Professor Yaszek is committed to teaching classes that use storytelling across genres and media to help students understand and even harness the power of cultural representation as it anticipates, dramatizes, and is itself inspired by new developments in science and technology. While many of her classes center on science fiction as a living genre, others use science fiction strategically as a tool to help students better understand critical issues in science and society that students encounter at Georgia Tech and in their lives beyond the Institute.
As such, Professor Yaszek’s pedagogical practice is very much in line with the Georgia Tech Strategic Plan and Quality Enhancement Plan. The Strategic Plan proposes to provide students with an education fostering “new perspectives on the relationship between engineering, science, technology, and other human enterprises” including the arts. Professor Yaszek’s classes contribute to this goal by teaching students how popular art from across the globe can both inform and reflect widespread cultural debates over the proper relations of science and society. Thus they support the growth of students who are both culturally aware and globally engaged citizens. Furthermore, because science fiction stories are thought experiments that dramatize the potential costs and benefits of human intervention into the physical world, Professor Yaszek’s classes support the QEP’s goal to equip students with the creative habits of thinking needed to successfully solve our world’s most pressing scientific and social problems.
Finally, Professor Yaszek aims to design classes that impart the sheer fun of science fiction—the sense of wonder that characterizes good science fiction stories and enables fans across the world to connect with one another. As she likes to remind students, her classes may not be about rocket science, but they most certainly are about stories about rocket science—and the power of a good story should not be underestimated.
LMC 2200 Syllabus: Introduction to Gender Studies
This course will introduce students to gender studies, a field of inquiry that combines the analytic techniques of different disciplines (such as literature, history, psychology, economics, etc.) to help us better understand how we think about sex and gender relations at specific moments in history. This semester we will focus specifically on “cultural studies of political and literary feminisms,” exploring key political writings associated with feminism and other gender-oriented activism in tandem with gothic, utopian, and science fiction stories that explore these same issues.
LCC 2218L Syllabus: Literary and Cultural Postmodernism
This class will introduce students to key authors and directors associated with American literary and cultural postmodernism. After briefly reviewing the tenets of realism and modernism, we will explore representative postmodern literature, films and television shows. Throughout this course we will specifically examine how authors and directors use the literary trope of the detective to make sense of life in an increasingly high-tech, information-saturated world. By examining important postmodern works in the context of their cultural moments, we will attempt to answer questions such as: What is postmodern literature? What cultural concerns and aesthetic techniques become prominent in which kinds of postmodern writing, and why? Finally, how does the figure of the detective change over time, and what does this tell us about changing cultural and aesthetic issues?
LMC 3214 – Science Fiction
This class will introduce you to the literary and cultural history of science fiction (SF). We will examine how SF artists have developed a generic “grammar” (including specific themes, characters, story types, and stylistic rules) to speculate about the future of science, technology, and society. We will also examine how this grammar changes over time and in relation to new developments in science and technology.
LMC 3214: Global Science Fiction
This class will focus on science fiction (SF) as a global literature that enables people to talk about their experiences with science and technology across centuries, continents, and cultures. In the first unit, we will explore the history and critical vocabulary of SF as it has developed in Europe and the United States over the past two hundred years. In the second unit, we will examine the transition from nationally- to globally-oriented SF through a case study of “black speculative fiction,” beginning with nineteenth-century African American alternate histories and extending to present-day African SF. Finally, we will explore SF from around the globe, including tales from South America, India, Russia, China, Japan, and the middle East, while creating podcasts for the Sci Fi Lab radio show on WREK 91.1, Georgia Tech’s student run radio station.
LMC 3225 – Gender Studies in the Disciplines
This course will introduce you to gender studies, a field of study that enables us to better understand how different people think about sex and gender at different moments in history. More specifically, we will explore how scholars use the insights generated by gender studies to produce new knowledge in a variety of humanistic and scientific disciplines. We will begin the semester by briefly reviewing the 200+ year history of feminism and how it led to the formation of gender studies in the late twentieth century. We will then consider more extensively the range of gender-based political and cultural movements that flourish throughout the world today (including third-wave feminisms, international feminisms, the men’s movement, and gay and lesbian activism) and their impact on fields of inquiry including history, economics, and biology. We will conclude the semester with a case study of gender and science in science fiction, examining how scholars and artists alike generate new ideas about “images of women (and men and machines!) in science fiction.”
LMC 4100: Senior Seminar on Nanotechnology in Science, Fiction and Public Policy
This class will explore the strange and sometimes estranging relations of science, technology, and culture as they are expressed in different kinds of writing about nanotechnology. In the first unit we will use key concepts drawn from science fiction studies to understand how industrial cultures have represented their hopes and fears about small‐scale engineering in fiction for 300 years. In the second unit, we will apply the acid tools of science fiction studies to key works from the field of nanotechnology as it has developed over the past 50 years. This will enable us to understand the narrative choices scientists and politicians make as they work to establish nanotechnology as an important discipline whose payoffs are still largely in the future. You will demonstrate your knowledge of small‐scale engineering across culture with a final project or series of projects that we, as a class, will decide upon midway through the semester.
LMC 4100: Senior Seminar on Science Fiction and Environmentalism
This class will explore the strange and sometimes estranging relations of science, technology, and culture as they are expressed in both science fiction and environmental writing. In the first unit of this class we will review the parallel histories of science fiction and environmental writing by reading key texts in both these fields. In the second unit we will apply what we’ve learned to a case study of Kim Stanley Robinson’s near-future SFecothriller,Forty Signs of Rain, culminating in a one-day Q&A with Robinson himself. In the final unit of this class, we will develop an online research portal for other students, scholars, and science fiction fans interested in science fiction and environmentalism.
LMC 4100: Senior Seminar on Gender and Science in Science Fiction
This class will introduce you to key authors, critics, and issues associated with feminist- and feminist-friendly science fiction studies. After briefly reviewing the intertwined histories of science fiction, feminism, and industrial capitalism, we will read a series of twentieth- and twenty-first century science fiction stories in light of these histories. We will also discuss these stories in light of critical essays drawn from gender studies, science studies, and science fiction studies. By examining science fiction in this manner, we will attempt to answer questions such as: What is science fiction? What can it teach us about the relations of science, society, and gender? How does science fiction reflect the critical concerns of modern scholarship, and how do authors use science fiction as an imaginative mode of critical inquiry in and of itself?
LMC 3202/4813/6215: Special Topics: Artificial Intelligence and Science Fiction
The goal of this course is to introduce students to artificial intelligence (AI) research as it is represented in both science and science fiction (SF). Over the course of the semester, we will work together to untangle the strange and sometimes estranging relations between these two fields as they anticipate, extrapolate from, and critically re-interpret one another. After briefly reviewing the history of AI and SF, we will explore in greater depth four key topics in AI research and storytelling: believable behavior, consciousness, machine learning, and ethics and AI. We will conclude by considering the impact of AI research on contemporary thinking about transhumanism, an international cultural and intellectual movement that imagines a future where we will use advanced technologies including AI to enhance and even transform human capabilities. Our study of AI and SF will include engagement with philosophical, scientific, and aesthetic texts as well as a series of live and skype-based lectures by AI and SF professionals.”