Syllabus - Table of Contents
Click the links below to go to that section of this syllabus.
"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, seeking to answer these questions:
How do various media forms engage with the themes,
tropes, and narratives of science fiction?
Through readings, viewings, and other interactive experiences, we'll survey this dynamic genre's history and 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. Finally, you'll answer the course's core question in a final project. Prepare to rent, stream, borrow, or otherwise access about one feature-length movie or other media per week outside of class beyond a number of mostly short readings.
Fair warning: Because we'll be interacting with a diversity of multimedia, you'll occasionally encounter adult situations, bad language, violence, and nudity - especially in comics and movies. If this is a problem for you, please contact your teacher to discuss alternative materials. I'll do my best to give a heads-up about each piece.
Officially satisfies these KU Core Goals:
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.
Chris McKitterick is a science-fiction writer, editor, and scholar. He's Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at KU, where he teaches SF, technical communication, and creative writing. He has been a professional in the field for more than 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 drop me email any time (fastest response), or call. If I'm not in the office, please leave a message. I 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!
Other contact info:
Go to this page to meet other people at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction.
Weekly Schedule Index
Version 1.4: Last updated Sept. 14, 2014.
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!
Note1: As this is a brand-new course and new SF media is
constantly appearing, I'm likely to make edits to the
weekly pages, including adding links, embedding multimedia, and altering some
content. I'll put a note here if I've made such an edit. If you have suggestions
for additions, let me know!
To successfully complete the course and get out of it all you can, you are required to:
Each day we'll 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.
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, we'll all get the most out of this course!
Your instructor will likely open each day with some background on science fiction or media forms, particularly the topics and genre movements relevant to the day's discussions. After that, two or more students 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, in addition to your personal response notes. Turn in these discussion plans as your response for that day (in place of your response paper). I expect all students to participate in discussions, but I also request that discussion leaders avoid talking too much or talking over others - this is a discussion, not a lecture!
If you would like to suggest relevant content (stories, comics, game narratives, shows, movies, or so forth) for the week you're leading discussion, by all means drop me an email with links to the materials! Due to the nature of the popular media, new stuff is always appearing, and you might know of something great. This is a cooperative course! I'm happy to add links (or even replace less-important content) with your suggestions, given enough time for the rest of the class to read or otherwise study it.
You can split up the tasks among your fellow discussants based on content, topics, themes, media forms, or however you see fit. I expect everyone to serve equally.
Base value: 5 points per week you lead discussion.
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 each session are necessary not only 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 go through the material for pleasure, don't just accept reviews or scholarship as canon, and don't feel the need to agree with your classmates' ideas - no one scholar can tell you the True Nature of Science Fiction Media.
By the end of this course you should possess broad understanding of the topics. During 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.
During discussions, do not expose yourself or others to distractions such as checking email, Facebook, and so forth. If you're looking up relevant multimedia content, do so in a way that doesn't distract you or your classmates. Obviously, turn off your phone 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!
Base value: 2 points per class session.
Missing class is the best way to lose points here: -2 points per missed class.
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.
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.
Prior to each class, write a very short (200 words or more) response paper and turn it in via Blackboard in the "Week [x]: [day] Response Paper" slot. Along with participation in each day's discussion, these papers are an important measure of your engagement with the topics. You'll write a total of 25 of these throughout the semester, so keep up with your readings and responses!
This 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. Articulate how the various storytelling media affect the pieces under consideration - artistically, narratively, visually, in the social context, and so on - and how it affected your understanding of SF and the various media forms.
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: I suggest bringing your responses to class 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.
Daily Paper Scoring
Base value: 2 points.
Here is how I score the papers you turn in each Tuesday and Thursday:
Level Up Response
Late papers (including Level Up! papers) get -1 point if turned in after class sessions begin; after that, they might go down to zero. Turn them in on time! Missing response papers are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week.
Choose any of the weekly sets of materials, and - instead of turning in a regular response - write a formal paper about the material, themes, and so forth. Additionally, add at least three more short readings or at least one book-length reading; these may be fiction, nonfiction, multimedia, or other sources that support or illustrate your themes. You can either 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.
This paper must be at least 1000 words, up to a max of 3000 words (longer might be okay, just consider how much your teacher must read). They are graded on the quality of writing (including grammar and spelling), the quality of thesis and argument, the quality and 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.
