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How Great Science Fiction Works

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Robots, spaceships, futuristic megacities, planets orbiting distant stars. These icons of science fiction are now in our daily news. Science fiction, once maligned as mere pulp, has motivated cutting-edge scientific research, inspired new technologies, and changed how we view everyday life - and its themes and questions permeate popular culture. Take an unparalleled look a Robots, spaceships, futuristic megacities, planets orbiting distant stars. These icons of science fiction are now in our daily news. Science fiction, once maligned as mere pulp, has motivated cutting-edge scientific research, inspired new technologies, and changed how we view everyday life - and its themes and questions permeate popular culture. Take an unparalleled look at the influence, history, and greatest works of science fiction with illuminating insights and fascinating facts about this wide-ranging genre. If you think science fiction doesn't have anything to do with you, this course deserves your attention. And if you love science fiction, you can't miss this opportunity to trace the arc of science fiction's evolution, understand the hallmarks of great science fiction, and delve deeply into classics while finding some new favorites. These 24 captivating lectures reveal the qualities that make science fiction an enduring phenomenon that has been steadily gaining popularity. You'll grasp the context and achievements of authors like Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, and many more. You'll experience the wonder, horror, and incredible imagination of works like Frankenstein, the Foundation series, Stranger in a Strange Land, and dozens of more recent stories as well. You'll also see this genre's influence in movies like Star Wars and TV shows like The Twilight Zone. Science fiction can take us places in time and space where no other form of fiction can - outer space, the far future, alternate universes, unfathomable civilizations. The best science fiction expands our imaginations and makes its mark on our reality. And while few writers would ever claim to predict the future, sometimes authors get it almost eerily right: Gernsback describing radar in 1911, Bradbury describing giant flatscreen TVs in 1951, Gibson inventing "cyberspace" in 1984, and so on.


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Robots, spaceships, futuristic megacities, planets orbiting distant stars. These icons of science fiction are now in our daily news. Science fiction, once maligned as mere pulp, has motivated cutting-edge scientific research, inspired new technologies, and changed how we view everyday life - and its themes and questions permeate popular culture. Take an unparalleled look a Robots, spaceships, futuristic megacities, planets orbiting distant stars. These icons of science fiction are now in our daily news. Science fiction, once maligned as mere pulp, has motivated cutting-edge scientific research, inspired new technologies, and changed how we view everyday life - and its themes and questions permeate popular culture. Take an unparalleled look at the influence, history, and greatest works of science fiction with illuminating insights and fascinating facts about this wide-ranging genre. If you think science fiction doesn't have anything to do with you, this course deserves your attention. And if you love science fiction, you can't miss this opportunity to trace the arc of science fiction's evolution, understand the hallmarks of great science fiction, and delve deeply into classics while finding some new favorites. These 24 captivating lectures reveal the qualities that make science fiction an enduring phenomenon that has been steadily gaining popularity. You'll grasp the context and achievements of authors like Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, and many more. You'll experience the wonder, horror, and incredible imagination of works like Frankenstein, the Foundation series, Stranger in a Strange Land, and dozens of more recent stories as well. You'll also see this genre's influence in movies like Star Wars and TV shows like The Twilight Zone. Science fiction can take us places in time and space where no other form of fiction can - outer space, the far future, alternate universes, unfathomable civilizations. The best science fiction expands our imaginations and makes its mark on our reality. And while few writers would ever claim to predict the future, sometimes authors get it almost eerily right: Gernsback describing radar in 1911, Bradbury describing giant flatscreen TVs in 1951, Gibson inventing "cyberspace" in 1984, and so on.

30 review for How Great Science Fiction Works

  1. 5 out of 5

    Veronique

    3.75* I’m pretty much omnivorous when it comes to reading, but Science Fiction has always fascinated me. This is probably due to growing up reading Jules Verne and Yoko Tsuno (Belgian scifi comic - https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). On the whole, I found this ‘course’ interesting. Wolfe gives a very good overview of the genre, from the early 19th century with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to nowadays. He mentions many authors and works, as well as the important role of editors, while review 3.75* I’m pretty much omnivorous when it comes to reading, but Science Fiction has always fascinated me. This is probably due to growing up reading Jules Verne and Yoko Tsuno (Belgian scifi comic - https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). On the whole, I found this ‘course’ interesting. Wolfe gives a very good overview of the genre, from the early 19th century with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to nowadays. He mentions many authors and works, as well as the important role of editors, while reviewing themes and the evolution of the genre. However, I felt that most of these lectures were superficial and never really went deeper in the subject.

