Science Fiction & the Popular Media
English 203

Fall 2018
Thursdays 4:00pm - 6:40pm, Wescoe 1003

Syllabus - Table of Contents

The links below take you to those sections of this syllabus.

Course Goals
Diversity and Disability
Reading and Viewing Materials
Your Instructor
   Contact Information
   Office Hours

- Weekly Schedule -

Course Requirements
Class Periods
   Discussants
   Attendance and Class Participation
   Attendance and Class Participation Scoring
   Discussion Leaders List
Projects
   Response Papers
   Mid-Term Project
   Final Project
      Final Project Deadline
Group Presentation
Grading
   Level Up!
   Penalty
   What's My Grade?
More Good Stuff
   Recommended Works
   Creative Commons Share and Share Alike License

Course Goals

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

This dynamic 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?
Why has SF long been the dominant genre, mode, and thematic approach in the popular media?
Will this trend continue to grow, or will it fade as our world becomes ever-more SFnal?

Using readings, viewings, and other multimedia and 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. Science-fiction author and scholar Chris McKitterick leads the course.

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. 

To empower you to earn your best grade practice research and participation skills that'll help your scholarly and professional careers, and get the most out of the course, you have endless opportunities to earn bonus (Level Up) points, an additive (rather than the typical deductive) grading system. You'll find lots of suggestions for additional related research, events, and media throughout the syllabus as well as via Blackboard announcements and in-class discussion. Take full advantage of these opportunities - and exceed minimum writing and participation expectations - and you'll Level Up your grade!

Note: Because we interact 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, please contact your teacher to discuss alternative materials. I'll do my best to give a heads-up about particularly problematic pieces.

Satisfies these KU Core goals:

Diversity and Accessibility

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 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), or email them at achieve@ku.edu  Feel free to contact me privately about your needs in this course.

Reading and Viewing Materials

You won't need to buy many books (unless you want to). Most of what you'll read, watch, and otherwise interact with is online, either as excerpts in Blackboard or linked through the weekly schedule below.

Here's one short graphic novel you do need to buy or borrow: We3 (no excerpt would do it justice, and it's very short). Get it in time for Week 9: Animal Uplift and the Golden Age.

Because this course is heavily media-oriented, you are responsible for tracking down movies, TV shows, and so forth. Unless you have a huge video collection of your own, you'll need a Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or rental account at one of the local video-rental places in order to view all the required materials. If this is a hardship, please let me know ASAP so we can work out alternatives, or make plans for viewings with your classmates.

Free alternatives for some of these media materials:

  • KU's EGARC multimedia service center, which has a huge SF film collection: If you're a KU student (or staff or faculty), you should check it out (literally!).
  • The Lawrence Public Library, which also has a huge collection you can borrow for free!

Your Instructor

Chris McKitterick is a science-fiction author and scholar, directs the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, and teaches SF and creative writing at KU, and offers workshops around the country. He has been a professional writer and editor for decades, managed a documentation team, freelances for a variety of publishers, and is a popular public speaker. He writes not just stories and novels, but also nonfiction such as astronomy articles, technical documents, gaming supplements, poetry... just about every writing genre. He also edits magazines, websites, and so forth.

Feel free to mine his experience for tips and advice about writing and editing in general, and about science-fiction fandom and the field.

 

 

Contact Information

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!

Office: Wescoe Hall 3040 (also Gunn Center's lending library), Nichols Hall 340 (West Campus)
Phone: (785) 864-2509 (slowest way to reach him)
Email: cmckit@gmail.com (class communication - please put "ENGL 203" in the subject line for clarity and fastest response)

Other contact info:

Personal website
Facebook
Goodreads
Google+
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
LinkedIn
LiveJournal
Tumblr
SF posts on Tumblr
Twitter
Wikipedia

Go to this page to meet some of 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

Office hours:

By appointment: I'm often in my office when not in class and almost always available via email.

Weekly Schedule

Version 1.44. Last updated Nov 28, 2018

Note: Watch this space for regular, ongoing updates!

Revision History
Aug 1 - 23: Updating schedule and syllabus - watch for Version 1.0.
Aug 25: Added Discussion Leaders List.
Sept 8: Added Wonder Woman as viewing option to Comics, Static Art, & Superheroes week.
Sept 16: Posted updated Discussion Leaders List.
Sept 25: Added link to download "Jupiter Whispers" (also in Blackboard).
Oct 10: Added Karen Hellekson (visiting fan scholar) info in the Fandom week Level Up section.
Aug 23 - Nov 29: Continuing to update and add Level Up suggestions.
Oct 28-30: Added more info and links in the Fandom week Level Up section.

The links below take you to individual pages listing the multimedia works we'll discuss each day. Read, watch, or otherwise interact with all the items marked "Assigned multimedia." You'll see a lot of "or" options: This gives you more freedom to choose and allows the class as a whole to show up with more-diverse experience to discuss. Choose both items to Level Up that week's score! You can earn even more bonus Level Up points by writing about more relevant items; you'll find a lot of suggestions in the right column.

Each class, two or three students help 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 (total). (Your instructor also brings lots of his own prompts and notes, so you're not alone.) Discussants also seek relevant information about the assignments' creators, how the works influenced the science fiction and multimedia that follows, and so forth. You must lead the daily 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 new SF media is constantly appearing, I'm likely make edits to the scheduled materials, including adding links, embedding multimedia, and altering some content with more-relevant pieces. I'll put a note in this section if I've made such an edit. I'll definitely add more Level Up opportunities throughout the semester. If you have suggestions, let me know!

