keep wanting to return to Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.

    I do like the idea of the topical course. Though really…I’d kill to take a topic course on PKD with you. I think that’d be fantastic.

  5. Hey Dustin, great to hear from you again. DADOES did okay, but it’s done better. In the last class I did Blade Runner, and DADOES stock went up after they saw the movie. I’ve thought of doing a PKD course. If only most of the movies didn’t suck.

    Dune. That could be the whole course. Dune and all its sequels. The author is dead, but Dune lives on. Ender. You could do a whole Ender degree. Enderology.

  6. Don’t lie, Dennis. I know you loved PAYCHECK.

    I really think the most solid adaptation has been A Scanner Darkly. Blade Runner hits a close second, just because it focuses a bit too much on the odd romance, and leaves a lot out. But really, Dick seems to shovel ideas into his books so violently that I can see it being hard to actually film his works successfully.

    Though, it might be fun to show the bad movies, and then talk about WTF went wrong.

    Sad that DADOES doesn’t do better until you show Blade Runner (Where did they come up with that name…jeez). Don’t get me wrong, Ridley Scott really slammed it home, but there really is such a richness to the book.

    Dune. Again, saw the movie when I was far too young. And then I could never really read the novels without seeing Kyle MacLachlan and Sting (in his blue rubber briefs) in my head. I’m still not even sure how I feel about them as books.

    And Ender. Yeah. You really really could. Maybe one could get an interdisciplinary degree in World Building. And study only Dune and Ender. *snicker*

  7. DADOES consistently does just fine, but it did best when paired with Blade Runner. It’s like they had renewed appreciation for the book when they saw what the movie did to it. The title Blade Runner was purchased. Some sap sold an option, and all they bought was the title. Cold comfort that.

    I like the interdisciplinary World Building degree: Ender, Dune, Lincoln Logs, Iraqi Democracy…

    You didn’t like PAYCHECK?

  8. Well…PAYCHECK didn’t live up to its promise.

    Not enough slow-mo, not enough doves. I have expectations of John Woo.

    Interesting regarding the title. I love how rights work in the movie business. Still, probably a more marketable title than DADOES.

    Maybe you should have them read Starship Troopers, they could watch that fantastic film by Paul Verhoeven. I can’t wait for him to snatch up the rights to Count Zero so he can butcher another favorite of mine into a jokey, poorly paced, monstrosity with really tepid acting.

    Though, in all seriousness, Wall-E is an interesting and fun bit of sci-fi for young and old. Saw it this weekend and was absolutely delighted.

  9. I have considered using the novel STARSHIP TROOPERS but decided I get enough war these days. Maybe next summer. It’s a fascinating fictional memoir, beautifully controlled. The movie, as I recall, was completely out of control.

    I hope a Wall-E viewing is in my near future, but the burb screens are a distant land to me. When it comes to The Byrd, I’ll be there, maybe catch the Mighty Wurlitzer.

  10. Paul Verhoeven never read the book. But I think he must have instead read Moorecock’s criticism of STARSHIP TROOPERS and decided to roll with that. And now…a 3rd movie is coming out in the franchise.

    I really liked it. And I really don’t get the icky taste in my mouth that most people do that makes them scream “FASCIST! MILITARIST! RACIST!” upon reading it. Would be interesting to see how college kids react to it.

    Wall-E is fantastic. I do hope you get a chance to catch it. It’s the first movie by Pixar where I walked out of the theater and thought “Wow, they finally understand film.”

    Turns out they brought in Roger Deakins to teach them about how cameras/film work, because they knew they had to do something since half of the movie has barely any dialogue.

  11. Sarah and I went to see Wall-E, and while I agree they understand film, the writer didn’t understand story. Great first act, worth the price of admission (I pay senior), but once they get to the floating fat farm we need a rooting interest in these people getting back “Home,” and the captain isn’t enough of a character to deliver. They also compact and jettison the subtle attention to detail and character and switch to repetitive unsubtle satiric swipes at those we’re supposed to care about, interspersed with tedious slapstick. I spent the rest of the movie missing the beginning. They try to make up for it by telling an interesting story in the closing credit paintings, but most people were gone by then.

  12. I agree with the ham-fisted treatment of the humans. That’s a typical Pixar flaw though–they just don’t care about anything other than their plucky and adorable Star.

    I think the biggest problem with the movie was having dialogue. When it’s just Wall-E, and eventually Eve. It’s great. I did like the ending, even if the Peter Gabriel was a bit over the top for a movie that didn’t have THAT much of a Be Green, Love the Earth message.

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