Literature of Science Fiction:
The SF Novel

English 506 & 690 (3 credits)
or not-for-credit (for professionalization)

Syllabus - Table of Contents

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

Instructor
   Contact Information
   Office Hours
Goals and Overview
Diversity and Disability
Readings
   Required Books
   Recommended Books

Weekly Schedule

Course Requirements
Class Periods
   Attendance and Class Participation
   Discussants
Papers and Projects
   Weekly Response Papers
   Mid-Term Paper
   Group Presentation
   Final Research Project
      Option A: Traditional Research Paper
      Option B: Course Outline, Lesson Plan, or Study Guide
      Option C: Creative Work
      Final Project Deadline
Grading
    Level Up
    Penalty
    What's My Grade? Chloe's Example Scenario
More Good Stuff
   Events and Activities
   More Recommended Readings

Instructor

Chris McKitterick is a science-fiction author and Director of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, and teaches SF and creative writing at KU. He's been a professional writer for more than 20 years, an editor for nearly as long, managed technical writers and editors, and currently freelances for a variety of publishers. He writes not just SF stories and novels, but also nonfiction such as astronomy articles, technical documents, gaming supplements, scholarly articles, and journalism (and some poetry, too). He's also a popular public speaker. 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 or 340 Nichols Hall on West Campus). Drop an email any time. If I'm not in the office, leave a message. It might take a little time to respond if I'm out of town or in the middle of a project, so don't wait until the last minute!

Contact Information

At KU:

Office: Wescoe 3040 and 340 Nichols Hall
Phone: (785) 864-2509
Email: cmckit@ku.edu (class communication - please put "ENGL 690" in the subject line for clarity)

Other contact info:

Personal website
Personal email: cmckit@gmail.com
Facebook
Goodreads
Google+
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
LinkedIn
LiveJournal
SF posts on Tumblr
Twitter
Wikipedia

Go to this page to meet the other people of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction - and let me know if you'd like to get involved!

Office Hours

TBA

Other times by appointment: I am sometimes in the office when not in class and almost always available via email.

Goals and Overview

"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 studying some of the most-influential novels that shaped the genre and the world we inhabit today - and where we'll live tomorrow.

Gain an understanding of contemporary and future science fiction by studying the history of the genre and many of the 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 the works and their place in the evolution of SF, from Wells through more recent books. You will demonstrate your understanding of the genre by writing daily reading responses, writing a mid-term paper, participating in a group presentation, and creating a substantial final project. By the end of the semester, you'll gain expertise in the field!

Science-fiction author and scholar Chris McKitterick leads the course.

Officially satisfies the Humanities requirement and KU Core Goal 6 and is a capstone for English majors. Available to undergraduate and graduate students. Ask your advisor for details about how this fits your needs.

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.

 Readings

See the reading list, below, for the most-current set of works 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 week, find, read, and respond to additional work that represents the week's topic, time period, author, or literary movement. Include your response to this work as part of your regular response paper. If you find it online, provide a link in your response paper. Otherwise, include bibliographic information. Also share these recommendations for your classmates!

 Required Books

This list reflects important works that helped shape the genre. For Fall 2018, here is what we'll read, in alphabetical order by author. The titles below contain links to online booksellers like Amazon and Powell's; click these links to find the books for sale online:

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 (such as The Dusty Bookshelf and Hastings) and online services (we've provided links to two major online booksellers after each title, above). The University of Kansas Jayhawk Ink bookstore 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!

For further reading - and to Level Up! - here are the books that I've removed from the required reading list over time to reflect changing understanding of the genre. They're still important and recommended works for understanding the history of the SF novel, but we only have so much time:

Want more ideas for Leveling Up? 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 in the "More Recommended Readings" at the end of this page. Keep checking back....

Weekly Schedule

Here are the works 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 many other bookstores carry them, as well.

Each week, 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 for each class session. 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 last updated Oct 20, 2016.
Note
: Expect some updates before class; syllabus gets regular updates, including new suggestions to Level Up.

Revision history:
Watch for 2018 syllabus...

Week 1: August 27
Course Introduction / Defining Science Fiction

Topics and Readings

Discussants

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

McKitterick leads discussion this first week, but bring your thoughts, questions, and 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.

