Science Fiction, LMC 3214: Proto-SF, Voyages Extraordinaires, and Scientific Romances

Today’s class was chocked full of lecture and discussion.

We began by going over the final paper assignment on applying definitions of science fiction to a single work of SF or SFnal that we did not discuss as a class. Since many of the students might not have written literary criticism before, I framed the assignment as an experiment:

  • Identify a problem: Choose a work of fiction (book, short story, film, video game, etc.) that: 1) we did not discuss as a class, and 2) has some science fictional aspect—either strongly or weakly. Pose the question: Is this SF (or SF of a particular type)?
  • Form a hypothesis about the work being SF or not.
  • Choose data for testing your hypothesis: Write about specific themes, examples, and scenes from the work that you choose.
  • Test your hypothesis: Using at least two of the attached definitions from the list, argue for and against your hypothesis.
  • Draw a conclusion: In your discussion, you should: 1) explain why or why not your example work is SF, and 2) build your own definition of SF and write it in your own words.

I believe that having students get their hands dirty with definitions while trying to formulate their own definition will lead to a deeper understanding of SF discourse.

The bulk of our class was spent on laying foundational lecture material for this week’s material. I introduced them to the cultural forces needed for SF to emerge, early practitioners of proto-SF such as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jules Verne and his Voyages Extraordinaires, and H.G. Wells and Scientific Romances.

For today’s class, we discussed H.G. Wells’ “The Star” (and I introduced them to Voyager’s Pale Blue Dot photograph) and E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” (which led to an AMAZING discussion about social media and contemporary communication technologies).

Tomorrow, we will discuss the Pulps, Hugo Gernsback, C.L. Moore’s “Shambleau,” and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.”

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.