  2. 4 out of 5

    11811 (Eleven)

    Covers Frankenstein through modern day. So many books I want check out beyond the usual Bradbury/Heinlein/Wells/Aasimov stuff that I wouldn't be aware of if I hadn't listened to this. Short lectures but still a great series.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David

    Well, as a long-time SF fan, this Great Course (one of Audible's Daily Deals) was bound to appeal to me. I was not sure if it would contain anything I didn't know, but of course Professor Wolfe, as a PhD expert in the subject, has read even more science fiction than me. Still, I was gratified to recognize most of the names and titles he mentioned (even if I hadn't read them all). This is really a history of science fiction, rather than a course in that elusive quality of "greatness." Defining "gr Well, as a long-time SF fan, this Great Course (one of Audible's Daily Deals) was bound to appeal to me. I was not sure if it would contain anything I didn't know, but of course Professor Wolfe, as a PhD expert in the subject, has read even more science fiction than me. Still, I was gratified to recognize most of the names and titles he mentioned (even if I hadn't read them all). This is really a history of science fiction, rather than a course in that elusive quality of "greatness." Defining "great" SF is necessarily going to be subjective, so Wolfe attempts to be broad and expansive. He starts with the early origins of science fiction - the pulps, and good old Hugo Gernsback (of course he covers earlier material and gives proper homage to Mary Shelley and other sci-fi forebearers), talks about the Grand Old Masters you'd expect (Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, E.E. Doc Smith, etc.) and moves all the way up through the modern day, ending in about 2014 as he mentions such recent names as Li Xixin, Nnedi Okorafor, and Lavie Tidhar, thus addressing SF's changing demographics and broader audience. The chapters generally cover a particular "generation" of sci-fi (e.g., the pulp era, or the New Wave of the 60s and 70s, or space opera, or cyberpunk), or else a particular trope (rocket ships, alien invasions, dystopias, etc.) In each chapter he describes some of the notable authors and books in some detail, and with a persuasive degree of knowledge of a subject he clearly loves. For the most part, Wolfe tries to avoid being too opinionated, so if his own tastes prejudice his judgment, it's not obvious. The series was slightly dry and academic, and probably won't appeal to anyone who isn't a SF fan already (this is not an "Introduction to Science Fiction" course), and if you are an aspiring writer, don't be misled by the title into thinking it will give you any writing tips (though it will probably give you a list of books you should add to your reading list). But for any serious science fiction aficionado, this will be an enjoyable listen, talking about old favorites and probably some titles you hadn't heard of before and will want to check out.

  4. 5 out of 5

    TS Chan

    This Great Course about science fiction induced the addition of more books into by TBR shelf, which is growing significantly faster than my ability to deplete it. I enjoyed listening to this exploration into the evolution of science fiction through the ages. It also made me sort of understand why science fiction had been considered "as an embarrassment or a subliterary genre", thanks to early 20th century pulp magazines in which science fiction featured heavily. However, science fiction has sinc This Great Course about science fiction induced the addition of more books into by TBR shelf, which is growing significantly faster than my ability to deplete it. I enjoyed listening to this exploration into the evolution of science fiction through the ages. It also made me sort of understand why science fiction had been considered "as an embarrassment or a subliterary genre", thanks to early 20th century pulp magazines in which science fiction featured heavily. However, science fiction has since evolved into much more than just pulp fiction. As a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, I'm definitely one of those who cannot stomach the kind of snobbery that the literary world subscribes to where even authors who were actually writing science fiction claimed that their books are of literary works. The last chapter of this course on the Future of Science Fiction was my favourite. At the very least, it highlighted this amazing speech by the late Ursula K Le Guin at the 2014 National Book Awards. "To the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks, from the heart. My family, my agents, my editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as my own, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice in accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination, who for 50 years have watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists. Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality. Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write. Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words. I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom." The course professor succinctly closes his course notes by saying "At its best, science fiction can be as artful and accomplished as any kind of fiction, and it can take us places where no other form of fiction can." I believe that we, as fans of science fiction and fantasy, can wholly agree and stand by that statement.

