Summer 2016
Intensive Institute on Science Fiction Literature:
The Science Fiction Novel

 Available as English 506 or 790 (3 credits),
or as not-for-credit (for professionalization)

Meets daily (M T W Th F Sa Su) 1:00pm – 4:00pm
Room: Rieger Scholarship Hall at 1323 Ohio Street 1st Floor Lounge

Table of Contents

Click the links below to go to the appropriate section of this syllabus.

Course Goals
Diversity and Disability
   Required Books
   Recommended Books
Your Instructor
   Contact Information
   Office Hours
Daily Schedule
Course Requirements
Class Periods
   Attendance and Class Participation
   Attendance and Class Participation Scoring
   Daily Response Papers
      Daily Paper Scoring
   Final Research Project
      Option A: Traditional Research Paper
      Option B: Course Outline, Lesson Plan, or Study Guide
      Option C: Creative Work
      Final Project Deadline
More Good Stuff

Course Goals

"The most powerful works of SF don't describe the future - they change it." - Annalee Newitz, io9. By successfully completing this course, you'll become fluent in SF by becoming familiar with 25 of the most-influential works that shaped the genre and the world we inhabit today - and tomorrow.

The goal of the course is to provide an understanding of contemporary and future science fiction through studying the history of the genre and many of the great works that started important conversations about what it means to be human in a changing world. After reading a diversity of novel-length SF, we discuss how the genre got to be what it is today by comparing stories and their place in the evolution of SF, from the earliest prototypical examples through more recent work. Students demonstrate their understanding of the genre by writing daily reading responses and creating a substantial final project. 

Officially satisfies at least KU Core Goal 6, "Integration and Creativity."

Diversity and Disability

Everyone enjoys equal access to the Gunn Center's offerings, and we actively encourage students and scholars from diverse backgrounds to study with us. All courses offered by Gunn Center faculty are also available to be taken not-for-credit for professionalization purposes by community members (if space is available). Click here to see the Center's Diversity Statement.

The Academic Achievement and Access Center (AAAC) coordinates accommodations and services for all eligible KU students. If you have a disability for which you wish to request accommodation and have not contacted the AAAC, please do so as soon as possible. Their office is located in 22 Strong Hall; their phone number is (785)864-4064 (V/TTY). Also please contact us privately about your needs in this course.


See the reading list, below, for the most-current set of books we'll read and discuss.

When you lead class discussions, you are also expected to do additional research about the day's topics and authors beyond the fiction readings and share what you learn with the rest of the class, as well.

Graduate students: Each day, find, read, and respond to an additional SF work that represents the day's topic, time period, author, or literary movement. Include your response to this work as part of your regular response paper. If you found it online, provide a link in your response paper. Otherwise, include bibliographic information. Also share these as recommendations for your classmates!

 Required Books

This list reflects important works that helped shape the genre. Here is what we'll be reading, in alphabetical order by author:

Some of these volumes might be difficult to find, so I urge you seek copies early and, when books are out of print, search used bookstores and online services (we've provided links to two major online booksellers after each title, above). The University of Kansas Jayhawk Ink bookstore often has copies of many of these books on hand. The Center also holds a few copies of many of these books, so if you are local to Lawrence or are in town for our other summer programs, check with me to see if we can lend you a copy. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis. This course-specific lending library is primarily supplied by previous students donating copies after completing their course, so if you want to pass on the love to the next generation rather than keep your books, let your teacher know!

Want more? Check out the finalists for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel of the year. Most years, the majority of those works could have won the award if the jury had just a few different members. You can find tons more great SF novels in the Basic Science Fiction Library.

Want lots of free SF ebooks and e-zines? Check out Project Gutenberg's growing SF collection.

Want more book recommendations? The Center's "A Basic Science Fiction Library" is a go-to internet resource for building reading lists. It's organized by author.

More to come! Check back later.... 

