How Great Science Fiction Works

Watch How Great Science Fiction Works

  • 2016
  • 1 Season

How Great Science Fiction Works is an enthralling and informative show, boasting of 12 episodes, which explore the world of science fiction in great detail. This show is part of The Great Courses Signature Collection, which is known for its classroom-style approach to learning, and its engaging professors who are experts in their fields of study. In How Great Science Fiction Works, Professor Gary K. Wolfe takes viewers on a journey through the history and evolution of science fiction.

Throughout the course of this show, Professor Wolfe delves into the various themes, styles, and sub-genres of science fiction. He opens each episode by providing a brief overview of the topic at hand, followed by an in-depth analysis of some of the most popular and influential works in that particular area. He also examines how science fiction has been influenced by, and in turn has influenced, various scientific and social movements throughout history.

One of the standout features of How Great Science Fiction Works is its emphasis on the role of science fiction in shaping our collective vision of the future. Professor Wolfe explores how the speculative nature of science fiction has allowed us to imagine and explore different possible futures, both utopian and dystopian. He also delves into how science fiction has inspired real-life technological advancements, such as the development of space travel, robots, and artificial intelligence.

Another fascinating aspect of How Great Science Fiction Works is its examination of the diverse and rapidly changing landscape of science fiction. From early pioneers like Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells, through the Golden Age of Science Fiction, to the present day, Professor Wolfe covers a broad range of authors, literary movements, and sub-genres. He also analyzes the way that science fiction has adapted to new media and new audiences, including film, television, comics, and video games.

In addition to discussing the works of classic authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Ursula K. Le Guin, Professor Wolfe also devotes significant time to exploring the works of contemporary authors, including Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, and William Gibson. He provides insightful analysis of the way these authors are using science fiction to explore and comment on current social and political issues, such as climate change, artificial intelligence, and social inequality.

One of the most engaging aspects of How Great Science Fiction Works is the way that Professor Wolfe encourages viewers to think critically and imaginatively about the themes and ideas presented in science fiction. Throughout the course of the show, he invites viewers to consider questions such as: What different visions of the future does science fiction present? How do these visions reflect our hopes and fears as a society? What ethical considerations arise with the use of advanced technology, such as cloning and cybernetic implants? How does science fiction both reflect and shape our cultural ideals and values?

Overall, How Great Science Fiction Works is a captivating and informative show that is sure to appeal to anyone with an interest in science fiction, literature, and culture. The show is accessible and engaging, and Professor Wolfe's enthusiasm and insights make it a pleasure to watch. By exploring the rich and complex history of science fiction, and examining its ongoing evolution, this show offers a fascinating glimpse into the way that art and imagination can shape our view of the world.

How Great Science Fiction Works is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (24 episodes). The series first aired on January 6, 2016.

