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What Belongs In a High School Sci-Fi/Fantasy Lit Class? 1021

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the fantasy-is-thinking-this-class-wont-get-axed dept.
flogger writes "I have been asked to help develop a literature course for Science Fiction and Fantasy literature. What do you consider to be appropriate selections of short stories and novels in these genres for high school students of all ability levels? I'd also like to know why you choose certain selections. This class will be 'regular' class and not a class for 'flunkies' to earn a credit by sitting docile and listening to lectures. The following is a course description that I have been given as a guideline. This description can change. Any ideas? 'In this Junior/Senior level course, students will focus on the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Students will survey the histories of these genres and recognize how world events have been reflected onto other worlds. From the early formation of the genre, with Verne, and the classics of Clarke, Tolkien, Bradbury, and LeGuin, to the contemporary works of Card, Jordan, and Vinge, the genres have been about portraying humanity in possible scenarios. These works have mirrored events throughout the troubled situations of our history and provided optimistic outcomes and horrifying predictions. Through this course, students will utilize analytical skills and reading strategies to evaluate our current situation and project into the literature of different worlds while sharing and learning of an author's insight. Possible areas of interest will be topics of the environment, energy conservation, war, social issues, and others. '"
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What Belongs In a High School Sci-Fi/Fantasy Lit Class?

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  • by marbike (35297) * on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:22PM (#29649149) Homepage

    You might consider that not only does the world around us inform the fiction that is written (consider Heinlein's social and political commentary in Starship Troopers) but that also Science Fiction informs our own world (see how innovation is sparked by what SciFi has given us. Also, the genres can be used to teach us about the past (Piers Anthony's Steppe) or give us a glimpse into the far future (Niven's Ringworld). There is quite a lot of SciFi in our daily lives, but our world is certainly present in our SciFi.

    I want to know where this class was $Big_Num years ago. I would have jumped at the chance to participate in such a class.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by madhurms (736552)
      Try Hitchhiker's guide to galaxy. Great read.
      • by marbike (35297) *

        And possibly a good example of how literature can inform the real world. Wikipedia http://www.wikipedia.org/ [wikipedia.org] and H2G2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2 [bbc.co.uk] are both very similar to the notional Guide in HHGTTG.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Brian Gordon (987471)

          And decidedly a good example of entertainment literature that doesn't belong in a lit class.

      • Julian May's Pliocene Exile series is absolutely brilliant as well (and entertaining). Near LOTR in its own way.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by aywwts4 (610966)

        Adams changed my world view in High-School. Fostered my fascination with Evolution and converted me from agnostic to strong atheism and made me analyze the world in new and interesting ways, His insight is perfect for (some) high school kids to read.

        Sadly his humor is largely lost on kids who don't do much critical thinking, I have seen people gloss right over some of the absolute funniest lines in the books without stopping for a second. Many people look for humor in the events of a book, not the words of

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I am quite fond of Roger Zelazny's short story "The Game of Blood and Dust". It didn't resonate at all with my daughter, who never really lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation. It's included in _The_Last_Defender_of_Camelot_, and only 5 pages long.

    • by infinite9 (319274) on Monday October 05, 2009 @04:12PM (#29650077)

      I actually took a sci-fi and fantasy class in my high school back in 1988. We read starship troopers, the hobbit, lord of the rings (we had to pick one of the three), 2001, and some books of our choosing. I chose soylent green iirc. We watched a few sci-fi movies. The teacher did an in-class analysis of the complexity of the lights and buttons of darth vader's suit as he progressed through 4, 5, and 6. We did a few book reports and some art projects. I did a poster of the horses in the river that did in the ring wraiths. It was one of the few brights spots of my high school experience. The teacher was awesome.

      • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @10:33AM (#29657753) Homepage Journal

        I actually took a sci-fi and fantasy class in my high school back in 1988

        I've never been able to figure out why these two completely different genres are always lumped together? Fantasy fiction almost always takes plece in the past, science fiction almost always takes place in the future. Fantasy deals with magic, scifi deals with science and technology.

        I don't get it, unless it's that to so many people, technology IS magic. Since it isn't really, why do literature teachers lump the two together?

        Personally, I've always been a fan of science fiction, and with the exceptins of Tolkien and Pratchett have never liked fantasy. I always wanted stuff explained, both in fiction and in life. "It's magic" never worked for me.

    • by Alaren (682568) on Monday October 05, 2009 @04:17PM (#29650177)

      I think you (and almost every post below) are too anxious to answer the question as phrased ("appropriate selections of short stories and novels in these genres for high school students of all ability levels?"). This whole exercise in asking /. then yields a long list of everyone's favorite authors, or perhaps of authors considered "influential." I agree with you that, in high school, I would have been excited to take a class such as this. But on further reflection, such a class would probably not have done me much good--most of the readings, I would already have read. The rest, I would likely get around to on my own, eventually.

