Summer classes—Science Fiction

Once again I’ll be teaching two classes at Virginia Commonwealth University this summer.  The first one is Science Fiction May 18-June 18, Monday-Thursday, 10:30 am-12:45 pm.  I’m teaching a completely new reading list this year.  It’s still an historical survey from the fifties to the present, but it’s also a thematic selection centered around war in some way or other.  The reading list is—

Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

Joe Haldeman, The Forever War

William Gibson, Count Zero

Cory Doctorow, Little Brother

Rereading the Heinlein with the prospect of teaching it, I almost chickened out several times before turning in the book order.  This is one right wing book, but it’s a good book.  My biggest fear is that it will bore students, since it’s no action thriller.  But if the ideas don’t piss you off at least once, you’re not paying attention.  Dick was an obvious choice to represent the alternate history approach to the war theme, and an sf course without Dick isn’t one I’m teaching.  Haldeman’s brilliant answer to Heinlein is one of the best sf novels ever written.  Joe has agreed to address any sticky questions the class might confront along the way.  Gibson’s Count Zero is one of my favorite sf novels and the best of The Neuromancer trilogy.  His depiction of corporate warfare in a world where nations are more or less irrelevant is convincing, influential, and possibly prescient.  Last year, I instituted a policy whereby the book representing the current state of sf would be the one that ignited the biggest critical and mainstream buzz.  The Road was an obvious choice last year and would’ve been a logical choice this year if that didn’t mean I’d have to reread it for the sixth time, and I’m just not cheerful enough these days to face that prospect.  Doctorow’s Little Brother won’t likely be Oprahized, but it’s certainly got buzz, and the course wouldn’t be complete without that war we all know and love, the War on Terrorism.  Doctorow is always interesting.  Films will be Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dr. Strangelove, Star Wars (1977), The Terminator, and Children of Men.  Terminator in light of the interesting TV series it’s evolved into, as well as its use of the time travel theme so often a companion to war themed sf, made it an obvious choice for the eighties, the governator and all.  The tough choice was Star Wars.  I remember teaching the Bible in world survey classes back in Texas.  I fear it could be like that.  To me it’s Flash Gordon meets Parzival, but to some it was a cinematic miracle.  I’ll never forget seeing the thing for the first time at a Texas drive in, starry skies backed by starry skies.  After the second (and best) film, the franchise steadily erodes in quality to me, but their influence is enormous.

8 thoughts on “Summer classes—Science Fiction

  1. Would you have considered the recent version of War of the Worlds? I never saw it, so I’m not sure if I’m making a joke or not.

    Are you going to roll out the Fantasy list soon?

  2. Y’know, I think that movie gets a bum rap. It’s a fair if quirky rendering of the pretty much plotless novel. The underlying fascism of the culture is right there in the novel. Public floggings? C’mon. Not a society I’d want to live in, though I’m sure the starships run on time.

  3. I’m glad someone else agrees with me. I get so much flak for that one it isn’t funny.

    But it really is.

    Maybe Paul Verhoeven should have kept with sci-fi adaptations and not done Showgirls…

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