Note2: Check regularly for embedded materials - usually on the bottom of each day - and Level Up suggestions - I'll keep adding more of both throughout the semester as I and the discussion leaders find more great stuff!

Quick overview:

Week 1:   Introductions. What is Science Fiction? What is Media? Aug 23.
Week 2:   Mythology & the Roots of Narrative and Story, Aug 30.
Week 3:   Space Opera & Science Fantasy. The Golden Age of SF, Sept 6.
Week 4:   Comics & Static Art. Superheroes, Sept 13.
Week 5:   Music, Radio, & Other Non-Visual Storytelling, Sept 20.
Week 6:   Exploring the Unknown... and Finding Aliens. SF Movies, Sept 27.
Week 7:   Frontiers & Space Westerns. SF Television, October 4.
Week 8:   Gaming in SF. Animal Uplift, October 11.
Week 9:   Alien Invasions & Horror from Beyond the Stars, October 18.
Week 10: Out of Time: Dinosaurs & Ancient History, Alternate History... October 25.
      Mid-Term Project deadline: Upload to Blackboard by 5:00pm Monday, October 29.
Week 11: Fandom and Transformative Works, November 1.
Week 12: Dystopias & Social Science Fiction, November 8.
Week 13: AI & Robots, Biotech & Cyborgs, Biopunk & Cyberpunk, November 15.
      No class during Thanksgiving Break (November 22). Safe travels, and keep reading!
Week 14: Interactive & Blurred Media. What's the Future of SF Storytelling? Nov 29.
Week 15: Group Presentations! Dec 6.
      No class during Finals Week (December 13).
      Final Project deadline: Upload to Blackboard by 5:00pm Thursday, December 13.
      Late projects: To receive (reduced) credit, upload your missing response papers and other prior work to Blackboard by 5:00pm Friday, December 14. If you didn't manage to finish something when it was due, turn it in after you turn in your more important final project.

 

Assigned Multimedia

Most readings link to websites.
Find items not linked here on Blackboard (mostly attached to Assignments).

Level Up Extras

Great stuff to enrich your understanding! We often discuss or check these out in class, with links to bonus-point opportunities.
Check back frequently for more suggestions (and offer your own!).

Week 1: August 23, 2018
Introductions. What is Science Fiction? What is Media?

McKitterick leads today's in-class discussion. Topics:

  • Introductions.
  • Course and syllabus overview.
  • Discussion-leaders signup - next time, y'all begin leading discussions!
  • What is science fiction?
  • What are all the various types of mass media?
  • What do people mean by "new media," and what makes it different from other media forms?
  • What do the different mass-media forms bring to storytelling that text, alone, cannot (or cannot do as well)?
  • What's your favorite SF media, and what do you like about its SF nature?
  • Use today's multimedia in discussion.

Assigned multimedia

Your short response paper for this week is about these materials and topics. Because this is our first get-together, you have until 5:00pm Monday evening to complete these materials and turn in your written response.

Upload your thoughtful response into Blackboard's Week 1 Response Paper Assignment slot by 5:00pm on Monday. For the rest of the semester, upload your response to each day's assignments into the appropriate Blackboard slot before class starts each Thursday.

 

Level Up! suggestions

  • Throughout the semester, Level Up your SF master by reading and writing about a piece of scholarship or serious fan-writing. This week, find something that defines science fiction or analyzes the various SF narrative-media forms. What does this material add to your understanding? Some resources for finding such articles:
  • Critically watch and write about a science-fiction movie, TV show, or other media narrative that you especially like. Think and write critically about:
    • What about the SF nature of the work makes you love it more?
    • That is, how does the science fiction mode change the story?
    • What do you enjoy about SF story, world, ideas, characters, or other aspects?
  • Critically read and write about another relevant novel, short story, or other written piece of science fiction, and respond as above.
  • Respond to this week's in-class discussions: You may include a response to today's discussion in the the next day's response - but if you want to earn a Level Up bonus for responding to day's discussion after you've already turned in that day's response, feel free to make a second submission with your revised response by the end of each weekend. I'll wait to score the prior week's responses until Monday in order to give you time to do so.
  • Check out McKitterick's growing SF Media Course Vids playlist on YouTube throughout the semester for more relevant videos (a few show up as Assigned or Level Up multimedia).

To earn Level Up! points, be clear in your response about how these additional materials and ideas extend your understanding of the day's content, themes, and forms. Include in your response clear reference to materials you studied beyond those required.

 

Week 2: Aug 30
Mythology and the Roots of Narrative and Story.

Topics for discussion:

  • Complete discussion-leaders signup.
  • Some suggested questions to consider while writing your reading response and to pursue in class discussion:
    • What is mythology, and what is its relationship to SF?
    • What are the elements of a story?
    • What is narrative?
    • Discuss today's assigned multimedia, its relationship to science fiction, and how popular-media forms change the storytelling experience.

Assigned multimedia

Your response paper for today is about these materials and topics. Upload your response to today's assignments into the appropriate week's Response Paper Blackboard slot before class starts.