Your reading response paper for this week is about the readings linked above, plus your definition of science fiction. Always turn these in to the appropriate Blackboard Assignment slot before class starts.

Week 2: September 3
In the Beginning / Visions of Humanity's Far Future

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

The Time Machine

H.G. Wells

 

Childhood's End

Arthur C. Clarke

Bonus: "The White Sphinx and The Time Machine," article on JSTOR.

 

Turn in your Mid-Term Paper (before class) for +7 Level Up points.

Week 3: September 10
The Alien Peril

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

The War of the Worlds

H.G. Wells

 

The Puppet Masters

Robert Heinlein

 

 

Turn in your Mid-Term Paper (before class) for +6 Level Up points.

Week 4: September 17
The Human Condition

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

The Caves of Steel

Isaac Asimov

 

Dune

Frank Herbert

Bonus: "Psychic Decolonization in 1960s Science Fiction" and "A Conversation with Isaac Asimov" (see Blackboard).

 

Turn in your Mid-Term Paper (before class) for +6 Level Up points.

Week 5: September 24
Thought Experiments

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

Mission of Gravity

Hal Clement

 

The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

 

Turn in your Mid-Term Paper (before class) for +5 Level Up points.

Week 6: October 1
Powers of the Mind / Evolution Continues

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

The World of Null-A

A.E. van Vogt

 

More than Human

Theodore Sturgeon

Gregory Benford talk - Level Up opportunity! Details here.

 

Turn in your Mid-Term Paper (before class) for +4 Level Up points.

Week 7: October 8
Invoking the Social Sciences

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

The Demolished Man

Alfred Bester

 

The Languages of Pao

Jack Vance

 

 

Turn in your Mid-Term Paper (before class) for +3 Level Up points.

Week 8: October 15
SF and the Literary Mainstream

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

The Sirens of Titan

Kurt Vonnegut

 

The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood

The Listeners

James Gunn

Turn in your Mid-Term Paper (before class) for +2 Level Up points.

Week 9: October 22
Dystopia and the Future

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

Stand on Zanzibar

John Brunner

 

Gateway

Frederik Pohl

 

 

Turn in your Mid-Term Paper (before class) for +1 Level Up point.

Week 10: October 29
Tinkering with History

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

The Man in the High Castle

Philip K. Dick

 

Timescape

Gregory Benford

PS: It's almost Halloween... bonus for coming to class in costume today!

 

Last day to turn in your Mid-Term Paper (before class) for full points.

Week 11: November 5
The Biological Imperative

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

Darwin's Radio

Greg Bear

 

Dawn (book one of the Xenogenesis trilogy)

Octavia Butler

 

 

Week 12: November 12
Cyberpunk and the Singularity

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

"What is the Singularity?" (essay)

Vernor Vinge

 

Neuromancer

William Gibson

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

Charles Stross

 

 

Week 13: November 19
Looking Backward and Forward: Where Does SF Go Next?

Readings for Class Discussion

Author

Student Discussants

Perdido Street Station

China Miéville

 

Consider Phlebas

Iain M. Banks

 

 

November 25
No Class: Thanksgiving Break

No class - Thanksgiving Break.

December 3
Awesome Student Presentations!
  (or awesome final discussion about SF!)

Group

 

 

 

December 10
Awesome Student Presentations!

Group

 

 

 

December 17 - 18
No Class: Final Project Due

No final test - focus on completing your final project this week!

Final project deadline: Post to Blackboard by Thursday, December 17, before 5:00pm.

Late projects: To receive (reduced) credit, hand off your missing response papers and other prior work before 5:00pm to Blackboard by Friday, December 18. 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 week.
  • Participate in class, which means being involved in every discussion, each day.
  • Lead at least two class sessions with a partner or partners.
  • Read the required books and other materials.
  • Write insightful weekly response papers.
  • Write a formal mid-term research paper.
  • Create a longer final project due at the end of the semester.
  • Participate in a live group presentation on one of the last two days of class.

To earn top scores and get a great final grade, be sure to Level Up whenever possible!