NOTE: This paper takes the place of your regular reading-response paper for one full week, but be sure to turn it in to the Blackboard Assignment called "Mid-Term Paper," not the regular weekly response paper slot. You must leave a note in that week's response assignments reminding me that you are turning in your Mid-Term Paper in place of that week's response so I don't think you're missing that response - drop this note into both of the relevant week's response assignment slots in Blackboard before class on that Tuesday, so I know what's up.
Turn in your paper via Blackboard before the Thursday class session when we discuss the works you're covering. You may turn in your paper as early as Week 2 or as late as Week 12, depending on which set of materials you choose to cover.
Base value: 40 points.
A late Mid-Term Paper gets -2 points per day late for the first five days (that's -10), then -2 points per day late after that. "Late" is one week after the relevant class session. Turn them in on time! Missing response papers are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week.
Your final project answers the course's core questions:
How do various media forms engage with the themes,
tropes, and narratives of science fiction?
Your response can be a traditional written paper or a project you create using another media format.
You must include a properly formatted bibliography (list of references or works cited) with a traditional paper, or an annotated bibliography with a multimedia project.
Base value: 50 points.
Lots of ways to exceed the base points on this project!
A late Final Project gets -4 points per day late up to a max of -16. "Late" is any time after the due date.
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.
If you are writing a traditional essay, it must be at least 2000 words, up to a max of 5000 words (again, longer might be okay, just consider how much your teacher must read), excluding your bibliography. References, bibliographies, artist's statements, and endnote pages do not count toward your word-count.
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. Turn in this project via Blackboard.
If you think another form - and your skill and experience with it - can answer the question better, you may create a project in another media format: extended comic (not just a strip), short film or documentary, music, podcast, collection of artworks or photographs, website or app, creative nonfiction, extended and believable fan-response that offers alternative takes, or so forth. Multimedia projects must demonstrate a similar or greater level of effort as the traditional paper, and clearly answer the question, as well. We'll discuss this more in class.
A creative work of this kind must seriously address ideas and themes. If fictional, you must create believable, interesting characters living in a convincing, fully realized world, dealing with science-fictional concerns in addition to revealing substantial understanding of science fiction and the media form you're using.
For the purposes of this course, also include an annotated bibliography (not always included in such works). This is particularly important if you pursue this option, because I want to see the diversity of references 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. 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 annotated 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).
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 doesn't count toward a 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.
Turn in this project via Blackboard. Many who create such projects post them to an appropriate media host; give me a link to where your project lives, and upload your annotated bibliography and artist's statement, as well.
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 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.
The two last weeks of the course are reserved for student multimedia presentations. Sometime during mid-semester, pitch your great idea for the in-class presentation project, build teams, chat, and otherwise prep for the last class sessions. Your job is to share your understanding of SF and popular media forms through a live or multimedia presentation to your classmates. You can create your own vision or present about particular SF works, genre movements, films, TV shows, graphic novels, games, or 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.
Turn this in via Blackboard if possible, or a link to where the project lives online if not. The majority of how I score this project comes from experiencing your live presentation.
Base value: 40 points.
Because we're examining a wide diversity of ways to communicate, let's also use adopt a media-related method for tracking success. That is, everything you do in this course beyond the basic required assignments earns you points toward "leveling up" your grade while giving you some freedom to choose between options to raise your score. Your grade is up to you!
By simply completing all the readings and viewings, turning in excellent responses on time each week, creating an well-written mid-term project, doing a good job in a 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 for your final grade.
So to earn a basic course grade of "acceptable" (a grade of C), you need between 232 and 251 points. You'll earn those points by doing solid work on these required course components:
But you have lots of chances to Level Ups! throughout the semester. Here's an example (see the next section and every other section for more opportunities):
Because we use media narratives, we'll use the metaphor of Leveling Up to get better-than-average grades - like in gaming 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; that is, you get more points than the standard 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 empowered metaphor.
So, do you 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:
Basically, be an epic student! You might just get bonus points in the end.
On the other hand, just like in many game-scoring systems, in this course you have a few ways to lose points, too:
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.
Want to hang out (at least virtually) with other SF folks? See the Lawrence Science Fiction Club on Facebook.
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:
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.
Go here to see lots more resources on the Center's website.
Want to read more SF? You've come to the right place!
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 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.
If you like novels, or just want to prepare for next year's SF-novels version of this course, here you go:
And here are the books that we removed from the SF-novels version of this course - still important and recommended works for understanding the history of the SF novel, but we only have so much time to discuss:
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:
He was also 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!
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