Gary K. Wolfe, How Great Science Fiction Works

This is a course released by The Great Courses ( in early 2016. The course consists of audio or video downloads or discs (as lead Locus reviewer Gary K. Wolfe delivers lectures on a set), and comes with a 200-page booklet summarizing the 24 lectures.

The following compiles principle titles mentioned in each text lecture, omitting titles mentioned only in passing, and adding titles in the “Readings” section at each chapter end that were not already mentioned in the text. (And omitting some titles listed there that seem egregiously misplaced, including two or three reference to Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun which nevertheless is not mentioned in the text.) Titles that get multiple paragraphs and have subheaders are indicated with *s.

1, Mary Shelley

  • *Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • Other readings:
  • Brian Aldiss/ David Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree
  • Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction


2, 19th Century Science Fiction

  • *Edgar Allan Poe, e.g. “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaal” and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym
  • *Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon
  • *H.G. Wells, The Time Machine; The War of the Worlds


3, Science Fiction Treatments of History

  • Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
  • Sprague de Camp, Lest Darkness Fall
  • Michael Moorcock, Behold the Man
  • *Connie Willis, Doomsday Book
  • *Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy
  • *James Blish, Cities in Flight
  • *Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle


4, Evolution and Deep Time in Science Fiction

  • *Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men; Star Maker
  • *Arthur C. Clarke, Against the Fall of Night
  • *Gregory Benford, In the Ocean of Night, and subsequent novels
  • *Stephen Baxter, Evolution; Xeelee sequence


5, Utopian Dreams, Dystopian Nightmares

  • *Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”
  • *Sir Thomas More, Utopia
  • Francis Bacon, The New Atlantis
  • *Jack London, The Iron Heel
  • *Yevgeny Zamyatim, We
  • *George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Other readings:
  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451


6, Rise of Science Fiction in the Pulps

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars
  • Hugo Gernsback, Ralph 124C 41+
  • E. Smith, The Skylark of Space
  • Stanley G. Weinbaum, “A Martian Odyssey”
  • Lester del Rey, “Helen O’Loy”
  • John W. Campbell, Jr., “Twilight”; “Who Goes There?”
  • Other readings:
  • Mike Ashley, The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines, vol. 1
  • F. Bleiler, Science-Fiction: The Early Years


7, The Golden Age of Science Fiction Stories

  • Campbell’s influence as editor; Asimov “Trends”; Heinlein “Misfit” and “The Roads Must Roll”
  • *A.E. van Vogt, Slan
  • *C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner, “Vintage Season”
  • Other readings:
  • Mike Ashley, The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines, vol. 1
  • John Huntington, Rationalizing Genius


8, The Spaceship as a Science Fiction Icon

  • Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon; Around the Moon
  • *Robert A. Heinlein, “Universe” (expanded as novel Orphans of the Sky)
  • Harry Harrison, Captive Universe
  • James Blish, Cities in Flight
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora
  • Robert Reed, Marrow
  • Anne McCaffrey, The Ship Who Sang
  • Frank Herbert, Destination: Void
  • Cordwainer Smith, “The Game of Rat and Dragon”


9, The Robot: From Capek to Asimov

  • *Karel Capek, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)
  • Lester del Rey, “Helen O’Loy”
  • L. Moore, “No Woman Born”
  • *Isaac Asimov, I, Robot; and two later novels
  • Jack Williamson, “With Folded Hands”


10, The Golden Age of the Science Fiction Novel

  • *Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  • *Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth, the Space Merchants
  • *Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End
  • Other readings:
  • Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination


11, From Mars to Arrakis: The Planet

  • David Lindsay, A Voyage to Arcturus
  • S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet; Perelandra
  • *Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
  • *Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars; Green Mars; Blue Mars
  • *Frank Herbert, Dune


12, The Science Fiction Wasteland

  • *Jack London, The Scarlet Plague
  • *George Stewart, Earth Abides
  • *Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
  • Cormac McCarthy, The Road
  • Neal Stephenson, Seveneves


