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English Prof Ed Carmien Makes Global Connections
At Science Fiction Conference


7/26/11


West Windsor, N.J. - MCCC English Professor Ed Carmien is making global connections in the world of science fiction. This year, he traveled to Lublin, Poland, for the Annual Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) conference, held from July 7-10, only the second time the conference has been held outside of North America. Lublin is a city rich in culture and history located three hours south of Warsaw with a population of approximately 300,000.

Appropriately subtitled "Dreams Not Only American," the conference focused on the world of science fiction outside the cultural borders of the United States. Highlights included a rare showing of a Soviet-era television version of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, Keynote Speaker John Rieder's presentation of a new critical perspective on science fiction, and a wide variety of panels and speakers.

Ed Carmien at SFRA conference in Lublin, Poland

In addition to those from the U.S. and Canada who traveled overseas, other attendees included European science fiction scholars and teachers from Britain, Sweden, Spain, France, Russia and more. Carmien notes that discussions gave him new insights into genre theory and history that he plans to incorporate into his MCCC class, the 200-level "Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature," which he has taught since first joining the faculty in 2005. He also plans to add a new author, Minister Faust (a pen name), to his syllabus, specifically the novel The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, which, he says "contains themes and material that are likely to resonate with our students."

Carmien was the moderator and one of six contributors to a 90-minute discussion panel featuring three U.S. and three European teachers and scholars. "Our goal was to establish a baseline understanding of how higher education works in the context of teaching science fiction as literature, both at a basic level and at an advanced, theoretical level. On the American side, I provided the community college expertise, while Patrick Sharp of California State University, Los Angeles, handled the four-year college perspective, and Peter Sands of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, focused on the challenge at the graduate level."
The European panelists included Andy Sawyer of the University of Liverpool, who heads a master's program in Science Fiction Studies and recently published Teaching Science Fiction, a new and important text in the field. Lars Schmeink, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Hamburg, provided a view of teaching science fiction to freshman and sophomore undergrads. Larisa Mikhaylova, of Lomonosov Moscow State University, shared her views of teaching the genre in a comprehensive, multi-year program.

Carmien reports that the panel was well attended and provided valuable information for young instructors, many of whom have taught science fiction without institutional or direct support of a knowledgeable mentor. The session concluded with a lively question and answer period.

Prior to the SFRA conference, Carmien made a stop in Dresden, Germany, where he spoke at a 90-minute colloquium at Dresden Technical University whose topic was "Politics in Science Fiction." His 60-slide PowerPoint presentation was well received by a distinguished audience of academics that included a former member of the German parliament. Carmien notes that his preparation for the colloquium revived his interest in teaching the author Octavia Butler, whose work from the 1990's is proving ever more prescient about challenges faced by the U.S. today.


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