Monday, October 20, 2008

SF Class in Leipzig

Today was the second of my classes in SF: Constructing Alternate Societies. The students had read four stories for today: Mike Resnick's "Kirinyaga" and "For I Have Touched the Sky," Stephen Baxter's "People Came From Earth," and Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life." We discussed the Resnick stories first. The students liked them and seemed to have no trouble following either story. We talked first about what an orbital is, and here some students had more knowledge than others of such SF tropes as rotating an orbital to create artificial gravity; this is also true of all the American students I've taught. With one or two exceptions, my Leipzig class are not hard-core SF fans. We then moved on to the philosophy behind the construction of the Kirinyaga society, and whether it's viable or not, and I was satisfied with their responses.

The Baxter story was more problematic. Some of them had more trouble following this: why people were doing what they were doing, what the background was, how the phytomining worked. Once we got it all straight, one girl said of the story, "It's very depressing." Which, of course, it is. But terraforming will be important in both The Dispossessed and Red Mars, and we touched on what some of the issues are in that complex process.

We didn't get to the Chiang story at all. This was my fault, since I'd misinterpreted how long the class was supposed to be, and I let everyone go too early. However, not one student pointed this out until way afterwards, when it was too late to get everyone back. Sigh. Next week I'll know better. Next week, too, we'll have to fit in the Chiang, as well as discussing the first half of LeGuin's The Dispossessed.

I also assigned the first of the three papers required for the class, which led to questions I couldn't answer about who was supposed to write the papers, since there are apparently two different ways one can get credit for the course, or possibly two different kinds of credit. I need to ask Sebastian Herrmann about this. The university is in the process of switching from one grading-and-accrediting system to another, both are currently in operation simultaneously, and mass confusion reigns.

On the way home, I stopped at a grocery store and discovered an utterly delicious little cookie, Schoko-Pfeffer-NĂ¼sse. I have been losing weight due to all this walking, but these cookies could easily reverse the process if I don't watch out. They're really good.

11 comments:

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Nancy, if this is a stoopid question, I apologize. But are your students taking the course for a grade, or to learn how to write sf?

Nancy Kress said...

i'm teaching two courses. One is SF as literature (the one I tayht today). The other is Writing Science Fiction. Both are university courses and so will be graded.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

SF as Literature (ABOUT DAMN TIME!), I can certainly see being graded--an English course! But Writing SF? How to grade? Surely not the quality of the new fictioneers' first stories? Effort, maybe?

P.F. said...

Funny how no diet ever works, but a drastic change of daily routine often does (I'm talking about weight loss, of course). I found the same thing when I had a traveling job.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

I should add I'm not being a wiseass here, Nancy. Just wondering how a writing course can be graded.

Mark said...

One important grading method for writers: Is it published? :-)

BTW: as far as earning credits toward a degree for writing courses, etc., for my engineering degree I needed some of my humanities electives to be from a writing-oriented course, and for fun I actually took 2. One was Tech Writing and the 2'nd was Philosophy and Film. I actually got college credit for watching "Repo Man" and "Blade Runner." :-D

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Well, that's certainly true, Mark. But I wonder how many fictioneers with the talent, concentration, and need to write publishable yarns take =fiction= writing classes? (I added that caveat because, if memory serves, Nancy attended a poetry writing workshop back when she was teaching at SUNY Brockport.)

Mark said...

Good point (I think).
"Don't let your schooling get in the way of your education."-Sam Clemens

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Sam got to the heart of the matter in about everything, didn't he?

Nancy Kress said...

Grading is always difficult with creative work, and I don't like doing it, but it's a university requirement. Usually I grade on some kind of admittedly subjective curve -- how well is everyone else in the course writing? How interesting, complete, ambitious, original, and eloquent are the stories? Of course, when students are working in a language not their own, it becomes even more difficult. I suspect I'm an easier grader in creative writing than in lit. courses.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Hear you, Nancy. But even if you're given the most corny, copy-cat yarn yet, I'd be mightily surprised if you didn't urge the new fictioneer to KEEP WRITING!

Am I lyin'?