  5. 5 out of 5

    مشاري الإبراهيم

    I had a dream a few months ago, the kind of dream you replay again and again after you wake up... the kind that sticks. Although it was only one scene, whenever I replay it, I can feel my heart-pounding and find myself reliving the sense of awe that overcame me during the dream. So, naturally, I went and wrote it down. After 20 pages, I realized that I was writing the opening chapter of my new novel...my third novel to be exact. I also realized that I'm writing science fiction, which I've never d I had a dream a few months ago, the kind of dream you replay again and again after you wake up... the kind that sticks. Although it was only one scene, whenever I replay it, I can feel my heart-pounding and find myself reliving the sense of awe that overcame me during the dream. So, naturally, I went and wrote it down. After 20 pages, I realized that I was writing the opening chapter of my new novel...my third novel to be exact. I also realized that I'm writing science fiction, which I've never done before. Does watching Star wars and the Hunger Games count? After a very short consideration the answer was a clear "no". That's how I ended up listening to this Audible course. After the first three or four lectures, I couldn't make up my mind whether I liked it or hated it. I expected to get structured tips, tricks and -dare I say - "Strategies" on how to write science fiction. I did not. That was very disappointing. However, now that I "wasted" my 15 dollars Audible credit (and as the stingy person I am), I decided to see this through and milk whatever I can get in return for the money spent. The course took main themes and components of science fiction novels (e.g. spaceships, planets, time travel, utopias, distopias) then provide a detailed commentary them. Then he uses plot summaries of best selling novels to describe how they are differently used in the genre. As the course progressed, I started researching these books he discusses and ultimately ended up adding them to my "want-to-read" shelf on Gooreads. By the end of the course I stacked up 10-15 science fiction novels out of almost a 100 mentioned in the lectures. These 10-15 books were very, very, relevant to what I want to write. Not only did I have this list, I also had a pretty good understanding of plots of 10s of best selling novels. My list included: - The Time Machine - Neuromancer - We - Uglies - Stranger in a Strange Land - Childhood's End - Orphans of the Sky - Parable of the Sower - Gun, With Occasional Music - The World Inside - Brave New World - The Space Merchants The upside: (+) Having this "menu" of plots summarized and thematically categorized was useful. It will help me brainstorm about my novel as I progress. (+) b>As a novice to the genre, I don't think I would've ever been able to get to this level of understanding if it weren't for this course. The downside (-) as I said earlier in the review, there is no guidance on what a good science fiction novel is , but more of a discussion of themes (-) I felt that Gary K Wolfe (The lecturer) had a political message that he constantly tried to weave into the course (with or without context). He frequently (and) 'conveniently' found a way to state his support of feminism or denounce traditional gender roles. I completely understand if it were mentioned a couple of time. But after the 20th time, it was a bit too much. The course is about science fiction not about gender roles and feminism. For that, he loses 2 stars.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    This isn't actually an audiobook, but rather a series of interesting lectures concerning the history of science fiction literature. While the speaker wasn't necessarily making recommendations, I came away with many books that I'm interested in reading someday.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Angie Boyter

    Rather disappointing---not as advertised. This is a Great Courses COURSE, and from the title I was expecting something more analytical, giving more insights into what makes a good work of science fiction and perhaps why the genre is popular. This is more of a straightforward history of science fiction, with lectures on the various topics like war in SF, robots, space opera (which he never really defines), etc. Many of the lectures become simply a litany of works or authors under that topic. Some Rather disappointing---not as advertised. This is a Great Courses COURSE, and from the title I was expecting something more analytical, giving more insights into what makes a good work of science fiction and perhaps why the genre is popular. This is more of a straightforward history of science fiction, with lectures on the various topics like war in SF, robots, space opera (which he never really defines), etc. Many of the lectures become simply a litany of works or authors under that topic. Some are simply named, which is not very helpful, or the instructor gives a summary of the plot, which usually spoils the story for someone who has not read it but does not analyze why this is a good example. There is also more emphasis than I would prefer on very early SF or precursors of SF from centuries past. In addition, the author says SF is not fantasy but then proceeds to include some works that are clearly fantasy, especially in the last lecture.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lori S.

