reflection on class #1: geek cred

For this reflection I want to play off of something that Andrew, a.k.a. "42", had to say at the beginning of class: he jokingly requested that we close the door so that no one would hear us talking seriously about science fiction, suggesting that he was losing "street cred" by the minute by simply being in class. Although he was joking, this got me thinking about two things: the "uncool" character of science fiction, and my own balancing-act in trying to set the proper tone in the seminar.

First, "uncool." Having been chronically uncool my entire life, it doesn't really bother me to be passionately interested in sci-fi wizardry, even though this is often looked down on as the proper province of wimpy nerds and other people who are somehow out of step with what is "really going on." Indeed, I'd actually say -- and this is part of my hunch in designing the course in the first place -- that science fiction sometimes has its finger on the pulse of what is going on better than the supposedly "realistic" treatments of things. Not only does sci-fi usually orient itself towards the envisioning of a plausible future, an orientation that demands careful attention to present-day trends and possibilities, but sci-fi is also one of the few places where we as a culture give our imaginations free reign and permit ourselves to think about things outside of the usual censoring that we use in our daily lives (you know, that little voice that tells you that something's "impossible" or "infeasible" or "absurd"). So I'm happy to sacrifice short-term street cred for long-term geek cred.

Second, the balancing act. It's always difficult to try to set a tone that both celebrates science fiction (through allusions, comments that reveal a certain depth of knowledge and experience, insider jokes, and the like) and invites others into the conversation even though they might not know off the top of their heads the names of the characters on the good ship Serenity, or be familiar with the "even-numbered rule" for Star Trek films. Part of the fun of a course on science fiction is that it creates a space where people who have read a lot of sci-fi can have a safe space to discuss it in detail without fear of ridicule or dismissal, and that's a prerequisite to the kinds of conversations about novels and films and themes I hope to have later in the semester. But if one is not already a fan of the genre, I can see how that atmosphere might be a tad off-putting. I try to balance those concerns, especially on the first day, but I'm never sure how well I do.

Let me just say for the record that not every discussion will demand an intimate acquaintance with genre trivia. It's okay if you (gasp) don't know who Robert Heinlein or Orson Scott Card or Joss Whedon are (yet); we'll get there, and other places besides. If you are not already a sci-fi expert, please don't let the enthusiasm of some of us for our favorite authors and works be off-putting! And those of us that are somewhat exuberant: remember that not everyone in the room has read or seen your favorite work of science fiction multiple times. We need to make sure that our conversations are inclusive, not exclusive.

PS some of my thoughts about the definition of "science fiction" from a couple of years ago can be found here and here.

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