Genre Fiction: Reading, Writing, and Criticism

By John Edlund

I have been teaching a General Education science fiction course, English 222, “The Literature of Science Fiction” since the winter of 2002 when Stephen Whaley, the original designer of the course, passed away of a heart attack in the second week of the quarter.  I was the only person in the department who had read any of the books!  However, English majors kept asking if there was a course in science fiction they could take that would count as part of their major coursework.  I designed something a little broader than that: English 304, “Genre Fiction: Reading, Writing, and Criticism.”  I wanted a course that could be taught in different ways by different instructors, depending on their interests, and I knew that fantasy, romance, and other genres would also be popular.

The course is also designed to be either a creative writing course or a traditional literature course, depending to a certain extent on the interests of the student.  The final project can be either a short story or a critical paper.

For winter 2014, the creative writing part of the course will involve
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, a new book by Jeff Vandermeer, and  Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussion on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew by Ursula K. Le Guin.  Wonderbook is a full color illustrated guide to writing fiction, engaging and beautiful enough to serve as a coffee table book.  The Le Guin book is a collection of very inventive writing exercises that she uses in her own fiction workshops.

Barnes and Noble Review published an interesting interview with Jeff Vandermeer about Wonderbook.

We will start with a couple of Conan stories by Robert E. Howard, then continue in fantasy with The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien.  In science fiction we will read Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (who unfortunately passed away recently) and stories from the newest Gardner Dozois anthology, The Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection.  Dozois’s collections always begin with a useful summary of what happened in the world of science fiction publishing. In noir detective fiction, we will read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Finally, we will read Jeff Vandermeer’s novel Finch, which combines the genres of science fiction and detective fiction.

Whatever purpose students have in signing up for this course, I can guarantee interesting discussions, a lot of good reading, and rigorous exercise of the writing muscle.

Here’s a flyer for the course.

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