How Great Science Fiction Works

The Great Courses
Show More

24 episodes in this series

Episode 1 Mary Shelley and the Birth of Science Fiction
Kick off your adventure into science fiction by clearly defining what science fiction is, and more importantly, what science fiction is not. Learn how science fiction is distinguished from--yet often…
Episode 2 Science Fiction in the 19th Century
Look at some of the most important names in 19th-century science fiction, including Poe, Verne, and Wells. From the books and stories they penned, the 20th-century science fiction story emerged.…
Episode 3 Science Fiction Treatments of History
We commonly think of science fiction as dealing with the future, but there is a fascinating subset of science fiction that looks at the past. Learn how science fiction writers…
Episode 4 Evolution and Deep Time in Science Fiction
The concept of alternate histories enables vast possibilities. Discover how many science fiction stories tackle massive timescales, taking us from the very beginning to the very end of the universe,…
Episode 5 Utopian Dreams and Dystopian Nightmares
One intriguing theme presented in science fiction is the concept of utopia and dystopia--and how remarkably similar these two seeming opposites can be. Explore the fundamental questions of "Can our…
Episode 6 The Rise of the Science Fiction Pulps
Science fiction battled a long-standing bad reputation, born out of the "pulp era" in history. Survey the rise of pulp science fiction through serials, magazines, and short stories at the…
Episode 7 The Golden Age of Science Fiction Stories
After World War II, science fiction took a turn for the better. Learn how one pivotal magazine called Astounding Science Fiction helped change the tide on science fiction. Review the…
Episode 8 The Spaceship as a Science Fiction Icon
Science fiction is known for distinguishing elements: artificial intelligence, time travel, aliens, outer space, and more. Delve into one of the more iconic components of science fiction--the spaceship. Learn how…
Episode 9 The Robot: From Čapek to Asimov
Robots are a common theme in science fiction, but why? Professor Wolfe introduces you to Karel Capek, who adapted the word "robot" from a Czech word meaning "forced labor." Witness…
Episode 10 The Golden Age of the Science Fiction Novel
In 1950, the New York Times ran an article claiming that science fiction had graduated from pulp fiction to respectable hardcover books. Learn how this remarkable validation was brought to…
Episode 11 From Mars to Arrakis: The Planet
A key differentiator between fantasy and science fiction is that fantasy stories often take place in worlds, while science fiction stories take place on a planet. Thus, the theme of…
Episode 12 The Science Fiction Wasteland
Not all science fiction predicts technology-driven modern futures. Look at the stories over time that foreshadowed a desolate and bleak future, ravaged by environmental issues, plagues, or cataclysmic events. Examine…
Episode 13 Invasions, Space Wars, and Xenocide
Science fiction includes war stories--which often respond to real-life wars. Ascertain how authors such as H. G. Wells took the subgenre of invasion tales to a new level by reflecting…
Episode 14 Religion in Science Fiction
A number of science fiction stories tackle the concept of religion, which is often at odds with the concepts that define science fiction. Delve into how science fiction approaches religion,…
Episode 15 Science Fiction’s New Wave
In order to truly make a mark on the literary world, science fiction needed to develop a substantial body of work. In the 1950s and 1960s, see how authors such…
Episode 16 Encounters with the Alien Other
Aliens are another icon and staple of science fiction. Often depicted as hostile and representing the unknown "other" as well as our fears about ourselves, aliens have been examined (and…
Episode 17 Environmentalism in Science Fiction
Here you'll revisit the idea that science fiction often deals directly with the consequences of human actions, whether through robots who take over the world or massive storms produced by…
Episode 18 Gender Questions and Feminist Science Fiction
One stereotype science fiction still hasn't fully shaken off is that it is a predominantly male genre. Originally, the audience was assumed to be male because science fiction often featured…
Episode 19 Cyberpunk and the 1980s
Gibson's Neuromancer and the movie Blade Runner (based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) together formed a gritty, corporatized view of the future that…
Episode 20 The 1990s: The New Space Opera
Space operas--mega-adventures that span galaxies and many pages--introduce complex and layered narratives with complicated characters who are often not immediately likeable. Professor Wolfe traces the components that comprise a space…
Episode 21 The Artifact as a Science Fiction Icon
The artifact in science fiction is typically a manufactured item with value, power, or mystery, which can be as small as a subatomic particle or as immense as the wormhole…
Episode 22 Science Fiction’s Urban Landscapes
While many science fiction stories take place in post-apocalyptic wastelands, deep in outer space, or on other planets, another common setting for science fiction is the futuristic city. Compare two…
Episode 23 Science Fiction in the 21st Century
Shift your attention to how science fiction grew through the last century into this one. Uncover how the genre has developed from having highly similar plots, audiences, and even authors,…
Episode 24 The Future of Science Fiction
Speculate with Professor Wolfe to consider how science fiction may be evolving in the future, as this genre is gaining popularity, acknowledgement, and recognition as an art form worthy of…