Level Up! suggestions

  • Critically re-watch more of your favorite science-fiction movies, TV shows, or other media with an SF narrative that you especially like. Think and write critically about:
    • What about the SF nature of the work makes you love it more?
    • That is, how does the science fiction mode change the story?
    • What do you enjoy about SF story, world, ideas, characters, or other aspects?
  • Throughout the semester, Level Up your SF master by reading and writing about a piece of scholarship or serious fan-writing. This week, find something that discusses narrative, storytelling, or mythology. What does this material add to your understanding? Some resources for finding such articles:
  • Critically read and write about another relevant novel or short piece of science fiction.
  • Respond to this or last week's in-class discussions: You may include a response to the prior day's discussion in today's response - but if you want to earn a Level Up bonus for responding to today's discussion after you've already turned in your response, feel free to make a second submission with your revised response by the end of each weekend. I'll wait to score the prior week's responses until Monday, in order to give you time to do so.
  • Check out McKitterick's growing SF Media Course Vids playlist on YouTube throughout the semester for more relevant videos.
  • Check out McKitterick's curated Tumblr tags:

And here's a Level Up event opportunity you can attend on Tuesday (Aug 27):

    Local author Natalie C. Parker's Seafire book-release party and conversation with Julie Murphy.
    When: Tuesday, August 28, 2018 - 7:00pm to 9:00pm
    Where: The Raven Book Store, 6 East 7th Street, Lawrence, KS 66044
    Free!

To earn Level Up points, be clear in your response about how the additional materials and ideas extend your understanding of the course's content, themes, and forms. Include in your response clear reference to materials you studied beyond those required.

 

Week 3: Sept 6
Space Opera and Science Fantasy. The Golden Age of SF.

Topics for discussion:

  • The early days of pulp SF and its flowering and maturation during the Golden Age.
  • What is Space Opera?
  • Space Opera then and now.
  • What is Science Fantasy, and how does it differ from science fiction's Space Opera subgenre?
  • Discuss this week's media focus, its relationship to science fiction, and how new media changes our narrative experience.

Assigned multimedia

Your response paper for today is about these materials and topics (at minimum - feel free to Level Up for bonus points and deeper understanding!). Upload your response to today's assignments and any Level Up material into today's Blackboard slot before class starts.

Level Up! suggestions

To earn Level Up points, be clear in your response about how the additional materials and ideas extend your understanding of the content, themes, and forms. Include in your response clear reference to materials you studied beyond those required.

From Schlock Mercenary:

Episode 1 of the original 1939 Buck Rogers TV series.

A flashy history of Eve Online (game site).

Level Up opportunity this weekend (click here or the image to go to their Facebook page):

 

Week 4: Sept 13
Comics and Static Art. Superheroes.

Topics for discussion:

  • What are comics, and how does the narrative experience differ from text-based SF?
  • What's the difference between single-frame comics, strips, and graphic novels?
  • How does static art (paintings, images) differ from comics? How does such work tell a narrative?
  • Discuss this week's media focus, its relationship to science fiction, and how new media changes our narrative experience.
  • What's a superhero?
  • How do superheroes fit into science fiction?
  • Discuss today's assigned multimedia.

Assigned multimedia

Your response paper for today is about these materials and topics. Upload your response to today's assignments into today's Blackboard slot before class starts.

Level Up! suggestions

To earn Level Up! points, be clear in your response about how the additional materials and ideas extend your understanding of the content, themes, and forms. Include in your response clear reference to materials you studied beyond those required.

 

Check out the "oath" clip from the Duck Dodgers / Green Lantern crossover.

Clip from Superman Vs. the Elite.

 

Week 5: Sept 20
Music, Radio, and Other Non-Visual Storytelling.

Topics for discussion:

  • DDiscuss various forms of non-visual storytelling (including oral storytelling, radio, filking, and podcasts).
  • How do these narrative experiences differ from text-based fiction and visual narratives?
  • Discuss this week's media focus, its relationship to science fiction, and how new media changes our narrative experience.
  • Discuss today's assigned multimedia.

Assigned multimedia

Level Up! suggestions

 

Click here to listen to the MP3: "And the Moon Be Still As Bright," by Ray Bradbury, from the X-Minus-1 radio show.
It was first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories in June 1948, the seventh story in Bradbury's famous The Martian Chronicles:
 

 Welcome to Night Vale's Pilot episode. Here's a little fan art:

 

Week 6: Sept 27
Exploring the Unknown... and Finding Aliens. SF Movies.

Topics for discussion:

  • Discuss exploration as one of SF's roots.
  • How does the narrative experience of moving pictures differ from text-based fiction?
  • How do movies differ from short films, especially now when sites like YouTube democratize distribution?
  • Discuss today's assigned multimedia.
  • Discuss this week's media focus, its relationship to science fiction, and how new media changes our narrative experience.

Assigned multimedia

Your response paper for today is about these materials and topics. Upload your response to today's assignments into today's Blackboard slot before class starts.

Level Up! suggestions

 

The "Being good to each other is so important guys" piece starts with this (click to read more):
 

This sumi-e style painting by an unknown fan artist (but credited to the well-known Ike no Taiga) depicts the alien invasion of 18th-century Japan:
 

Wow, an amazing collection of spacecraft from SF, created by DirkLoechel on deviantART.
Click the image to see a HUGE version (4,000 by 5,600 pixels):

Watch the first episode of the small-budget YouTube film series, DYNAMO:

 

Week 7: Oct 4
 Frontiers and Space Westerns. SF Television.

Topics for discussion:

  • What is a "frontier"?
  • How does the narrative experience of television differ from text-based fiction?
  • How do television shows differ from movies?
  • Discuss today's assigned multimedia.

Assigned multimedia

Level Up! suggestions

 

From Cowboys and Aliens:

 

* Mid-Term Project Pro-Tips: *

If you haven't already, check out the highly respected Purdue OWL writing site for the article, "Writing a Research Paper" (and lots more great resources there).

Take advantage of the resources linked from the Mid-Term Project section of this syllabus.

What you can learn from the sample papers in our "Course Documents" section of the course Blackboard site?

Peer-review other Mid-Term Projects and turn in the reviews you did of them into the appropriate Blackboard Assignment slot to earn Level Up points! 