 Recommended Books

For further reading, here are the books that have been removed from the summer SF Institute's required reading list since 2008 - still important and recommended works for understanding the history of the SF novel, but we only have so much time to discuss:

Want more? Check out the finalists for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel of the year. Most years, the majority of those works could have won the award if the jury had just a few different members. You can find tons more great SF novels in the Basic Science Fiction Library.

Want lots of free SF ebooks and e-zines? Check out Project Gutenberg's growing SF collection.

Want more book recommendations? The Center's "A Basic Science Fiction Library" is a go-to internet resource for building reading lists. It's organized by author.

More to come! Check back later....

 Your Instructor

Chris McKitterick is a science-fiction author and Director of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. He teaches SF, creative writing, and technical communication at KU. He has been a professional writer for 17 years, an editor for nearly that long, managed a documentation team for 3 years, and currently freelances for a variety of publishers. He writes not just SF stories and novels, but also astronomy articles, technical documents, gaming supplements, scholarly articles, nonfiction, journalism, fiction, and even poetry. He edits magazines, websites, and more. Feel free to mine his experience for tips and advice about writing, editing, and the SF industry.

If you have questions, need assistance, or just want to chat about SF, visit me in my office (3040 Wescoe, Lawrence campus). You can phone me or drop me email any time. If I'm not in the office, please leave a message. It might take a little time to respond to email longer if I'm out of town or in the middle of a project, so don't wait until the last minute!

Contact Information

Email address:

Office: Wescoe 3040
Phone: (785) 864-2509
Email: (for most class communication) (personal address)

Other contact info:

My personal website
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database

Go to this page to meet other people at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction.

Office Hours

Daily in meeting area after discussions, beforehand at the Union restaurant (everyone is invited to join and chat!), and in the evenings (we often have dinner downtown, watch and discuss SF movies in the Hall, and so forth). Other days and times by appointment.

Daily Schedule

Here are the topics and books we'll discuss each day, with links to online booksellers like Amazon and Powell's; click these to find the books for sale online. The University of Kansas Jayhawk Ink Bookstore tries to have copies of these books on hand, and most bookstores will likely have most of these books on hand, as well.

Each day, two or three students lead the discussions, bringing enough good questions to keep a lively discussion going for the entire class period; aim for at least a dozen questions and discussion prompts. Discussants also seek relevant information about the authors, how the books influenced the science fiction that was to follow, and so forth. You must lead the daily discussion at least twice, but may serve more often. This is a major part of your grade and an important learning opportunity!

Syllabus version 0.1: last updated Feb 9, 2015.
: This will change as the syllabus is updated.

Day 1 (Monday, June 15):
Course Introduction / Defining Science Fiction
In the Beginning / Visions of Humanity's Far Future

Topics and Readings


Introductions, course and syllabus overview, discussant leaders sign-up.

Your instructor leads the discussion for the first day, but bring your thoughts, questions, and maybe even your reading response to help guide your thoughts!

Discussion: What is science fiction?

Read the definitions of SF on this page.

Check out Ward Shelly's excellent "The History of Science Fiction" illustration. 

The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

Include in your reading response paper for today not only your book responses, but also your thoughts about the readings linked above - and your definition of science fiction. Always turn these in to the appropriate Blackboard Assignment slot before class starts, preferably before the course begins.

The Alien Peril

Readings for Class Discussion


Student Discussants

The War of the Worlds

H.G. Wells

 Amanda Hemmingsen and Karen Redding

The Puppet Masters

Robert Heinlein



The Human Condition

Readings for Class Discussion


Student Discussants

The Caves of Steel

Isaac Asimov

Desiree Neyens and...


Frank Herbert



Thought Experiments

Readings for Class Discussion


Student Discussants

Mission of Gravity

Hal Clement

Jessica Park and Stephanie Higinbotham

The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula K. Le Guin



Powers of the Mind / Evolution Continues

Readings for Class Discussion


Student Discussants

The World of Null-A

A.E. van Vogt

 Jessica Park and...