13, Invasions, Space Wars, and Xenocide

  • *George Tomkyns Chesney, “The Battle of Dorking”
  • G. Wells, The War in the Air; The World Set Free; The War of the Worlds
  • Garrett P. Serviss, Edison’s Conquest of Mars
  • Thomas M. Disch, The Genocides
  • Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game
  • Greg Bear, The Forge of God; Anvil of Stars
  • *Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers
  • *Joe Haldeman, The Forever War
  • Other readings:
  • F. Clarke, Voices Prophesying War [nf]
  • Bruce Franklin, War Stars [nf]


14, Religion in Science Fiction

  • *James Blish, A Case of Conscience
  • *Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow
  • *Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
  • *Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower; Parable of the Talents


15, Science Fiction’s New Wave

  • G. Ballard, Crash; Concrete Island; High Rise
  • *J.G. Ballard, “The Terminal Beach”
  • *Pamela Zoline, “The Heat Death of the Universe”
  • Other readings:
  • Colin Greenland, The Entropy Exhibition


16, Encounters with the Alien Other

  • *Jack Finney, The Body Snatchers
  • Murray Leinster, “First Contact”
  • *Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, The Mote in God’s Eye
    *Stanislaw Lem, Solaris
  • *Karen Joy Fowler, Sarah Canary
  • *James Tiptree, Jr., “The Women Men Don’t See”


17, Environmentalism in Science Fiction

  • *Johanna Sinisalo, The Blood of Angels
  • *Philip Wylie, The End of the Dream
  • *John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up
  • *Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World is Forest
  • *Kim Stanley Robinson, Forty Signs of Rain, and sequels
  • *Sheri S. Tepper, Shadow’s End
  • *Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife


18, Gender Questions and Feminist Science Fiction

  • *Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
  • *Joanna Russ, The Female Man
  • Suzy McKee Charnas, Walk to the End of the World
  • James Tiptree, Jr., “The Women Men Don’t See” and “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”
  • Doris Lessing, The Four-Gated City
  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Other readings:
  • Brain Attebery, Decoding Gender in Science Fiction
  • Justine Larbalestier, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction
  • Sarah Lefanu, In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction


19, Cyberpunk and the 1980s

  • *William Gibson, Neuromancer
  • *Bruce Sterling, Islands in the Net; Holy Fire; Zeitgeist
  • Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash
  • John Kessel & James Patrick Kelly, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology (anthology)


20, The 1990s: The New Space Opera

  • *M. John Harrison: The Centauri Device; Light; Nova Swing; Empty Space
  • *Iain M. Banks, Culture novels: Consider Phlebas; The State of the Art
  • Dan Simmons, Hyperion Cantos
  • Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space
  • Peter F. Hamilton, The Reality Dysfunction and following
  • Ken MacLeod, Newton’s Wake and following
  • J. Cherryh: Downbelow Station
  • Lois McMaster Bujold, novels
  • David Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, The Space Opera Renaissance (anthology)


21, The Artifact as a Science Fiction Icon

  • *Arthur C. Clarke, “The Sentinel”; Rendezvous with Rama
  • Larry Niven, Ringworld
  • Bob Shaw, Orbitsville
  • Stephen Baxter, Ring
  • *Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon
  • *Boris & Arkady Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic
  • Gregory Benford: In the Ocean of Night, and sequels


22, Science Fiction’s Urban Landscapes

  • John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar
  • Robert A. Heinlein, “The Roads Must Roll”
  • G. Wells, The Sleeper Awakes
  • *E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops”
  • Robert Silverberg, The World Inside
  • *Arthur C. Clarke, The City and the Stars


23, Science Fiction in the 21st Century

  • *Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring; Midnight Robber
  • *Nnedi Okorafor, Zahrah the Windseeker; The Shadow Speaker; Who Fears Death; The Book of Phoenix
  • *Lavie Tidhar, Osama, and others


24, The Future of Science Fiction

  • Jonathan Lethem
  • Michael Chabon
  • Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
  • Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  • *Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon


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