 Class Periods

Each week we discuss a variety of readings, 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.

Be civil: These are discussions about ideas, not arguments! Civility and respect for the opinions of others are vital for a free exchange of ideas. You might not agree with everything I or others say in the classroom, but I expect respectful behavior and interaction all times. When you disagree with someone, make a distinction between criticizing an idea and criticizing the person. Similarly, try to remember that discussions can become heated, so if someone seems to be attacking you, keep in mind they take issue with your idea, not who you are, and respond appropriately. Expressions or actions that disparage a person's age, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, nationality, race, religion, or sexual orientation - or their marital, parental, or veteran status - are contrary to the mission of this course and will not be tolerated. If we all strive to be decent human beings, everyone will get the most out of this course!

Attendance and Class Participation

This is a discussion-based course, so class participation is weighed heavily. Coming to class and getting involved in the discussions is necessary for getting a good grade, but also for getting the most value 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. By the end of this course you should possess expertise of your own in the topic. During the discussions, I want to witness your growing understanding of the genre based on the required readings, your outside research discoveries, and your own experience with SF over the years.

Of course, be polite and diplomatic. Avoid dominating discussions, mindlessly blathering, talking over others, or speaking even when someone shyer than you has already raised their hand; doing so frequently can negate possible bonuses. Exercise your socialization: If you're normally shy, here's your chance to talk about something you love! If you're normally domineering, tone it down.

If you know you are going to miss a class 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:

During discussions, do not expose yourself or others to distractions such as checking email, Facebook, and so forth. If you're looking up relevant content, do so in a way that doesn't distract you or your classmates. Obviously, turn off your phone's ringer/buzzer. 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 - for pulling up your notes or looking for content to share - 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's 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'll miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn and grow as a person. 

Be sure to show up and get involved!

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 base value (3 points per class session): 15 x 3 = 45 base points possible.

Level Up

  • Never miss a class: +4.
  • Great participants in the daily discussions can earn up to +20 points over the course of the semester!

Penalty

Missing class is the best way to lose points here: -3 points per missed class (after the first).

If you know you are going to miss a class 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.

Discussants

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, two or more students lead (not monopolize) the discussion. You can split up the tasks among your fellow discussant(s) based on readings, topics, or however you see fit. I simply expect everyone to serve equally. 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.

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) and come prepared with at least six questions and discussion prompts for each book to stimulate discussion among your peers about the day's topic and readings. Turn in these discussion plans as your response for that week (in place of or in addition to your response paper).  I expect all students to participate in discussions, but I also request that you avoid talking too much or talking over others. These are discussions about ideas, not arguments or lectures!

If you would like to suggest relevant content (stories, comics, shows, movies, other narratives, or so forth) for the week you're leading discussion, by all means drop me an email with links to the materials! Great new SF is always appearing, and you might know of something I don't. This is a cooperative course! I'm happy to add links or suggested readings, given enough time for the rest of the class to read or otherwise study it.

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.

Base value: 5 x 2 weeks = 10 points.

Level Up

  • Lead more than two sessions (if needed): +5.
  • Facilitate particularly excellent in-class sessions: +1 for each Discussion Day of Awesome.
  • Really stand-out content preparation (lots of extra research, extra discussion prompts, multimedia use in class, sharing resources with the class, and so on): +1 for each Discussion Day of Awesome.
  • Suggested new content makes it onto the weekly pages (you must submit links at least two weeks in advance): +1 for each week's new content.
  • Possibly more ways to get bonuses - be a kick-butt discussion leader!

If you suffer from social anxiety, please talk to me so we can work out an alternative to leading discussions.

 Papers and Projects

In addition to good participation, much of your grade depends on the short response papers you write on a weekly basis, your mid-term paper, plus the longer research project. If you use non-standard software to create your projects, save them in standard formats (I prefer .doc format files, but I'll accept .docx .html, .rtf, and .pdf formats as needed). Turn in papers via Blackboard before class begins on the due date or by end of day on days when we don't meet for class. They will be graded and returned via Blackboard in a reasonable time.