 

Week 8: Oct 11
Gaming in SF. Animal Uplift.

Topics for discussion:

  • Why does science fiction so often use animals (and uplifted animals) in its narratives?
  • How does the narrative experience of gaming differ from text-based fiction?
  • How do different games differ in the way they use (or ignore) larger-scale narratives?
  • Consider the diversity of types of games: arcade, board, computer and console, LARP, miniatures, phone and mobile apps, RPG, tabletop, and so on - how do they vary, and how does that change the narrative experience?
  • Consider the different genres of games: action, adventure, first-person, MMO, puzzle, RPG, strategy and RTS, simulation, and so on - how do they vary, and how does that change the narrative experience?
  • Discuss this week's media focus, its relationship to science fiction, and how new media changes our narrative experience.
  • Discuss today's assigned multimedia.

Assigned multimedia

Level Up! suggestions:

 

Check out the Wreck It Ralph trailer here.

Edited and abbreviated excerpt from the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when we see "The Dawn of Man" (the moment when apes are uplifted to humans).

 

Week 9: Oct 18
Alien Invasions and Horror from Beyond the Stars.

Topics for discussion:

  • Discuss alien invasions in SF.
  • What is horror, and how does it differ from SF?
  • What synergies can you find between SF and horror when they work together?
  • Why does horror work so well in movies?
  • Why do we fear aliens?
  • Discuss today's assigned multimedia.
  • Focus on finishing and peer-reviewing your mid-term project.

Assigned multimedia

Nowhere, from Guardians of the Galaxy (click image to open a much larger version):

 

Week 10: Oct 25
Out of Time: Dinosaurs & Ancient History, Alternate History...

Topics for discussion:

  • How do ancient history and time travel come together in SF narratives?
  • What is alternate history?
  • How do they compare with alternate universes?
  • What's the relationship between alternate reality and time travel?
  • Discuss today's assigned multimedia, its relationship to science fiction, and how new media changes our narrative experience.
  • Discuss why dinosaurs and other narratives of "deep time" continue to capture our imaginations.
  • Finish editing your mid-term project (due this coming Monday).

Assigned multimedia

Level Up! suggestions

Don't miss Karen Hellekson's relevant talk:

"Fandom and Alternate Histories"
Thursday, November 1
7:00 - 8:00pm
Lawrence Public Library Auditorium

The "How It Should Have Ended" folks send-up Jurassic Park.

Original Land of the Lost TV show, episode 1 of season 1.

Trailer for The Man In The High Castle Amazon series.

 

 

Your mid-term project is due (at the latest) by...

5:00pm on Monday, Oct 29. 

If you do a peer-review, try to turn it in by then (but there's no penalty for turning that in later).

 

Discussion leaders (click image to see larger version):

Week 11: Nov 1
Fandom and Transformative Works.

Topics for discussion:

  • Today we'll have a special guest: Karen Hellekson, fan scholar (reading excerpt to come). She's also giving a talk after class today and on October 22 - info at right -->
  • What is fanfiction, and what's its place in SF?
  • How does the narrative experience of fan-created narratives differ from traditional fiction?
  • Discuss this week's media focus, its relationship to science fiction, and how new media changes our narrative experience.
  • Discuss today's assigned multimedia.

Assigned multimedia

Level Up! suggestions

Want to show off your Halloween costume or favorite cosplay? Come to class in costume and get bonus points!

Attend one (or both!) of Karen Hellekson's talks:

"Fan Studies Overview / Academic Careers Outside Academia"
Monday, October 22
4:00 - 6:00pm
KU Kansas Union, Crossroads Room

"Fandoms and Alternative Histories"
Thursday, November 1
7:00 - 8:00pm
Lawrence Public Library Auditorium
Facebook event page here.
  (I urge you to attend - I'll make sure class is out a few minutes early)

  • I strongly recommend you check out the website of the important fan-studies journal, Transformative Works and Cultures, which celebrates their 10th anniversary in this month's issue, "The Future of Fandom."
    • Read at least one article that interests you.
    • Karen Hellekson is co-founder and editor (and contributor).
  • Hunt down another piece of blurred media. Some examples: 
    • The War of the Worlds book (from 1898) has been made into multiple movies, radio plays, comics, and so forth, and even has sequels.
    • Frankenstein is another, as is Dracula.
    • What other IPs can you think of that have such an enduring following?
  • Critically read and write about:
    • The piece of fanfic linked from "the theory of narrative causality" blog post (referenced in the Fic piece). The author's prompt to write this fic: "Sherlock and John are BNFs in Sherlock Holmes fandom. Together, they fight crime. (Always.) And write porn, incidentally." Caution: NSFW!
    • At least one more science-fiction piece from Ao3, Fanfiction.net, or Wattpad. Tumblr, LiveJournal, and other sites host lots of fanfic and original (amateur) fiction, but it's tougher to find amid the huge mass of blog posts.
    • Fanfiction or transformative work
    • Another relevant novel or short piece of science fiction.
  • Check out Can't Stop the Serenity, a Firefly (and Serenity movie) fan organization dedicated to "the protection and promotion of the human rights of women around the world."
  • Critically watch and write about another relevant movie, TV show, or other media with a science-fiction narrative.
  • Respond to this or another week's in-class discussions.
  • Especially today, when we're discussing fandom, check out some of these relevant science fiction media class and science fiction fandom-specific tags:
    • Cosplay (fan costuming).
    • Cross-genre (mixed-genre work).
    • Crossovers (mixed-fandom stuff).
    • Fanart (art by fans).
    • Fandom (fan culture).
    • Fan edits (fan-created content, usually remixes of images, often with text or shared as animated gifs, often pulled from different sources).
    • Fanfic (fan fiction).
    • Fan meta (serious discussion of fandom topics, sometimes scholarly, sometimes just heated).
    • Fanvids (videos by fans).
    • Fandom wank (arguments within fandom, usually heated).
    • Filk (fan music).
    • Fixit fic (fan materials that change something about the original canon, fixing what they see as a basic flaw; related to headcanon).
    • Headcanon (fan ideas or beliefs about their fandom that're usually not canon; related to fixit fic) and headcanon accepted.
    • Memes (in the context of fandom, usually unrelated images from pop culture [often "shitposts"] edited to say something new that has added depth the more you understand all the elements and background fandoms).
    • Slash (when fans put characters together intimately, especially when the relationship is not canon to the original text. Tends to be more sexy than "ships," short for "relationships."
  • Check out some of the material below.

