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  1. #1
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    Designing a university-level SF/F course.

    Hi All,

    I'm looking for a little help. Tomorrow night (Friday), I'll be submitting a description for an SF/F course that I'll be teaching at University. I'll have some time to revise later and to build the actual course. I was just given the "okay" to teach it yesterday.

    I don't need content (although critical essay links would be amazing for the future) necessarily, but I do need some ideas where to take this. It's NOT a lit course; I won't be assigning actual texts. Instead, it's a research based course (where students are free to take on their own, guided area of research), so I need to analytical frameworks or lenses to view SF/F through, and how it's important in other contexts.

    Anyone have any interesting prompts, popular areas of research, or could anyone refer me to some scholarship or recent trends, interesting articles, etc.

    Anything would help!
    Thanks a bunch.

  2. #2
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    Designing a university-level SF/F course.

    I don't mean to post this in both, but I'm not sure if the community here overlaps or not, and I wanted to maximize who sees this.

    Hi All,

    I'm looking for a little help. Tomorrow night (Friday), I'll be submitting a description for an SF/F course that I'll be teaching at University. I'll have some time to revise later and to build the actual course. I was just given the "okay" to teach it yesterday.

    I don't need content (although critical essay links would be amazing for the future) necessarily, but I do need some ideas where to take this. It's NOT a lit course; I won't be assigning actual texts. Instead, it's a research based course (where students are free to take on their own, guided area of research), so I need to analytical frameworks or lenses to view SF/F through, and how it's important in other contexts.

    Anyone have any interesting prompts, popular areas of research, or could anyone refer me to some scholarship or recent trends, interesting articles, etc.

    Anything would help!
    Thanks a bunch.

  3. #3
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Is this about film or literature or both?

    Is it from a mostly entertainment perspective or is it more seriously social/philosophical?

    psik

  4. #4
    Orthodox Herbertian Omphalos's Avatar
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    There are some good starting places out there for you. Take a look at www.sfra.org. That is the Science Fiction Research Association. They publish a newsletter there that focuses on critical, scholarly and research topics. Look at the most recent ones to see what the hot items are currently.

    They also have a listserv, SFRA-L, which has been around for decades. There are critics, teachers, archivists and researchers on there, including a bunch of graduate level folks. They are usually happy to let you bounce things off of them.

    The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu/, also has lots of research related pages. They also archive syllabi, so you may be able to mine that page for some ideas for your course. Chris McKitterick is very helpful, and I think that since James Gunn retired (actually, I heard his wife passed away a week or so ago) he has been doing a lot of work to keep the place up and running. Those guys over there, obviously, are teachers.

    There are also quite a few journals out there that deal with research related topics, including FEMSPEC, the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Foundation, Science Fiction Studies, and a few others. The Science Fiction Studies web pages have many articles on line (not all unfortunately) and have a great links page. Magazine link. Links page.

    All that being said, the big issues to me these days are apocalyptic fiction, post colonialism, trans-human studies, feminism, mainstream literary incursions into the fantastic, the effects of film v. literature on audience and the rise of graphic arts in story-telling. There are also some perennials that have journals dedicated to them, such as utopian fiction, liberatrianism in SF, etc.

    I could talk about stuff like this for hours, so, looking forward to hearing more about this.
    Last edited by Omphalos; October 19th, 2012 at 01:29 PM. Reason: added some shtuff.

  5. #5
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    psikey, lit only, but through analytical essays. Also, preferably social/philosophical, but I don't want to close off anyone's research ideas.

    And thank you all very much for this insightful info.

    This is what I'm working with as of now. I won't be lecturing, nor will I be suggesting my own reading of things, but my job will be to prod students with questions that act as jumping points to their own independent areas of research, to ultimately produce an end-of-term research paper.

    I apologize for typos or under-explained thoughts....Long day. Read far too many words today.

    Here is where I started some thought process: My aim is to provide new meanings to what a human is, and what society is (on earth, that is, in 2012), by looking at what fantastic creatures/characters/settings are not--such that, analytical framework (say, feminist theory) > example in a text (sexless creatures in LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness) > relate back to our society (redefining sex, etc, etc), or analytical framework (psychological/trauma) > example in text (Chronicles of Narnia) > relating back to humans (escapism, particularly in wartime). Redefining human identity through what humans are not (particularly in SF&F characters/cultures/settings) has seen much scholarship, so that's why I'm taking on this question as a starting point. But my mind is very open to more points. I intend to keep it vague such that I don't receive 22 of the same paper.