      Presenting a chance to really discuss these works with others is, of course, a worthy cause for other reasons. But how exclusive should the curriculum be? What makes a book Fantasy or Sci-Fi [slashdot.org]? Where it's shelved at Barnes & Noble? My wife writes YA books about faeries (see sig)--is that fantasy? It's shelved in YA. What about Twilight--vampire books are low fantasy, right? Both my wife's and Stephenie's books get lumped under the heading "paranormal," which near as I can tell is code for "low-fantasy romance written for teens." Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is historical fiction... but the presence of Enoch Root (and the label put on it by the publisher) gets it shelved under "Science Fiction" at Borders. Whereas Stephen King's fantasy/sci-fi hybrid Dark Tower series is... on the general fiction shelf?

      So this litany of "Tolkien, Anthony, Lewis, Heinlein, Asimov, Jordan..." answers flogger's first question, but I don't think it gets him anywhere. "Topics of the environment, energy conservation, war, social issues, and others" are readily available in "non-genre" books and should be included in any literature curriculum to some degree or another.

      So here's my advice to flogger. The kinds of kids who will take this class will already have a pretty firm grasp on the artificial genre-lines that carve out "sci fi" and "fantasy" at the bookstore. I would suggest mostly steering clear of most of the books you have recommended here. Read some short stories by Asimov or Le Guin or Gaiman, give some historical context to sub-genres by tracing out the genealogy of steampunk and dieselpunk and swords & sorcery and high fantasy and low fantasy and hard sf and space opera and so on. Have them read Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Have them read Beowulf. Give them a short Jules Verne. Go through the authors listed below by us die-hard fans and pick some exemplars and let the students choose which books they want to read.

      Then let your students choose something--anything--recent, fictitious, and commercial (I'll recommend Wings by Aprilynne Pike, of course, but they will probably choose Twilight d^_^b). Ask them to justify it as sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, paranormal... in other words, ask for a report on why their chosen book should, or should not, be classified in a particular way. If they can distinguish between "visionary science" and "allegorical fancy" in their book, hopefully you can help them learn how that difference carries into life, where hard facts and narratives both have value, but usually of a very different kind. And maybe help them see that books are often classified for purely commercial reasons (i.e. to tell the bookseller where to shelve the dang thing)--rather than classified according to actual content.

      My .02.

      • Thematic grouping (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Daetrin (576516) on Monday October 05, 2009 @09:15PM (#29652815)
        Well it's impossible to ask for recommendations without those recommendations being influenced by emotions. But one way to at least mitigate that is to structure it around themes, since the description specifically states that the class will involve various social issues. For example:

        Read Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers," Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War," and John Scalzi's "Old Man's War." Then discuss what they think each author thought about war and its consequences and how that reflected or disagreed with society's views at the time.

        Read James Alan Gardner's "Commitment Hour," Lois McMaster Bujold's "A Civil Campaign," and David Brin's "Glory Season" and discuss gender roles and how science fiction can be used to explore them.

        Read Walter M. Miller, Jr's "A Canticle for Leibowitz," Roger Zelazny's "Lord of Light," and Lois McMaster Bujold's "Curse of Chalion" and discuss the role of religion in SF/Fantasy.

        Read William Gibson's "Neuromancer," Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash," and Vernor Vinge's "Rainbows End" and discuss how our view of the future in general and computers in particular has changed over the past few decades, as well as the differences and similarities between "serious" prediction of the future and satirical commentary on the present.

        Alternately one could read early and late books for each of Heinlein, James P. Hogan, Hubbard, Orson Scott Card and Michael Crichton and discuss the varying degrees to which (nominally) decent SF authors go loopy in their later years :)

        I'm sure there're lots more ideas along those lines.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Gerzel (240421) *

      Philip K. Dick - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

      I'd also recommend reading through some anthologies you like and looking for good short stories. If I were running the class I'd go with (depending on time) two or three good novel length selections and fill the rest in with short stories from a variety of authors. At that level I'd rather get them exposed to a variety rather than focusing on a narrower selection. Show them the different styles and genres and the different colors of sci-fi fantasy.

      I'd s

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday October 05, 2009 @05:30PM (#29651021) Homepage

      Problem is most parents freak out. I was in an advanced Lit class and was introduced to Heinlein, Vonnegut, niven, EE Smith, and Ben Bova as writers and the sex scenes and outright violence in some of the books would have the moronic prude parents today suing everyone in sight for every reason. Hell reading a clockwork orange today in a high school would get most teachers fired.

      I really feel bad for teachers today. They have to basically give high school kids nursery rhymes instead of exposing them to real writers gritty stories that make the kids want to read with a passion.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NickFortune (613926)

      There's also the converse point to consider. In Footfall (I think) Niven and Pournelle make the point (a little self indulgently, maybe) that if politicians are not supposed to plan beyond their term of office, then the only people making serious long term contingency plans are SF writers. I think there's a grain of truth in there; who else has the time and inclination to consider potential scientific breakthroughs, and then explore their social as well as well as technological implications.

      I don't think

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:24PM (#29649163) Journal
    My reading is (obviously) slanted toward sci-fi over fantasy but here's some more names to consider (in no order): Stanislaw Lem, Assimov, Wells, Philip K. Dick, Orwell, Mary Shelley, H. P. Lovecraft, William Gibson, Charles Stross, Heinlein, Vonnegut, Lois Lowry, Madeleine L'Engle, Larry Niven, Sturgeon, Huxley, Herbert, Stephenson, Douglas Adams, Rand, Anthony Burgess, Philip Jose Farmer, Robert Silverberg, Harry Harrison, Frederick Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Jack Williamson, E.E. Smith and Crichton. While you might feel some of them belong elsewhere (Shelley, Vonnegut, Rand, Orwell) they're still sci-fi/fantasy.

