Mr. Gleich writes...
My own interest in science fiction was cultivated early on by reading Jules Verne as an adolescent, and by watching science fiction movies and serials on television. Growing up in the Sputnik era with a space race and the Cold War provided me with ample fodder for thought of the “what if” variety. What if we had a nuclear war? What if aliens visited us from space? What if time travel were possible? It was the “what ifs” that stimulated plenty of conjecture to spice up the mundane world I actually lived in. Clearly by this time, science fiction was intermingled with science fantasy to the point where I could not tell where one ended and another began.
Required reading in high school and college seldom allowed me to pursue this reading avocation, so it lay dormant for a long time. Sometime in the mid 80’s I came across an invitation from the National Science Foundation to propose a topic for a series of new grants they were funding. These grants were known as Sci-Mat Fellowships and were intended to bridge science with the humanities, since the National Endowment for the Humanities was also involved in the funding. I proposed to research and write a lengthy paper on “Science Fiction as Existential Literature.” To my surprise my topic was accepted and funded.
I selected Mr. Cavanaugh, English department chair, as my mentor (science teachers needed to have a humanities mentor) and together we created a syllabus that had me reading 24 books that summer. I read morning, noon and night. I read on the beach, on airplanes and I read on long drives in the car. That was the fun part. The hard part was writing my paper and accepting the editing from Mr. Cavanaugh. Tending towards verbosity, I had the challenge of paring down the dozens of single spaced pages I was writing. In the end, after much wise and careful direction from Mr. Cavanaugh, I was able to submit a final copy that was 25 pages in length, single-spaced. Fortunately it was well received.
This paper became the backdrop under which I was encouraged to develop a senior spring trimester English elective. I team-taught the course with Mr. Cavanaugh for a couple of years, then I became so busy with other assignments that I was forced to abandon the course. That was, until I happened to mention to Mr. Mohrmann a couple of years ago that I was stepping down from administrative work to move full-time back into teaching and coaching. One thing led to another and I decided to say ‘yes’ to his request to resurrect the course I had once offered. Accepting the fact that almost three additional decades of science fiction writing had happened since that glorious summer, I decided to develop a new course loosely based on some of the books I had used, yet augmenting it with others from the past three decades. What evolved were two courses—winter and spring English electives—with some overlapping texts sprinkled with a number of short stories. Here is the short synopsis of what I wrote about these courses for the English curriculum guide.
Students come to science fiction and science fantasy for the familiar and the unfamiliar. It allows them to enjoy a world not their own, yet to live an alien life tangentially and vicariously. While science fiction initially allows them to escape and be entertained, it also informs them, provides them with new ideas, and instills a sense of optimism and inspiration. Discussions will play a vital role in revealing understanding of the literature, but students will also write papers and take tests over content.
These courses will pursue science fiction in novel and short story form, bridging science fiction from the past seven decades. Novels will be chosen from: Dune, Frank Herbert; Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Phillip K. Dick; Hyperion, Dan Simmons and A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller. Short stories will include: Sandkings, George K. K. Martin; Out of All Them Bright Stars, Nancy Kress; and Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link.