More than Human

Theodore Sturgeon


Invoking the Social Sciences

Readings for Class Discussion


Student Discussants

The Demolished Man

Alfred Bester

Karen Redding, and Amanda Hemmingsen

The Languages of Pao

Jack Vance



SF and the Literary Mainstream

Readings for Class Discussion


Student Discussants

The Sirens of Titan

Kurt Vonnegut

Stephanie Higinbotham and...

The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood

The Listeners

James Gunn

Dystopia and the Future

Readings for Class Discussion


Student Discussants

Stand on Zanzibar

John Brunner

Amanda Hemmingsen and Taylor Atwood


Frederik Pohl



Tinkering with History

Readings for Class Discussion


Student Discussants

The Man in the High Castle

Philip K. Dick

 Taylor Atwood and...


Gregory Benford

The Biological Imperative

Readings for Class Discussion


Student Discussants

Darwin's Radio

Greg Bear

Amanda Hemmingsen and...

Dawn (book one of the Xenogenesis trilogy)

Octavia Butler


Cyberpunk and the Singularity

Readings for Class Discussion


Student Discussants

"What is the Singularity?" (essay)

Vernor Vinge

Desiree Neyens and...


William Gibson

Accelerando (available for free download on Stross' website here)

Charles Stross

Looking Backward and Forward: Where Does SF Go Next?

Readings for Class Discussion


Student Discussants

Perdido Street Station

China Miéville

Desiree Neyens and Amanda Hemmingsen

Consider Phlebas

Iain M. Banks



July 10: Final due

No final test - focus on completing your final project!

Final project deadline: Submit by Thursday, July 10, by 5:00pm (KU students: submit via Blackboard).

Late projects: To receive (reduced) credit, hand off your missing response papers and other prior work before 5:00pm by Friday, July 11. If you didn't manage to finish something when it was due, turn it in after you turn in your more important final project.

 Course Requirements

To successfully complete the course and get out of it all you can, you are required to:

  • Attend class each day.
  • Participate in class, which means being involved in every discussion, each day.
  • Lead at least one session with a partner or partners.
  • Read the required books and other materials.
  • Write insightful daily response papers.
  • Create a longer final project due at the end of the semester.

 Class Periods

Each day we discuss a variety of stories, their authors, the science fiction genre, and the historical context in which they appeared. Occasionally, we might have guest speakers. Class periods revolve largely around discussion, with some lecture.


After an introduction to the topic by your instructor, two or more students act as discussants for each day and lead (not monopolize) the discussion. Everyone is required to act as discussant at least twice during the semester. If you have special needs and cannot perform this task, let me know early.

Optimally, discussants perform additional research prior to class (further readings on the genre movements at hand and the day's authors, identifying possible multimedia content, and so forth). Come prepared with at least 12 questions and discussion prompts to stimulate discussion among your peers about the day's topic and readings. I expect all students to participate in discussions, but I also request that you avoid talking too much or talking over others. Be civil: These are discussions about ideas, not arguments or lectures!

Your instructor will likely open each day with some background on science fiction, especially the topics and genre movements relevant to the day's discussions, and some information about the authors. After that, the day's student discussants take over. You can split up the tasks among your fellow discussants based on stories, topics, or however you see fit. I simply expect everyone to serve equally.

Graduate students and teachers: Demonstrate solid pedagogical theory! Act as if you're teaching this course for a day. I expect you to participate every day, providing insightful comments and questions while encouraging those less inclined to participate - but not to dominate the discussions.

Attendance and Class Participation

This is a discussion course, so class participation is weighed heavily! Coming to class and getting involved in the discussions each day are necessary for getting a good grade, not to mention how much value you get from the course. The discussions aren't just explication of plot or concept, though we will discuss those; I expect you to exercise your critical-reading skills. That is, don't just read the fiction for pleasure, don't just accept the related scholarship or introductions as canon, and don't feel the need to agree with your classmates' ideas - no one scholar can tell you the One True History of Science Fiction. If you apply yourself, by the end of this course you will possess solid expertise of your own in the topic. In the discussions, I want to witness your growing understanding of the genre based on the required readings, your outside readings, and your own experience with SF over the years. Of course, be polite and diplomatic if you disagree, but don't be shy either.

