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-Nüsse. 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.