    An excellent overview of the history and different aspects of the genre.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Phillip

    The Title Is misleading. This is primarily a history ofor science fiction. I was expecting something more theoretical. But, it is a fine history of the science fiction genre.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rick Howard

    I very much enjoyed Dr. Wolfe’s Great Courses lecture. I have always considered myself to be a science fiction fan, but after listening to these lectures, I learned that there are numerous holes in my science fiction education that I will have to get busy filling. To my great surprise, I learned that the mother of science fiction is Mary Shelly, the author of ‘Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus,” published in 1818. She was the first author to tell a fictional tale where the catalyst of the en I very much enjoyed Dr. Wolfe’s Great Courses lecture. I have always considered myself to be a science fiction fan, but after listening to these lectures, I learned that there are numerous holes in my science fiction education that I will have to get busy filling. To my great surprise, I learned that the mother of science fiction is Mary Shelly, the author of ‘Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus,” published in 1818. She was the first author to tell a fictional tale where the catalyst of the entire story arc was a bit of science that was tantalizingly just out of modern reach. Electricity might be able to reanimate dead tissue. What a great idea. The fact that a woman created an entire genre of writing is fascinating by itself but when you consider that she did it when, at the time, respectable women didn’t write novels and especially didn’t write horror/gothic novels, Shelly’s accomplishment is extraordinary. And she wasn’t done there. Some scholars say she is the first author to create a post-apocalyptic novel too when she published, "The Last Man” in 1826. On the other end of the spectrum, I was saddened to discover that men treated women and minorities just as badly in the science fiction family as they did everywhere else. Although Shelly’s Frankenstein was fabulous start, science fiction has largely been, until recently, an American and British tradition and mostly written by white people. That is slowly changing now, but since Shelly’s beginning to Ursula K. Le Guin’s "The Left Hand of Darkness" in 1969, the story authors and pulp magazine editors that published these stories were not diverse. There were exceptions of course, but the bulk of the writers were white and American or British. What I found the most interesting about Dr. Wolf’e explanation of science fiction though was my realization that there isn’t much difference between science fiction and other genres. They all tell fictional stories. Literature scholars rate good literature higher then the other forms because authors tell good stories that are realistic but also illuminate some piece of the human condition: love, sadness, life, death, etc. Authors who can write at multiple levels like that are very good at their craft. Other genres are normally frowned on by literature scholars because the authors usually tell fantastical stories; stories that would never happen in the real world. Science Fiction authors use not-yet-existing-but plausible science to explain visionary possibilities. Fantasy authors uses magic and/or the supernatural to explain their whimsical, imaginary, and even grotesque tales. Horror writers uses the supernatural to explain their stories of the macabre. But even these lesser forms of story telling, as judged by the literature scholars, could be literature too if they illuminated the human condition somehow as many of the great science fiction books do. The difference between literature fans and science fiction fans though is that, sometimes, science fiction fans just want a rip-roaring story that doesn’t make us think too much; stories like space operas and space westerns where there are lots of space ships and robots and flying cities and the heroes save the day and they don’t give a hoot about the human condition. Science fiction fans will take some illumination of the human condition but it is not a prerequisite. I recommend Dr. Wolfe’s Great Course. I learned a lot and because of it, I have a deep stack of great science fiction to discover. References “Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus,” by Mary Shelly, published by lacking ton, Huges, Harding, Mavor, and Jones, 1818, Last Visited 10 August 2018, https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/... "FRANKENSTEIN PUBLISHED,” History.com Staff, 2009, A+E Networks, Last Visited 8 August 2018, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-hi... "How Great Science Fiction Works,” by Gary K. Wolfe, Audible Audio, The Great Courses, #2984, Published 8 January 2016 by The Teaching Company, Last Visited 8 August 2018, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... "How Great Science Fiction Works: Course Guidebook” by Professor Gary K. Wolfe, Roosevelt University, Published by The Great Courses, 2016 “This Day in History, 11 Mar 1818, Frankenstein Published,” History, Last Visited 8 August 2018, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-h... "The Last Man,” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, published by Galignani, 1826, Last Visited 10 August 2018, https://books.google.com/books?id=l78... "Mary Shelley: Meet The Teenage Girl Who Invented Science Fiction,” by Whitney Milam, Digital Communications at National Security Action, 11 July 2015, Last Visited 10 August 2018, https://amysmartgirls.com/mary-shelle... "Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and the Villa Diodati,” by Greg Buzwell, Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians, British Library, 15 May 2014, Last Visited 8 August 2018, https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victo...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael Adams

