Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's August Already?


It's a Miyazaki morning here on this misty Wisconsin morning. So far, it's been Kiki's Delivery Service followed by Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea

The countdown for back-to-school has begun. My contract year (for which I still do not have a contract outlining my salary) begins August 26th.

As a newly-tenured professor, I will get a pay bump. One that will be completely wiped out by the new insurance co-pays and premium increases. Really happy about that.

OK I am not going to complain in this post. I am going to write about what I am looking forward to in this upcoming academic year, namely my SF lit/film course.

ENG 28(4): Science Fiction Literature and Film. Here's the course description from my 2009 syllabus:

“Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell. ‘More human than human’ is our motto.” –Dr. Eldon Tyrell Blade Runner (1982)
For almost two centuries, science fiction (or speculative fiction) has existed as a genre that explores, more than any other, the question “What if?” This course will examine what it means to be human in an engineered age—what responsibilities do we have, if any? How far will we go to push the limits of science? Is there such a thing as ‘too far’?

The consensus among SF writers and filmmakers seems to be…yes. We will spend considerable time in and out of class pondering the impact of technology on our lives—the moral, political, and social ramifications of our dependence on machines—a dependence as old as civilization itself. Some of our themes will deal with the idea of progress; industrialization (and its ancillaries: capitalism and globalization); the corporatization of society; feminism; and we will wrestle with the question of postmodernism.

I absolutely adore this course. The whole thing is centered around what it means to be human in a technological age, and it's long been my opinion is that this is the central motif in all SF lit and film. All other questions are ancillary to question "What does it mean to be human?" (I'd argue that this is the prime question for all creative human endeavors--that those who create are seeking answers to this question.)

The course starts with Frankenstein (the novel, then James Whale's 1931 adaptation), progresses to Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang), Asimov's I, Robot stories ("Robbie" "Escape!" and "Evidence"), watch I, Robot (2004, Alex Proyas) and round out the first half of the semester with Vonnegut's Player Piano. I love that I get to mess around with critiquing capitalism. It's one of the things that makes this class so much fun.

The second half of the semester is devoted to the development of cyberpunk, starting with Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) which is one of my favorite films of all time. We read C.L. Moore's 1944 novella No Woman Born, which slots in really well with Frankenstein and the Prometheus idea. We do James Tiptree, Jr.'s "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" and I wish to heaven I had time to show and discuss Avatar (2009). I have them read three stories out of William Gibson's only short story collection Burning Chrome ("Johnny Mnemonic" "The New Rose Hotel" and "Burning Chrome") because I found in 2007 that we didn't have time to properly examine Neuromancer (1984). We finish out the semester with Ghost in the Shell (1995) and The Matrix (1999).

I could do an entire course devoted to cyberpunk, and I think that the next time I teach SF lit (Fall 2013) that's what the course is going to have as its prime focus. There are so many stories (Bruce Sterling, Lester del Rey, Neal Stephenson, etc.) and films (Akira, Terminator / Terminator 2, etc) that I simply don't have time but would love to teach that I think it's time to re-jigger the course again. As I'm teaching it this semester, I'm going to plan for the next time instead of leaving it go.

And don't get me started on steampunk...I know, I know, I'm way behind on my book reviews. Stay tuned...

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