Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More Intelligent Masterclass Bits

The instructors were Geoff Ryman, Wendy Pearson and Gary K. Wolfe, and they all had interesting things to teach us. As an added bonus, they are all remarkably good teachers (and as a physics/engineering student, I've had some really bad ones).

Geoff went in detail through Stand on Zanzibar, which helped us see why some of the odd things he does work so well. He also went line-by-line through the first chapter of the Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach, which was an illuminating exercise. From a writer's perspective he showed us exactly how Eschbach was leading the reader, setting up conventions and perceptions that he then twisted at the end. After the class almost everyone pointed at that as one of the most valuable tools they will take away.

Wendy walked us through some explanation of theory, both Postmodern and Queer, but what I found most interesting was her leading the class through an examination of The Child Garden. (Geoff sat in but was admirably restrained... I was afraid that having the author there would be inhibitory, but I don't think it was. How a 6' 10" gentleman can be unobtrusive I'm not sure, but he can when he wants to be.)

Wendy asked us to choose scenes that we felt were key and explain why they are central and what they illuminate about the text. There was a diversity of choices, which in itself is interesting. The book clearly lends itself to a Queer reading, but it's easy to see how with a shift of focus you could do a Marxist reading as well, which was interesting. Theory isn't some scary thing that teachers will beat you about the head with; it's simply adding more tools to the toolkit you can use to approach a text. She highlighted understanding the motives of the Consensus as being one of the most important things to understand the book. That bit really helped me pull together my thoughts about the book, which had been pretty confused. Again, seeing it in practice was really enlightening for me.

One of the best things I took away from Gary's talk was the idea of not defending science fiction as a genre, especially not in ways that are as harmful as helpful (e.g. It's educational! Lots of engineers read it! It's not sf, it's good! That sort of thing.) Instead, one should defend the work in question as literature, not sf as a genre. That makes a lot of sense.

I'm posting this from an internet cafe a few minutes away from our hotel in London, so this probably isn't as polished as it should be. I'll post more later, especially as I integrate more of what I learned and heard this weekend. Yesterday was spent hanging out at the Clutes, then doing touristy stuff led by the most gracious Cheryl Morgan. It was such beautiful weather that I'm surprised to be saying that I'm not as sunburned as I was afraid I'd be.

More later, but in closing I'd like to proffer my deepest thanks to the teachers at the Masterclass and to all my fellow students: it was a great group of people and an amazing experience.

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