Space Opera, the Course: Seeking Your Input!

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Last month, I asked the following on Twitter (and Facebook):

https://twitter.com/shaunduke/status/818891962673676288

The idea behind this came from a conversation with the lovely Nina Niskanen. She suggested that I might teach a course on space opera for a more general audience using an online service . Her own interest came from the perspective of a writer who wanted to write space opera but didn’t know enough about it. I thought that sounded like a great idea. Alas, I didn’t have the time back then to really begin putting anything in motion. Teaching full time, working on a dissertation, attending conferences, applying for jobs, etc.

But I’m about to graduate with a PhD in English (focused on science fiction). That means not only will I have a hell of a good credential for this sort of thing (aside from my existing work as a podcaster, etc.), but I’ll also have quite a lot of time over this summer!

And so here I am asking for your input. Since a lot of people who expressed interest in this are not academics or traditional students, it’s important to me to figure out how best to approach the structure, focus, and presentation of this course. Below, I’ve broken things down into some general categories with occasional ideas about what I’d like to do. Mostly, this post is a series of questions for your consideration.

If you’re interested in any of this, please leave a comment or send an email with the subject “Space Opera Course” to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com. Getting this feedback will ultimately help me create a better product for people! If you know someone who might be interested, point them in my direction.

General:

What do you ultimately want out of a “space opera course” offered in an online setting? We sometimes refer to this as your “learning goals,” which will vary from person to person. Figuring this out influences so much of what follows, and so I must start here.

The Structure / The Methods:

Questions:

  • Would lectures (loosely defined) in audio or video format be of interest? Do you want a weekly or bi-weekly podcast related to the readings, the history of space opera, etc.? What do you expect in the approach taken to the work? Do you want a combination of historical and analytical discussion? Many educational podcasts use a combination of straight lecture (30-45 minutes) about the history of a thing (a literary movement, author, etc.) and provide a framework for understanding a work in a secondary episode (same length). These might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
  • Would you want the environment to be more interactive, a la a discussion-based “classroom,” using some combination of discussion boards, video/audio chat (Skype, Google, etc.), or other service? Video/audio may present some severe limitations depending on how many people get involved and where they are in the world, but if that’s something people would like, there may be a way to run multiple sessions with smaller groups.
  • Should there be some kind of “assignment” component? I don’t mean in the sense of long analytical essays or quizzes — nothing quite so formal. Since many interested parties are writers or simply fans, I wonder if including some kind of “project” in the form of fiction writing or critical analysis (i.e., book reviews, essays a la Strange Horizons or Tor.com, etc.) might be useful as a way to apply the knowledge of the course to each individual’s personal skillset (or non-skillset, if one isn’t a writer but wants to take a crack at it). I don’t feel comfortable treating a course like this as a “graded” course, since that comes with pressure that I’d like to avoid.
  • Would you prefer the course to have a set “pathway” or a “follow at your leisure” structure? Would you want a combination? If you want this to follow a structure, how many weeks would you want to be involved? Typical summer semesters in college run for 8 weeks; non-summer semesters are either 16 (in the semester system) or 10 (in the quarter system). Even non-academic classics are limited to 6-8 weeks.
  • What else would you want out of the course in terms of its structure? What resources would you want made available to you?

The Readings:1

Questions:

  • Should this remain largely literary in form, or would you be interested in readings that consist of films (rather than discussions of those films via “talks” or “lectures”)?
  • How important is format to you? Should readings be chosen that are generally easy to access in multiple formats and within a specific budget? Are ebooks acceptable for you? I ask this question because I know some people who expressed interest in this are based outside the U.S., where it may be difficult to acquire some readings for the same cost as more popular works (for example, Ancillary Justice should be easy enough to find for most people).
  • How important is comprehensiveness to you? Do you want a course that gives more than lip service to foundational readings or would you want more focus on works that are appreciated beyond simply helping space opera’s development? Do you think there should be a balance? Do you want all of it?

Ideas:

The previous course included a significant number of readings spread out over the course of sixteen weeks. These included the following:

  • Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell
  • The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh (from The Chanur Saga omnibus)
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Rocannon’s World by Ursula K. Le Guin (from Worlds of Exile and Illusion)
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • Daughters of Earth by Judith Merril (from Daughters of Earth and Other Stories)
  • Judgment Night by C.L. Moore
  • The Skylark of Space by E.E. “Doc” Smith
  • “Scorched Supper on New Niger” by Suzy McKee Charnas
  • “Water Pirate” by Leigh Brackett (Super Science Stories, Jan. 1941)
  • “Boojum” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette (Lightspeed)
  • “Ghostweight” by Yoon Ha Lee (Clarkesworld)
  • The Space Opera Renaissance edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (selections):
    • “The Star Stealers” by Edmond Hamilton
    • “Empire Star” by Samuel R. Delany
    • “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons” by Eleanor Arnason
    • “A Gift from the Culture” by Iain M. Banks
    • “The Well Wishers” by Colin Greenland
    • “Escape Route” by Peter F. Hamilton
    • “The Remoras” by Robert Reed
    • “Aurora in Four Voices” by Catherine Asaro
    • “Grist” by Tony Daniel
  • Various nonfiction readings, including selections from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the introduction to The Space Opera Renaissance and Aldiss’ Space Opera, I.F. Clarke’s “Future-War Fiction: the First main Phase, 1871-1900,” etc.

I don’t intend to use this list again — at least, not as it stands. For one, this list was designed for an “American literature” class, which of course means that we only briefly discussed the influence of British New Space Opera and non-U.S. literature more generally (i.e., Japanese, Canadian, Chinese, South American, etc.). What I’d like to try to do is create something that acknowledges the significance of the U.S./British tradition, but digs into how other traditions influence, are influenced by, or stand on their own within this larger literary conversation.

Cost:

Questions:

  • What would you be willing to pay for something like this? This might be contingent upon length. $X for X weeks or X lectures, etc.
    • The great thing about doing this in an online setting is the absence of additional costs to the consumer. No administration to pay. No weird fees. You’re just paying me, and that’s it.

OK. Phew. I’ve talked enough. Now it’s your turn! If there’s anything I’ve left out, let me know.

  1. Some of these questions will be contingent upon your answers to the “Structure” section.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.

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