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How Great Science Fiction Works Lecture

How Great Science Fiction Works

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Publisher's Summary

Robots, spaceships, futuristic megacities, planets orbiting distant stars. These icons of science fiction are now in our daily news. Science fiction, once maligned as mere pulp, has motivated cutting-edge scientific research, inspired new technologies, and changed how we view everyday life - and its themes and questions permeate popular culture. Take an unparalleled look at the influence, history, and greatest works of science fiction with illuminating insights and fascinating facts about this wide-ranging genre. If you think science fiction doesn't have anything to do with you, this course deserves your attention. And if you love science fiction, you can't miss this opportunity to trace the arc of science fiction's evolution, understand the hallmarks of great science fiction, and delve deeply into classics while finding some new favorites.

These 24 captivating lectures reveal the qualities that make science fiction an enduring phenomenon that has been steadily gaining popularity. You'll grasp the context and achievements of authors like Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, and many more. You'll experience the wonder, horror, and incredible imagination of works like Frankenstein, the Foundation series, Stranger in a Strange Land, and dozens of more recent stories as well. You'll also see this genre's influence in movies like Star Wars and TV shows like The Twilight Zone.

Science fiction can take us places in time and space where no other form of fiction can - outer space, the far future, alternate universes, unfathomable civilizations. The best science fiction expands our imaginations and makes its mark on our reality. And while few writers would ever claim to predict the future, sometimes authors get it almost eerily right: Gernsback describing radar in 1911, Bradbury describing giant flatscreen TVs in 1951, Gibson inventing "cyberspace" in 1984, and so on.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2016 The Great Courses (P)2016 The Teaching Company, LLC

What Members Say

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4.2 (9 )
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  •  
    Steven 08/11/2016
    Steven 08/11/2016 Member Since 2015
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    2
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    "Loved it with one notable exception."

    I loved it, informative and entertaining, unfortunately with an occasionally jarring social justice agenda that gets forced in where it really isn't needed, the only reason it doesn't get a perfect rating from me.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mat Q. 25/02/2016
    Mat Q. 25/02/2016
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    REVIEWS
    2
    2
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    Performance
    Story
    "Knowledge without ego"

    Gary K Wolfe shows once again why he is one of the world's leading SF academics in this thoughtful and thorough journey through the history of SF

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • Carol
    Massachusetts
    1/02/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Deserves a Hugo of Its Own"

    After listening to these 24 lectures by Professor Gary Wolfe, I think the Hugo Awards for outstanding achievement in science fiction writing needs a new category. This course should win Most Interesting History and Best Argument for the Literary Value of the Genre.

    The overview starts with the19th century European and American roots of science fiction, through the American-dominated pulp magazine and early novel years, the transformative 80s and 90s, and into the new millennium. The chronological presentation is interspersed with lectures on the different icons and tropes of science fiction: space ships, robots, aliens, apocolypses, and dystopias all get thorough coverage. How sci fi has dealt with religion, history, ecology, and gender also get their own lectures.

    There is all kinds of interesting stuff here. There are digressions about the difference between fantasy and science fiction (my favorite distinction was the premise that science fiction has planets--Mars, Arrakis, Barrayar--while fantasy has worlds--Middle Earth, Westeros, Chalion). Dr. Wolfe returns frequently to the paradox that the audience for sci fi books and short stories has always been a fairly small one compared to that for, say, mystery, romance, or even fantasy, whereas science fiction movies have huge audiences and have dominated the box office for decades--think 2001 Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Alien, Independence Day, and Avatar, to name just a few.

    In both print and cinematic form, however, Wolfe notes that, in the eyes of Those Who Decree What Shall Be Considered Art (and those who give out the National Book and Academy Awards), science fiction "don't get no respect." His final two lectures are among the best, covering, respectively, the wide range of international and culturally diverse authors and their contributions that have appeared in the last 20 years; and what he considers hopeful signs of increasing recognition that the best science fiction is as good as the best "literary" fiction. He quotes author China Meiville's observation that, while the latter may bring readers moments of "Oh. Yes," good science fiction brings readers moments of, "Oh, wow!"

    Dr. Wolfe is very obviously an expert, immersed in and enthusiastic about his subject. There's no dreary droning, no pedantic pomposity here. I suppose if you *really* hate being lectured to, this college-level course will not change your mind. But if you're at all interested in science fiction--or even in literature in general--I can't recommend this course highly enough.

    60 of 62 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    6/06/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Great, But Not What I Expected . . ."
    Any additional comments?