    Um, what were you planning to have them do? What amount of reading per week are you aiming at? 20-30 pages? I realize a lot of the authors (Jordan especially) may be too much to ask.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bryan1945 (301828)

      I'd add Brin & Modesitt. They also have some nice socialogical themes to them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Abreu (173023)

      I second most of this list, especially Asimov, Dick, Lem

      However, I would not suggest heavily political books to avoid needless controversy, or big doorstoppers that might discourage some kids.

      • by Dahamma (304068) on Monday October 05, 2009 @04:59PM (#29650729)

        However, I would not suggest heavily political books to avoid needless controversy, or big doorstoppers that might discourage some kids.

        On the contrary, I would use whatever metric is used in any other literature class as to the content, length, or difficulty of the novel. The main reason this post is interesting to slashdotters is that someone is trying to acknowledge sci-fi and fantasy is just as worth studying in an academic environment as other literary works. If that's true, it should be treated the same way, and not tailored to suit political sensitivities or short attention spans.

    • by Jaysyn (203771)

      What he said!

    • A classic SF writer that is often forgotten is Fredric Brown. Although his SF stories are often short (usually less that 1000 words) they are totally amazing and stand the test of time very well. One of his more famous short stories, "Arena" was used as the basis of a Star Trek episode by the same name.

      I personally liked his several short stories that dealt with time travel and the many ways that people tried to deal with them. My favorite story, "The End", deals with what would really happen if someone
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rho (6063)
      Octavia E. Butler and Samuel Delany as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Zerth (26112)

      Clifford Simak would be a good one for the 40/50's. Most of his sci-fi is rural/laid-back and while his heros are like cardboard, his aliens have depth.

      Goblin Reservation is a sci-fi/fantasy mashup where somebody has to solve his own murder in a future where time-travel is used to settle educational disputes and science has found where fantasy creatures were hiding.

      The Visitors covers our interaction with incomprehensible aliens that turn trees into easy to drive flying saucers, ruining the autoindustry.

    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Monday October 05, 2009 @04:10PM (#29650045) Homepage Journal

      80s-90s represent: Greg Bear, David Brin, Gregory Benford, Vernor Vinge, Robert Charles Wilson, Michael Swanwick, Dan Simmons, Charles Sheffield, Nancy Kress, Kim Stanley Robinson

    • by Iron Condor (964856) on Monday October 05, 2009 @04:32PM (#29650433)

      [...] here's some more names to consider (in no order): Stanislaw Lem, Assimov, Wells, Philip K. Dick,[...]

      etc.

      I think this is exactly the wrong approach.

      Sit your pupils down in day one class one and talk about sci-fi. Every one of them is bound to know at least one or two. Some will know a lot. Let them suggest things and justify their selections. That process alone will teach them something about literature. In the end be prepared to go with a couple things that came from them that aren't precisely what you would have picked but allow you to get your curriculum through. Allow one thing you don't already know yourself to force yourself to do actual analytical work yourself instead of just regurgitating something you've already done to death a million times before.

      Pick one thing yourself that you think complements/contrasts their choices (ideally someone NOT on the parent's list of sf clichees). Show them how/when/where it does so.

      I am willing to bet this'll make more neurons spark than a pre-set list of well-worn sci-fi authors.

    • by morari (1080535) on Monday October 05, 2009 @05:00PM (#29650737) Journal

      H.P. Lovecraft. I don't think that can be stressed enough. He is so often times overlooked or pigeonholed into the same horror category as Poe, but he really did help to lay alot of the foundation for good science fiction. His later works are especially of a cosmic scale, where ancient occult gods are nothing more than misunderstood alien entities. Some stories are much more obvious in their influence however, such as At the Mountains of Madness and certainly The Shadow Out of Time.

      I certainly think that the major "dystopian" novels should be covered as well, such as 1984, Brave New World, and maybe even Stranger in a Strange Land.

      • by GMFTatsujin (239569) on Monday October 05, 2009 @05:52PM (#29651273) Homepage

        I absolutely adore Lovecraft. However, I'd save him for a specialty class, probably a college level class. His fecund verbosity overpowers my even my most perspicacious tendency, rendering opaque the once-transparent word hoards of narrators across the visages of time, sending my love of storytelling into the blissful quiet of a new dark age.

        Seriously. Yuck.

  • Fahrenheit 451 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Victor_0x53h (1164907) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:24PM (#29649169)
    Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is a favorite classic. Science fiction, but easy to read for anyone.
  • Dune (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:24PM (#29649173)

    I think the books really transcend into life in the 21st century. Plus there's a plethora of movie versions you could show your class.

  • Whoa.. stop! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anrego (830717) * on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:25PM (#29649187)

    Think of the children! PLEASE!

    No offense .. but it sounds like this course is going to be just like most English courses..

    That is.. take an enjoyable experience (i.e. reading a good book) and turn it into a complete chore by over-analysing everything to the point that students shun reading forever.

