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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Currently reading - Exploring Science Fiction

I've been reading Exploring Science Fiction: Text and Pedagogy, edited by Geetha B. (this kind of abbreviation of names is commonplace in India) and Amit Sarwal. The book is published in New Delhi, by SSS Publications, but it could just as easily have appeared in New York, or London, or Sydney, or anywhere else in the English-speaking world. There is nothing about it that is of narrow and peculiar interest to readers based in India.

The essays are of high quality, though to be honest the book could have done with one more pass by a pair of trained eyes - such as those of a professional copyeditor. Just too many glitches have found themselves into print. One of the worst is that a note from me to the editors (placed in square brackets, and discussing a tiny stylistic point) has simply been printed as is within my own essay, rather than being acted upon in some way and then deleted! That may be one of the worst examples, but there are small problems in every essay.

Sometimes it's a couple of words in the reverse order that didn't get picked up in copyediting, sometimes it's simply a very clumsy sentence. For example, the very first sentence of one essay reads: "Delhi University was perhaps the first major university in India to introduce an honours course in popular fiction in 1999." One immediately wonders whether Delhi University did so in, say, early January of that year, while the others waited until February or March! (Surely the sentence should read: "In 1999, Delhi University became perhaps the first major university in India to introduce an honours course in popular fiction.")

Too much of this sort of thing becomes distracting, and I hope that the editors might have a chance to polish the book one more time before any editions are published in other countries - or any further editions appear in India.

With that bit of dissatisfaction out of the way, I can report that Exploring Science Fiction could be used pretty much anywhere as a textbook or a teachers' handbook. The primary audience is Indian teachers and academics, and it makes the assumption that a basic text is needed in a country where the teaching of science fiction is not well established. Several of the essays are about pedagogical techniques for teaching science fiction courses and texts (some of these techniques could be adapted to classes in other subjects). However, the book also provides a solid account of the genre that would be useful to teachers in, say, the US or UK or Australia; and the pedagogical advice is by no means restricted, in its plausibility and likely usefulness, to schools and universities on the sub-continent.

Though some of the content is at an elementary level, just about every essay pushes beyond the obvious to make some points that would be of interest even to experienced professionals and scholars in the field. At the same time, the theoretical and historical accounts tend to converge on a common picture: no one is offering a highly controversial "take" on the nature of the genre or its historical origins and development. There is something of a consensus here, and it reflects the more popular ideas among literary critics and scholars. History, formal characteristics, and themes are explored in ways that would, I think, be familiar to most of us doing scholarly work in "science-fiction studies", yet with individual touches and usually a certain amount of flair.

The book would be useful to any scholar who would like to read a solid, orthodox account which nonetheless offers personal insights (in some cases from very high-profile sf scholars, such as James Gunn, who has provided a foreword, and Andy Sawyer). In particular, it would be of value to anyone trying to get an overview of the history and character of the field. There are other ways of construing these, no doubt, but Exploring Science Fiction provides a solid and readable (and relatively brief) introduction to science fiction that conforms pretty closely to how most sf scholars seem to view things. More creative or heterodox views could be consulted at a later date.

All in all, I do recommended the book for what it is ... and what it is is no mean thing. For some of my readers, in fact, this may be just the book you need.

1 comment:

Russell Blackford said...

PS. Once again, if you are interested in reviewing this book yourself I can put you in touch with Amit Sarwal.