C’mon, High School Teachers, Teach Sensawunda

For this post, I was just going to bitch that the fiction gatekeepers in high school, the teachers, seem to ignore genre fiction.

But then I thought back to my education more carefully and realized that grade 11 was a year spent entirely reading genre. One science fiction book (Fahrenheit 451), a mystery and a western were the books for that year. And I forgot the title but there was a book in grade 12 that dealt with a post nuclear war Australia where the killing fallout from the north was slowly winding south.

So we were taught genre fiction. But just not my type of genre fiction.

I love Sensawunda. That’s a deliberate misspelling for “sense of wonder” science fiction.

All those Orwells and Bradburys and Wellses just aren’t my thing. I know there should be conflict in fiction. I just don’t need that conflict to pound me over the head with a giant hammer till I am buried completely in the ground with no possibility of getting out. I don’t enjoy dystopias or near dystopias. They are more like something to be endured until they release their message to the world. These are the books that the English profession almost solely rely on to represent science fiction.

Not that the books I enjoy have to be Utopias. But a lot of the time they are optimistic with a happy ending. I like the Vernes and Asimovs and Nivens. Those that instill a Sensawunda, usually in things made real in the future.

These authors instilled a Sensawunda. Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea described whole new worlds for the imagination. Awe is necessary to appreciate Asimov’s Foundation Series and its daring psychohistory which outlines the future of mankind with science, mathematics, and very prescient scientists. How shocking (in a good way) it would be to find a Ringworld like the one from Niven’s mind. Virtually all of Asimov’s settled galaxy could fit on this one ring around one star of the galaxy. That, too, is just awesome.

These authors knew that conflict was necessary. Verne uses man against nature. Asimov uses the universe against that grandmaster of psychohistory and foreteller of the future, Hari Seldon. Niven uses a meteor defence which shoots down the scouting craft forcing the explorers to find a way off Ringworld.

Why must pessimism reign supreme in the literature we are taught in school? Even in Flowers for Algernon which has a small bit of Sensawunda we are brought down to the $#!+ view by the end. I have never heard anyone say they studied an optimistic, Sensawunda science fiction book in high school. Yet a large part of science fiction(I’d guess about half) is in exactly that style. You cannot pretend to represent the field when such a large element is missing.

So we’ll leave it here. Where I call the high school English teachers of this world illiterate. Sensawunda illiterates, that is.

About Larry Russwurm

Just another ranter on the Internet
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