Want to enhance your literary-criticism chops and Level Up by incorporating traditional (or novel) lit-crit approaches into your papers? Check out this overview page about "Literary-Criticism Approaches to Studying Science Fiction."

 Weekly Response Papers

Prior to each class, write a short reading-response paper and turn it in via Blackboard in the "Week [x] Response Paper" slot. Please paste the text from your response into the Submission text box rather than (or in addition to) attaching the document, to make it simpler for me to read everyone's papers each week. Along with participation in each week's discussion, these papers are scored as an important measure of your engagement with the day's topics.

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 week. (If you go a little long, that's better than too short, but be kind to your teacher!) Provide your thoughts on the week'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 provide a plot summary, but instead provide insightful, critical, and thoughtful reflections on the works. When responding to the fiction, ask yourself what the author was trying to say (themes), and how the story responds to the changing times in which it was written. When leading the week's discussion, include your discussion-leader notes as part of your reading response, or in addition to it.

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

Regarding format: Many people use bullets for discussion points, bold the titles of the works you're discussing, or use the titles as headings. Some people write responses that resemble essays, citing the works in tandem, while others merely respond to each individually. However you prefer to handle it is fine, but what's most important is that you've thought through all the works for each day and their relationship to one another as well as to the overall SF genre and its evolution.

Tip: Even if you aren't leading the week's discussion, include at least a couple of questions to pose to the class or points to stimulate discussion. I suggest bringing your response to class - especially your questions - to help formulate ideas during discussion. (Also be sure to turn them in via Blackboard in advance of class.) They are usually scored in Blackboard by the following week.

Graduate students and teachers: 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 (any length is fine) 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 find 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 week's readings to aid the students? What book(s) might you add to the groupings - or what books might you use to replace one of the assigned readings? Keep in mind that the chosen works aren't necessarily the best-ever, but the most representative and influential.

Weekly Paper Scoring

Base value: 3 points each x 13 = 26 total.

Here is how I score the weekly response papers:

    0 - no paper, or bad one turned in late.
    1 - turned in, but provides no interesting insights and does not convince me you did close readings.
    2 - has interesting insights on the readings or convinces me you completed the reading.
    3 - convinces me you did all the reading and provides interesting insights.
    4 - (+1 Level Up) references all the required materials and shares thoughtful responses to everything, plus discusses additional materials relevant* to the week's content.

That means you could possibly earn one-third bonus over the base score for your Weekly Responses by Leveling Up every week! Up to +13.

* Some examples of additional materials to cover in your response paper include a short story, an episode of a show, a comic (issue of a printed comic or multi-page online comic), an SF event (convention, book-club gathering, book release or reading, significant fan event, or so on), a movie, browsing through (with intent, using your critical skills) a large series of art pieces (such as paintings, sculptures, photographs, and the like), or so forth. You can also count something that you actively create and share with others, such as fanfiction, fan-art, thoughtful blogging, or so forth. This is something that should take the average person at least an hour or two to fully appreciate, consider, and respond to (yes, I have a pretty solid gauge for this). If you've created something that's posted online, just turn in a direct link to it. Please use standard file formats; don't make me have to buy or download software just to see it, or set up an account just to read it.

Penalty

Late papers get -1 point each if turned in after the relevant class session begins. Turn them in on time! Missing response papers are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week.

Mid-Term Paper

During the semester, choose either a pair of readings from the syllabus or equivalent new ones, perform additional research beyond the required materials for that topic, and write a short, formal paper about them or their themes. Additionally, cover at least three more short pieces or at least one book- or movie-length piece; these may be fiction, nonfiction, multimedia, or other sources that support or illustrate your themes. Think of this project as an extended weekly response with additional support and a bibliography and other references as appropriate (Wikipedia is not a source, but is often a good place to find sources), or a formal paper that uses those works to make an argument or provide interesting insights into SF or its evolution over the years.

This paper must be at least 1000 words for undergraduates, at least 2000 words for graduate students, up to a max of 4000 words for undergraduates or 6000 words for graduates (again, longer is okay, just consider how much your teacher needs to read). They are graded on the quality of writing (including grammar and spelling), thesis and argument, diversity of research, and how interesting you make it.

