Studying Science Fiction and Fantasy
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
The Invisible Man and The Island of Dr. Moreau
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s and Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories
Princess of Mars and Herland
The Martian Chronicles
The Left Hand of Darkness
That is a short list of Who’s Who in fantasy and science fiction over the past 300 years or so. That is also the syllabus for the Coursera Science Fiction and Fantasy online course I’m taking right now. It is taught by Eric S. Rabkin, a professor of literature at the University of Michigan. All the Coursera classes are free and taught through respected universities.
First, I have to admit I’m out of the study habit. No, I’m not getting a grade or college credit for this course. Even so, I want to pass on the pass/fail scale. It means reading a novel (or the equivalent) each week. I have read most of these books. But a few are new to me. Although I know the basic story, I hadn’t read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’ve read The Invisible Man, but not The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. I’d read all of the Poe short stories assigned, but hadn’t read any of Hawthorne’s short stories before this – only his novels. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland is the only novel in the group that has never crossed my SF radar at all. I also haven’t read anything by Cory Doctorow, let alone Little Brother.
There is the challenge of a novel a week – plus a short essay, plus judging four (or more) essays by other students. There are also discussion forums and video lectures that are posted after we submit our essays. Silly me, I still want to read other things as well.
I quickly gave up on And the Ladies of the Club by Helen Hoover Santmyer. It’s 1000 plus pages, and is the book by real life book club is discussing next week. I still listen to books in the car and at work, so have kept up my mysteries. I still read a romance novel for a while before bedtime as well. So yes, I’m still getting a lot read.
It is very interesting, though, to re-read these books in a different light. Now I have to evaluate them – or some aspect of them. I’m reading them with a different mind set. I knew when I read Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness the first time that I missed a lot. This time through, though, I’m seeing other interesting things. For example, it is written from the point of view of two outsiders who are trying to work together by the end of the book. I hadn’t thought about it before, but that is a different perspective and puts the book in a whole new light. Will my essay next week be about that? Who knows, because I’ve discovered other things as well. Re-reading a classic or loved novel is always enlightening. It’s even more so when you concentrate on the subtleties you missed the first time.
I’ve enjoyed the challenge. I’m also looking forward to reading books I don’t have to think about, just enjoy.
If you need a school fix without the challenge of the classroom, check out Coursera. The classes are free and range over more than 100 topics.