    Excellent series of essays breaking down the roots, legacy, and varied modes of science fiction.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    An excellent overview of Science Fiction from an academic perspective, Gary K. Wolfe offers some pretty compelling insights along the way and offers one of the finest distinctions between Sci-Fi and Fantasy that I have come across -- without diminishing either genre. A must for anyone just starting their journey in Sci-Fi, and a high recommendation for any old Sci-Fi vets who need a refresher of the roots.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    This course is perhaps misnamed, and would be better called "The History of Science Fiction." There are no secrets to the ways of sci-fi's greatest writers, as the title might suggest. Rather, it follows a course starting with Mary Shelley and tracing through to today. The major movements of the genre, including early years, the Campbell Era, the Golden Age, New Wave, Cyberpunk, and so on are covered, as are some of the major motifs-- robots, planets, spaceships, aliens. The course feels awfully This course is perhaps misnamed, and would be better called "The History of Science Fiction." There are no secrets to the ways of sci-fi's greatest writers, as the title might suggest. Rather, it follows a course starting with Mary Shelley and tracing through to today. The major movements of the genre, including early years, the Campbell Era, the Golden Age, New Wave, Cyberpunk, and so on are covered, as are some of the major motifs-- robots, planets, spaceships, aliens. The course feels awfully white and male (as the field was) at first, but female and global perspectives gain greater prominence as the course continues. Erudite and approachable, broad yet precise, I highly enjoyed this course, which steered me towards several authors I did not know before. Of course there are some overlooked authors (Philip K Dick, for instance, is mentioned only tangentially. but such is the nature of any such survey course. A great intro to the field, and it's the sort of Great Course I would love to have taken as an actual college course.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    Stellar lecture series on history and themes of science fiction, from the 19th century, to the pulp era, to about 2015. Highly recommended. Dr. Wolfe is insightful and very engaging-- I can tell he really loves the subject material and sharing it with others. He also has a nuanced approach, taking the era of the work and the author's constraints into consideration (for example, a lot of pulp sci-fi was produced for as little as half a cent per word with the expectation that it would disappear af Stellar lecture series on history and themes of science fiction, from the 19th century, to the pulp era, to about 2015. Highly recommended. Dr. Wolfe is insightful and very engaging-- I can tell he really loves the subject material and sharing it with others. He also has a nuanced approach, taking the era of the work and the author's constraints into consideration (for example, a lot of pulp sci-fi was produced for as little as half a cent per word with the expectation that it would disappear after the next issue of the magazine came out-- many of these writers were focused on making a modest living rather than high art). This is a survey, so it moves quickly and doesn't focus on a single work or author for very long. My biggest takeaway was a huge list of books I want to read-- and I rarely listen to audio books in a setting where I can take notes! Thankfully, the course materials for this lecture list the books Dr. Wolfe mentions.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    A little dry for a subject I don't find dry. Solid overview of the last century's science fiction with occasional glimpses into earlier speculative fiction. Organized into 23 or 24 'lectures, Wolfe uses chronology as the primary scheme, but also does side excursions to add some interesting categories like alternate history and women authors. This is NOT science fiction. What it is IS a way to organize the science fiction you've read or want to read. It also explains how the area has evolved ... a A little dry for a subject I don't find dry. Solid overview of the last century's science fiction with occasional glimpses into earlier speculative fiction. Organized into 23 or 24 'lectures, Wolfe uses chronology as the primary scheme, but also does side excursions to add some interesting categories like alternate history and women authors. This is NOT science fiction. What it is IS a way to organize the science fiction you've read or want to read. It also explains how the area has evolved ... and where it may be going.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    More of a history of the genre than a deconstruction of the genre itself. Still, Wolfe does a good job of covering the definition of science fiction over the years. He articulates three points that resonated with me about the draw of science fiction: 1. Provides a sense of wonder 2. Provides a means of exploring what is means to be human 3. Provides a screen on which to project fears and anxieties

  17. 5 out of 5

    G33z3r

    Interesting survey of science fiction, both its historical trends and its favorite themes (spaceships, time travel, disasters, cyberpunk, steampunk,...) And its recent enough (as of today in 2016) to be aware of contemporary works as well.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kat Hooper

