Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Woke Up Still Caffeinated....

Last night was my first "Mars Needs Writers" class at the Loft.  I'm happy to report it's a nice size; there's an even dozen, (if you include me.)

Since my lecture style is very non-linear, I promised my students that I would write recaps here the following morning. The first class, traditionally (and perhaps predictably,) covers the definition of science fiction vs. fantasy.

Alas, I have whip-smart students this time around.

Before I could even engage them in the battle of, "But, wait, is X fantasy, or is it... science fiction???" (my cunning ploy to get them to talk to one another) a women in the class offered up the term "speculative fiction" as a cover all.

Speculative Fiction (according to this article I JUST found) is a term attributed to Robert Heinlein in the 1960s and is, in point of fact, intended to include All the Things (science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, etc.)  One of the first definitions thrown out by one of the students to describe science fiction "stories about the weird" would quite succinctly describe what is meant by speculative fiction.

I also laid out a few of the genre definitions I've heard over the past.  I told the class that when I asked Gardener Dozois, the then editor of Asimov's, how he defined science fiction, he quote the famous line by Damon Knight, which is, "science fiction is what we point to when we say it."  (Or as I misattributed it, "science fiction is what we say it is.")  The other famous quote I misattributed to Neil Gaimon, but which actually, apparently, belongs to Rod Sterling, is, "fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible."

My own personal one is as follows, "Science fiction is any story where the plot turns on science (and/or industry); Fantasy is any story where the plot turns on magic."

Then, we had some fun (at least *I* had fun), listing out various sub-genres of each and discussing various places where the sub-genres can fall into either category.  A prime example of that is that superhero fiction can either be fantasy or science fiction, depending on how the superhero was made: lab accident/alien = science fiction, magic/prophetic destiny = fantasy.  Similarly, time-travel stories can be either, depending on the mode of travel.  In simple: did you build a machine to hurtle back into time or jump through a gap in standing stones on the dawn of equinox?

Again, I mostly do this exercise because I want my students to get in the habit of blurting out their thoughts, asking questions, interrupting me, and talking amongst themselves.  I can usually tell how a class is going to go, by how many people get engaged in this exercise.

I'm here to tell you: we're gonna have a GOOD class.

Similarly, I did NOT have to work hard to convince the students about the value of critique.  I even got an early volunteer, and, when we did a prompt exercise at least three students were willing to read what they'd written out loud, to the class.

(You have no idea how hard this can be in Minnesota.)

So... I came home very, VERY pumped from the late night caffeine and from what I felt was a very successful start. Fingers crossed that everyone else felt the same and that this trend continues!