If you know you are going to miss a session for an academic event, illness, or other excusable reason, contact me as soon as possible to see if we can work out something so it does not negatively affect your overall grade too much. If appropriate, I can mitigate this loss so your attendance percentage remains unaffected. Otherwise, here is how I score attendance and participation:

Because we only meet twelve times, each unexcused absence after the first drops your final course grade by a third; that is, missing two days means your final grade drops from (say) an A- to a B+, missing three drops it to a B, and so forth. Missing zero classes usually serves to bump most students up a fraction of a grade (for example, from a B to a B+ when points are close), so don't miss classes! The next table illustrates this relationship.

Graduate students and teachers: I expect you to participate every day, providing insightful comments and questions while encouraging those less inclined to participate - but not to dominate the discussions. 

Attendance and Class Participation Scoring

For those taking the course for credit, here is how I grade attendance and participation:

Classes Missed Grade Result
(assuming perfect score)


A (bonus effect if you actively participate in all discussions)


A / A- (minor effect if you actively participate in all other discussions)




(down one full grade)





And so forth

1/3 grade per missed class

During discussions, do not expose yourself or others to distractions such as checking email, Facebook, and so forth. Obviously, turn off your phone ringer/buzzer and put it away. I know it's sometimes a challenge to focus during extended discussion, but recent studies show that the human mind cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time, and fracturing your attention means you're not getting everything possible out of each discussion. Even worse, monkeying around online also interrupts your neighbors' attention.

Feel free to take notes on your computer or portable device - or pull up your discussion and response notes - if you choose, just stay away from distractions. It's difficult to remain engaged in discussions if your mind is elsewhere, and doing so also bumps down your overall grade. On the other hand, actively participating in class discussions bumps up your overall grade.

I'm sure you have heard this before, but it is as true as ever: You get out of any activity only what you put into it. The more effort and creativity you apply to your projects and to class discussions, the more you will learn and the better the class will be for everyone else, as well. If you do not regularly attend class or do not participate in discussions, you will miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn and grow as a person. 


In addition to good participation, much of your grade depends on the short response papers you write on a daily basis and the final project. If you use non-standard software to create your projects, be sure to save them in standard formats (for example, most computers can read .doc, .html, .rtf, and .pdf formats). Turn in papers via Blackboard before class begins on the due date or by end of day on days if we don't meet for class. They will be graded and returned via Blackboard in a reasonable time if turned in before we begin, or possibly after we finish meeting if you turn them in daily once we begin.

 Daily Response Papers

Prior to each class, write a short reading-response paper and turn it in via Blackboard. Please attach the document as a .doc file to make it simpler for me to read everyone's papers each day.

This short (300-500 words for undergrads, 400-1000 words for graduate students) paper is a brief but thoughtful response to all of the readings for that day. (If you go a little long, that's better than too short, but be kind to your teacher!) Provide your thoughts on the day's assigned works in terms of theme, ideas, character, story, setting, position in the SF canon, influence on other works, and so forth. Don't just write a plot summary, but instead provide insightful, critical, and thoughtful reflections on the works and their supplementary material. Along with participation in each day's discussion, these papers are scored as an important measure of your engagement with the day's topics.

As in the discussions, exercise your critical-reading skills when writing these responses; that is, don't just read the fiction for pleasure and don't just accept everything that scholars have written about them as canon. I want to hear how you synthesize new ideas from the assigned readings, your outside readings, and your own experiences.

Regarding format, many people use bullets for various discussion points, bold the reading titles, or use the titles as headings. Some people write responses that resemble essays, citing the works in tandem, while others simply respond to each work individually. However you prefer to handle it is fine, but what's most important is that you've thought through all the readings for each day and their relationship to one another as well as to SF's evolution.

Tip: Include at least a couple of questions to pose to the class or points to stimulate discussion, even if you are not leading the day's discussion. I suggest printing out your paper - especially your questions - or otherwise bringing them to class (say, on a tablet computer) to help formulate ideas during discussion. Also be sure to turn them in via Blackboard in advance of class. They are usually returned to you via Blackboard, scored, in a reasonable time.