Format your bibliography as appropriate for your field of study (MLA for most Humanities, Chicago for most other fields, and so forth; here's a good list of style guides). References, bibliographies, artist's statements, and endnote pages do not count toward your word-count.

Some resources you might find useful:

Graduate students: In addition to the basics of writing an insightful paper, I expect you to demonstrate mastery of the form.

Due date: You may turn in your paper as early as Week 2 or as late as Week 10; you need not turn this in on the same week that the reading response would be due, but it's due by Week 10 at the latest.

Base value: 40 points.

Level Up

  • Work with a classmate to peer-review one another's projects.
    • See this page for how to successfully do a peer critique, which also describes what I'm looking for in what you turn in for your Level Up assignment.
    • Not only does performing a peer-review earn you bonus points, but it will also improve both of your papers!
    • Bonus points you can earn here can vary widely based on how much effort you put into your review: up to +10.
  • Include an annotated bibliography (regular bibliography is required, and neither counts toward total word-count): +4
  • Teach me something new, make and support an original or thoughtful argument, or so forth: up to +4.
  • Turn it in early: up to +7.
  • Possibly more ways to get bonuses. Write a kick-butt paper!

Penalty

A late Mid-Term Paper gets -2 points per day late for the first five days late (that's -10 after a week), then -2 points per day late after that. "Late" is after Thursday of Week 10. Turn them in on time! Missing papers are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week (at a deduction).

 Group Presentation

The two last sessions of the course are reserved for student oral or multimedia presentations. Here's your chance to pitch your great idea for the in-class presentation project, build teams, chat, and otherwise prep for the last two class sessions. Your job is to share your understanding of SF through a live or multimedia presentation to your classmates. You can present about particular SF works, genre movements, films, TV shows, other other topics - it's up to you!

To help focus your efforts, answer this question:
What's the "big picture" you've taken away about science fiction, especially the SF novel? How have you come to understand how SF reflects the human experience when encountering change? Especially strive to elucidate what SF means to you as a group, or how it informs the future as you see it, and share your unique insights into what you see as the future of speculative fiction.

The form of the presentation is open: Feel free to make it a panel discussion, debate, movie, live game, quiz-show, radio play, skit, guided interactive activity, or other form. Let your imagination run free! This is a great opportunity to express yourself and your understanding of science fiction and its history as well as its future shape, its creators and creative side, ideas and inspirations, and so forth.

Form up with a group of students (3-5 is optimal), and present for a total of about 6 minutes per group member; that is, a 4-person group presents for 24 minutes, while a 5-person group presents for about 30 minutes. If you're showing a short (5-20 minute) film you created, bring discussion prompts for afterward. Your group chooses a topic that illustrates or dramatizes what you all feel is important about science fiction, works together to develop the idea into a shape suitable for sharing with others, then presents it to the class. Be polite: Don't run over your time limit! We'll have a little extra time after each presentation for a short Q&A session.

Every group member provides an equal level of participation overall, including research, preparation, and presentation. You may decide if one member is more of a script-writer or video-editor than actor or presenter, for example, as long as everyone's work is balanced - just let me know how you divided the work in the Submission notes section of the Blackboard assignment slot. You may divide your total number of minutes among the presenters however you see fit; let me know how each participated in the project if you're not dividing your live-presentation time equally. Each individual within the group is graded on the clarity and organization of the presentation, the quality of the analysis, the appropriate use of reference material, and individual contribution.

Turn this in via Blackboard if possible, or post a link to where it lives online if not. The majority of how I score this project comes from experiencing your live presentation.

Base value: 40 points. Help make this group project outstanding - and be a great individual contributor - to Level Up! (up to +6)

 Final Project

The final project can be 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 (max of max of 7500 words), 3000 words for graduate students (max of 10,000 words). Non-text-based projects must clearly demonstrate a similar level of effort.

To help focus your efforts, answer or consider these questions:

  • How do the work or works you're analyzing or creating fit into the larger discussion that is science fiction?
  • What do they add?
  • What are their influences?
  • What are they responding to?
  • How do they extend what you think of as "science fiction"?
  • What's the "big picture" you've taken away about science fiction, especially the SF novel?
  • How have you come to understand how SF reflects the human experience when encountering change?

