Independent Study Ideas?


As most of you know (or at least those of you who read this blog regularly) I have already taken an independent study course at UC Santa Cruz on select works of Philip K. Dick. It was a thoroughly enjoyable course partly because I got to select what I wanted to read, and because, well, it’s Philip K. Dick. How can you go wrong with that, right? Add the fact that I got to work with a professor who is equally as enthusiastic about science fiction (and related genres, and particularly Mr. Dick and authors like Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, etc.) and I can honestly say it was one of the best classes I have ever taken. One thing I found thoroughly helpful was being able to meet with the professor and have a one-on-one, discussing the works, the themes, the author, etc. While I have no problem with standard classes of 30 people, I find that the personalized approach does bring a broader understanding of whatever material you are looking at, which was the case for me.

Having said all this, I am starting to think about what to do for next year. I already hope to do an I.S. course with a professor interested in Cyberpunk, which is great for me, because I’m interested in it too. That leaves me the option of doing one other I.S. course, since I’m allowed three of them for my degree. Quite honestly, I have every intention to use all three because it allows me to directly relate to the material most interesting to me.

The result is that I haven’t a clue what I want to do with that free slot. Currently I’m thinking of the following ideas:

  • Flirting With the Edges: A course that looks at works that flirt with the edges of genre fiction. Folks like Kazuo Ishiguro or Haruki Murakami, and no doubt loads more. I’d research this, but think of it as a look at books that may have fantastic elements, or SF elements, but don’t flaunt them. One of Kazuo Ishiguro’s books is apparently about clones, but he supposedly writes it so well that you don’t notice until later in the novel.
  • Octavia Butler’s Xenogenisis: I’ve thought of doing a course on this. It’s a huge trilogy, but it is also an awesome trilogy, or so I hear. I really like Butler’s work. I’ve read a novel and several short stories by her and have to say her work is very good. This would be an interesting course.
  • William Horwood’s Duncton Wood: I absolutely loved the first book and the second. I’ve yet to read the whole series, but his work is stunning. I don’t know, though. While I would have a blast looking deep into this amazing work, I wonder if it’s not enough. It’s a huge book by itself, and having the others would make for a great survey, but that’s a lot of reading. I do love his work, though. I wonder if maybe I could do something with his work for a research project…

My question is, what sort of things would you recommend? Any particular themes, authors, etc.? If you had the opportunity in school (whether you’re still in it or have moved on), what would be a specfic idea you’d want to pursue?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

5 thoughts on “Independent Study Ideas?

  1. You could do a study of Heinlein – just A Stranger in a Strange Land could take you a while. 😉

    You could examine various works using the Hero’s Journey approach.

    How about: How have the libertarian ideals expressed in Starship Troopers expressed themselves in current day science fiction. (John Stakely’s Armor or Michael Z. Williamson’s Freehold, etc.)

    Hmm – can you tell I’ve been thinking about this just a bit already? 😉

  2. If you want a challenge, devise a course where you’d examine William Faulkner’s influence on the magic realists, especially his The Sound and the Fury. That can be incorporated into your first idea as well.

  3. Thank you guys for your suggestions. Larry, that sounds intense! That might be something I could do for research, cause it sounds like something I’d have to do a lot of, well, research for.
    Is that documented at all (as in, has someone else actually done such research, or is it something you’re familiar with from your reading, but hasn’t really been addressed much)? That’s a very curious idea.

    I also like the idea of dealing with Heinlein or potentially doing a mythological examination of a single text (particularly applying Campbell, who is an amazing genius, to a work).

  4. There are a few quotes here and there. If you’re fluent in Spanish, try to get your library to get (if it doesn’t own) a copy of Mario Vargas Llosa’s critical analysis/biography of Gabriel García Márquez, Historia de deicido (or something like that; it’s been 3 years since I read it). It’ll contain quite a bit on Faulkner. There are some interviews, some translated into English, that delve upon this as well. But yeah, it’d be heavy on the research side, but it certainly could be turned into a MA paper, no? 😉

  5. It could be something I could do for an MA. It’s also possible I can do it for a research project next year (they offer scholarships to undergraduates for that, actually, which is cool). My problem is I don’t speak Spanish right now, so if it’s something I can’t research without having that language, then I’d have to save it for an MA.

    Got any other interesting ideas up your sleeve, Larry?

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