Beginning with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this Great Courses lecture series is a fantastic overview of the history of the science fiction genre in written fiction. Once viewed as common pulp, robots and spaceships, and most importantly, technology and ideas, now dominate our cultural landscape, not to mention inspiring many of the current scientists in the field today. From Mars to deep space, utopias to dystopias, environmentalism to cyperpunk, and gender, ethnicity, and identity issues, scifi is a wide-ranging genre everyone should appreciate!

Tracing the history of science fiction’s evolution, Gary Wolfe highlights the awe-inspiring scifi amongst the pulp, explaining how this genre expands our collective imagination while commenting on our current understanding of the universe and our place in it. I love hearing my favorites recognized, and even for a seasoned fan like me, Wolfe provides several new additions for my to-read list. Compared to other Great Courses, I find this one engaging to the end.

The title of the lecture series is somewhat of a misnomer, as the “how” is not so much addressed as the “who” and “what”. The series is ostensibly structured around scifi themes and issues arrayed in a chronological format, but mostly reads like a love list of Gary Wolfe’s favorite stories, which is fantastic in its own right, if you’re not seeking a critical analysis. Some of my favorites are minimally touched upon, including scifi’s influence on TV and movies (Star Trek), while other favorites are completely spoiled (read Ursula K. LeGuin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas and Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game before this).

Recommended for newbies to the scifi genre or fans who want to expand their horizons!