Continued Education in Science Fiction

I have always been a proponent of continued education. Whether it is through a degreed program through a university, a diploma or certificate through an institute, or self-paced learning on one’s own, I believe that it is of great value for individuals to continue to learn throughout their lifetimes.

I graduated in 1999 with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and in 2004, I completed a Master’s Degree in the same field. About five years later, I went on to receive a diploma in a completely different field — Biblical Studies.

My interest in writing and science fiction started later than most people at the age of 30. This was in 2007, when I started to write my first short stories and started to check out or buy books from the genre sections in the back of the bookstore. I have put a lot of effort into catching myself up in the field, often reading quickly more than deeply. This is something I want to change. I think it would be of better value to me and to the readers of this blog to read 15-20 books with deep, thoughtful insight rather than 30-40 books with cursory analysis and general impressions.

To better equip myself, I am taking two classes right now. The first of these is through Coursera, a site that allows students to take courses through reputable universities for free. There is weekly homework that is peer reviewed and graded. My first class started on June 3rd — Fantasy and Science Fiction: the Human Mind, our Modern World. This course is done through the University of Michigan and is taught by Professor Eric Rabkin. Here is a description of the course:

Fantasy is a key term both in psychology and in the art and artifice of humanity. The things we make, including our stories, reflect, serve, and often shape our needs and desires. We see this everywhere from fairy tale to kiddie lit to myth; from “Cinderella” to Alice in Wonderland to Superman; from building a fort as a child to building ideal, planned cities as whole societies. Fantasy in ways both entertaining and practical serves our persistent needs and desires and illuminates the human mind. Fantasy expresses itself in many ways, from the comfort we feel in the godlike powers of a fairy godmother to the seductive unease we feel confronting Dracula. From a practical viewpoint, of all the fictional forms that fantasy takes, science fiction, from Frankenstein to Avatar, is the most important in our modern world because it is the only kind that explicitly recognizes the profound ways in which science and technology, those key products of the human mind, shape not only our world but our very hopes and fears. This course will explore Fantasy in general and Science Fiction in specific both as art and as insights into ourselves and our world.

The subjects are broken down into the following lectures:

  1. Grimm — Children’s and Household Tales (Lucy Crane translation with Walter Crane illustrations)
  2. Carroll — Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
  3. Stoker — Dracula (This reading is somewhat longer than most of the others. You may want to begin it in advance.)
  4. Shelley — Frankenstein
  5. Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems (Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse includes “The Birthmark,” “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” and “The Artist of the Beautiful” and his Twice-Told Tales includes “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”; The Portable Poe includes all the suggested Poe stories and poems
  6. Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, “The Country of the Blind,” “The Star”
  7. Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars & Herland
  8. Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles
  9. LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness
  10. Doctorow — Little Brother (This reading is somewhat longer than most of the others. You may want to begin it in advance.)

I am also listening to a second set of lectures that I downloaded from Audible.com called The Modern Scholar: From Here to Infinity: an Exploration of Science Fiction Literature. This series of lectures is taught by Michael D.C. Drout (he has a fantasy series of lectures available on Audible as well). The audio lectures come with a pdf file of course notes and a syllabus. Here is the course description:

Science fiction literature and films have contributed indelible images to the popular imagination, from H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds to Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles to the fiction of “cyberpunks”. In addition to enthralling readers with breathtaking narratives and dazzling the imagination with mind-bending glimpses of possible futures, the best science fiction asks essential questions: What does it mean to be human? Are we alone in the universe, and what does it mean if we’re not?
Esteemed professor Michael D. C. Drout traces the history of science fiction in this series of stimulating lectures. From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to today’s cutting- edge authors, Drout offers a compelling analysis of the genre, including a look at hard-boiled science fiction, the golden age of science fiction, New Wave writers, and contemporary trends in the field.

And here is the contents of the lecture series:

  1. What Is Science Fiction?
  2. The Roots of Science Fiction
  3. Mysterious Lore, Marvelous Tech: The 1930
  4. Hard-Boiled Science Fiction: The 1940s
  5. The Grand Master: Robert A. Heinlein
  6. Onward and Outward: The 1950s, Space Travel, Apocalypticism, and the Beautiful Weirdness of Cordwainer Smith
  7. A New Set of Questions: The “New Wave” of the 1960s and 1970s
  8. The World Builder: Frank Herbert
  9. The Surrealists: Ballard and Bradbury
  10. The Computer Revolution: Cyberpunk and the 1980s
  11. Post-Punk: Neal Stephenson
  12. Women and Gender
  13. The Satirists
  14. The Shape of Things to Come

So needless to say, my reading time for the next 10 weeks will be devoted to going through these courses. I will be reading the material for the Coursera class, writing the essays, and reviewing/grading other students’ homework. I will try to blog on things I learn over these weeks, but I do not expect to read or review any new fiction aside from a few short stories.

I hope that through these classes I will learn to appreciate Science Fiction on a deeper level and actually learn to read and review things with better eyes.

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  1. To Read (Oh please, let me read!) Pile | Odd Engine

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