    Review coming soon at www.fantasyliterature.com. Review coming soon at www.fantasyliterature.com.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gilbert Stack

    Despite the title, this Great Courses work was really an entertaining and informative history of science fiction starting with its debatable origins (Wolfe convinced me that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein deserves the designation of first science fiction novel), then walking us through the many of the great early writers (Wells, Verne and Poe) before spending the rest of the lectures discussing icons of the genre (the spaceship, the planet, the robot, etc.) or movements within the field (the Golden Despite the title, this Great Courses work was really an entertaining and informative history of science fiction starting with its debatable origins (Wolfe convinced me that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein deserves the designation of first science fiction novel), then walking us through the many of the great early writers (Wells, Verne and Poe) before spending the rest of the lectures discussing icons of the genre (the spaceship, the planet, the robot, etc.) or movements within the field (the Golden Age, Cyberpunk, etc.), and later influential editors and authors (Campbell, Heinlein, Asimov, Butler, etc.). Overall I consider it to be a great overview of the field and I very much enjoyed listening to it. I do have a couple of—“complaints” seems too strong a word so perhaps we should call them constructive suggestions. I recognize that some works have had tremendous influence, but part of why I listen to a series of lectures like this is to be introduced to as large a variety of great texts as possible. Therefore, I would have preferred that Wolfe minimize the number of times he referred to the same book across lectures. I also wish someone would fix the table of contents in the audible version as many chapter titles are connected to the wrong lectures (i.e. lecture 10 actually links to lecture 21) which makes it hard to review a lecture after you have passed it. I’d like to end on a more positive note. One of the great delights of listening to a series like this is hearing about books and authors I know and have read. So I appreciated greatly the many times that Wolfe would say things like, “Of course there are many more feminist science fiction writers than I have time to explore here. Authors like…” and he would rattle off ten names. I enjoyed seeing where authors whose works I love fit into the larger schema of science fiction. And that, in summation, is really what this lecture series is about—showing how the authors in the field have influenced each other and caused science fiction to grow and diversify into the genre it is today. If you liked this review, you can find more at www.gilbertstack.com/reviews.

  20. 5 out of 5

    James

    Very good survey of the Science Fiction genre. Wolfe is a knowledgeable and competent speaker, and he makes a distinction between SF and Fantasy that I completely support and agree with. SF is fiction that could happen whereas Fantasy is fiction that will never happen. (I detest Fantasy and all that accompanies it.) A by-product of this series is that my reading list has swelled by at least a dozen novels and several short stories. Although fairly well-read in the genre, there are several classic Very good survey of the Science Fiction genre. Wolfe is a knowledgeable and competent speaker, and he makes a distinction between SF and Fantasy that I completely support and agree with. SF is fiction that could happen whereas Fantasy is fiction that will never happen. (I detest Fantasy and all that accompanies it.) A by-product of this series is that my reading list has swelled by at least a dozen novels and several short stories. Although fairly well-read in the genre, there are several classics I missed, and several I want to re-read. I lost interest in the genre for the most part when it became just another vehicle for political posturing, so much of the work of the past thirty or so years is not at all interesting to me. There were several notable omissions in the series, notably Hannu Rajaniemi and some of the newer Chinese writers, but all in all it was a very satisfying survey.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Einar Nielsen

    I really liked this. I had listened to Wolfe on the Coode Street Podcast and therefore got these lectures and boy am I glad I did. There are 24 lectures that talk about different aspects of science fiction and delve deep into the subject. I wish that I had sat down with pen and paper to take notes. My only objection is that I would have like to hear a little bit more about Samuel R Delany (but I have heard a lot previously). Otherwise, I learned so many new things and I have taken a class on sci I really liked this. I had listened to Wolfe on the Coode Street Podcast and therefore got these lectures and boy am I glad I did. There are 24 lectures that talk about different aspects of science fiction and delve deep into the subject. I wish that I had sat down with pen and paper to take notes. My only objection is that I would have like to hear a little bit more about Samuel R Delany (but I have heard a lot previously). Otherwise, I learned so many new things and I have taken a class on science fiction and listened to another Great Courses lecture previously. So if you are a bit of a sci-fi nerd like myself and enjoy learning about its history then this is a definite recommend.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Anatole

    Awesome lecture series. Professor Wolfe's delivery is very natural and his coverage of the material is both deep and current. This lecture series (I am writing this in 2019) includes books as recent as the middle 2010s. It's not a chronological history of science fiction but a thematic one. He covers the discussion over what science fiction is, important keystones of the genre, aspects of genre, women writers etc... Cannot recommend this enough to those interested in the form.