    This is what the course description is looking like, I hope it conveys what I was saying above: Wonderland. Neverland. Oz. Narnia. How does an escape into "otherworlds" such as these change the dimensions not only of social and psychological identity, but of broader social and cultural structures? How does painting a speculative and fantastical framework allow for explorations of uncharted concepts otherwise unbreachable? Drawing from Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, and beyond, this class will examine the foreign landscapes of Science Fiction and Fantasy to shine a new light on human identity and society back in the world we know. After all, the hero always crosses the return threshold back home with new found knowledge and truth.

  6. #6
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by theworldforgot View Post
    psikey, lit only, but through analytical essays. Also, preferably social/philosophical, but I don't want to close off anyone's research ideas.
    General Semantics is the result of concepts developed by Alfred Korzybski in the 1920s and 30s. His book Science and Sanity is from 1938. We know that Robert Heinlein attended one of his seminars and that A. E. van Vogt deliberately wrote books incorporating his ideas. I am not sure how much this influenced the concept of Vulcan culture in Star Trek.

    http://gdg.00freehost.com/trekessays/F003cM.htm

    But now we have a society with von Neumann machines everywhere.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_von_Neumann

    My personal suspicion is that the majority of our so called educators don't even want to find out how they can best be used for educational purposes. But they are going to change our society regardless. Selecting science fiction for young kids to read could have more influence than college courses. Fantasy is entertainment at best. I like Howard's Conan stories. Now the tech and the sci-fi and the fantasy can all mix. What can the techno-culture do to children's minds?

    Queen Of The Black Coast by Robert E. Howard
    http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0600961h.html

    Subversive by Mack Reynolds
    http://www.digilibraries.com/ebook/115574/Subversive/

    Status Quo by Mack Reynolds
    http://www.magick7.com/1/MoonlightSt...2/410/2916.htm

    Cost of Living (1952) by Sheckley Robert
    https://senjibqa.wordpress.com/2011/...ost-of-living/
    https://senjibqa.wordpress.com/category/science/

    Ultima Thule by Mack Reynolds
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/30334...h/30334-h.html

    Deathworld I (1960) by Harry Harrison
    http://www.magick7.com/1/MoonlightSt...1/117/1966.htm
    http://librivox.org/deathworld-by-harry-harrison/

    Science fiction contains ideas that many people do not encounter until college because most of the lower grades are mostly about indoctrination. College comes too late.

    http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/6/russ6art.htm

    psik

  7. #7
    www.voxnewman.com kongming's Avatar
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    How about a philosophy/sociology angle? We use mythology and story to make sense of our world. So I imagine that many writers are like myself in that the story is a message and it forms a coherent thought about certain truths as the writer sees them. The reader then disseminates this message and determines to accept or reject it. Exploring why we would need dress up ideas in fiction (especially the speculative variety) would be an interesting research topic.

  8. #8
    I actually did take a sff course in college...but mine was a lit course involving the history of sff literature, and it was a long time ago!

    But in general, there are tons of important themes throughout sff lit. Those include gender roles and gender identity, sentience, sapience (no, they aren't the same thing), the definition of humanity, individual rights, individuality, all sorts of great and important stuff.

  9. #9
    Nobody in Particular kcf's Avatar
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    I recommend reviewing the following blog and perhaps even contacting the author directly. He's done a lot of research and teaches university level classes on these issues. Particulalry in the colonial/post-colonial aspects of SF.

    http://wisb.blogspot.com/

    You could also consider asking after the science in science fiction and how predictive it's been vs. how reactive it's been, etc. For a contemporary example, treatment of global warming in science fiction.

    Another thing that could be very interesting is the rise of popularity of urban fantasy in the wake or 911 and possibly related to it, the relative decline of 'traditional' epic fantasy. The oft-discussed death of SF is also another thing that could be discussed.

    Frankly, pick just about any issue you are curious about and spin in to see how it's been addressed in SFF.

  10. #10
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    Thank you all very much for this insightful info.

    This is what I'm working with as of now. I won't be lecturing, nor will I be suggesting my own reading of things, but my job will be to prod students with questions that act as jumping points to their own independent areas of research, to ultimately produce an end-of-term research paper.

