Fall Semester
Science Fiction & the Popular Media
English 203

When: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:30-3:45pm
Where: Wescoe 4021

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
   Attendance and Class Participation
   Attendance and Class Participation Scoring
   Response Papers
   Final Project
   "Mid-Term" Paper
      Final Project Deadline
Group Presentation
   Level Up
   What's My Grade?
More Good Stuff
   Recommended Works

Course Goals

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

This new course examines science fiction across a range of media forms including film, television, literature, fanfic, comics, gaming, and more, 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 over time?

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.

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

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:

  • 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 and Director of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. He teaches SF, creative writing, and technical communication at KU. He has been a professional writer for 22 years, an editor for nearly that long, managed a documentation team for three years, and currently freelances for a variety of publishers. He writes not just SF stories and novels, but also nonfiction such as astronomy articles, technical documents, gaming supplements, scholarly articles, and journalism (and some poetry, too). He edits magazines, websites, and more. Feel free to mine his experience for tips and advice about writing, editing, and the SF industry.

If you have questions, need assistance, or just want to chat about SF, visit me in my office (3040 Wescoe or TBA Nichols Hall on West Campus). Drop an email any time. If I'm not in the office, leave a message. It might take a little time to respond if I'm out of town or in the middle of a project, so don't wait until the last minute!


Contact Information

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!

Wescoe Hall 3040 (also CSSF lending library), Nichols Hall 340 (West Campus)
Phone: (785) 864-2509
Email: cmckit@ku.edu (class communication - please put "ENGL 203" in the subject line for clarity)

Other contact info:

Personal website
Personal email: cmckit@gmail.com
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
SF posts on Tumblr

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

Wescoe Hall 3040 (aka CSSF lending library): Tuesdays and Thursdays 1:00pm - 2:15pm
Nichols Hall 340 (West Campus): Wednesdays 1:30pm - 3:00pm

Other times by appointment: I'm sometimes in my office when not in class and almost always available via email.

Weekly Schedule Index

Last updated Sept 28, 2015.
: Once the semester begins, watch this space for regular, ongoing updates!

Revision history:
Aug 31: Added student discussion leaders to index (below), added new Level Up suggestions to Week 2.
Sept 2: Updated office hours.
Sept 8: Added Level Up suggestions to Week 3, updated discussion leaders, updated 340 Nichols Hall office (Wed's).
Sept 20: updated discussion leaders.
Sept. 28: Added Gregory Benford event to Week 6 - Level Up!

The links below take you to individual pages listing the multimedia works we'll discuss each day. Each week, two or three students lead the discussions, bringing enough good questions to keep a lively discussion going for the entire class period; aim for at least a dozen questions and discussion prompts. Discussants also seek relevant information about the assignments' creators, how the works influenced the science fiction and multimedia that was to follow, and so forth. You must lead the weekly discussion at least twice, but may serve more often if you want to Level Up! This is a major part of your grade and an important learning opportunity!

Note1: As this is a new course and new SF media is constantly appearing, I'm likely to make edits to the weekly pages, including adding links, embedding multimedia, and altering some content. I'll put a note here if I've made such an edit. If you have suggestions for additions, let me know!

Note2: Always check each weekly page for embedded materials below the list of readings (on the bottom of the page) and Level Up suggestions - I'll keep adding more throughout the semester as I and the discussion leaders find more great stuff!

Week 1:  Course introduction and defining science fiction and popular media, August 25 & 27.
Week 2:  Space opera, storytelling, and mythology, September 1 & 3. Discussion leaders: Andrew Stussie, Andrew Stempke, Linghao Chen.
Week 3:  Superheroes and comics, September 8 & 10. Discussion leaders: Caroline Kane, Will Defresne, Andrew Stussie.
Week 4:  Science fantasy and nonvisual storytelling, September 15 & 17. Discussion leaders: Kyler Dixon.
Week 5:  Aliens, exploring the unknown, and television, September 22 & 24. Discussion leaders: Cole Neville, Lizzy Campbell, Linghao Chen.
Week 6:  Frontiers and film, September 29 & October 1. Discussion leaders: Kristin Smith, Gavin Spence, Will Defresne.
Week 7:  Cyberpunk, androids, and games, October 6 & 8. Discussion leaders: Kyler Dixon, Caleb Keeten, Joe Bush.
Week 8:  Horror from beyond the stars, October 15
(short week due to Fall Break). Discussion leaders: Cole Neville, Caroline Kane, ...
Week 9:  Animal uplift and the Golden Age, October 21 & 23. Discussion leaders: Danielle St. Louis, Kristin Smith, Damon Downs.
Week 10: Ancient and alternate history, October 27 & 29
(we'll count the 29th as Halloween...). Discussion leaders: Andrew Strempke, Michael Conner, Sean Smith, Nomanali Vakil.
Week 11: Dystopias, social SF, and blurred media, November 3 & 5. Discussion leaders: Sean Smith, Danielle St. Louis, Caleb Keeten, Nomanali Vakil.
Week 12: Biotech and fandom, November 10 & 12. Discussion leaders: Gavin Spence, Michael Conner, Osime Izokpu, Caroline Kane.
Week 13: Interactive media and the future of SF storytelling, November 17 & 19. Discussion leaders: Joe Bush, Osime Izokpu, Nomanali Valen.
No class the week of Thanksgiving Break. Safe travels, and keep reading!
Week 14: First half student presentations! December 1 & 3.
Week 15: Second half of student presentations! December 8 & 10.

