Summer Teaching—Science Fiction

As in years past, I’ll be teaching two classes at VCU this summer, Science Fiction and Urban Fantasy.  I’ll describe the sf class today and the urban fantasy tomorrow.  For reasons more bureaucratic than substantive, the course numbers have changed, though generally the courses are the same.  The science fiction class is listed as Readings in Literature 215-004.  It runs May 24-June 24, Monday-Thursday, 10:30 am-12:45 pm.  I always try to fit science fiction into the general enterprise of literature, and I shall endeavor to do that even more this time.  The somewhat revised course description, reads as follows:

This course will explore science fiction in several different ways—as a genre, historically, thematically, culturally, in its different forms in print, film, and screen, as a social phenomenon, a craft, a community—not only to learn about science fiction but also about skills and strategies useful in the appreciation and understanding of any variety of literature.

Gosh.  I’d like to take a course like that!  The books this year are:

Alfred Bester.  The Stars My Destination.

Philip K. Dick.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Joe Haldeman.  The Forever War.

Neal Stephenson.  Snow Crash.

Cherie Priest.  Boneshaker.

Once again, the idea is a very rough historical survey of books and films beginning with the 50’s and ending with the present.  I still haven’t found a better 50’s sf novel than Bester.  I’ve returned to it after flirtations with Fahrenheit 451 (ugh) and Starship Troopers (great novel, but I can only take so much of the politics).  Do Androids etc. remains my favorite Phil Dick novel.  I enjoyed teaching Man in the High Castle, but I thought one alternate history on the list is enough.  Forever War was the favorite novel in last year’s class and is one of the best sf novels ever written.  The 80’s have always presented a problem.  Every year I try something different, and it dies.  Especially Neuromancer.  I’ve tried exotic alternatives like Murakami, but early cyberpunk consistently tanks.  My solution this year is to skip the 80’s.  So I’m doing the early 90’s.  Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash represents something of a cyberpunk fruition.  Even in this relatively short Stephenson novel, he still manages to info-dump at length for page after page, but here’s hoping the students keep turning them.  Finally, I choose buzz for the latest book.  If you haven’t seen Cherie Priest’s goggled heroine on a bookstore shelf near you (cover facing out, thank you very much) you haven’t been paying attention.  Nominated for everything, it’s a zombie, steampunk, alternate history with goggles and dirigibles.  I hate zombies, but obviously everyone else doesn’t, and the ones here are mostly set decoration.  It’s really an engaging Mama Lion rescues her wayward cub story, and should be a pleasant diversion at course’s end.

The movie choices this year include several changes.  I still start with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 1956 version.  It’s usually a class favorite and holds up surprisingly well.  For the 60’s I’m finally showing 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  I find it overly slow and ponderous and self-important, but its influence is undeniable.  I’ll see what the students make of it.  I’ve always wanted to show Rocky Horror Picture Show in the class, both as a science fiction film as well as a social phenomenon.  I’m just old enough that the ritual came after me.  My students will have grown up with it.  Skipping the 80’s once again, I’m showing Terminator 2, the best of the Terminator movies and probably the most influential.  The first Terminator movie did well enough in the class last summer (better than any 80’s film before it).  Finally, I’m excited to show Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer, an excellent Mexican sf film.  I had planned on showing District 9, but in some ways I think Rivera’s film is more interesting.

So there you have it.  There’s plenty of room.  I’d love to have you!

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