    The 5-star reviewers are right. This is an excellent series. For what it is. However, it wasn't at all what I was expecting.

    I feel the title for this lecture series is misleading. The series is less of an analysis of how great science fiction works and more of a history of the genre and exploration of notable themes. A more appropriate title would have been, "A History of Science Fiction: Notable Writers, Works, and Themes."

    This series a great resource for identifying important writers and novels that any science fiction fan or writer would or should know about. But science fiction is a broad genre, and this series covers the breadth of the field, so it isn't able to dig very deep and really explain "how great science fiction works;" at least not how I was hoping.

    I was expecting a more nuts-and-bolts sort of thing. As a writer, I was hoping this series would focus more on how to write great science fiction. Or at least how it works so I could glean insight for writing. That's the whole reason I came to this series. I wanted something akin to "How to Write Great Science Fiction" and the title gave me the impression that that was more or less what I was getting myself into, but that's not really what this series is about at all.

    Each lecture is an exploration of a handful of notable works in the science fiction genre, usually around a theme and selected works that explore it (e.g., "Robots" and "The Golden Age of Science Fiction"). The lectures contain a huge collection of high-level stuff you might find in science fiction, but they don't really explain how these things work or how you can use them in your own writing. It more or less highlights of where they have been used in the genre.

    That said, there are a handful of useful nuggets for the science fiction writer in here. I found the lecture on "The Artifact" quite useful. But on the whole, this is more of a history lesson of science fiction through the ages.

    A minor annoyance: the musical intro to each lecture. It's only a couple of notes from brass horns with a cymbal crash, but it gets old fast. The Great Courses always has some sort of musical interlude, but I kind of wish they would just stop doing them altogether. Most of them aren't great.

    A final minor note: I was pleasantly surprised to see how many movies, TV shows, and video games are mentioned. They don't get much air time, but they do come up. However, I was disappointed that Mass Effect is never mentioned. Video games are barely discussed at all (I think Halo is mentioned once), but I feel like Mass Effect is an important enough work in science fiction (regardless of the fact that it's a video game) to have warranted discussion. Oh well.

    66 of 71 people found this review helpful
  • Annie
    15/03/16
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    "The lecture science fiction deserves"

    An in depth look at science fiction from many angles, how it got started, throughout the years, the different trends, and where it is now.
    As someone passionate about science fiction, I really enjoyed learning more about the genre from someone who both clearly takes it seriously and knows what they are talking about.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Donald
    8/06/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Good History, Low Substance"

    As a view into historical science fiction this is certainly a pleasant and inviting listen, especially as a strong sci-fi fan. However in trying to describe how good science fiction works I feel rather empty handed.
    Overall the general message is that good science fiction is good literature first and foremost. Rather than help me understand what made science fiction great it pretty much lays down a typical axium of good characters and relatable worlds. This, to me, was already kind of a no-brainer and I left feeling at the same level as I came in, only slightly better at literary history.
    I suppose had the title of the lecture was renamed as the history or story of science fiction I would not be so critical, but I did spend my credit on a lecture expecting to further understand good science fiction and how they work. It's not a bad lecture, but the title is mildly misleading. A good read, just don't expect to come out feeling like a better writer.

    15 of 16 people found this review helpful
  • Mark Leidner
    24/03/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "misleading title"

    not actually about craft as the title implies. just a history and survey of the literature. not bad at that but absolutely not a craft discussion. felt scammed

    29 of 32 people found this review helpful
  • Jason
    26/03/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Better Title: History of Science Fiction"

    I was very excited when I found this course but a little dissappointed by the content, which is more of a history and overview of works with connections to general aspects of science fiction. Nuts and bolts please! Tell me WHY a given example is "Great Science Fiction". That being said I enjoyed it nonetheless; I just feel the title of the course is a little misleading. Buy it. It's worth it.

    17 of 19 people found this review helpful
  • Gnorb
    Ft. Lauderdale, FL
    30/06/16
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    Performance
    Story
    "For Scifi Lovers, a Must!"

    I've never gone through a course so quickly or so attentively. Never once was I bored, nor did I ever feel like I was being talked down to, nor babied. The instructor mentions a ton of stories which he speaks of with such interest and, dare I say it, passion that I can't help but want to read them myself.

    (It's important to note that this deals with written scifi literature. Don't expect much talk of film, save for the occasional mention of films inspired by a certain book.)