      No Class December 15-17. Final project deadline: Post to Blackboard by 5:00pm Thursday, December 17.

Late projects: To receive (reduced) credit, hand off your missing response papers and other prior work before 5:00pm to Blackboard by Friday, December 18. If you didn't manage to finish something when it was due, turn it in after you turn in your more important final project.

No final test - focus on your group presentation and final project!

 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.
  • Lead at least two class sessions with a partner or partners.
  • Read and watch 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 last two 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 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.

Level Up

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


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. 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.

Level Up

  • Lead more than two weeks (if needed): +5.
  • 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.

 Papers and Projects

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."

 Response Papers

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:

    0 - no paper, or bad one turned in late.
    1 - either has interesting insights on the readings or convinces me you completed most of the reading.
    2 - convinces me that you did all the reading and provides interesting insights.
    3-4 - Level Up references all the required materials and shares thoughtful responses to everything, plus discusses your thoughts on additional materials relevant* to the week's content or in-class discussions (up to +2).

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 Tuesday's discussion in the Thursday 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.


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

 "Mid-Term" Paper

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; you need not turn this in on the same week that the reading response would be due, but it's due by Week 10 at the latest.

Base value: 40 points.

Level Up

  • 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!


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).

 Group Presentation

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 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.

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 +5
  • 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 +5.
  • Possibly more ways to get bonuses!


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

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.

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 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.

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.

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

Level Points Needed Grade


290 or above



280 - 289



270 - 279



260 - 269



250 - 259


Adept (base)

240 - 249



230 - 239



220 - 229



210 - 219



200 - 209



190 - 199



198 or below


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:

  • Reading and viewing the assigned content, and turning in twice-weekly response papers to it: 25 x 2 = 50 points possible (up to +50 Level Up possible).
  • Attendance and class participation: 25 x 2 = 50 base points possible (up to +26 or more Level Up possible).
  • Leading discussions: 2 x 5 = 10 base points possible (up to +11 Level Up possible).
  • Mid-Term paper: 40 base points possible (up to +12 or more Level Up possible).
  • Presentation: 40 base points possible (up to +6 Level Up possible).
  • Final project 50 base points possible (up to +15 or more Level Up possible).
  • See each section for details on Level Ups and Penalties.
  • TOTAL possible base-level points: 240.

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.

Level Up

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:

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

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


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: -2 (per missed class after the first).
    Note: You're allowed one unexcused absence for the semester. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies, so if you encounter this, let me know. It's your responsibility to schedule employment, school, and other responsibilities around your classes, or accept the consequences. If you must miss class, please contact me ahead of time to make arrangements for catching up on missed material.
  • If you attend but do not participate in class discussions, this also lowers your overall grade on a variable scale depending on engagement or lack thereof. If you have special needs (for example, you have social phobias), contact me in advance so we can work out alternatives. 
  • Of course, not turning in projects or doing poor work can lose you points, leading to reduced grades. So do your best - and exceed my expectations to Level Up instead!