Star Trek Continues is a critically-acclaimed, award-winning and fan-produced webseries (here are their YouTube episodes). The show is the brainchild of long-time Star Trek TOS fan and talented Producer, Director, Actor, Voice-Actor and musician Vic Mignogna. Vic and our team of talented film professionals have put together one of the most recognized and popular fan-productions ever made. Vic Mignogna and team are proud to be part of Star Trek history with the fan production aimed at completing the final two years of the original 5-year mission. This episode below is a fan response to the original episode linked after it:
This episode; is a fan response to the original Trek episode, "Who Mourns for Adonais?"

Check out this fan-vid (and click here for process details) using imagery from many SF shows and movies.

How involved do some fans get with their favorite work? Check out the lengths to which one group went to recapture the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in Star Wars: The Despecialized Edition: Here's the short documentary about making this fan edition.

 

 

Week 12: Nov 8
Dystopias and Social Science Fiction.

Topics for discussion:

Assigned multimedia

Level Up! suggestions

Who do you think is more accurate, Huxley or Orwell? Click to see this comic in the original context, full-sized:

 

Week 13: Nov 15
AI & Robots, Biotech & Cyborgs, Biopunk & Cyberpunk.

Topics for discussion:

  • What's the relationship between biotech and cybernetics?
  • What are cyborgs and cybernetic enhancements?
  • How do androids differ from humans, cyborgs, or robots?
  • What is Cyberpunk, and how does it especially inform the SF media?
  • What will it mean to be human during in an age of increasing body-modification?
  • Discuss today's assigned multimedia.

Assigned multimedia

Level Up! suggestions

 

"It's Payback Time": Their world is in the grip of a lethal outbreak. A mysterious blue substance is leading to catastrophic destruction....

Check out "The Last Bastion," a bittersweet video about a battle-robot rebooting in a forest (Overwatch).

What is life? Is Bina48 a life-form? What does this being say about what it means to be human? Check out this video

Check out xkcd. Here's an great example (and don't forget to hover your mouse over the comics to see the full narrative):
Reassuring

Cyborg-lifestyle jewelry that harvests human energy to operate (click pic for details):

Check out Penny Arcade; they're famous for a couple of their robots, but I hesitate to post them here. Here's one less-problematic comic:

Listen to William Gibson read from Neuromancer (YouTube video):

 

 Nov 22 - Thanksgiving Break (no class)  

 

Week 14: Nov 29
Interactive & Blurred Media. What's the Future of SF Storytelling?

Topics for discussion:

  • How does the narrative experience you get from experiencing combined multimedia forms differ from that of reading text-based fiction?
  • What is interactive media?
  • How is annotated reality changing our media experience?
  • At what point does narrative media become so immersive that it becomes interactive?
  • What comes next for science fiction? What is it today?
  • Discuss this week's media and focus and their relationship to science fiction.
  • What's the future of storytelling, and how might SF adapt to a changing world?

Assigned multimedia

Level Up! suggestions

 

Week 15: Dec 6
Group Presentations!

Presentation order: TBA

 

  Finals Week Dec 10 - 14 (no class)  

Final Project due by Thursday at 5:00pm.

Turn in any missing projects and additional Level Ups by Friday at 5:00pm.

 Course Requirements

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

  • Attend every class.
  • Participate in class, which means being involved in every discussion, each day.
  • Help lead at least a couple class discussions with partners.
  • Engage with all the required readings and multimedia.
  • Write insightful weekly responses to those materials.
  • Write a formal mid-term research paper.
  • Participate in a live group presentation on one of the final days of class.
  • Create a final project, due at the end of the semester.

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

 Class Periods

Each week 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 or participants. 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!

Related: Violence and harassment based on sex and gender are Civil Rights offenses subject to the same kinds of accountability and support applied to offenses against other protected categories such as race, national origin, and so on. If you or someone you know has been harassed or assaulted and you want to speak in confidence to a trained counselor, contact the Sexual Trauma and Abuse Center (785-843-8985 or support@stacarecenter.org). You might also want to contact Lawrence Memorial Hospital Emergency Room (785-505-6162). To pursue disciplinary action or criminal charges against the perpetrator, contact the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access (785-864-6414; instructions on how to file a complaint here), the KU Police (785-864-5900), or the Lawrence Police (785-832-7509).

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 is 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. 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.

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'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!

Base value: 3 per class session x 15 classes = 45 points base score.

Level Up

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

Penalty

Missing class is the surest 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. If you need to leave in the middle of class due to personal emergency or you sense a threat, please let me know later so I can take that into account.