    I can't sing this course's praises enough. I plan not only to go through it again, but next time to take notes and treat each novel mentioned here as a homework assignment, when possible. (It's only fitting that audiobooks will likely be my primary method of consumption.)

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • J.Stevens
    Tampa, FL, US
    11/07/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Not as in-depth as I hoped"

    This was a fairly thorough SF history lesson. You will hear almost every popular author name and title, with far too many spoilers. Too much WHAT and not enough HOW.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • Marc
    Ebersdorf, Germany
    26/06/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A wonderful collection, not too incomplete"
    What did you love best about How Great Science Fiction Works?

    As the headline says this is a wonderful look over the history of SF, including some sidesteps towards Fantasy, Gothic Novels, Thriller, Horror and what have you. It may concentrate a bit too much on the very old times (early 19hundreds) and speed up much too much after the late 1960s, there was still good SF written after that (though Mr. Wolfe does mention that).
    And sure, with a whole world of SF you can not do justice to all good writers, but it does tickle me that Mr. Wolfe seems to consider almost all important SF to come from the US.
    There are a few hints at the world having much more to offer and some "strange, far away land actually providing quite fresh perspectives", but these usually are narrowed down to 2 or 3 authors, as if continents like Africa, Asia, Europe only could come up with less than 10 authors worth mentioning over the last 100 years.
    But, again, you cannot suit them all.

    What I did like was Mr. Wolfe's neutral approach to different "types" of SF. Most of the time he does not judge a book (or a movie for that matter) by its entertainment factor alone or its "literary importance" or by any other singular parameter. In fact, since Mr. Wolfe wants SF to be seen as its own kind of literature, it has to, it MUST have variants, is must be allowed to be good, bad, nasty and shocking at times.
    His approach is FAIR.

    There could have been said more about how SF (or maybe even Fantasy) has influenced social life and even science. Mr. Wolfe keeps this topic very short, although even a few of the authors he did mention have had quite some impact on literature/life - but, maybe unfortunately so, not all of them were US authors.

    If you want to get an idea about where SF came from, how it developed from entertainment (mostly short) stories into a whole industry - at least as far as Mr. Wolfes view of the history of SF goes, as there are alternative perspectives possible - I highly recommend this course. It is entertaining to listen to, won't expect too much background knowledge and may even give you one or another idea of what to read or listen to next. If you are into "older books". The last 20 years don't seem to have made that big an impression on Mr. Wolfe :-)


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Sam Fredericks
    29/03/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Knowledge is priceless"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in science fiction.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of How Great Science Fiction Works?

    The structure is very well done as Professor Wolfe presents his lectures around topics featured in works of science fiction such as aliens, robots, dystopia's, artifacts etc. Each lectures gives a little history of the topics use in various works and goes on to examine the top works featuring any given topic.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    I especially liked the lectures on "The Wasteland", cyberpunk, dystopias, utopias, and deep time.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The professors vast reserve of knowledge on science fiction literature.


    Any additional comments?

    Added to my reading list by about two dozen.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
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  • barbara
    11/01/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Informative and enjoyable"
    If you could sum up How Great Science Fiction Works in three words, what would they be?

    Informative and enjoyable


    What other book might you compare How Great Science Fiction Works to, and why?

    I haven't read anything similar


    What does Professor Gary K. Wolfe bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

    He is very passionate about the topic. He provides a great deal more detail in the lectures than in the accompanying notes


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I found the lecture on gender and feminism in science fiction fascinating


    Any additional comments?

    My to read list has substantially increased as a consequence of listening to this series of lectures.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Shaun Taylor
    22/03/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Excellent"
    What does Professor Gary K. Wolfe bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

    He reads it very engagingly and naturally with passion and personal involvement.


    Any additional comments?

    A very well thought-out and thorough coverage of science fiction covering history, major themes and movements comprehensively. I feel like I am well equipped to read science fiction with a sense of context now. If I had been writing down names of authors and stories I would have a long reading list of the major science fiction stories worth reading.

    It is also very entertaining. I never read things more than once but in this case I may make an exception.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • D. Wickes
    26/07/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Gets it right"

    Thoughtful lectures spanning the history of SF, alongside some lit crit ideas. While I felt some key works were missed (no consideration of 'Lord of Light' in the lecture on religion), I welcomed the later focus on modern developments in the genre.

    Professor Wolfe speaks well and with an obvious passion, making me wish for more. However, I must instead make time to read some of the many books talked about in this excellent lecture series.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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