    Now.. maybe some high school students would enjoy comparing their favorite sci-fi series to the cold war.. or writing a 10 page essay on what the author _REALLY_ meant when he said "John walked briskly across the street".. but I suspect most won't.

    That said.. if this is your intention though.. 1984 is a must. You can (and people have) turn just about any paragraph in that book into a masters thesis.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by lawpoop (604919)
      This two-period hybrid full-stop/ellipses you use strikes me as emblematic of your perspective on literature and literary classes.

      No offense .. but it sounds like this course is going to be just like most English courses..

      Well no shit. You go to school to learn, which is Hard Work, not to goof off or be entertained. If students just want to read good books, they can read themselves without taking the class.

      .. or writing a 10 page essay on what the author _REALLY_ meant when he said "John walked briskly across the street"..

      Has that ever really happened? Ever?

      You can (and people have) turn just about any paragraph in that book into a masters thesis

      Likewise, this? Somebody wrote a master's thesis about a *paragraph* from 1984? And even more than one person has done this?

      • Re:Whoa.. stop! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by selven (1556643) on Monday October 05, 2009 @04:03PM (#29649905)

        Well no shit. You go to school to learn, which is Hard Work, not to goof off or be entertained. If students just want to read good books, they can read themselves without taking the class.

        School's main purpose is learning, not boredom. Learning without boredom is the optimum, the goal we should be working toward.

        Has that ever really happened? Ever?

        It's called hyperbole. It's a literary device.

        The point the GP is making, and one that I agree with, is that if you make something boring in school, people will treat it as such in life. Teach a boring biology class, you are robbing two dozen students of curiosity for the wonders of living organisms. Teach a boring math class, you create people who think they can make money off the casinos. Teach a boring English class, your students will never willingly pick up a book again.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anrego (830717) *

        .. or writing a 10 page essay on what the author _REALLY_ meant when he said "John walked briskly across the street"..

        Has that ever really happened? Ever?

        Hell yes! Ok.. maybe slight bit of hyperbole (ehe.. that tickled) but when I was in high school we tore "The Great Gatsby" apart line by line. The teacher we had could take just about any poor innocent sentence and explain how it was actually a metaphor for the fall of the American dream and the prevalence of materialism in our society. I honestly think if Scott Fitzgerald had sat in on one of these classes.. he would have laughed his ass off.

        This two-period hybrid full-stop/ellipses you use strikes me as emblematic of your perspective on literature and literary classes.

        My half-hearted ellipsis are practically a signature .. been usi

    • Re:Whoa.. stop! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:44PM (#29649533)

      Don't forget all interpretations much match the teachers own view as well. Nothing spoils someone interest in a topic, when a teacher always tells them what story they got from this abstracted fiction is wrong.

      • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Monday October 05, 2009 @10:39PM (#29653265)

        Oh man. I had an English teacher who loved Great Expectations. And, yah, it's an ok book, but she was crazy about finding symbolism in it. Absolutely nutsoid.

        One day she kept going on and on about how Pip escaped London on a boat on the Thames river because the river's course has lots of right angles, goes up and down and back and forth and that represents the course of Pip's life-- rich, poor, rich again, etc.

        I raised my hand and said, "maybe Pip took the Thames because it's the ONLY RIVER IN LONDON." She was so mad.

    • Re:Whoa.. stop! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gad_zuki! (70830) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:53PM (#29649709)

      >1984 is a must.

      Is it really? Id rather see this in a politics class or an english literature class after theyve been taught enough history to understand what Stalinism was. I think its 99% political and 1% scifi and without the proper polisci background it just is a dystopian tale instead of the critique and dark satire of oppressive communist governments its supposed to be.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dkleinsc (563838)

      Au contraire (thanks 7th grade French for teaching me that phrase)

      If it's taught well, that is. Make it clear to kids that having opinions about the stuff you read is important, that they aren't too stupid to understand it, and that the knowledge they gain from reading and interpreting this stuff will inform the rest of their lives. I still have memories of my discussions in a course about Beowulf.

      As for what to read, I suggest looking at Hugo winners, many of which can be found in Isaac Asimov's brilliantl

  • by gingerTabs (532664) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:26PM (#29649195) Homepage

    Cyberpunk (Gibson, Stross et al)
    Classic old school sci-fi (Clarke, Heinlein etc)
    Modern Space opera (Ian M Banks)
    High Fantasy (Tolkein et al
    Schlock Fantasy (Dragonlance, Drizzt)

  • Robert Heinlein! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brazilian Geek (25299) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:27PM (#29649225) Journal

    Robert Heinlein!

    Note: I'll write only about the books I've read, other folks might have other points of view.

    Heinlein might have had a weird way of looking at things but he has great stories as an introduction to the scifi genre - light(ish) reading with plenty of topics to discuss.

    Take two of his works that I recommend to folks, Starship Troopers and Farmer in the Sky. Both are "juvenile" books - sex and misogyny are themes in Heinlein's later works - but deal with life in space in a very realistic way. They're wildly speculative yet, just barely, they're plausible enough to make sense.