Discussion Leaders

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. (Your instructor also brings his own prompts and notes, so you're not alone.) Everyone is required to act as discussant for at least two sessions 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 4-6 questions and discussion prompts each to stimulate discussion among your peers about the day's topic and content, in addition to your personal response notes. Turn in your discussion questions and plans as part (or most) of your response for that day (in addition to your response paper). I expect all students to participate in discussions, and also that discussion leaders 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, 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 discussant(s) based on content, topics, themes, media forms, or however you see fit. I expect everyone to serve equally.

Base value: 5 x 2 sessions = 10 base points.

Level Up

  • Lead more than two sessions (if needed): +3 per extra session.
  • Discussion leaders who facilitate particularly excellent class sessions: +1 for each Discussion Day of Awesome.
  • Discussion leaders whose preparation is really stand-out (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.
  • Discussion leaders whose suggested 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.

Projects

In addition to good in-class participation, much of your grade depends on the short response papers you write on a weekly basis, your mid-term paper, the final group presentation, and the final 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 when we don't meet for class. 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." Let me know if you have suggestions on ways to enhance that page.

Want to improve your writing? I strongly encourage you to contact the KU Writing Center. There you can talk about your writing with trained tutors and consult reference materials in a comfortable working environment. You may ask for feedback on your papers, advice and tips on writing (for all your courses), or guidance on special writing tasks. Check their website for current locations and hours. The Writing Center welcomes both drop-ins and appointments, and they don't charge for their services. For more information, call (785)864-2399 or email writing@ku.edu The website is loaded with helpful information about writing, so even if you consider yourself a good writer, check it out!

 Response Papers

Prior to each class, write a very short (300 words or more, about one page) response paper and turn it in via Blackboard in the "Week [x]: [day] Response Paper" slot. To see good examples of response papers, check the Blackboard Course Documents folder. 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 15 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. I'm looking for insightful, critical, and thoughtful reflections on all the required works. Articulate how the various storytelling media affect the pieces under consideration - artistically, narratively, visually, in the social context, and so on - and how the affect 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. The best way to do a good job here is to take notes as you're reading or watching or listening, then expand upon those notes for the papers you turn in.

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. (Also, if you write it in a non-standard word processor, be sure to save it as .doc or .docx so I can read it. No .wps, .pages, or so forth.)

Tip: Even if you aren't leading the week's discussion, feel free to 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.

Daily Paper Scoring

Base value: 3 points x 15 = 45 total.

Here is how I score the papers you turn in each day before class:

    0: No paper, or poor one turned in late.
    1: At least convinces me you completed some of the reading, viewing, or so forth.
    2: Convinces me you completed most of the required materials, or provides interesting insights on some of them. Discussion leaders: Providing your list of discussion questions on the required materials earns you this score.
    3: Convinces me you completed all of the required materials, or provides interesting insights on most of them. Discussion leaders: Providing your list of discussion questions on the required materials, plus offering some indication that you completed all of them, earns you this score.
    4 - Level Up: References all the required materials, and shares thoughtful responses or interesting insights to everything, or does a good job with those plus discusses your thoughts on additional relevant materials to the week's content (+1). Discussion leaders: Providing your list of discussion questions plus insightful responses to all the materials, earns you this score.
    5 - Level Up: All of above, plus discusses your thoughts on additional relevant materials to the week's content or in-class discussions (+2). Discussion leaders: Providing your list of discussion questions on all the required and additional materials, plus your brilliant insights, plus additional materials relevant*, earns you this score.

That means you could possibly earn a 75% bonus over the base score for your reading responses by Leveling Up every time! Up to +30 - wow!

Level Up-only Responses

If you create a separate response that's just for Level Up bonus points (for example, you attend a relevant talk or watch a relevant movie on a week when we're focusing on something else), you can turn in your bonus response paper in the general Level Up or Movies Assignment slots on Blackboard. You'll earn bonus points for each of those, too! Point value varies widely, from +1 (for some references to additional materials relevant to the assigned materials) to +2 (for a thorough discussion of the Level Up materials), or even more to reward a significant amount of effort to expand your understanding of SF and the various media (a big example might be attending a conference and writing up a thoughtful response and sharing your insights gained; a small one could be a relevant talk, TV show, movie, concert, game session, or so forth).

If the Level Up content is relevant to a particular week's assigned materials or subject focus, you can turn it in to that Assignment slot, instead - just be sure to drop a note in the "Comment" field that this document is for Level Up only, not your regular response... or, better yet, just include it on the bottom of your regular submission (and title it as Level Up) to earn those bonus points.

* 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, relevant website interaction (for example, articles or actively reading and responding on a fan-site), game-time long enough to experience significant story narrative, 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.

* You may include a response to Monday's discussion in the Wednesday response
 - but if you want to earn a Level Up bonus for responding to Thursday's discussion after you've already turned in your Thursday response, feel free to make a second submission with your revised response by the end of each weekend. I'll wait to score Thursday responses until Monday, in order to give you time to do so.

Penalty

Late papers get -1 point each if turned in after the relevant class session begins. (Level Up bonus responses are never penalized, but please don't wait until the last week to turn those in.) Turn them in on time! Missing response papers are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week.

 Mid-Term Project

Choose either a set of materials from the syllabus or an equivalent level of research using other materials, 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. If you'd like, think of this project as an extended reading 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.

You can choose to write this as a traditional paper or a multimedia project; see the sub-sections below for details.

Your topic can be anything relevant to the course: See the "Course Goals" section of the syllabus for some guidance, but basically I want to see you pursue whatever most excites you about SF and its narrative expression through various media forms. Talk to me if you still have any questions!

Due date: You may turn in your project as early as you wish; if you're covering one week's content, you need not turn this in on the same week that the reading response would be due. Final deadline is 5:00pm on Monday, October 29, at the latest.

