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johnzakour
11-07-2006, 03:55 AM
My son who is in 8th grade is studying science fiction in humanities which is cool. His teacher told him and I quote, “science fiction began with the development of the atomic bomb and must end sad.”

Being a science fiction writer and a member of the union I naturally took offense to that statement. Here is what I plan to say to her. Please tell me if I am off base.

First off, if SF didn’t start until the 1940s then what were Jules Verne and HG Wells or for that matter Mary Shelly writing? Even if you are talking solely about movies then how do you explain “The Shape of Things to Come” and “A Trip to the Moon”?

Secondly, sf can be very uplifting and as inspiring, for example: Star Wars, Dune (the first book, more or less) Ender’s Game, the list goes on.

alleycat
11-07-2006, 04:02 AM
My first thought is to ask for a clarification of her statement. She may have misspoke, or your son have misunderstood. If she maintain that that is indeed her view, calmly point out your examples; and if you can find one, a statement by some notable scientist about his feeling about sci-fi stories.

On the surface, it sounds like the ever-popular politically correctness gone amuck.

dclary
11-07-2006, 04:06 AM
My son who is in 8th grade is studying science fiction in humanities which is cool. His teacher told him and I quote, “science fiction began with the development of the atomic bomb and must end sad.”

Being a science fiction writer and a member of the union I naturally took offense to that statement. Here is what I plan to say to her. Please tell me if I am off base.

First off, if SF didn’t start until the 1940s then what were Jules Verne and HG Wells or for that matter Mary Shelly writing? Even if you are talking solely about movies then how do you explain “The Shape of Things to Come” and “A Trip to the Moon”?

Secondly, sf can be very uplifting and as inspiring, for example: Star Wars, Dune (the first book, more or less) Ender’s Game, the list goes on.

I would say that generally speaking, science fiction as a movement took off as a genre during the atomic era, so I can see that distinction. Before this, there probably wasn't really a classification distinguishing speculative fiction involving pseudoscience (really, that's the best you can give Verne or Welles) and general fantasy.

But in the atomic era, you saw an explosion of writers dealing specifically with science and the future, like Clarke, Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, etc. Not only that, but B-movies exploiting bad science really took off here too, both in Japan and America.

So I can see how the argument that sci fi started with the bomb could be made.

However, I disagree with the teacher's assertion that it must end sad. In early science fiction science was, in many ways, the bad guy. It's still that way in a lot of sci fi, especially if you're a Michael Crichton fan. But there's a lot of science fiction where the science leads to good. Star Trek leaps to mind. The only reason something might end sad is because that's better drama, not necessarily just because it's sci fi.

johnzakour
11-07-2006, 04:19 AM
I do plan on clarifying with the teacher. My son is pretty good about taking notes, but he is 13 so who knows...

MattW
11-07-2006, 04:12 PM
How about talking to the teacher offline, then offering to speak to the class on the history and true nature of SF.

A broad set of examples would work - the ones you listed above are good.

JohnB1988
11-07-2006, 05:26 PM
Expect her to give you her definition of SiFi, insist it’s the only true one, and dismiss all your prior examples as not meeting her standards of the genera.

I took a course in humanities. It was taught my the most rigid and de-humanizing teachers I ever encountered--and I’m in the sciences.

FennelGiraffe
11-09-2006, 05:07 AM
His teacher told him and I quote, “science fiction began with the development of the atomic bomb...”This teacher is either using a very -- odd -- definition of science fiction, or has a very loose sense of history.
1818-1920s - Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Capek, and others publish works now recognized as early science fiction.

1926 - Hugo Gernsback begins publishing the magazine Amazing Stories, founding modern science fiction as a genre. Gernsback is also credited with coining the terms "scientifiction" and "science fiction".

1938 - John W. Campbell, who became editor of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction in 1937, inaugurates the "Golden Age" of science fiction.

1945 - Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since atomic bombs had been a well-kept secret previously, this is the only date I can interpret as representing "the development of the atomic bomb" in any kind of cultural context. It's true, of course, that many science fiction authors had been aware of, and writing about, the potential military uses of atomic energy much earlier.

1946-1950 - Variously attributed as the end of the "Golden Age" of science fiction. It's true that few SF novels were published during the 1930s and '40s. The magazines were the primary scene until nearly 1950.
A fairly academic treatment of the history of science fiction. (http://www.nvcc.edu/home/ataormina/scifi/default.htm) A humanities teacher is not likely to respect a fan-oriented account, but this one is associated with a college English course.


"...and must end sad."Is the teacher limiting the discussion to "literarily worthwhile" examples of science fiction--anything upbeat must be mere "pulp"? Most traditional definitions of SF require "sense of wonder" as an essential ingredient, although that seems to be falling by the wayside lately.

johnzakour
11-09-2006, 09:25 PM
Yes, she may be using a "literarily worthwhile" definition of science fiction, hence the reason my background doesn't matter to her as I write pulp SF.

badducky
11-09-2006, 09:33 PM
Bear in mind this is someone who teaches 13-year-olds. I don't go into the intricacy of politics, art, and history when I'm dealing with 13-year-olds. That's the time to stick to the broadest possible strokes.

