What Stories Were Most Popular in SF Course?

I’ve submitted final grades for my summer Science Fiction class at UC Davis.  I will post some more info about the class in the coming weeks, including a lesson plan or two for any teachers out there looking for suggestions.

Based on the content of the papers and final exams (where student could choose which stories to write about), the most popular stories were as follows:

  • E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops”
  • Clifford Simak’s “Desertion
  • Judith Merill’s “That Only a Mother”
  • Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”
  • Joanna Russ’s “When It Changed”
  • Pat Cadigan’s “Pretty Boy Crossover”

Those stories came up the most in answers on the final.  It may be because they overlap with so many of the overarching themes that we discussed:

  • Dystopia/Utopia (Forster, Russ, Cadigan)
  • War and Weapons (Merill, Simak, Bradbury, Russ)
  • Posthuman Life Forms (all of them if you spin it a certain way, but Cadigan and Simak for sure)
  • Gender and Sexuality (Merill and Russ, obviously, but also the mother from “The Machine Stops” and the protagonist of “Pretty Boy,” who some students saw as a “feminized” man).

Oddly, with the exception of Russ, these are all earthbound SF.  Not a lot of “First Contact” alien stories.

Also, just because they were most popular doesn’t necessarily mean they resulted in the best papers.  Had a really strong paper on James Patrick Kelly’s “Think Like a Dinosaur,” for example.


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2 Responses to What Stories Were Most Popular in SF Course?

  1. Hey, Nathaniel, tell your student that I’d love to see his paper on TLAD. Always up for learning new stuff about that story!

  2. nathanielwms says:

    Jim, the inclusion of TLAD was one of the reasons I chose the Wesleyan anthology over some of the other options. I read that story when it first appeared–still have the issue of Asimov’s, which was the first I’d purchased since high school. I was trying to figure out if the material I was writing in college creative writing classes would be better suited for SF markets than elsewhere. I read your story–really analyzed it in terms of voice, character, plot, the repercussions of the technology, etc.. By the end, I was intimidated as hell! 🙂 Didn’t submit to Asimov’s for another ten years. (In hindsight, that was probably a good thing.)

    The student wrote about TLAD in a blue-book essay about SF and optimism, responding to Paul Kincaid’s observation that SF is “exhausted” because it’s lost faith in technology. I’ll get you a copy once I hear back from the student..

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