Share your unique insights into what you see as the future of speculative fiction. Especially strive to elucidate what SF means to you, or how it informs the future as you see it. Discuss as usual in a scholarly piece, or define in your creative piece's artist statement.

Some resources you might find useful:

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.

Grad students: In addition to the basics of writing an insightful paper, I expect you to demonstrate mastery of the form.

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

Base value: 80 points.

Level Up

Some suggestions for exceeding the base points on this project:

  • Throughout the semester, pay attention to what your classmates, teacher, and others say in class, take notes on great ideas or things you disagree with, and note the date and names of the speakers so you can cite them. Accurately cite in-class discussions that support your arguments, and list such materials in your bibliography. Also, cite and list diverse references, both in terms of quantity and media form. Up to +5
  • Write a kick-butt paper! Teach me something new, make and support an original or thoughtful argument, or so forth: up to +5.
  • Work with a classmate to peer-review one another's projects.
    • See this page for how to successfully do a peer critique, which also describes what I'm looking for in what you turn in for your Level Up assignment.
    • Not only does performing a peer-review earn you bonus points, but it will also improve both of your papers!
    • Bonus points you can earn here can vary widely based on how much effort you put into your review: up to +12.
  • Possibly more ways to get bonuses!

Penalty

A late Final Project gets -4 points per day late up to a max of -16. "Late" is any time after the due date. 

Option A: Traditional Paper

I grade formal papers 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.

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).

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 "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 high-level 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 AboutSF.com! 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, or so forth) must dramatize how the ideas and themes posed in your work might 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 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, its future, and your response to it, also include an "artist's statement," as it very much helps in evaluating creative work. Write this either as an appendix to your document (but don't count this toward your word-count) or paste it into the Notes to Instructor text box of the Blackboard assignment. If you're creating a multimedia project, please post to an appropriate media host - give me a link to where your project lives, and upload to Blackboard your annotated bibliography and artist's statement, as well.

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 of Finals Week, before 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.

Grading

I want you to be in control of your scores as much as possible, so I've adopted a you-centered method for tracking success (in the academic world, it's called "incentive-centered grading" or "gamification"). Everything you do in this course beyond the basics of the required elements earns you points toward "leveling up" your scores (and, therefore, your grade), while giving you some freedom to choose between options. Your final grade is up to you!

By simply completing all the readings, turning in excellent responses on time each week, creating an well-written mid-term project, doing a good job in the group presentation, creating a good final project, attending every class plus engaging in active discussion while there, and partnering to lead at least two class sessions, you are pretty much guaranteed at least a C+ or better for your final grade.

Want to reach higher and earn a better grade? See the Level Up! section below and throughout the syllabus.

Level Points Needed Grade

Legend

309 or above

A

Hero

298 - 308

A-

Master

287 - 297

B+

Guru

276 - 286

B

Expert

265 - 275

B-

Adept (base)

254 - 264

C+

Apprentice

243 - 253

C

Intern

232 - 242

C-

Trainee

221 - 231

D+

Novice

210 - 220

D

Beginner

199 - 209

D-

Conscript

198 or below

F

So if you're comfortable rising no higher "Adept" (a letter grade of C+), you need between 254 and 264 points. You'll easily earn those points by doing solid work on the required course components:

  • Reading the assigned content and turning in weekly response papers: 13 x 3 = 39 base points possible (up to +13 Level Up possible).
  • Attendance and class participation: 15 x 3 = 45 base points possible (up to +24 or more Level Up possible).
  • Leading discussions: 2 x 5 = 10 base points possible (up to +11 Level Up possible).
  • Mid-Term paper: 40 base points possible (up to +15 or more Level Up possible).
  • Presentation: 40 base points possible (up to +6 Level Up possible).
  • Final project 80 base points possible (up to +10 or more Level Up possible).
  • TOTAL possible base-level points: 254.

But you have lots of chances to Level Up throughout the semester, making it easy to greatly grow your level. See each section for details on Level Ups and Penalties. See the next section, Chloe's Example Scenario, and every other section for more opportunities.

    TOTAL possible Level Up points: +79 or more!