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The Future of Science Fiction
24. The Future of Science Fiction
January 6, 2016
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 literary respect. Science fiction writers are topping the best-seller lists, and many works of literary fiction now seamlessly weave in elements that half a century ago would have been dismissed as science fiction. As more people realize that science fiction stories reflect the same struggles, characters, and emotions we are familiar with in literary fiction-simply in unfamiliar environments-he shares his predictions of what this fascinating genre will continue to deliver.
Science Fiction in the 21st Century
23. Science Fiction in the 21st Century
January 1, 1970
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, into a diverse field with international appreciation and ownership. Tour novels and stories featuring characters of all shapes and colors, written by authors of varying ethnicities, nationalities, and genders.
Science Fiction's Urban Landscapes
22. Science Fiction's Urban Landscapes
January 6, 2016
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 different interpretations of urban landscapes, looking first at the flying cars and enormous glass and steel buildings some stories envision, then the gritty, dark dystopia the cyberpunk era introduced. Also consider how depictions of the future cities address and reflect environmental issues, overpopulation concerns, draughts, and other current anxieties.
The Artifact as a Science Fiction Icon
21. The Artifact as a Science Fiction Icon
January 1, 1970
Many science fiction stories grow around the search for an artifact, the protection of an artifact, or the quest to discover what meaning or use the artifact has. Explore how science fiction giants such as Arthur C. Clark, Larry Niven, Algis Budry, Gregory Benford, and others make use of the artifact.
The 1990s: The New Space Opera
20. The 1990s: The New Space Opera
January 6, 2016
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 opera, differentiating it from a regular series. Consider how these new space operas relate to-and differ from-classic space operas, and see how modern television and movies have captured mainstream success with the concept.
Cyberpunk and the 1980s
19. Cyberpunk and the 1980s
January 6, 2016
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 set the standard for science fiction to come. Throughout the 80s, the concepts of corporatization took hold in science fiction, while at the same time, with real-life technological advances, authors began to investigate the concern that we are not changing technology-it is changing us. Delve into the question, "Are we already living in the world cyberpunk writers predicted?"
Gender Questions and Feminist Science Fiction
18. Gender Questions and Feminist Science Fiction
January 6, 2016
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 similar themes of exploration, war, and domination that characterized the Western genre. This idea was so prevalent that female science fiction writers were often only successful when writing under a male pseudonym or gender-ambiguous nom de plume. Look at how far the genre has progressed, with famous authors such as Doris Lessing and Margaret Atwood, and consider how much work remains to be done.
Environmentalism in Science Fiction
17. Environmentalism in Science Fiction
January 6, 2016
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 climate change. Starting with a common theme in many science fiction novels, bugs, Professor Wolfe walks you through works that feature-and often correctly predicted-environmental concerns and ramifications.
Encounters with the Alien Other
16. Encounters with the Alien Other
January 6, 2016
Aliens are another icon and staple of science fiction. Often depicted as hostile and representing the unknown €œother€ as well as our fears about ourselves, aliens have been examined (and have examined us) in a variety of stories. Journey through the portrayal of aliens in important works by Robert A. Heinlein, John W. Campbell, Jack Finney, Larry Niven, Stanislaw Lem, and Karen Joy Fowler.
Science Fiction's New Wave
15. Science Fiction's New Wave
January 6, 2016
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 as J. G. Ballard defined and contributed to the New Wave. You'll also visit the anthologies of Michael Moorcock and Harlan Ellison to discuss whether they helped transform science fiction or reflected an existing shift that would have occurred regardless.
Religion in Science Fiction
14. Religion in Science Fiction
January 6, 2016
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, from parody, to reimagining familiar biblical stories and characters in the scope of science fiction, to confronting existing religions and inventing new beliefs. You�۪ll also explore the opposite scenario, in which science fiction is used by religious writers to reaffirm religious beliefs, such as C.S. Lewis with his Space Trilogy.
Invasions, Space Wars, and Xenocide
13. Invasions, Space Wars, and Xenocide
January 6, 2016
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 current anxieties such as annexation through fictional tales of intergalactic attacks. You'll also learn the truth behind The War of the Worlds hoax. Dig deep into themes such as genocide and extermination and how they are depicted in science fiction novels including Orson Scott Card's Ender Game, Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, and Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers.
The Science Fiction Wasteland
12. The Science Fiction Wasteland
January 6, 2016
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 the five components of apocalyptic stories, the various paradoxes the wasteland-style novels predict or reflect, and some stellar examples from this often bleak subgenre.
From Mars to Arrakis: The Planet
11. From Mars to Arrakis: The Planet
January 6, 2016
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 planets is common among some of the great science fiction works in history. Explore the use of planets-whether being discovered or already colonized-in a variety of works. Focus on Kim Stanley Robinson�۪s Mars trilogy, which uses accurate scientific data, and take a deep dive into Frank Herbert�۪s vision.
The Golden Age of the Science Fiction Novel
10. The Golden Age of the Science Fiction Novel
January 6, 2016
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 fruition, and see how television and radio helped propel the popularity of science fiction novels. Examine influential authors of novels during this decade, with an in-depth look at Ray Bradbury, Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, and Arthur C. Clarke.
The Robot: From Capek to Asimov
9. The Robot: From Capek to Asimov
January 6, 2016
Robots are a common theme in science fiction, but why? Professor Wolfe introduces you to Karel Capek, who adapted the word €œrobot€ from a Czech word meaning €œforced labor.€ Witness the evolution of this concept in science fiction throughout history-including the introduction of the android, existential questions about the nature of cyborgs, and the consequences of robots who think.
The Spaceship as a Science Fiction Icon
8. The Spaceship as a Science Fiction Icon
January 6, 2016
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 the spaceship is portrayed in some of the most famous stories, as well as lesser-known works. Consider how stories of space exploration parallel and reflect the realities in which they are written.
The Golden Age of Science Fiction Stories
7. The Golden Age of Science Fiction Stories
January 1, 1970
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. Uncover some of the little-known gems that shaped modern science fiction by reflecting society's struggles, anxieties, and fears to capture a whole new audience.
The Rise of the Science Fiction Pulps
6. The Rise of the Science Fiction Pulps
January 1, 1970
Survey the rise of pulp science fiction through serials, magazines, and short stories at the turn of the 20th century and through the 1950s. You'll gain an appreciation of the obstacles the genre had to overcome through this period in history as Professor Wolfe highlights key authors who contributed to-and helped remedy-the pulp reputation.
Utopian Dreams and Dystopian Nightmares
5. Utopian Dreams and Dystopian Nightmares
January 6, 2016
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 €œCan our lives be better?€ and €œCan our lives be worse?€ Take an in-depth look at some of the most poignant portrayals of utopian and dystopian societies and the social contexts that inspired them.
Evolution and Deep Time in Science Fiction
4. Evolution and Deep Time in Science Fiction
January 6, 2016
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, and any time and place in between. Examine the ideas science fiction writers proposed about evolution, anthropology, physics, religion, mythology, and more, and see how these concepts influence their view of both modern times and the far future.
Science Fiction Treatments of History
3. Science Fiction Treatments of History
January 6, 2016
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 often mix real-life history with fiction and invoke mechanisms such as time travel to explore alternate histories-looking at how the world might have been different had history gone another direction at pivotal points in our past. One illuminating example of this approach, Philip K. Dick�۪s The Man in the High Castle, was recently turned into a series by Amazon.
Science Fiction in the 19th Century
2. Science Fiction in the 19th Century
January 6, 2016
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. Explore select works from each author, gain the context to better understand their writings and lives, and learn how they influenced what we know as science fiction today.
Mary Shelley and the Birth of Science Fiction
1. Mary Shelley and the Birth of Science Fiction
January 6, 2016
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 confused with-other literary genres such as fantasy and horror. Take a look at the concept of the "monster" through horror, fantasy, and science fiction to help define the differences in the genres. Explore what is often considered the first science fiction novel: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Where to Watch How Great Science Fiction Works
How Great Science Fiction Works is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch How Great Science Fiction Works on demand at Amazon Prime, Amazon, Kanopy and Hoopla.
  • Premiere Date
    January 6, 2016