Wednesday, 4 November 2009

What Speculative Fiction Works Would You Put On A Highschool Curriculum?

The most recent Mind Meld on SF Signal deals with what speculative fiction novels first published in the last 10 years should be included in high school literature courses.

I had to read the Chrisalids and 1984 in class, but most of my speculative fiction reading was done after school. I read mostly fantasy but felt after a while that I should read some of the SF classics as well, and started with Asimov's Foundation series. I didn't get much past that, so in university I took an SFF English lit course. We read some interesting works, and some I'd never want to read again. I'd expected the list to include SFF classics. The prof however, chose to revise the traditional list so while we'd read the masters we wouldn't read their most famous works. Here's the list:

The Two Towers - J. R. R. Tolkien
The Postman - David Brin
Grass - Sheri Tepper
Time's Arrow - Martin Amis
The Hollow Man - Dan Simmons
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus - Orson Scott Card
Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Philip K. Dick
Parable of the Sower - Octavia Butler
Dune - Frank Herbert
The Shining - Stephen King
Neuromancer - William Gibson
(I'm missing one or two, but you get the picture)

If you're looking at this list and thinking, 'what a lot of dystopian fiction' you'd be thinking what I was (after I'd read them all). If I were building a curriculum, I'd try to vary my speculative fiction to portray the spectrum of what's been done and what's being done now.

The problem with SF Signal's guidelines is it removes all the classics from the list. I'd love to see more people reading The Postman, which, in my opinion, was a better post apocalyptic novel than The Road by Cormac McCarthy (though I liked that novel). And it just seems odd to leave authors like Clarke, Asimov, Card, Herbert, Tolkien, Butler, Dick, etc. off a list of books intended to teach SFF literature (not that all of them need to be included, but to avoid all of them? That's just wrong.).

Of course, thinking of a list of great books to read and coming up with a curriculum of 'books with themes and meanings' is different. While I didn't like all the books I had to read for my class I can honestly say there was a lot of discussion involved with each of them.

I'd probably include The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie. The book has a lot to offer in terms of rewriting the classics of the fantasy genre (which means discussion of what is considered classic fantasy, especially for those with no prior background). The problem for a high school course would be the high level of profanity included.

I'd also include Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold. Fantasy has always appealed to me because of it's propensity for using philosophical topics. The book deals with religion, belief and being a good person (though mostly indirectly).

Terry Pratchett would need to be on the list somewhere. Hogfather would be my choice. It works as a stand alone, but it also brings up questions of belief and reality, making the reader question things they take for granted. It helps that it's a hilarious story.

For an example of alternate history I would use Bernardine Evaristo's Blonde Roots, because it opens the avenue of discussion about the history of and reasoning for slavery and prejudice.

Along the same lines, though more futuristic is Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, which shows how those with different abilities are still worthwhile members of society.

Ultimately there are a lot of great books out there, and students should be exposed to more of it, both in class and outside of it.


Unknown said...

That's actually an interesting set of books you've put up here (yours and your school's).

I agree, though, that The Postman is far better than The Road, even though the latter is still pretty good as far as entertainment value is concerned (I didn't think The Road deserved the hype it got, but I guess once you end up on Oprah's list you're set...).

Jessica Strider said...

I liked The Road but I think I'd have liked it more had I not read The Postman first. Oh well. There are so many great books out there. It's a shame students aren't exposed to more of it in class.