  23. 4 out of 5

    JL Shioshita

    I've always been a fan of science fiction, but my enjoyment of it always stemmed from other avenues apart from literature - movies, video games, comic books, etc. Maybe that makes me a philistine. This lecture series though, this definitely helped me understand where this genre came from and where it's hopefully going. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in science fiction.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Great overview. I'm going to go through the lectures that I loved and read all of the suggested readings. Lots of content. Much of it becomes endless summary, but sort of hard to avoid given the subject matter.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Clyde

    Good series of lectures on science fiction -- covering its history and culture, and its impact on literature and society as a whole. I discovered a few books that I need to read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kazima

    I've always enjoyed Wolfe's reviews in Locus and I finally had time to finish listening to this series of lectures. Really enjoyed it! A bit nerdy for some, maybe, but as a comparative literature major and sci-fi enthusiast it was a perfect fit. Would recommend to anyone interested in the history and development of the genre and it's tropes.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Stewart

    An enjoyable overview of the rise of science fiction and how it's changed from Frankenstein to modern times.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    I'm unhappy with the title and promotional material. This should have been titled "A Brief History of Science Fiction, Illuminated With Synopses of Several Dozen Stories." This audiobook does not tell you how great science fiction works. For example, you'll find a 60-second outline of the plot of "Ender's Game", including a spoiler of its ending. But you won't hear any in-depth analysis of the story's characters, setting, plot, author, or the context in which it was published. You won't learn how I'm unhappy with the title and promotional material. This should have been titled "A Brief History of Science Fiction, Illuminated With Synopses of Several Dozen Stories." This audiobook does not tell you how great science fiction works. For example, you'll find a 60-second outline of the plot of "Ender's Game", including a spoiler of its ending. But you won't hear any in-depth analysis of the story's characters, setting, plot, author, or the context in which it was published. You won't learn how that story works. You won't learn how to write your own science fiction stories. Other parts of the audiobook are a blur, as the author just rattles off lists of authors and stories. This audiobook answers who and what, but not the how. On the plus side, I was able to jot down a few more books that I want to read. And I do have a slightly better grasp of the history of science fiction.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lance Eaton

    I'm a sucker for programs from The Great Courses. They are phenomenal primers on diverse subjects that provide listeners with a rich understanding of the topic. This production only reinforced my positive experience with them. Wolfe provides a complex and dynamic exploration of science fiction that traverses not just time but themes, styles, and formats of science-fiction. He knows his stuff and the complexity of it but provides easy-to-follow lectures that trace out different ideas within scien I'm a sucker for programs from The Great Courses. They are phenomenal primers on diverse subjects that provide listeners with a rich understanding of the topic. This production only reinforced my positive experience with them. Wolfe provides a complex and dynamic exploration of science fiction that traverses not just time but themes, styles, and formats of science-fiction. He knows his stuff and the complexity of it but provides easy-to-follow lectures that trace out different ideas within science fiction (e.g. time travel, alien invasion, evolution, etc) and some of the most know works grappling with those ideas. He also delves into issues of authorial influence, politics of the time(s), and the impact of publishing industry on the content. The over 12-hours of listening slipped by and I landed at the end wanting to hear more and with a "to-read" list 100 pages long!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jefferson