    If you're looking for short stories, there's The Man Who Sold The Moon - short stories populated with really far-fetched ideas yet it's a really fun read.

    I'm sure other people will suggest other things but I strongly suggest you take a look at Heinlein for the kids, after all he wrote a bunch of stories for them that are easy reads and are, as far as I can remember, kid-safe.

    I'm resisting recommending more authors - as I'm sure this thread will be full of them - but Heinlein's earlier works, from what I recall, are nice examples of scifi aimed towards younger audiences.

    • by nomadic (141991)
      light(ish) reading with plenty of topics to discuss.

      In a high school literature I'd hope you'd want heavy reading.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I'll second Heinlein, especially some of the early "juveniles," especially given part of the synopsis that state, "recognize how world events have been reflected onto other worlds." A lot of the early Heinlein is reflective of the Cold War mentality.
    • Re:Robert Heinlein! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by michael_cain (66650) on Monday October 05, 2009 @04:19PM (#29650213) Journal

      The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

      IMO, his most interesting story looking at how the full spectrum of basics that a society has to provide -- air, food, shelter, marriage, child-rearing, allocation of scarce resources -- might change under suddenly different circumstances. The technology is comprehensible to almost anyone. And kids in high school today may live long enough to see computers that pass a Turing test -- certainly more likely to see that than FTL space flight. Start from "Does an AI that passes such a test have any rights?" and you can take the discussion anywhere.

  • Movies (Score:3, Informative)

    by conureman (748753) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:28PM (#29649231)

    One thing that might generate extra interest is stuff that has been adapted into a movie. Daphne du Maurier's "The Birds" comes to mind, but I'm pretty antiquated.

  • Let the students... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 (1287218)
    Let the students decide. In most literature classes similar to this, you can pretty much bet that each student will have their favorite authors/genres, so why not take suggestions at the beginning of the year, order the books and use that as some material. Students will like it because they aren't being "forced" to read a book that isn't their style, they see that a teacher respects their opinions and chances are you would have better discussions. So pick a few "classic" books and a few contemporary novels,
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MozeeToby (1163751)

      As much as I want to agree, I just can't. Any liturature class should be about exposing the students to works that they would probably not have discovered on their own. If you only have them read what they like, they would have read it without the class anyway. I definately feel that giving them a choice has a place in such a class, but more like something to do at the end, and have them write a report comparing and contrasting the 'classics' with their choice of book.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Darkness404 (1287218)
        Depends though. I was in a number of literature classes and book clubs in high school and a lot of the books that have made the most impact weren't the "classic" books that everyone thinks about, but rather the odd book that one or two students really liked so the entire class read it. For example, even though my teacher had never read an Ayn Rand book, one of the students had and recommended it, and it really challenged and expanded my view of the world. It also helps reduce certain biases by teachers in w
  • by Stile 65 (722451) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:29PM (#29649251) Homepage Journal

    I'd add some H. G. Wells and John W. Campbell - classics before Asimov (although Campbell's personal views are somewhat controversial now). And of course Asimov was mentioned by some people above me already.

    Also, there are genres that fall within sci-fi and fantasy, like alternate history. Some good sources for short stories, too, are the Asimov's, Analog and SF&F literary magazines, and also short story digests published on a regular basis that include some big names writing short stories for the more literary public.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Stile 65 (722451)

      Oh, and for classic fantasy you can't do much better than pre-monotheistic mythology. Gilgamesh, the Iliad and Odyssey... all those fun gods and creatures that form the basis of modern fantasy. Don't forget the Celts and the Norse and the Slavs (Orson Scott Card wrote a book based on Slavic mythology!), and also don't forget African and Asian and pre-European-dominance Australian and American cultures as sources of myths that to this day color horror and fantasy.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by RIAAShill (1599481)

      I'd add some H. G. Wells and John W. Campbell - classics before Asimov (although Campbell's personal views are somewhat controversial now). And of course Asimov was mentioned by some people above me already.

      I agree completely about looking beyond Asimov and company. I can't vouch for the Campbell (never read anything of his before). But here is my list of top picks.

      Mary Shelly's Frankenstein [wikipedia.org] is an excellent bit of classical literature that deals with topics such as hubris, justice, and divinity. It is a

  • by Syncerus (213609) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:30PM (#29649261)

    It would be interesting to emphasize how SF has evolved with society. From Vern and Wells in Victorian Europe, to Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" and "Stranger in a Strange Land", which demonstrate both sides of American culture in the 1960's. John Brunner's "Stand on Zanzibar" is a terrific period piece, and Zelazny's "Lord of Light" is also a blast.

    In my view, SF took a serious downward turn from the early 1980's, but there are exceptions, to be sure. With the entire range of SF at your disposal, there's no reason to select junk when there are so many gifted authors to study.

  • by durdur (252098)

    My 14-year-old daughter liked Asimov's "I, Robot" a lot. Easy to read but also very imaginative and thought-provoking.

  • I know... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZekoMal (1404259) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:35PM (#29649353)
    ...religion!

    All joking aside, I can't see why this class is necessary. Science Fiction and Fantasy are meant to be enjoyed. If you force children who aren't interested, they still won't like it. If it's an elective, then you'll get kids who have probably already read all of the books that might be offered, so they won't fully enjoy it either. Unless it worked around not that well known literature and focused more on discussions and less on bulk reading/essays, it might have some merit.