Some resources you might find useful:

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
  • Meet all the requirements, above, but also deliver your project in a functional multimedia form that works with text (website, comic, or so forth): up to +4
  • Teach me something new, make and support an original or thoughtful argument, or so forth: up to +4.
  • Possibly more ways to get bonuses. Write a kick-butt paper!

Penalty

A late Mid-Term Paper loses -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 the due day. Turn them in on time! Missing papers are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week (at a deduction).

Traditional Paper

I grade formal papers on the quality and diversity of research (both fictional and non-fictional), the writing (including grammar and spelling), the quality of thesis and argument, the quality and diversity of research, and how interesting you make it. 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 narratives in the various media.

We'll spend as much time in class discussing what goes into writing successful papers as we need, because I want you to feel confident when you embark on this project and successful with your finished product. For additional guidance into how to write great research papers, check out this page on the highly respected Purdue OWL writing site: "Writing a Research Paper," where you'll find tons of great tips and guidance.

If you haven't yet done so, check out the "Sample response and mid-term papers, scoring rubrics" items in the Course Documents section of our Blackboard site. In addition to containing a handy reference on how to make your paper the best it can be, you'll also find sample response papers and mid-term papers.

If you are writing a traditional essay, 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). References, bibliographies, artist's statements, and endnote pages do not count toward your word-count.

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 deep investigation of topics that interest you. Turn in this project via Blackboard.

Multimedia or Creative Project

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.

If this is a written document, use the same word-count requirements as the traditional paper... unless it's multimedia, in which case art or other elements can help display equivalent effort at a shorter word-count.

For the purposes of this course, also include an annotated bibliography (not often included in such works). This is particularly important if you pursue the multimedia 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 and multimedia narratives, 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) or as a stand-alone .doc file that you also turn in to Blackboard.

Be aware that this option is more challenging - especially if you haven't taken creative-writing, film-making, or visual-arts courses - because this course isn't about 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 to Blackboard your annotated bibliography and artist's statement, as well.

 Group Presentation

For many, this is the final project you'll create, so put your all into it! 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.

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 5 minutes per group member; that is, a 4-person group presents for 20 minutes, while a 5-person group presents for about 25 minutes. If you're showing a short (5-20 minute) film or other finished project that 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 and popular media forms, 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, but be sure to 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. If you feel someone in your group deserves extra credit (or less credit than the others), let me know this as well: What percentage of the project's awesomeness would you give to everyone? Discuss this, come to agreement, and turn in your estimation. Be fair! Also be honest. Most of all, do your best so everyone wants me to recognize your kick-butt efforts.

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

 Final Project

Your final project answers the course's core questions:

How do various media forms engage with the themes, tropes, and narratives of science fiction?
Why has SF long been the dominant genre, mode, and thematic approach in the popular media?
Will this trend continue to grow, or will it fade over time?

Also consider these questions:

How does the work you're analyzing or creating fit into the larger discussion that is science fiction? What does it add? What are its influences? What is it responding to? How does it extend what you think of as "science fiction"? Discuss as usual in a scholarly piece, or define in your creative piece's artist statement.

Some resources you might find useful:

Your response can be a traditional written paper or a project you create using another media format.

You must include an alphabetized bibliography or Works Cited with a traditional paper, or an annotated bibliography with a multimedia project. 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.

Base value: 10 points.

Level Up

Lots of ways to exceed 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 +3
  • Meet all the requirements, above, but also deliver your project in a functional multimedia form that works with text (website, comic, or so forth): 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 +10.
  • 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 +6.
  • Possibly more ways to get bonuses!

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 media narratives.

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.

For additional guidance into how to write great research papers, check out this page on the highly respected Purdue OWL writing site: "Writing a Research Paper," where you'll find tons of great tips and guidance. 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. Turn in this project via Blackboard.

Multimedia or Creative Project

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.

If this is a written document, use the same word-count requirements as the traditional paper... unless it's multimedia, in which case art or other elements can help display equivalent effort at a shorter word-count.

For the purposes of this course, also include an annotated bibliography (not often included in such works). This is particularly important if you pursue the multimedia 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 and multimedia narratives, 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) or as a stand-alone .doc file that you also turn in to Blackboard.

Be aware that this option is more challenging - especially if you haven't taken creative-writing, film-making, or visual-arts courses - because this course isn't about 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 to Blackboard your annotated bibliography and artist's statement, as well.

Final Project Deadline

If you choose to create one, your final project is due by Thursday of Finals Week, before 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.

 Grading

Because we're examining a wide diversity of ways to communicate, I've adopted a media-related 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. I want you to be in control of your scores as much as possible. Your final grade is up to you!

By simply completing all the readings and viewings, turning in excellent responses on time before each class, 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 to earn a better grade? See the Level Up! section below, throughout the syllabus, and on each weekly page.

Level Points Needed Grade

Legend

212 or above

A

Hero

205 - 211

A-

Master

198 - 204

B+

Guru

191 - 197

B

Expert

184 - 190

B-

Adept (base)

177 - 183

C+

Apprentice

170 - 176

C

Intern

163 - 169

C-

Trainee

156 - 162

D+

Novice

155 - 161

D

Beginner

148 - 154

D-

Conscript

153 or below

F

So if you're comfortable rising no higher "Adept" (a letter grade of C+), you need between 177 and 183 points. You'll easily earn those points by doing solid work on the required course components:

  • Reading and viewing the assigned content, and turning in weekly response papers to those: 15 x 3 = 45 points possible (up to +30 Level Up possible).
  • Attendance and class participation: 15 x 3 = 45 base points possible (up to +20 or more Level Up possible).
  • Leading discussions: 2 x 5 = 10 base points possible (more Level Up possible).
  • Mid-Term paper: 40 base points possible (up to +12 or more Level Up possible).
  • Presentation: 40 base points possible (up to +6 Level Up possible).
  • Final Level Up project: 0 base points (bonus only), though worth up to +25 or more Level Up possible.
  • See each section for details on Level Ups and Penalties.
  • TOTAL possible base-level points: 180.

