A Minor for Major Geeks

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Rebecca Keane
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Though the subject may be inherently fictional, professor Lisa Yaszek will tell you that science fiction is not wholly divorced from reality.

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Though the subject may be inherently fictional, professor and director of Undergraduate Programs in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication Lisa Yaszek  will tell you that science fiction is not wholly divorced from reality.

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Though the subject may be inherently fictional, professor and director of Undergraduate Programs in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication Lisa Yaszek will tell you that science fiction is not wholly divorced from reality. Thanks to the freedom of imagination, ideas in science fiction often lead to big developments in real-world science and technology.

“Sometimes in modern scientific and technological research it’s easy to fall into a trap if you’re a scientist or engineer or policy maker of saying, ‘What I’m talking about is real, it’s not science fiction [or fantasy],’” Yaszek says. “It’s easy to lose sight of how scientists and engineers are inspired by science fiction to think differently and creatively about the world. Their work is as much creative and imaginative as it is practical and applied.”

Georgia Tech was among the first universities to teach science fiction at the collegiate level, but had never offered any formal program of study in the field. But starting this year, Tech students may now officially pursue a minor in Science Fiction Studies.

Yaszek leads the Institute’s Science Fiction Initiative within the School of Literature, Media and Communication. She says the minor was born in part from incredible demand from students. The science-fiction courses always fill up quickly, and students have consistently asked for more ways to embrace and study the genre during their time at Tech, she says.

Students pursuing the minor will be required to take two courses — one on science-fiction literature and one on science-fiction film and television — and three other science fiction-related electives of their choosing.

Yaszek says this is how students can tailor the sci-fi minor to their own interests. Those interested in creating their own science-fiction work could take courses in creative writing or video production, while a biomedical engineering student might take a course on biomedicine and culture that examines the representation of artificial or bionic body parts in science fiction, for example.

“We feel that we can offer students a really thorough exploration of science fiction across a range of media, and also provide them a framework to talk about it in the technological and scientific contexts they’re working in elsewhere in their majors,” Yaszek says. “We can provide them a new way, and a hopefully fun and productive way, of thinking about the work they do and the kind of work other people do in the modern world.”

In 1969, the first collegiate science-fiction course was taught at the University of Kansas. Just two years later in 1971, Professor Irving F. “Bud” Foote officially introduced science-fiction studies to Tech students.

“Tech was a real pioneer in thinking about the ways fiction can be used to address real-world issues in science and technology,” Yaszek says. “The Institute has a very long-standing commitment to science fiction.”

Foote retired in 1999 and donated his personal collection of more than 8,000 sci-fi books, one of the largest of its kind in the nation, to Georgia Tech. Following his
departure, Yaszek filled his role and became the faculty face for the Institute’s science-fiction studies.

Two other prominent science-fiction academics have a home at Tech. Professor Jay Telotte is a leading scholar on film and television, and Professor of the Practice Kathleen Ann Goonan is a critically acclaimed sci-fi author and futurist.

Yaszek says it’s unique to have three science-fiction scholars on staff, which makes Tech very competitive with other programs of its kind around the nation. Tech’s science-fiction program, of course, stands out because of its proximity to so much cutting-edge science and technology happening in other departments.

Telotte believes the science-fiction courses are so popular because most Tech students have an innate passion for the subject matter. “I find them much more willing to speak up, to involve themselves in classes, to do outside viewing and basically bring their own experiences to class,” Telotte says.

Because they are so exposed to the genre, students have a keen interest in better understanding it, Telotte says. “You can’t get around it: Wherever you look in the media and popular culture, you bump into science fiction in one form or another,” he says. “And if it is something we run into, we have to think about it because it conditions how we look at the rest of the world. It becomes imperative that we study it.”

Five Must-See Science-fiction Films

We asked professors Jay Telotte and Lisa Yaszek of Georgia Tech’s Science Fiction Initiative to recommend a handful of classic science-fiction movies everyone should watch.

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey: “It’s the most visionary of science-fiction films. ‘Where are we going?’ it asks. ‘What are we going to be like?’ ‘How might humanity evolve?’ — Telotte
  1. Blade Runner: “This story of humans and replicants provides the insight that, real or robot, we’re not all that different. We’re all products of our culture, and that’s OK. We can all share moments of love and freedom and expression. Also, visually, it sets the tone for so many of the dystopic high-tech movies we’ve watched over the past 30 or so years.” —Lisa Yaszek
  1. Forbidden Planet: “It’s THE film about space flight, alien cultures and robotics. It’s the film that effectively introduces the three laws of robotics that Isaac Asimov had propounded much earlier, and introduces them to a popular audience.” —Telotte
  1. Metropolis: “It’s one of the first full-length science-fiction films. It has the most amazing sets in the universe—they’re just beautifully, beautifully constructed—and its iconography is enduring. Much of the science-fiction imagery we see today can be traced back to Metropolis.” — Yaszek
  1. Snowpiercer: “I love it because it’s a truly international effort. It’s based on a French comic book that was turned into a movie by a Korean director and features a global cast of actors. It’s visually stunning, narratively compelling, and it’s the face of the future.” — Yaszek

Originally featured in the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine.

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Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts

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Keywords
LMC, science fiction, science fiction minor
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  • Created By: Rachel Miles
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Sep 16, 2015 - 10:32am
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:19pm