    For that matter, a good 1/3 of my books read in plain ol' Lit were sci-fi/fantasy. Would that class be changed to general lit? Will there be no other specialized lit classes? Will they cut general lit and change it into specialized lit, so that no one has to leave the genre they like? I prefer the generalized approached to reading, otherwise you are in danger of never leaving your comfort zone.

  • "Ender's Game." "Lord of the Rings." Hell, "Chronicles of Narnia." "Starship Troopers." "The Demolished Man." "Ringworld." No reason not to sprinkle some legitimately entertaining reads into the mix, and since the above-mentioned books all have fairly rich themes to discuss, you won't compromise academic value to get something that might hook them.
  • Anathem [amazon.com]
  • by Amigan (25469) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:36PM (#29649377) Homepage
    We did a book a week. Some of it was tough sledding. I doubt that will be a viable speed for HS - where the student's won't be buying their own copies.

    We spanned HG Wells (Time Machine) through Larry Niven (Ring World). A lot of it depends on how the material is presented. My prof at the time was a repressed poet, and went into the deep meaningful relationships in Heinlein's "Double Star" and swore that the author was seeing a shrink while writing the book. We also went through the original Foundation trilogy where the prof kept pointing out how the administrators of the planet were going through a feminization and had an oral fixation. During the discussion of "Dune" (and again later in "Ring World") there was pointing out of the male fear of falling into a hole - especially a hole with teeth.

    Personally, I would look at the older scifi (golden age, 30s-50s) for technology that they proposed and see how long it took to actually implement. Then look at technology mentioned in contemporary scifi and see how close we are to getting there.

    jerry

  • by chrisj_0 (825246)
    One of the best first Sifi books is The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury.
    The stories are short and insightful and will make for great discussions in this age group. Although it was written in the early 50's the stories are (from what I remember) still very relevant with great social commentary.
  • Both his Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever series (fantasy) and his Gap series (Sci Fi) were excellent writing and stories. I read them growing up and thought they were great. He's one of the few authors I've read that can do both genres really well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_R._Donaldson [wikipedia.org]

    Also, I think a fun class project would be to compile a concept or theme-based wiki and find/cite examples of major themes in fantasy and sci-fi literature. I use "wiki" loosely here because in my experience wi

  • Charles Stross: Accelerado (Possibly just Lobsters).
    Tolkien: Lord of the Rings
    Asimov: I Robot
    John W. Campbell: Who goes there? (Or "The Cloak of Aesir" or "The Moon is Hell")
    E.E.Smith: Skylark of Space
    Balmer & Wylie: When Worlds Collide

    I tried to get one per decade, but my memory isn't that organized. Reading the list I notice that there are few short stories. And I left out a bunch to shorten the list. But one noteworthy factor is how the themes change over the decades.

  • Consider a mixture not just between the genres, but between the time periods. Do a piece from H. G. Wells, maybe something by Tolkien (maybe The Hobbit), and then something fairly modern and gimmicky, something that'll be fun to read. John Zakour does a lot of small paperbacks that are fairly punny and set slightly in the future. Or even somethings from Anthony Piers. They are always fun, and a great way to point out reader comprehension. Avoid doing a lot of the heavier Sci Fi, as it is just going to
  • Rendezvous with Rama (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nacturation (646836) * <`moc.liamg' `ta' `noitarutcan'> on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:41PM (#29649477) Journal

    Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke. Great novel the perfectly fits the classic sci-fi genre and deals with the "what if" of alien contact and how it could possibly come about. It has ties to biblical stories (eg: Noah's ark) and packs quite a bit of detail (physics, biology, computers, etc.) into a fairly easy read. Rama II was a decent followup and goes more into social issues, but the subsequent novels go progressively downhill and are only worth reading just to find out what happens.

  • I just re-read the original H.G. Wells "War of the Worlds" a few months back, and I was surprised at how much of it is applicable to modern society. While the story itself is somewhat dated because technology has passed it by so completely, the human issues in it are just as modern and prevalent today as they were when it was published.

    In a way, I think that's what any SciFi/Fantasy literature course should get across -- that the stories are not just about whiz-bang special effects -- a lot of the time th
  • The Mandatory Five (Score:3, Informative)

    by sgt_doom (655561) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:42PM (#29649497)
    Please, to not have Iain Banks' The Player of Games is a major shortcoming. Truly THE CLASSIC of future fiction and quite thought-proking.

    Also, the following should be included as well:

    Drakon, by S.M. Stirling

    Watermind, by M.M. Buckner

    Improbable, by Adam Fawer (not listed as sci-fi, but definitely in the modern genre)

    and, of course, A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

  • by Hamshrew (20248) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:43PM (#29649517) Homepage

    I can tell you that you should explore the roots of speculative fiction and what it means. For example, here are the novels that we read in my class(which was admittedly a college-level course).

    Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyan)
    The Invisible Man (Wells)
    The Hobbit (Tolkien) - Whatever you do, don't try to do so thoroughly. The Hobbit alone is a lot of material.
    The Neverending Story (Michael Ende) - HIGHLY recommend this one.
    Divine Right's Trip (Gurney Norman) - This was an excellent book that I still reference today, but is probably the first one on this list that I'd drop.
    Neuromancer (Gibson)

    We also covered numerous short stories. A few of the more memorable ones:

    The Cold Equations (Tom Godwin) - Excellent, if dated. there's a film of it, as well, but it added a lot of side material.
    The Celestial Railroad (Hawthorne) - Highly recommended after Pilgrim's Progress.
    The Last Question (Asimov) - Required reading.

    Heinlein is also an excellent choice, though we didn't cover it in my class.

  • by gonar (78767)

    is this a semester course or a full year?

    Focus mainly on short stories that the kids can read in a couple hours. chose a few (3 max for a full year, 1 max for semester) medium length novels to dive deep in.

    stay away from Tolkien, except maybe some excerpts.

    great short stories are plentiful in Asimov's "complete short stories" vols 1 and 2. in particular, "the Ugly Little Boy"

    Clark's "nine billion names of god" is a tasty little bite that will make them think.

    "The Sleeper Awakes" by H. G. Wells is remarkab

  • by farrellj (563) * on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:45PM (#29649553) Homepage Journal

    You can get more people reading if you give them books that will catch there interest. Throwing Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land might scare off some newer readers...so it's always good to get some sort of a tie-in that they can relate to...and a good example of that would be Robert J. Sawyer's Flashfoward , which has the tie-in of the TV series based upon it. This leads to all sorts of great discussion topics for students about how Media interacts with Art.

    Another to consider is Cory Doctorow's Little Brother . In this book, the main chracactors are high school students dealing with both mundane questions of teenage life, and fairly deep questions about freedom, authority and technology. And the technology is current, so that it will appeal greatly to today's high school i/n/m/a/t/e/s/ students.

  • Stross (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Frogg (27033) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:45PM (#29649571)

    Accelerando - Charlie Stross

    simply superb! :)

  • by StealthyRoid (1019620) * on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:46PM (#29649581) Homepage
    Avoid Heinlein. He's only got like 3 good books anyway (Starship Troopers, Moon is a Harsh Mistress [best sci fi book ever], and half each of Stranger and Cat), and subjecting anyone to that convoluted, Oedipus-driven Lazarus Long shit at an early age is either going to turn them off the genre, or make them try to mount their mothers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Nakanai_de (647766)
      Had to reply to this. I agree with your assessment that Heinlein's novels are not the greatest (Although I thought "Time Enough for Love" had some interesting ideas), and I was a hardcore Heinlein fanboi for a while. But his short stories are amazing. "By His Bootstraps" is one of the coolest time travel stories ever. "The Man Who Sold the Moon" is brilliant. And "Life-line" and "Let There Be Light," his first two published stories, are really good descriptions of the conflict between transformative te
  • by russotto (537200) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:47PM (#29649599) Journal

    Heinlein, _Friday_. Because the parents are going to complain anyway, so you might as well give them a reason. Bonus points for the 1983 cover.

  • Cold Equations (Score:5, Interesting)

    by new death barbie (240326) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:47PM (#29649607)

    "The Cold Equations" a short story by Tom Godwin (wiki'd the author). It's been 40 years and I still remember the story, that says something. I remember hating the story, because unlike most pulp SF at the time, it didn't have a happy ending; in fact I cried.

    I hated it, and I recommend it. You'll hate it too.

  • by Bootsy Collins (549938) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:49PM (#29649659)

    You might as well have asked people to name their favorite fantasy or sci-fi authors; you're going to get zillions of lists of recommendations without much guidance on what to pick and why.

    IMHO, you need to look at that course description and ask questions like "Can you suggest some high quality fantasy or sci-fi works that have as their core theme "the relationship of humans with their environment" or "the nature of intelligence" or whatever.

    Two recommendations I'd make:

    1. Don't be afraid to go old (H.G. Wells _The Time Machine_, for instance, attempts to make some provocative claims about what happens to an increasingly technological society -- remarkable given when it was written).

    2. Steer away from huge works. LOTR is my favorite fantasy book; but books like that are too big. They prevent you from reading too much other stuff because of time constraints.

  • short stories (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cretog8 (144589) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:51PM (#29649679)

    Stick to short stories, exclusively or almost exclusively. Short stories have always been the medium which best captures SF, gets to the point the, "here's an idea, let's explore it some" nature of SF, while when things expand out to novel size it loses some of that (in spite of many great SF novels).

    Plus, doing short stories makes it easier to keep people's attention, and less likely to lose people who've fallen a few chapters behind in the reading. Either you've read the story or you haven't. Changing stories day by day / week by week / whatever means you can get different styles in that appeal to different kids and break any monotony. It also gives you more flexibility to change your mind about course direction in the middle-if it seems like a good time to change direction, you don't have to finish slogging through the current novel first.

    Also, you're not going to be able to cover the span of what you'd like to cover in one class, you'll have to leave things out. If you go with novels, you'll have to leave more things out.

  • Escape Pod podcast. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wdavies (163941) on Monday October 05, 2009 @03:58PM (#29649809) Homepage

    The best free sci-fi on podcast I've come across is from Escape Pod.

