F. Brett Cox is a writer, editor, and educator living in (currently) snowy Vermont. He and Andy Duncan co-edited the anthology Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic (2004).
Over years of teaching, as over years of anything, recurrent themes emerge. Here are a couple from my experience teaching college-level classes in sf.
The arguments about the “literary” qualities of sf are as present in the classroom as they are in convention hotel bars. The first time I taught Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, one student declared, “This is everything I came to science fiction to get away from,” while another student announced, “This is the first book we’ve read that didn’t feel like a homework assignment.” Some twenty years later, when I asked the students to list their favorite and least favorite works from the class, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness got the most votes for both favorite and least favorite. In that same class, we read Slan; a colleague told me that, in her class, during a discussion of canon formation, a student from my class cited Van Vogt as an unfairly neglected American writer.
The New Wave still freaks people out. Whenever I teach Samuel R. Delany’s “Aye, and Gomorrah,” the students are almost always genuinely unsettled. They never know what to make of Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe”; one or two have been outraged that it’s on the syllabus for a science fiction class. (Although the last time I taught Zoline’s classic, one student not only sang the story’s praises, but did so to one of his engineering professors.)
But they love Alfred Bester. When taking the aforementioned favorite/least favorite survey, the highest favorite score I ever recorded was for The Stars My Destination.
The geeks and nerds have not yet inherited the earth…. In any class of, say, 18 students, there will probably be no more than 3 or 4 hardcore sf enthusiasts. The rest are there for various reasons—I need a humanities credit, I saw the Matrix movies and thought they were pretty cool, I’m a computer science major so I ought to like this, right?—and sometimes they leave the course with a genuine sense of discovery. Which is, of course, why I chose the ed biz in the first place.
But maybe someday. Those 3 or 4 hardcore sf enthusiasts? They want to be writers. Almost always. Stay tuned.