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: +100 or more!

See the next section, Chloe's Example Scenario, and every other section for more opportunities.

If you ever want to calculate your grade so far, go to the Blackboard "Weighted Total" to roughly determine your percentage of points earned and possible so far. If you haven't turned in some things, it won't be complete, but I hope this helps reduces grade anxiety.

Level Up

Because we use media narratives, we'll use the metaphor of Leveling Up to earn better-than-average grades - as 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 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!

So if you choose to simply meet all the basic requirements, show up most classes and participate in most of them, and do basically acceptable work on your projects, you'll end up with a grade around a C+. If you excel on the required projects, seek out additional materials and write insightful reports on them, attend relevant events, write a smokin' Final Project, and so forth, you have earned a higher grade!

I want you to be in control over your 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 Assignment slots you'll find in Blackboard. I'll mention in class and post announcements when I identify some cool opportunities, and I'll also add assignments there for you to turn in your bonus papers. But you don't have to just stick to my recommendations!
  • 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 ever want to calculate your grade so far, go to the Blackboard "Weighted Total" to roughly determine your percentage of points earned and possible so far. If you haven't turned in some things, it won't be complete, but I hope this helps reduces grade anxiety.

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: 45 (turned in all superb responses plus Level Up materials on time), +9 (perfect attendance), +9 (great class participation without talking over others), +7 (co-led one week's discussion in a Level Up kind of way).
        Running Total: 70 points
  2. Chloe turns in her next response for the week. Because she's really interested in the topic, she responds thoughtfully to all the materials, providing a detailed critical response to the things she loved and one she really hated, provides evidence for her argument about how the piece she hated was flawed, and provides evidence for why her favorite piece was genre-stretching.
        Points tracking: +3 (base), +2 (exceptional work).
        Running Total: 75
  3. 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 class session's 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 a stand-alone 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: +3 (Level Up).
        Running Total: 78
  4. She turns in her Mid-Term paper. In it she not only poses an interesting and insightful perspective, but also discusses how various readings support her argument, includes a detailed annotated bibliography, and delivers it in the form of a series of posts 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), +4 (takes full advantage of multimedia delivery).
        Running Total: 130
  5. She also performs a really useful and complete peer-review on her partner's Mid-Term, and remembers to turn in both her partner's edited draft and her critique document to Blackboard.
        Points tracking: +10 (Level Up).
        Running Total: 140 points
  6. Oh, and because of her specific interest in the topic, she led another week's discussion.
        Points tracking: +5 (base discussion leader), +2 (awesome preparation, with great questions and added recommended material), +2 (great in-class discussion facilitation), +1 (recommends some great Level Up material that I add to the week's web page).
        Running Total: 150

She's already Leveled Up from Conscript to a passing grade... and she's only a little past half-way through the semester! If she Levels Up her contribution to the group Presentation (let's say she earns 48 points) and Final Project (she kicks it and earns +30 bonus points) in the ways she usually does, that alone is enough to earn 78 more points, elevating her to Legend. She could even skip the Final Project while continuing to Level Up on all her remaining responses and still earn a B+; a few more stand-alone Level Ups will earn her an A. So, assuming she remains 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 220 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 Gunn Center News page and Facebook page.

Want to hang out (at least virtually) with other SF folks? Sign up for the new Stars Our Destination discussion group and mailing list here, and check out the Lawrence Science Fiction Club on Facebook for informal club chat and get-togethers.

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.

The KC fan community won the World Science Fiction Convention bid, so the world of SF came to the KC in 2016! Details at the MidAmeriCon II website. Yours truly was Academic Track program director, so let me know if you'd like to know how to get involved in such things or if you'd like to volunteer to serve as staff (for a significant reduction in membership cost) in future events.

 

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

 More Recommended Works

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 winners of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel of the year. To see even more great books, check out the recent finalists for the Campbell Memorial Award - most years, the majority of those works could have won the award if the jury had just a few different members.

For short fiction, check out the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short SF winners, and the recent Sturgeon Award finalists. As with the Campbell, you're likely to find something you'll love among the finalists - and many of them live online, and you'll find links to the stories from that page.

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

The Guardian asked some of SF's greatest living authors to share what they feel are the best books or authors in the genre, and what they came up with is a brilliant list.

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, 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 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!

We believe strongly in the free sharing of information via digital humanities such as this website, so you'll find a lot of content - including all of McKitterick's course syllabi and many materials from our classes - on this and related sites and social networks as part of the Center's educational outreach. Feel free to use this content for independent study, or to adapt it for your own educational and nonprofit purposes; just please credit us and link back to this website. We'd also love to hear from you if you used our materials!

The Gunn Center is associated with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), the University of Kansas, and other organizations, and is owned by James Gunn and Chris McKitterick. Web developer and creator of most content since 1992 is Chris McKitterick.

This website and its contents are copyright 1992-present by Christopher McKitterick except where noted, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. (Feel free to use and adapt for non-profit purposes, with attribution. For publication or profit purposes, please contact Chris McKitterick or other creators as noted.)

Creative Commons License
Works on this site are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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