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

Level Up

We use the metaphor of Leveling Up to earn better-than-average grades (think game systems). In place of the traditional deductive-only grade system (where you lose points by not turning in perfect work), our system uses additive grading (which is gaining a lot of pedagogical traction in education theory). You'll have a multitude of opportunities to earn bonus points by (for example) doing additional research, reporting on that added work, and sharing your discoveries in class. You can also Level Up for exceeding my expectations on every project and in every class period; that is, you get more points than the base value when you exceed "average effort" (traditionally graded as C work), thereby raising your grade incrementally toward a B or A. It's up to you!

On the other hand, if you choose to simply meet all the basic requirements and do acceptable work on your projects, you'll end up with a grade around a C+.

I want you to be in control over your final grade, using a familiar and empowering metaphor.

So, want to earn a higher grade in this course? Each section in this syllabus offers some options for Leveling Up! Possible bonuses abound: See each assignment section for details on more ways to earn bonus points. Here are some semester-long examples of how you can gain extra points:

  • Attend outside events, write reports on them, and turn them in to the various Level Up slots you'll find in Blackboard. I'll post announcements there when I identify some cool opportunities, and I'll also add assignments there for you to turn in your bonus papers. 
  • Kick butt on your projects! See the descriptions in this syllabus for ideas. Basically, you have the opportunity to exceed my expectations - and Level Up - with every project!

Basically, be an epic student! You might just get bonus points in the end.

Penalty

On the other hand, just like in many game-scoring systems, in this course you have a few ways to lose points, too:

  • Miss a class session: -3 (per missed class after the first).
    Note: You're allowed one unexcused absence for the semester. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies, so if you encounter this, let me know. It's your responsibility to schedule employment, school, and other responsibilities around your classes, or accept the consequences. If you must miss class, please contact me ahead of time to make arrangements for catching up on missed material.
  • If you attend but do not participate in class discussions, this also lowers your overall grade on a variable scale depending on engagement or lack thereof. If you have special needs (for example, you have social phobias), contact me in advance so we can work out alternatives. 
  • Of course, not turning in projects or doing poor work can lose you points, leading to reduced grades. So do your best - and exceed my expectations to Level Up instead!

What's My Grade?
Chloe's Example Scenario.

If you're not familiar with this sort of process (perhaps you've never played a video or role-playing game!), you can determine your progress toward higher grade (aka higher level) as in this example:

  1. It's Week 9, just over half-way through the semester. Chloe has been doing exceptional work so far, attending all the classes, participating in consistent and thoughtful ways, turning in all her required responses and several Level Up responses. She also did a great job leading one week's discussion with a partner.
        Points tracking: +57 (+8 average per week for turning in all responses plus Level Ups on time), +32 (perfect attendance), +16 (great class participation without talking over others), +10 (led one week in a Level Up kind of way).
        Running Total: 115 points
  2. Chloe turns in her response for the week. Because she's really interested in the topic, she responds thoughtfully to all the materials.
        Points tracking: +3 (base), +1 (exceptional work).
        Running Total: 118
  3. She also does an outstanding job on her second response for the week.
        Points tracking: +2 (base), +1 (exceptional work, listing a couple of questions to pose to the class).
        Running Total: 121
  4. But that's not all. She also watches a Dr. Who episode relevant to the topic, because she's a big fan of the Doctor. She loves it even more in context with the theme! So she looks up some fan blogs and an io9 article about the episode, and realizes why she was so moved by it. She includes this material in her weekly Level Up response, and not only talks about the episode but provides insights into why, and relates this to what some of her fellow students mentioned in class:
        Points tracking: +2 (Level Up).
        Running Total: 123
  5. She turned in her Mid-Term paper early. Her paper not only discusses all the readings for that week, but also includes a detailed annotated bibliography, is insightful and provides a detailed critical response to things she loved and one she really hated, provides evidence for her argument about how the piece she hated was flawed as well as evidence for why her favorite piece was genre-stretching - and she delivers it in the form of a post in her blog, complete with embedded images, video, and dozens of links.
        Points tracking: +40 (base), +4 (annotated bibliography Level Up), +4 (outstanding paper Level Up) +6 (turned in early).
        Running Total: 177
  6. She also performed a really useful and complete peer-review on her partner's Mid-Term, and remembered to turn in both her partner's edited draft and her critique document to Blackboard.
        Points tracking: +10 (Level Up).
        Running Total: 187 points
  7. Oh, and because of her specific interest in the topic, she led this week's discussion.
        Points tracking: +5 (base discussion leader), +2 (two days of awesome preparation, with great questions and added recommended material), +2 (two Days of Awesome In-Class Discussion facilitation), +1 (recommends some great Level Up material to add to the week's web page).
        Running Total: 197