    A Lively Historical Overview of SF Yes, as other reviewers have noted, How Great Science Fiction Works (2016) is an inaccurate title, as Professor Gary K. Wolfe really is giving an entertaining survey of the history and nature of sf rather than telling how great sf works. He does sometimes say why less than stellar sf is inferior, as when he criticizes poor plotting or cardboard characters or absurd premises or cheap tricks (I felt sorry for Hugo Gernsback’s early 20th-century novel Ralph 124C41+ A Lively Historical Overview of SF Yes, as other reviewers have noted, How Great Science Fiction Works (2016) is an inaccurate title, as Professor Gary K. Wolfe really is giving an entertaining survey of the history and nature of sf rather than telling how great sf works. He does sometimes say why less than stellar sf is inferior, as when he criticizes poor plotting or cardboard characters or absurd premises or cheap tricks (I felt sorry for Hugo Gernsback’s early 20th-century novel Ralph 124C41+, which I think is much better than scholars like Wolfe always describe it), so we may infer that great sf avoids such things. But really his emphasis is on telling an interested reader what sf is, where it comes from, how it has changed, and so on, surveying the genre and its major sub-genres, works, authors, and “icons,” as Wolfe calls spaceships, robots, aliens, and artifacts etc. that accrue meaning and appear in multiple works. This is one of the Great Courses series of lectures by professors, Wolfe giving twenty-four roughly half-hour lectures devoted to topics like the Birth of Science fiction, Science Fiction Treatments of History, Utopian Dreams and Dystopian Nightmares, the Golden Age of Science Fiction, the Spaceship, the Robot, the Planet, the Wasteland, Invasions, Religion, the Alien Other, Environmentalism, Gender, Cyberpunk, the New Space Opera, Urban Landscapes, and Science Fiction in the 21st Century. Wolfe is informative and wide-ranging, though probably about 95% of his examples are anglophone SF. I probably learned most from the chapters dealing with more recent sf near the end of his lectures, because about twenty-thirty years ago, I read some histories of the genre, and I have not kept up so much with developments since 2000. Thus, I probably learned more from his late lectures like the ones on Cyberpunk and the 1980s, the 1990s: the New Space Opera, and Science Fiction in the 21st Century (in which he introduces Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, and Lavie Tidhar), than from his other lectures, but it was still good to brush up my partially forgotten awareness of many classic works by the likes of Wells, Heinlein, and Le Guin. He also covers sf works by mainstream authors like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. And neat background details here and there make all the lectures worth listening to even for people quite familiar with the SF genre and its history, like Walter M. Miller’s experience in WWII bombing an Italian monastery inspiring his writing of A Canticle for Leibowitz. And Wolfe helpfully sums up sf trends and motifs in cogent and convincing ways, as when he refers to sf as a family and the classic space opera subgenre as its eccentric and embarrassing old uncle who finally surprises us with something interesting to say, or as when he concludes that “The [sf] artifact embodies three distinct historical systems: the system surrounding its manufacture—who made it and why; the system of its own history—how it got from its point of origin to its point of discovery; and the system of the culture that discovers it—what it means to us.” Or as when he sets forth the basic template of post-apocalypse stories: 1) The first portents of the catastrophe arrive, or the protagonist gradually becomes aware of the extent of it. 2) The protagonist undertakes a journey through the wasteland left behind by the disaster, perhaps finding a few other survivors. 3) The few survivors and, perhaps, their first children establish a kind of stable community. 4) The community is threatened by the reemergence of the wilderness and the problems of establishing a stable home. 5) An antagonist or warlord emerges who challenges the community, leading to a contest over which values will prevail in the new society. Wolfe is not a professional audiobook reader, and I never got used to his habit while lecturing of pausing when no pause is called for by punctuation, rhythm, or emphasis: e.g., “That gave the field [pause] its first [pause] clearly defined markers for writers and readers.” He also often says the wrong word or fuses the present word with the one he’s about to say next and then quickly corrects himself to say the right word clearly. This is to be expected when one is lecturing, but for an “audiobook,” such mistakes should have been edited out. On the plus side, Wolfe is an utterly unpretentious professor, using no jargon, speaking clearly and simply and wittily, and sharing his enthusiasm for his subject. Despite my criticisms, I enjoyed listening to his lectures. As for the audiobook product, each new chapter is introduced by hokey vintage radio space opera music, and, more helpfully, a 200+ page pdf file is available for free download with the audiobook, including most of the key points from the lectures, a pair of discussion/review questions after each lecture, and monochrome illustrations. The pdf file closes with a substantial annotated bibliography of works about sf (mostly histories of the genre) and of key sf works (including representative classics and 21st-century standouts). So if you’d like an interesting overview of the history, sub-genres, motifs (“icons”), and important works and authors, you should give Wolfe’s course a listen. He does a good job of demonstrating the truth of what he says at the end of his last lecture: “At its best, science fiction can be as artful and accomplished as any other kind of fiction, and it can take us places where no other form of fiction can.”

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