Fall 2014
Science Fiction and the Popular Media
English 203

Tuesdays and Thursdays 2:30 – 3:45pm
Room: Wescoe 1003

Table of Contents

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

Course Goals
Disabilities
Readings
   Required Works
   Recommended Works
Your Instructor
   Contact Information
   Office Hours
Weekly Schedule
Course Requirements
Class Periods
   Discussants
   Attendance and Class Participation
   Attendance and Class Participation Scoring
Papers
   Weekly Response Papers
      Weekly Paper Scoring
   Final Project
      Final Project Deadline
Group Presentation
Grading
   Level Up!
   Penalty!
More Good Stuff

Course Goals

"The most powerful works of SF don't describe the future - they change it." - Annalee Newitz, io9.

This new course examines science fiction across a range of media forms including film, television, literature, fanfic, comics, gaming, and more. Through readings, viewings, and other interactive experiences, we'll survey this exciting genre's history, follow its development through multiple media as new generations of artists, writers, and other creatives take advantage of emerging narrative tools to respond to changing social conditions. We'll trace the effects that - through various media forms - SF has had on today's expression of what it means to be human living through ever-accelerating change.

You'll write weekly responses after reading a diversity of materials, viewing films and other multimedia expressions, and participating in discussions. You'll explore your unique understanding and interpretation of the genre, and then create and share personal visions through multimedia responses. Prepare to rent, stream, or otherwise access about one feature-length movie or other media per week outside of class beyond a number of mostly short readings and one graphic novel. 

Fair warning: Because we'll be reading, viewing, and otherwise interacting with a diversity of multimedia, you'll occasionally encounter adult situations, bad language, violence, and nudity - especially in the comics and movies. If this is a problem for you, please contact your teacher to discuss alternative materials.

Officially satisfies these KU Core Goals:

Disabilities

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 accommodations 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 me privately about your needs in this course.

 Recommended Works

Because this course is all about understanding SF as told through various media, we'll also adopt one of its modes for determining your grade: Everything you do earns you points toward "leveling up" your grade, giving you some freedom to choose between options to raise your score. In this way, your final grade is up to you! See the "Level Up!" section for details. You'll find required and suggested materials to study in each week's syllabus section, but here are some more general resources:

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 more? Check out the finalists for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for great novel-length SF, and the finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short SF. 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 writer and scholar. He's Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at KU, where he teaches SF, creative writing, and technical communication. He has been a professional writer and editor for nearly 20 years, writing not just SF stories and novels but also game supplements, web content, astronomy articles, scientific and technical documents, scholarly articles, nonfiction, journalism, poetry, even song lyrics. 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. 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 if I'm out of town or in the middle of a project, so don't wait until the last minute!

Contact Information

Office: Wescoe Hall 3040 (also CSSF lending library)
Phone: (785) 864-2509
Email: cmckit@ku.edu (for most class communication)
        cmckit@gmail.com (personal address)

Other contact info:

My personal website
Facebook
Goodreads
Google+
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
LinkedIn
LiveJournal
Twitter
Wikipedia

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

Office Hours

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:30 - 2:15pm
Wednesdays, 4:00 - 4:45pm

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

Weekly Schedule Index

Syllabus version 0.2: last updated July 24, 2014.
Note
: This will change as the syllabus is updated.

Revision history:
0.1 - 0.2: Preliminary syllabus underway.

The links below take you to individual pages listing the multimedia works we'll discuss each day. 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. Discussants also seek relevant information about the assignments' creators, how the works influenced the science fiction and multimedia that was to follow, and so forth. You must lead the weekly discussion at least twice, but may serve more often if you want to Level Up! This is a major part of your grade and an important learning opportunity!

Week 1: Course Introduction / Defining Science Fiction/ Defining Narrative Media
Week 2: (Detailed weekly readings and links to come - stay tuned)
Week 3:
Week 4:
Week 5:
Week 6:
Week 7:
Week 8:
Week 9:
Week 10:
Week 11:
Week 12:
Week 13:
Week 14:
Week 15:

   December 16-18: No Class: Final due. Final project deadline: Post to Blackboard by 5:00pm Thursday, December 18.
   Late projects
: To receive (reduced) credit, hand off your missing response papers and other prior work before 5:00pm to Blackboard by Friday, December 19. If you didn't manage to finish something when it was due, turn it in after you turn in your more important final project.

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

 Course Requirements

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

  • Read and watch the required "readings" and multimedia.
  • Write insightful weekly responses to those materials.
  • Attend class each week.
  • Participate in class, which means being involved in every discussion, each day.
  • Lead at least one session with a partner or partners.
  • Participate in a live group presentation on one of the last two days of class.
  • Create a final project, due at the end of the semester.

 Class Periods

Each day we discuss a variety of SF works, their creators, the science fiction genre, multimedia tools and delivery means, and the ever-changing content and context of our cybernetic world. Occasionally, we might have guest speakers. Class periods revolve largely around discussion, with some lecture and audio-visual presentations.

Discussants

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 once 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 or multimedia content related to the day's themes, and so forth) and come prepared with at least 6 questions and discussion prompts to stimulate discussion among your peers about the day's topic and content (turn these in either as your response for that day 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. 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 more information. 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.

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 session 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 go through the material 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 Definition of Science Fiction. By the end of this course you should possess broad understanding of the topic. In the discussions, I want to witness your growing understanding of the genre and media tools based on the required "readings," your outside discoveries and viewings, and your own experience with SF and the media 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 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:

Because we only meet once per week, each unexcused absence drops your final course grade by a third; that is, missing a day might mean your final grade drops from 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.

