Go Back in Time with Dr. Sturgis’ “Science Fiction, Part I”

by Ryan Joy

Dr. Amy H. Sturgis is the newly appointed Department Chair of Literature and Language at Signum University. She teaches a range of courses that include detective fiction, Harry Potter, dystopian literature, and gothic stories. Ryan Joy “sat down” electronically with Dr. Sturgis for a brief Q&A session regarding her upcoming class for the fall: Science Fiction, Part 1.

Joy: For those students that have never taken a course with you before, they may be surprised to know that your technique is somewhat different than other literature professors. Can you give us an idea for how you structure your courses?

Sturgis: I approach my subjects from the perspective of intellectual history. In this case, it means I focus on how science fiction developed as a genre, how it influenced and was influenced by current events and thought, and how its major works represent a conversation about big ideas over the decades and centuries. I look at works in their contexts and in dialogue with each other—and their readers!

Joy: Your upcoming course “Science Fiction Part 1: From Modern Beginnings Through the Golden Age” is being offered for the second time at Signum University this Fall. I think it is fair to say that even new students will recognize a lot of the authors and their respective novels, but there might be a couple lesser known authors on the reading list. In your experience teaching this course, is there any one author or work that your students get surprised by? I’m looking to identify the big treat that people don’t see coming.

Sturgis: A lot of students express surprise at how prescient E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” (1909) seems to us today. They can see contemporary concerns and even aspects of recent films (WALL-E, for instance) reflected in this remarkable story.

Joy: The course covers approximately 150 years of science fiction, but the list includes so many great works. Did you have a hard time narrowing your list down? Are there any major works of the period that it breaks your heart not to include in the class? This is your chance to guilt potential students into reading an extra novel or short story before class starts!

Sturgis: I always have a hard time narrowing down my readings! It’s a bit like lining up your best friends in front of a firing squad. Who do you sacrifice first? My regrets start with the very first week. I’d love to share Mary Shelley’s fascinating The Last Man along with her brilliant Frankenstein. There are other key works that made the “short list” but not the final cut: Karel Capek’s R.U.R., Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker, Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow… Woe!

Joy: The reading list looks very similar to the last one, but I’m wondering if you have any major changes planned for the course.

Sturgis: The works we’re covering in “Part I” are the same (although there will be changes to Part II [which will offered next Spring—ed.] to bring the readings up to the present day), but I’m always trying to improve and refine my lectures. I’ve taken cues from the student questions and comments I received last time to know what to emphasize and where to pause and investigate further. I’m excited about taking this journey again with my fellow Mythgardians. It’s a fantastic adventure!