    Currently at about 200 short stories narrated often by the original authors, includes original and award winning works. Kudos to the guy who does it. I've stopped listening now I dont drive 2 hours a day to work and back.

    http://escapepod.org/ [escapepod.org]

    Each is between 30 mins and an hour or so, reading, mostly non-dramaticized.

  • by Stargoat (658863) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Monday October 05, 2009 @04:06PM (#29649981) Journal
    I'm here to criticize. The purpose of Fantasy, and to a lesser extent Science Fiction, is not primarily escapism. Rather, it is to create an understanding of the human condition by using speculation or other plot devices. The first thing that comes to mind are those black white / white black dudes on Star Trek - which you should probably show your class [wikipedia.org] as an example of what science fiction is actually about. I think you also need to define for your class what is speculative fiction, what is hard science fiction, and what is fantasy with spaceships and fantasy with unicorns.
  • Georgia Tech (Score:5, Informative)

    by kjs3 (601225) on Monday October 05, 2009 @04:07PM (#29649995)
    Georgia Tech has been offering a ridiculously popular Science Fiction literature class since the 70s. You might use it's curriculum as a guide. http://lcc.gatech.edu/~brobertson3/texts/sf.pdf [gatech.edu]
  • by kimvette (919543) on Monday October 05, 2009 @04:20PM (#29650233) Homepage Journal

    Re: What Belongs In a High School Sci-Fi/Fantasy Lit Class?

    Microsoft total cost of ownership studies. ;)

  • I had this class... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by demonbug (309515) on Monday October 05, 2009 @04:40PM (#29650551) Journal

    I was fortunate enough to have taken a science fiction class in high school. I'd recommend nearly all of the books we covered:

    Starship Troopers (Heinlein)
    Childhood's End (Clarke)
    Dune (Herbert)
    A Canticle for Leibowitz (Miller)
    Space Merchants (Pohl/Kornbluth)
    Ender's Game (Card)

    Those are the ones I remember that I would recommend. The only other novel I recall from the class was Earth Abides by George Stewart, but I detested it.

    I'm sure there are any number of books you could add (I think there must have been something from Asimov that we read, but I don't recall what), but that was a pretty good crop with decent variety, and didn't include some of the other classics that the students have read/will read in other classes (like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984). We also did a couple movies (Star Wars as a framework for the traditional hero's journey, Independence Day because it was new and big [a friend and I wrote a tongue-in-cheek paper claiming that Independence Day was actually about the spread of the evil that was AOL, spread by those pesky disks]). We also did a few short stories: A Sound of Thunder, Prospector's Special, and some story where an architect builds a crazy multidimensional house that collapses in on itself stick in my mind.

    I'm not sure what I'd go to for the fantasy portion of such a class. Tolkien of course, but after that it becomes much more difficult - there are a lot of science fiction books that are stand-alone, but with fantasy a lot of the better ones I've read are part of a series, and it becomes difficult to identify one book from a series that really encompasses everything you want to include. Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea books are great (and the first three are quite short, so you might even be able to fit them all in), maybe The Riddlemaster of Hed by Patricia McKillip (sp?).

  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Monday October 05, 2009 @07:27PM (#29652121)

    Mr. Pratchett's work is brilliant, insightful, and often as funny as Monty Python. Racism, war, discrimination, child-raising, gangs, drug addiction, and all the ills of the modern age are covered in ways that both entertain and educate.

    I wish the man would visit my neighborhood so I could buy him a hat.

  • by Captain Courteous (1339339) on Monday October 05, 2009 @07:44PM (#29652243)
    I realize this may not occur to anyone as a shoe in for such a course, but I took a class in my sophomore year of college in which we covered Max Brook's World War Z. Almost every other text used in the class was met with mixed enthusiasm (we covered Dune, Neuromancer, Caves of Steel, Electric Sheep, Starship Troopers, etc.) but everyone seemed to love Brooks' work and discussion went fantastically. Any student vaguely familiar with Bush-era political controversy will gain a huge appreciation of how effectively satire can be incorporated in works of science fiction. And everyone loves zombies right now, so it's win-win.

    Where Le Guin is concerned... If you dare to subject high school kids to The Left Hand of Darkness, good luck reviving them afterward. I know little about Earthsea, but from what I've heard secondhand, that may be a more viable option for your purposes. If including a female author is what you're looking to do, then go for Mary Shelley, the woman who invented the science fiction novel.

    Someone has probably already said it, but show people how wonderful the mind of Tolkien was by giving them The Hobbit, not the trilogy. The Hobbit is the book that made me love to read. As far as I'm concerned, it offers much more memorable people and places in a much tidier package than the drawn-out, song/poem-laden trilogy. One advantage to using LotR, however, would be if you were looking to get into the function of allegory.

    For short stories, a nice place to start might be Neil Gaiman's collection Fragile Things.

    Dune is awfully hard not to recommend. One of my favorite novels, it wasn't until I read it with others that I started to notice uncanny resemblances to certain modern-day desert conflicts.

    And if you get a chance, be sure to fuck their minds up with some Phillip K. Dick and make them laugh with the first installment of Hitchhiker's Guide.

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