Thursday, July 6, 2017

Junot Diaz's Syllabus for "World Building"

Junot Diaz is a highly regarded young novelist who also teaches at MIT. This is from one of his syllabi:
Description: “This class concerns the design and analysis of imaginary (or constructed) worlds for narrative media such as roleplaying games, films, comics, videogames and literary texts. … The class’ primary goal is to help participants create better imaginary worlds – ultimately all our efforts should serve that higher purpose.”

Prerequisites: “You will need to have seen Star Wars (episode four: A New Hope) and read The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.”

Reading List:

“A Princess of Mars” by ER Burroughs
“Dracula” by Bram Stoker
“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller
“Sunshine” by Robin McKinley
“V for Vendetta” by Alan Moore
“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
“The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by NK Jemisin
“Lilith’s Brood” by Octavia Butler
“Perdido Street Station” by China Miéville
“Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson (Recommended)

Some things to consider always when taking on a new world: What are its primary features—spatial, cultural, biological, fantastic, cosmological? What is the world’s ethos (the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize the world)? What are the precise strategies that are used by its creator to convey the world to us and us to the world? How are our characters connected to the world? And how are we the viewer or reader or player connected to the world?
Thoughts? Anyone care to offer a different reading list? Remember that for purposes of undergraduate teaching length matters, so a list that goes Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, Anathem, etc. would likely not work. Although I suppose you are free to fantasize about a course for super readers if you like.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

I'm afraid my thoughts probably aren't very useful on this topic, as I'm not a fan of most of the assigned reading.

I will comment that this feels like it focuses very heavily on pop culture, and I think perhaps the class title could reflect that a little more. And I'll also mention that I find it odd that a good number of the assigned works aren't really based in true constructed worlds, so much as they take place in modified versions of our own world, and the author's are relying to great extent on the reader to fill in the gaps from their own experiences and understanding of our world.