She's already Leveled Up from Conscript to Beginner... and she's only a little past half-way through the semester! If she Levels Up her Presentation (let's say she gets 44 points) and Final Project (she kicks it and gets 89 points) in the ways she usually does, that alone is enough to elevate her to Legend level. So, assuming she's just as motivated for the rest of the semester, she'll easily rise through the ranks to Legend status and beyond: Last year, three motivated students earned more than 300 points! You can, too. 

More Good Stuff

Ready for more? Check out these suggestions.

 Events and Activities

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

Want to hang out (at least virtually) with other SF folks? See the Lawrence Science Fiction Club on Facebook for details.

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 AboutSF.com 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 Spring 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.

Sticking around for the summer? Don't miss the annual Campbell Conference and Awards weekend in June.

Want to take more speculative-fiction courses? Check out our growing list of offerings.

Going to be in the Kansas City area in 2016? Then you're in luck! The KC fan community won the World Science Fiction Convention bid, so the world of SF is coming to the KC area in 2016! Details at the MidAmeriCon II website. Yours truly is Academic Track program director, so let me know if you'd like to become involved in that or if you'd like to volunteer to serve as staff (for a significant reduction in membership cost).

 

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

 More Recommended Readings

Want to read more SF? You've come to the right place!

The Center's lending library holds many books, magazines, and more, so if you are local to Lawrence or are in town for our other summer programs, check with McKitterick to see if we can lend you a copy. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis. We also have a course-specific lending library for the SF Literature course - which 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, and the finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short SF of the year. Many years, the majority of those works could have won these awards if the juries had just a few different members.

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

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

The Gunn Center holds many 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 lending library is primarily supplied by previous students donating copies after completing their courses, so if you want to pass on the love to the next generation rather than keep your books, let your teacher know!

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.

Here are the books removed from the SF-novels reading list - still important and recommended works for understanding the history of the SF novel, but we only have so much time:

McKitterick was on Minnesota Public Radio's "The Daily Circuit" show in June 2012, which was a "summer reading" show dedicated to spec-fic and remembering Ray Bradbury. Great to see Public Radio continuing to cover SF after their "100 Best SF Novels" list. Here's what he added to the show's blog:

A great resource for finding wonderful SF is to check out the winners and finalists for the major awards. For example, here's a list of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award winners. And here's a list of recent finalists for the Award. Here's the list of the Nebula Award novel winners. And the Hugo Award winners, which has links to each year's finalists, as well. A couple of books I didn't get a chance to mention include Ray Bradbury's R Is for Rocket, which contains a story that turned me into an author: "The Rocket" (along with Heinlein's Rocketship Galileo and Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time). Bradbury's Dandelion Wine is another, along with books like Frank Herbert's Dune, Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Clifford Simak's City (a Minnesota native), SF anthologies like James Gunn's Road to Science Fiction and the DAW Annual Year's Best SF, and tons more. Personally, my favorite Bradbury short story is pretty much everything Bradbury every wrote. His writing is moving and evocative like Simak and Theodore Sturgeon's - probably why those three made such an impression on the young-me. But if I had to pick only one that most influenced me as a writer, it would probably be "The Rocket," a beautiful story about a junk-man who has to decide between his personal dreams of space and love of his family. It was adapted into a radio show for NBC's "Short Story" series (you can listen to the MP3 audio recording here).

He was on again in September 2012, when they did a story on "What did science fiction writers predict for 2012?" The other guest was a futurist - an interesting discussion!

Stay tuned for more to come!


* "'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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