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

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

  1. It's Week 9, just over half-way through the semester. Chloe has been doing exceptional work so far, attending all the classes, participating in consistent and thoughtful ways, turning in all her required responses and several Level Up responses. She also did a great job leading one week's discussion with a partner.
        Points tracking: +57 (+8 average per week for turning in all responses plus Level Ups on time), +32 (perfect attendance), +16 (great class participation without talking over others), +10 (led one week in a Level Up kind of way).
        Running Total: 115 points
  2. Chloe turns in her first response for the week. Because she's really interested in the topic, she responds thoughtfully to all the materials.
        Points tracking: +2 (base), +1 (exceptional work).
        Running Total: 118
  3. She also does an outstanding job on her second response for the week.
        Points tracking: +2 (base), +1 (exceptional work, listing a couple of questions to pose to the class).
        Running Total: 121
  4. But that's not all. She also watches a Dr. Who episode relevant to the topic, because she's a big fan of the Doctor. She loves it even more in context with the theme! So she looks up some fan blogs and an io9 article about the episode, and realizes why she was so moved by it. She includes this material in her weekly Level Up response, and not only talks about the episode but provides insights into why, and relates this to what some of her fellow students mentioned in class:
        Points tracking: +2 (Level Up).
        Running Total: 123
  5. Last week, she turned in her Mid-Term paper, and gets back her score this week. Her paper not only discusses all the readings for that week, but also includes a detailed annotated bibliography, is insightful and provides a detailed critical response to things she loved and one she really hated, provides evidence for her argument about how the piece she hated was flawed as well as evidence for why her favorite piece was genre-stretching - and she delivers it in the form of a post in her blog, complete with embedded images, video, and dozens of links.
        Points tracking: +40 (base), +4 (annotated bibliography Level Up), +3 (outstanding paper Level Up), +4 (takes full advantage of multimedia delivery).
        Running Total: 174
  6. Oh, and because of her specific interest in the topic, she led this week's discussion.
        Points tracking: +5 (base discussion leader), +2 (two days of awesome preparation, with great questions and added recommended material), +2 (two Days of Awesome In-Class Discussion facilitation), +1 (recommends some great Level Up material to add to the week's web page).
        Running Total: 184

She's already Leveled Up from Conscript to Beginner... and she's only a little past half-way through the semester! If she Levels Up her Presentation (let's say she gets 49 points) and Final Project (she kicks it and gets 62 points) in the ways she usually does, that alone is enough to elevate her to Legend level. So, assuming she's just as motivated for the rest of the semester, she'll easily rise through the ranks to Legend status and beyond: Last year, three motivated students earned more than 300 points! You can, too.

More Good Stuff

Ready for more? Check out these suggestions.

 Events and Activities

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

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

The Center for the Study of Science Fiction offers several multimedia offerings online. Click here to see them on this site, or click here to see our YouTube channel.

Benjamin Cartwright, former Volunteer Coordinator of the Center's AboutSF outreach program, created a wonderful podcast program. Check it out at the AboutSF.com main page or at our Podomatic site!

To learn about more stuff, more quickly, you can also find events and lots of SF-related chat with the Lawrence Science Fiction Club! Info, discussions, and (hopefully soon!) meeting times are regularly posted at our Facebook page. Know of something of interest to like-minded folks? Join and drop a note there!

Here's a cool event each Spring, right after Spring finals:

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live Show
Friday and Saturday, in mid-May
Also the Spectrum Awards Show
Grand Ballroom of Bartle Hall Convention Center
Kansas City, MO

What are you doing on Memorial Day Weekend? Why not attend the ConQuest science fiction convention in Kansas City.

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

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

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


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

 More Recommended 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 finalists for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel of the year, and the finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short SF of the year. Many years, the majority of those works could have won these awards if the juries had just a few different members.

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

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

The Gunn Center holds many books, so if you are local to Lawrence or are in town for our other summer programs, check with me to see if we can lend you a copy. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis. This lending library is primarily supplied by previous students donating copies after completing their courses, so if you want to pass on the love to the next generation rather than keep your books, let your teacher know!

Want to take more speculative-fiction courses? You're in luck! Check out our growing list of offerings.

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

If you like novels, or just want to prepare for next year's SF-novels version of this course, here you go:

And here are the books that we removed from the SF-novels version of this course - still important and recommended works for understanding the history of the SF novel, but we only have so much time to discuss:

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more to come!

* "'History of Science Fiction' is a graphic chronology that maps the literary genre from its nascent roots in mythology and fantastic stories to the somewhat calcified post-Star Wars space opera epics of today. The movement of years is from left to right, tracing the figure of a tentacled beast, derived from H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds Martians. Science Fiction is seen as the offspring of the collision of the Enlightenment (providing science) and Romanticism, which birthed gothic fiction, source of not only SF, but crime novels, horror, westerns, and fantasy (all of which can be seen exiting through wormholes to their own diagrams, elsewhere). Science fiction progressed through a number of distinct periods, which are charted, citing hundreds of the most important works and authors. Film and television are covered as well."

- Ward Shelly discussing this excellent "History of Science Fiction" infographic - now available for purchase!