Science Fiction & the Popular Media
Syllabus - Table of Contents
The links below take you to those sections 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?
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.
Fair warning: 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.
Officially satisfies these KU Core goals:
Diversity and Disability
Everyone enjoys equal access to the Gunn Center's offerings, and we actively encourage students and scholars from diverse backgrounds to study with us. All courses offered by Gunn Center faculty are also available to be taken not-for-credit for professionalization purposes by community members (if space is available). Click here to see the Center's Diversity Statement.
The Academic Achievement and Access Center (AAAC) coordinates accommodations and services for all eligible KU students. If you have a disability for which you wish to request accommodation and have not contacted the AAAC, please do so as soon as possible. Their office is located in 22 Strong Hall; their phone number is (785)864-4064 (V/TTY). Also please contact us privately about your needs in this course.
Reading and Viewing Materials
You don't need to buy many books (unless you want to)! Much of what you'll read, watch, and otherwise interact with is online, either as excerpts in Blackboard or linked through the weekly schedule.
However, 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, 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 materials:
Chris McKitterick is a science-fiction author and scholar and Director of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. He teaches SF and creative writing at KU. He has been a professional writer for decades, an editor for nearly that long, 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, and more. 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 writing, feel free to visit during office hours, or drop an email any time. If I'm not in the office, leave a message. It might take a little time to respond if I'm out of town or in the middle of a project, so don't wait until the last minute!
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 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!
Weekly Schedule Index
Last updated July 22, 2016.
The links below take you to individual pages listing the multimedia works we'll discuss each day. Each week, 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. (Your instructor also brings 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 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 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 in this section if I've made such an edit. If you have suggestions
for additions or Level Up opportunities, let me know!
To successfully complete the course and get out of it all you can, you are required to:
To earn top scores and get a great final grade, be sure to Level Up whenever possible!
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!
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: 2 points per class session.
Missing class is the surest way to lose points here: -2 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.
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 weeks 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 or in addition to 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. 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 weeks = 10 points.
If you suffer from social anxiety, please talk to me so we can work out an alternative to leading discussions.
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, 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."
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: Even if you aren't leading the week's discussion, include at least a couple of questions to pose to the class or points to stimulate discussion. I suggest bringing your response to class - especially your questions - to help formulate ideas during discussion. (Also be sure to turn them in via Blackboard in advance of class.) They are usually scored in Blackboard by the following week.
Daily Paper Scoring
Base value: 2 points x 25 = 50 total.
Here is how I score the papers you turn in each Tuesday and Thursday:
That means you could possibly earn a 100% bonus over the base score for your reading responses by Leveling Up every time! Up to +50 - wow!
* 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
Late papers get -1 point each if turned in after the relevant class session begins. Turn them in on time! Missing response papers are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week.
Choose either a set of materials from the syllabus or equivalent new ones, perform additional research beyond the required materials for that topic, and write a short, formal paper about them or their themes. Additionally, cover at least three more short pieces or at least one book- or movie-length piece; these may be fiction, nonfiction, multimedia, or other sources that support or illustrate your themes. Think of this project as an extended 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.
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.
Due date: You may turn in your paper as early as Week 2 or as late as Week 10; 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, but it's due by Week 10 at the latest.
Base value: 40 points.
A late Mid-Term Paper gets -2 points per day late for the first five days late (that's -10 after a week), then -2 points per day late after that. "Late" is after Friday of Week 10. Turn them in on time! Missing papers are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week (at a deduction).
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. Help make this group project outstanding - and be a great individual contributor - to Level Up! (up to +6)
Your final project answers the course's core questions:
How do various media forms engage with the themes,
tropes, and narratives of science fiction?
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 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: 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
So if you're comfortable rising no higher "Adept" (a letter grade of C+), you need between 240 and 249 points. You'll easily earn those points by doing solid work on the required course components:
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: +84 or more!
See the next section, Chloe's Example Scenario, and every other section for more opportunities.
Because we use media narratives, we'll use the metaphor of Leveling Up to earn 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 and in every class period; that is, you get more points than the base value when you exceed "average effort" (traditionally graded as C work), thereby raising your grade incrementally toward a B or A. It's up to you!
On the other hand, if you choose to simply meet all the basic requirements and do acceptable work on your projects, you'll end up with a grade around a C+.
I want you to be in control over your final grade, using a familiar and empowering metaphor.
So, want to earn a higher grade in this course? Each section in this syllabus offers some options for Leveling Up! Possible bonuses abound: See each assignment section for details on more ways to earn bonus points. Here are some semester-long examples of how you can gain extra points:
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:
What's My Grade?
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