Related videos

An Introduction To Russian Literature
Excerpts from Russian fiction, theatre and biography augment historical background to create a portrait of Russian social and literary development in the 19th and 20th centuries. This discussion is illuminated by photography, Russian art and sculpture. The program traces early 19th century Russian history and culture through Pushkin and Gogol.…
William S. Burroughs - A Man Within
William S. Burroughs: featuring never before seen footage as well as exclusive interviews with his closest friends and colleagues. Born the heir of the Burroughs' adding machine estate, he struggled throughout his life with addiction, control systems, and self. He was forced to deal with the tragedy of killing his…
Classicism And Romanticism - The Sober And The Sublime
This program explores Classicism and Romanticism as expressions of divergent human needs--one a leaning toward form, pattern and security; the other a desire for change, fantasy and feeling. It surveys these antithetical influences in architecture, painting, literature and music. Students study Classicism as a way of thought in the writings…
Women of Mystery: Three Writers Who Forever Changed Detective Fiction
First we read Nancy Drew, girl detective. Then what? Women of Mystery explores the writing lives of three authors (Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton & Marcia Muller) who started a literary revolution and, in the process, captured readers' imaginations around the world. With V.I. Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone and Sharon McCone, the…
On The Track Of Robert Van Gulik - Dutch Author and Diplomat
A documentary quest about one of the most read Dutch writers in the world, Robert van Gulik (1910-1967). This diplomat, author and scholar was a highly versatile man and a connoisseur of Japanese and Chinese languages and cultures. He owes his fame to his detective fiction starring Judge Dee. The…
Every Child is Born A Poet - The Life and Work of Author Piri Thomas
An incendiary mix of documentary, poetry, storytelling, drama, and performance, Every Child is Born A Poet explores the life and work of Piri Thomas (b. 1928) the Afro-Cuban-Puerto Rican author of the classic autobiographical novel Down These Mean Streets (1967). The film traces Thomas' path from childhood to manhood in…
Icons Of Our Time: Agatha Christie
Part of the Series: Icons Of Our Time
Agatha Christie's novels have been translated into 44 languages and sold in a 103 countries. After Shakespeare, she is the world's best selling author in any genre with over 2 billion books sold. On the 75th anniversary of the creation of one of her most famous characters, the immortal spinster…
A Place to Stand - The Story of Author Jimmy Santiago Baca
This film tells the story of acclaimed author Jimmy Santiago Baca's transformation from a functionally illiterate convict to an award-winning poet, novelist and screenwriter. Based on the memoir of the same name, the film takes viewers into Baca's past and present to uncover how the power of the written word…
Art With A Message - Protest And Propaganda, Satire & Social Comment
This program investigates the ways various art forms are used to sway minds and to argue political causes. Examples include Napoleon and Hitler; artist such as Daumier, Hogath and Shann; writers Dickens, Swift and Orwell; and pop artists who mock popular ideals.
Heart of Darkness (Bookmark)
BBC
Africa seen through the eyes of one of the greatest novelists of the 20th Century, Joseph Conrad. His novel Heart of Darkness has always provoked admiration and controversy and was the inspiration for Coppola's film Apocalypse Now. This film takes a journey up the River Zaire, juxtaposing Conrad's classic tale…
Charles Bukowski - Bukowski At Bellevue
In the Spring of 1970 Charles Bukowski, then little known, packed his overnight bag, locked the door of his tumbledown East Hollywood apartment behind him, and took his first plane ride to the state of Washington to read at Bellevue Community College. This pioneer reading (only his fourth ever) was…
World Of Mark Twain
Students explore Twain's works through excerpts from his best-known fiction, essays and letters. The program shows how the author's boyhood, riverboat and journalstic experiences influenced his writings.