Graduate students: As you might imagine, I expect more from your papers. They should reflect your mastery of the form as well as provide insights worthy of your added experience and education. Additionally, for each topic, please find, read, and respond to an additional work that matches the week's themes, authors, or so forth; include your response to this work as part of your regular response paper. If you found it online, provide a link in your response paper. Otherwise, include bibliographic information. Insightfulness and clarity are important. think about this: If you were teaching this course, what additional short-nonfiction readings might you add to the day's readings to aid the students? What book(s) might you add to the pairings - or what books might you use to replace one or both of the assigned readings? Keep in mind that they aren't necessarily the best-ever works but the most representative and influential.

Daily Paper Scoring

Here is how I score the daily papers, based on 0-4 points each:
    0 - no paper.
    1 - paper turned in, but does not convince me that you did all of the reading.
    2 - paper convinces me that you did some of the reading.
    3 - paper either has interesting insights on most of the readings or convinces me that you did all of the reading.
    4 - paper convinces that you did all the reading and provides interesting insights.

Missing response papers are due ASAP, at the very latest by the day after the Final is due (at a reduced score).

Late papers lose 1 point if turned in after class sessions or by the end of our meeting schedule; after that, they might lose more. Turn them in on time!

 Final Project

The final project can be either a traditional essay, a set of teaching materials, or a creative work. Your project explores a topic in science fiction, preferably something not listed in the syllabus or discussed in class - though you may pursue those if you select an angle we didn't already cover or discuss. Projects must be at least 2000 words for undergraduates, 3000 words for graduate students, with a max of 7500 words for undergraduates or 10,000 words for graduates. Non-text-based projects must clearly demonstrate a similar level of effort.

You must include an alphabetized bibliography with a traditional paper or lesson plan, or an annotated bibliography at the end of your document if it is a creative work. An annotated bibliography is a set of references that provide a summary of your readings and research, to give me an idea of where you got your inspiration, scientific or technical resources, and so forth. List your sources alphabetically and include a brief summary or annotation for each work that you quote in the paper or that you use as a reference (or inspiration). Format your bibliography as appropriate for your field of study (MLA for much of the Humanities, Chicago for most other fields, and so forth; here's a good list of style guides). Turn in this project via Blackboard.

References, bibliographies, artist's statements, and endnote pages do not count toward your word-count.

Option A: Traditional Paper

Formal papers are graded on the quality and diversity of research (both fictional and non-fictional), the writing (including grammar and spelling), and the strength of the topic and argument. What I most want is for you to demonstrate what you've learned from the course readings, your outside readings, and in-class discussions, and how you express this synthesis: Demonstrate your understanding of science fiction and the development of the SF novel.

This is not something that you can successfully complete at the last minute. The research paper represents a semester-long investigation of topics that interest you. If you wish to use works from the assigned readings that we discussed in class, I expect you to have something new to say that we didn't already discuss.

Option B: Course Outline, Lesson Plan, or Study Guide

Participants who choose this option are often teachers and those pursuing that profession. Choose from these three options or provide another option that fits your pedagogical approach:

  • Course outline: Design a course in science fiction. This can cover any aspect of SF or serve as an introduction to the field. Successful course outlines I've seen before include "Feminist Science Fiction," "Utopian Science Fiction," and others targeted at college undergraduate students; and courses such as "Science Fiction: An Introduction," targeted at junior-high schoolers. You can pick any age group you wish, just be sure to specify that when you turn it in. I understand that a complete course plan is a major project, so this can be relatively high-level. Required elements include pedagogy (why teach these materials and how), reading list, and syllabus. If you wish to write a formal, complete course plan, that's great! But it needn't exceed the required word-count.
  • Lesson plan: Design in detail a single lesson plan for a series of short pieces or a book. This includes the part that students see (from a larger syllabus), plus your teaching notes (lecture comments, questions for student discussion, and so on), and writing prompts.
  • Study guide: This is a detailed examination of a single long work or group of short pieces on a single topic. It usually covers plot, character, ideas, themes, setting, and so forth, and often ends with self-study questions. The audience for this ranges from students working independently to teachers looking to develop a lesson plan.