Attendance and Class Participation Scoring

Here's how I grade attendance and participation:

Classes Missed Grade Result
(assuming perfect score)

0

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

1-2

A (minor effect)

3-4

A-

5-6

B+

7-8

B
(down one full grade)

9-10

B-

And so forth

1/3 grade per missed week

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 - 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 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. 

 Papers

In addition to good participation and the final presentation, much of your grade depends on the short response papers you write on a weekly basis, your mid-term paper, plus the longer 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 when we don't meet for class. They will be graded and returned via Blackboard in a reasonable time.

 Weekly Response Papers

Prior to each class, write a short response paper and turn it in via Blackboard.

This short (200-300 words) paper is a brief but thoughtful response to all of the materials 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 assigned works in terms of theme, ideas, character, story, setting, artistic qualities, position in the SF canon, influence on other works, use of the various media forms, comparisons to the original print texts (if appropriate), and so forth. Don't just provide a plot summary, but instead offer insightful, critical, and thoughtful reflections on the works. Along with participation in each day's discussion, these papers are scored as an important measure of your engagement with the topics.

As in the discussions, exercise your critical-reading, -listening, and -viewing skills when writing these responses; that is, don't just read the fiction, watch the movies, or otherwise interact with the content 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.

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 week's discussion. I suggest either printing out your paper - especially your questions - or otherwise bringing them to class 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, by the following week.

Daily Paper Scoring

Here is how I score the weekly 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 during Finals Week at a reduced score.

Late papers lose 1 point if turned in after class sessions or up to one week late; 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, and non-text-based projects must clearly demonstrate a similar level of effort - we'll discuss this.

You must include an alphabetized bibliography with a traditional paper, 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: Creative Work

A creative work (story, comic, short film, music, collection of artworks, website, creative nonfiction, or 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 inspired you (and how), and those that helped you develop your work (both fictional and non-fictional). Show me your research through 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, film-making, or visual-arts courses - because we will not be teaching how to write a great story or make a great movie, only examining them. Click here for some useful creative-writing resources

Final Project Deadline

Your final project is due by Thursday, December 19, at 5:00pm. The completed project is due via Blackboard. If you've created a website, multimedia content, 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.

 Group Presentation

The two last weeks of the course are reserved for student multimedia presentations. Some time mid-semester, 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 and popular media forms through a live, multimedia presentation to your classmates. You can create your own vision or present about particular SF works, genre movements, films, TV shows, other other topics - it's up to you! What's the "big picture" you've taken away about science fiction and the various media forms we've examined this semester? How have you come to understand how SF reflects human beings experiencing change, and how does your chosen form (or that of the works you examine) especially reflect the nature of change and technological opportunity? Especially strive to elucidate what SF means to you, how it informs the future, and how the various media forms change SF. And be sure to share your insights into the future of speculative fiction, either by example or discussion.

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 delivery forms, 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 25 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.

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.

You may turn this in via Blackboard if you wish (not necessary). The majority of how I score this project comes from experiencing your live presentation.

 Grading

Because we're examining a while diversity of ways to communicate, let's also use adopt one method for tracking success from one new form of media: gaming. That is, everything you do in this class earns you points toward "leveling up" your grade while giving you some freedom to choose between options to raise your score. In this way, your final grade is up to you!

By simply completing all the readings and viewings, turning in excellent responses on time each week, creating an insightful and interesting mid-term project, doing a great job in the final group presentations, attending every class and engaging in active discussion while there, and partnering to lead at least two class sessions, you are pretty much guaranteed at least a C for your final grade. Want something better? See the next section.

Your basic course grade (of "acceptable," or C) is based upon these factors:

  • Weekly response papers (4 points each, for a total of 52) = 33%
  • Presentation (50 points) = 33%
  • Final project (50 points) = 33%

  • BUT ALSO: Class participation: Effect varies. This includes attendance, participation in each day's discussion, and leading at least one discussion with partners. Missing three (3) weeks drops your final grade by one full letter grade; missing two (2) weeks drops a full grade to a minus grade (or a minus grade to the next-lower plus grade). See the Penalty! section, below, for details. Be sure to show up and get involved!

Level Up!

Here are some options for leveling up to a higher grade:

  • Read and respond to a significant amount of additional content relevant to the week's topic: +2 each.
    Notes: Some examples include a short story, an episode of a show, a comic (single 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, relevant website interaction (for example, actively reading and responding on a fan-site), game-time long enough to experience significant story narrative, browsing (with intent and 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 or create (yes, I have a pretty solid gauge for this). To earn these bonus points, turn in your response or content as a separate file from the week's usual response under the "Week [x] Level Up Materials!" slot in Blackboard (next to the "Week [x] Response" slot). If you've created something that's posted online, you can 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.

  • Add significantly to class discussions throughout the semester: +10.
    Note: This does not mean dominating discussions, mindlessly blathering, talking over others, or speaking even when someone shyer than you has already raised their hand; doing so negates this bonus. 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.

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 (beyond the first): -10.
    Note: You're allowed one unexcused absence for the semester. After that, each unexcused absence subtracts 10 points from your total. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies. 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.

  • Attend but do not participate in class discussions, this also lowers your overall grade on a variable. If you have special needs (for example, you have social phobias), contact me so we can work out alternatives.

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 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 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 late June or early July!

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!