    I apologize for typos or under-explained thoughts....Long day. Read far too many words today.

    Here is where I started some thought process: My aim is to provide new meanings to what a human is, and what society is (on earth, that is, in 2012), by looking at what fantastic creatures/characters/settings are not--such that, analytical framework (say, feminist theory) > example in a text (sexless creatures in LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness) > relate back to our society (redefining sex, etc, etc), or analytical framework (psychological/trauma) > example in text (Chronicles of Narnia) > relating back to humans (escapism, particularly in wartime). Redefining human identity through what humans are not (particularly in SF&F characters/cultures/settings) has seen much scholarship, so that's why I'm taking on this question as a starting point. But my mind is very open to more points. I intend to keep it vague such that I don't receive 22 of the same paper.

    This is what the course description is looking like, I hope it conveys what I was saying above: Wonderland. Neverland. Oz. Narnia. How does an escape into "otherworlds" such as these change the dimensions not only of social and psychological identity, but of broader social and cultural structures? How does painting a speculative and fantastical framework allow for explorations of uncharted concepts otherwise unbreachable? Drawing from Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, and beyond, this class will examine the foreign landscapes of Science Fiction and Fantasy to shine a new light on human identity and society back in the world we know. After all, the hero always crosses the return threshold back home with new found knowledge and truth.

  11. #11
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by theworldforgot View Post
    This is what the course description is looking like, I hope it conveys what I was saying above: Wonderland. Neverland. Oz. Narnia. How does an escape into "otherworlds" such as these change the dimensions not only of social and psychological identity, but of broader social and cultural structures? How does painting a speculative and fantastical framework allow for explorations of uncharted concepts otherwise unbreachable? Drawing from Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, and beyond, this class will examine the foreign landscapes of Science Fiction and Fantasy to shine a new light on human identity and society back in the world we know. After all, the hero always crosses the return threshold back home with new found knowledge and truth.
    That's a different stripe. You're essentially talking about specific types of SF/F/H -- multiverses and portal stories, which may have themes that commonly appear in that sort of story structure. Portal stories are like Narnia, Wonderland and Oz, in which a person from our world enters through some form of portal a parallel, different world. In multiverse stories, the number of worlds is considerable and people jump from one to another, such as in Michael Moorcock's Elric, Stephen King's Dark Tower series, Hal Duncan's Vellum duology, and Roger Zelazny's Amber books. SF tends not to have that many portal stories, that idea being more connected to the folklore of visiting fairyland, but did use them a lot in the early days, and they like multiverses. Fantasy and horror like them both. The greatest popularity of the multiverse stories was probably the 1970's. The portal novels made up a huge pile of fantasy novels in the 1980's, then became of less interest to fantasy authors in the 1990's in favor of wholly separate secondary worlds. However, as authors browse outward, they are coming back into favor, particularly in YA.

    There are a lot of ideas that your students could research about portal and multiverse novels, but escapism really isn't the dominant theme -- reflection is. The world on the other side of a portal or the worlds within a multiverse have usually reflected aspects of the real world and in particular aspects of the main character's regular life. The main character doesn't escape to another world -- he is instead confronted with the problems of his real world in the new world and has to figure out how he'll handle those problems, returning to his regular world often with a better understanding of himself. A multiverse provides for maximum variety of reflections.

    One of the clearest examples of this, because it's deliberately set up that way, is the novel The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, in which a young teen bounces back and forth between his real world and the portal world, finding a matching person in each world but with variations that reflect the real world problems he is facing, and he must solve problems in both worlds to save his mother and himself. Likewise Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series has his protagonist bouncing back and forth, unsure if the whole world is in his head or real, because there are things in the portal world that directly connect to and reflect issues in his real world. He can't escape the portal world or his problems, but instead is forced to look at and deal with their symbolic reflection in the portal world. The kids in Narnia also don't escape their problems and fears there. Instead, they are forced to deal with them in the context of the battle between the lion and the witch and find out who they really are. Fantasy, horror and science fiction are not about escapism. They're more like therapy. (However, I don't agree with kcf's argument that the increase in urban fantasy in the early oughts had anything to do with 9/11 or that secondary world fantasy declined.)
    Last edited by KatG; October 19th, 2012 at 03:13 PM.

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