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Studying Science Fiction and Fantasy

Grimm’s Fairy Tales
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
Little Brother

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.

Moment of Silence for Ray Bradbury


We’ve known he has been ill. Even so…

Thank you for Farenheit 451, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Martian Chronicles, and…

L.A. Times Festival of Books


Speaking of Ray Bradbury, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is tomorrow and Sunday. He will be speaking again this year. Jane Smiley, Mary Higgins Clark, Lisa Lutz, Andrew Sean Greer, and Jan Burke are less than 1% of the authors and speakers who will be there.

This is where I can be found for the next couple days. I’m especially looking forward to the panel tomorrow called “Sci-Fi Grand Masters”. The authors on the panel are Joe Haldeman, Harry Harrison, and Robert Silverberg.

Word Picture


Now and Forever by Ray BradburyI’m reading one of Ray Bradbury‘s collection of novellas, Now and Forever. Here are some wonderful word pictures from the first tale, “Somewhere a Band is Playing”.

“…this woman, this bright noon wonder who descended the stairs into the cool shadow of the hall only to reemerge in a shaft of sunlight in in the dining room door. Her hand drifted to take Cardiff’s hand, and then her wrist and arm and shoulder and at last, as from the chemistry in an obscura room, the ghost of a face so lovely it burst on him life a flower when the dawn causes it to widen its beauty. Her measuring bright and summer-electric eyes shone merrily, watching him, as if he, too, had just arisen from those miraculous tides in which memory swims…”

“…lifted her arms and a great soft bloom of sheet rose in a summer cloud over the bed and he seized his half and with her gentled it down in a field of white over the bed to cover its face. And they stood back and watched the late afternoon exhale and fill the lace and blow the curtains inward toward the bed, like a fall of never-arriving snow…”

“He stepped forward and pushed the door, half-expecting that he would find his grandmother within, lost in that special jungle where hung leopard bananas, where doughnuts were buried in quicksands of powdered sugar. Where apples shone in bins and peaches displayed their warm summer cheeks. Where row on row, shelf on shelf, of condiments and spices rose to an always-twilight ceiling.”

Can’t you picture those doughnuts? No wonder Bradbury’s career spans about 7 decades.

Love What You Do


Ray Bradbury lives here in Southern California and makes many appearances in the area. Finally, I was able to sit in an audience and listen to his stories. It was super. His theme was “Love What You Do”. He talked about how so many parts of his career happened because he loved what he did or the people he met. He was able to turn that love into his life and his work. I had never known he wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s version of Moby Dick. The man deserved his standing ovation.

Weekend Plans


Although I’ve lived in Southern California for almost 7 years, I’ve missed one of the biggest book events in the country each year. Until this year, that is.

The L.A. Times Festival of Books is this weekend. This year I’m going. After I made the decision, I checked the schedule. When tickets became available, I immediately reserved two sessions. On Saturday Ray Bradbury is talking. On Sunday Julie Andrews is. She’s also reading one of her children’s books in the morning on the children’s stage.

Another favorite author of mine will be there – Jacqueline Winspear. Unfortunately, her only panel is scheduled against Dame Andrews. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to see Ms. Winspear – she’s the younger of the two.

I also hope to see Cornelia Funke. Other authors whose work I’ve read who will be there include David Brin, Christopher Buckley, Carol Higgins Clark, Mary Higgins Clark (they’re together, but scheduled against Bradbury), Michael Connelly, Richard Paul Evans, Lisa Lutz, Walter Mosley, T. Jefferson Parker, Rick Riordan, Laura Schlessinger, Jane Smiley, and Stuart Woods. Check out the full list of authors and presenters – a few hundred.

It’s about time I made it to this Festival of Books.

Books to Movies


As long as there have been movies, books have been put on film. Tonight I was reading Terry Pratchett‘s Lords and Ladies when I wanted a break. I flipped on the television and channel surfed. On the Sundance Channel I happened to stumble across Farenheit 451, based on Ray Bradbury‘s book titled the same.

The movie stayed fairly true to the book. It wasn’t as mesmerizing as the book, nor was it a great flick. Even so, I had fun watching it.

The “wall television” was smaller than the one that is in my mind’s eye. It looks like our big screen televisions today – foreshadowing? Yet the phones were the old fashioned kind – a couple with the box on the wall where you took the earpiece off and leaned into the mouthpiece. The sets and clothing were definitely from the 1960’s (it was released in 1966). That didn’t bother me like the phones did.

When Montag was being chased at the end, there were men in believable futuristic individual flying machines that wouldn’t be out of place in a futuristic movie made today.

In Bradbury’s book and in the movie, television is what replaces the book. Watching it now, it was odd not to see any sign of a computer or electronic console. I had to chuckle, as well, because one of the “book people” at the end was Ray Bradbury‘s The Martian Chronicles. It was a way for the movie to pay homage to a man who was already an impressive author by then.