She's not teaching Sophomore Comp at Harvard.

For instance, if you say "Frankenstein" to an average 13-year-old, you aren't going to find lots of "Prometheus" and hubris discussions. Mostly, you'll get kids with their arms held straight out going, "Ungh... UUUUUNNNNGGGGHHHH!"

Shadow_Ferret
11-09-2006, 10:12 PM
Sounds to me like a teacher who is teaching their own pet ideas instead of reality.

badducky
11-09-2006, 10:36 PM
Is there any other kind?

veinglory
11-09-2006, 10:40 PM
I think that is one of the strong themes in SF, but clearly it dates from the beginning of the industrial age and includes pretty much every literary theme and motivation imaginable. Are you sure she wasn't specifically of modern age dystopias?

johnzakour
11-09-2006, 10:44 PM
Yeah, I'm sure she means well in her own way. I probably should let it slide. Just as a pulp SF writer I'm having a hard time letting it go.

It's also possible my son totally misquoted her in his notes.

I'm just waiting for the right moment to discuss it with her. It's not like I just say, "oh by the way, I think your grasp of science fiction is totally wrong."

johnzakour
11-09-2006, 10:45 PM
She may have been talking about SF movies, but even then there were some strong SF movies before the atomic age.

Peggy
11-09-2006, 11:17 PM
His teacher told him and I quote, “science fiction began with the development of the atomic bomb and must end sad.” I don't really understand the "end sad" qualification. A lot of science fiction is very positive about the human race and it's potential for achievement. Maybe she's only read "Flowers for Algernon" and "1984".

badducky
11-09-2006, 11:53 PM
I think we should cut the teacher some slack. This is an 8th grade humanities course. The fact that she's even mentioning the field in passing is a surprise. The fact that an eighth grade male is actually taking notes about sci-fi is wonderful.

We're just being overly-sensitive. Some better teacher will come along later and fix any wrong ideas. If not that, then the general reading public will shame the foolish newb into the truth at a party someday.

loquax
11-10-2006, 02:08 AM
When I was nine I was told by my teacher that "Pluto is the fastest planet, because it's farthest out and needs to catch up with the others"

Shows what she knew. Pluto's not even a planet.

Evaine
11-10-2006, 02:24 AM
It was then.

Pthom
11-10-2006, 03:10 AM
Planetary velocity in km/hour:

Pluto. . . . . . . . . . . . 17,110
Neptune. . . . . . . . . . 19,558
Uranus. . . . . . . . . . . 24,478
Saturn. . . . . . . . . . . 34,724
Jupiter. . . . . . . . . . . 47,029
Mars . . . . . . . . . . . . 86,850
Earth. . . . . . . . . . . .107,226
Venus . . . . . . . . . . .126,076
Mercury. . . . . . . . . .172,330

And now, back to your regularly scheduled thread.

Higgins
11-10-2006, 04:47 AM
When I was nine I was told by my teacher that "Pluto is the fastest planet, because it's farthest out and needs to catch up with the others"

Shows what she knew. Pluto's not even a planet.


Perhaps the teacher was a closet Ptolemaist.

victoria.goddard
11-14-2006, 06:13 AM
Perhaps the teacher was a closet Ptolemaist.


Could be, could be. Though anything beyond Saturn besides the sphere of the fixed stars, the primum mobile, and the Empyrean would have thrown most Ptolemaists for a loop.

Higgins
11-15-2006, 06:43 PM
Could be, could be. Though anything beyond Saturn besides the sphere of the fixed stars, the primum mobile, and the Empyrean would have thrown most Ptolemaists for a loop.

If you have a moving sphere model of the solar system, then the one's fartherest out could be moved faster to compensate for their position...since you aren't using a gravitational field to explain things...

Actually, this would work in a Copernican System...even better. I tend to confuse the Newtonian Solar system with the Coperican.

Ryvah
11-28-2006, 04:44 AM
Granted, this teacher probably doesn't know much about sci-fi. It's a shame, but it's a fact of life in the educational world. I'm an 8th grade English teacher (sorry for the repeat to any of you who've read my other few posts) and I can tell you that I have never met another English teacher out there who enjoys science fiction and fantasy. I've been the only one so far. Of course, I go out of my way to introduce the kids to sci-fi and fantasy and a little bit of its history. You're right, we cover it only in broad strokes, but we do cover it. I back the suggestion to go in as a guest speaker. Bring books, pass them around, show film clips--from the most cutting edge current movies to the cheesy black and white Godzilla flicks. The kids love that stuff. Do a book talk or two on your faves and let the kids ask questions. They just love picking us apart. All in all, though, I must say I'm kind of impressed that sci-fi was even mentioned. Sad, but true.