All of these options make wonderful additions to! I encourage you to share this project with other teachers via this educational-outreach program.

Option C: Creative Work

A creative work (story, series of poems, play, short film, collection of artworks, website, creative nonfiction, and so forth) must dramatize how the ideas and themes posed in your work could affect believable, interesting characters living in a convincing, fully realized world in addition to revealing substantial understanding of the science fiction genre. For the purposes of this course, your annotated bibliography (normally not included in creative work) is particularly important if you pursue this option, because I want to see the diversity of readings that helped you develop your work (both fictional and non-fictional). Show me your research with a good annotated bibliography, demonstrate your understanding of science fiction, and make your creative work stand on its own.

To be crystal-clear in defining how your creative work displays your understanding of SF, its history, and your response to it, please also include an "artist's statement," as it very much helps me in evaluating creative work. Write this either as an appendix to your document (but don't count this toward your word-count).

Be aware that this option is more challenging - especially if you haven't taken creative-writing courses - because I expect the same level of research as in the other options plus a good story or other creative expression. Click here for some useful creative-writing resources

Final Project Deadline

Your final project is due by Thursday, July 10, by 5:00pm. The completed project is due via Blackboard. If you've created a website, posted a short film to the internet, or otherwise cannot upload the project directly, just provide a link (website URL) to where I can find the project online in the Submission section of the appropriate Blackboard Final Project assignment slot.


Your course grade is based upon these factors:

  • Class participation = 1/3 of grade. Includes attendance, participation in each day's discussion, and leading at least one discussion with partner(s). Missing three (3) days drops your final grade by one full letter grade; each day missed drops a full grade to a minus grade.
  • Daily response papers = 1/3 of grade
  • Final research paper = 1/3 of grade

Graduate students: I have additional expectations for you - see my comments directed to you throughout this document!

More Good Stuff

If you're interested in getting more science fiction in your life, you can find upcoming regional SFnal events on the CSSF News page.

The Center for the Study of Science Fiction offers several multimedia offerings online. Click here to see them on this site, or click here to see our YouTube channel.

Benjamin Cartwright, former Volunteer Coordinator of the Center's AboutSF outreach program, created a wonderful podcast program. Check it out at the main page or at our Podomatic site!

To learn about more stuff, more quickly, you can also find events and lots of SF-related chat with the Lawrence Science Fiction Club! Info, discussions, and (hopefully soon!) meeting times are regularly posted at our Facebook page. Know of something of interest to like-minded folks? Join and drop a note there!

Here's a cool event each Spring, right after finals:

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live Show
Friday and Saturday, in mid-May
Also the Spectrum Awards Show
Grand Ballroom of Bartle Hall Convention Center
Kansas City, MO

What are you doing on Memorial Day Weekend? Why not attend the ConQuest science fiction convention in Kansas City!

Don't miss the annual Campbell Conference and Awards during the weekend before we start meeting! It's free for all class members - but don't forget to register.

Want to take more speculative-fiction courses? You're in luck! Check out our growing list of offerings.

Go here to see lots more resources on the Center's website.

* "'History of Science Fiction' is a graphic chronology that maps the literary genre from its nascent roots in mythology and fantastic stories to the somewhat calcified post-Star Wars space opera epics of today. The movement of years is from left to right, tracing the figure of a tentacled beast, derived from H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds Martians. Science Fiction is seen as the offspring of the collision of the Enlightenment (providing science) and Romanticism, which birthed gothic fiction, source of not only SF, but crime novels, horror, westerns, and fantasy (all of which can be seen exiting through wormholes to their own diagrams, elsewhere). Science fiction progressed through a number of distinct periods, which are charted, citing hundreds of the most important works and authors. Film and television are covered as well."

- Ward Shelly discussing this excellent "History of Science Fiction" infographic - now available for purchase!

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