Science, Technology, and Society:
Examining the Future Through a Science-Fiction Lens
ENGL 507 & 690 / HWC 510

Spring 2014
Tuesdays 4:00pm – 6:40pm
Wescoe Hall 1005 (new room!)


Philip Baringer

Chris McKitterick

Physics and Astronomy




When writing, please put the course name in the subject line for clarity.

4075 Malott,
100 Nunemaker

3040 Wescoe
(also the CSSF office)

Office hours:
Tuesdays 10:00am -noon in 4075 Malott

Thursdays 10:00am-noon in 100 Nunemaker

Office hours:
Tuesdays and Wednesdays,
2:00pm - 3:50pm

Other days and times by appointment

Science-Fiction Grand Master James Gunn is also a course consultant and possible guest speaker. Gunn's office: 3039 Wescoe.

Table of Contents

Course Goals
Daily Schedule
   E-Reserve Readings
   Internet-Based Readings
   Required Books
   Recommended Books
Course Requirements
Class Periods
   Discussant Signup
   Attendance and Class Participation
   Attendance and Class Participation Scoring
   Weekly Response Papers
      Weekly Paper Scoring
   Mid-Term Paper
   Final Research Project
      Option A: Traditional Research Paper
      Option B: Creative Work
      Final Project Deadline
Oral Presentation
Extra Credit Opportunities
Science and Science Fiction Film Series
More Good Stuff

Course Goals

Science and technology offer countless benefits to individuals and to societies, yet they also present new challenges. We read nonfiction works and science fiction to explore the past, present, and possible future effects of science and technology on society and humankind as a species. The only thing certain about our future is that it will be different than today!

Officially satisfies at least KU Core Goal 6, "Integration and Creativity."


The Academic Achievement and Access Center (AAAC) coordinates accommodations and services for all eligible KU students. If you have a disability for which you wish to request accommodations and have not contacted the AAAC, please do so as soon as possible. Their office is located in 22 Strong Hall; their phone number is (785)864-4064 (V/TTY). Also please contact me privately about your needs in this course.

 Daily Schedule

Working syllabus version 1.10, May 4, 2014.
Note: This will change as we and student discussants add readings, and as we find more extra credit opportunities.

Revision history:
Jan 30: Corrected links for Feb 4 readings, noted new room (Wescoe 1005).
Feb 5: Snow Day - created Discussion Board on Blackboard.
Feb 6: Fixed link to "The Calorie Man."
Feb 17: Steve Hawley will join us for Space Exploration day (Feb 25).
Feb 18: Added note about story themes to Weekly Response Papers section.
Feb 19: Discussant signup sheet updated.
Feb 27: Added new reading for week of Mar 4.
Mar 3: Added new Extra Credit Opportunities.
Mar 5: Added link to the Infoglut reading.
Apr 17: clarification to the Presentation project for multimedia projects.
May 4: Presentation list!

Class Date

Discussion Topics and Multimedia Extras

We will often take a look at these in class,
but might not get to them all, so links are provided.

Required Reading Prior to Class

Most stories are large-ish .pdf files, and most articles link to websites.

NOTE: Syllabus will undergo more revisions before class starts (watch for version 1.0),
but the first two weeks are ready to go!

Jan 21

What is science fiction?
Thinking outside the box (dimensions).

Ward Shelly's excellent "The History of Science Fiction" illustration.
Flatland film excerpt (full movie here for purchase).
They're Made out of Meat film. (Here's an entirely different take on it, and here's a silly version using Xtra Normal software.)

Prepare to discuss your take on "What is science fiction?" by reading the definitions of SF on this page.
Edwin Abbot's story (“by the Author, A SQUARE”), “Flatland.” (Click here [HTML] or here [.pdf] for free downloads.)
Terry Bisson's story, “They're Made out of Meat.”
Science News article, “Seeing in Four Dimensions.”

Grad students: If possible this week - but for sure starting next week - find, read, and respond to an additional work that matches the week's topics.

You might find it handy to bring your weekly one-page reader response and discussion notes to class. (Regardless, turn it in to the appropriate assignment slot in Blackboard before class.) 

Jan 28

The ideas of science fiction.
How science and technology shaped the present, futuristics.
Science's greatest hits.

Frederik Pohl interview film excerpt.
"Scale of the Universe" interactive website.

Discovery Channel's "Prophets of Science Fiction" show looks interesting, too.

Isaac Asimov's story, “The Psychohistorians” (from The Foundation Trilogy).
Isaac Asimov's essay, “Science.”
Arthur C. Clarke's essay, “The Hazards of Prophecy.”
James Gunn's essay, "The Worldview of Science Fiction."
James Gunn's essay, “Science, Technology, and Civilization” (part 1 and part 2).
Excerpt from Okasha's book, Philosophy of Science.
Look through the Science Channel's article, "Science's Greatest Discoveries: The Big 100" (a selection of the top 100 discoveries in 8 fields of study [.pdf]).
Look through the Wiki Timeline of historic inventions.

Feb 4

Innovations in communication.

Note: Snow Day! If you haven't yet joined the Blackboard Discussion Board chat, get involved now.

Geoff Ryman's story, “Have Not Have.”
Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers (entire book - it's very short, though!).
Cory Doctorow's essay, “Disorganised but effective: The most profound social revolutions in human history have arisen whenever a technology comes along that lowers transaction costs for everyone.”
Online College's article, “15 Big Ways The Internet Is Changing Our Brain.”

Feb 11

Ecology and evolution.

Note: class has been moved to bigger, quieter, nicer 1005 Wescoe!

Paolo Bacigalupi's story, “The Calorie Man.”
Stephen Baxter's story, “Children of Time.”
Ted Kosmakta and Michael Poore's story, “Blood Dauber.”
Understanding Evolution website.
Article from Scientific American, “The Future of Homo Sapiens.”
Article from Scientific American, “The Ultimate Social Network.
H.G. Wells' essay, “The Extinction of Man.”

Feb 18

Biotech: fear of change, religious resistance.
Future medicine, extended age spans, organ transplants, genetic engineering, GM foods, stem cell research, mutation, cloning....

Film clip from Gattaca.
Film clip from Soylent Green?

Nancy Kress' story, “Beggars in Spain” (part 1 and part 2).
Judith Merril's story, “That Only a Mother.”
Ian McDonald's story, “Tendeleo's Story” (part 1, part 2, and part 3).
Larry Niven's story, “The Jigsaw Man.”
James Tiptree's story, “The Screwfly Solution.”
Article on biotech, "Organs Made to Order."
Article on cybernetic technology, "Embedded Technologies: Power From the People."
Article, Release of Mosquitoes With Suicide Genes Attempt To Eradicate Dengue Fever.

Feb 25

Space exploration: economic and scientific rationale, public or private sector?

Film clip from 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Fun: Spaceships at 10 pixels per meter.


Robert Heinlein's story, “Requiem.”
Chris McKitterick's story, “Jupiter Whispers” (from Visual Journeys: A Tribute to Space Art).
Mary Turzillo's story, “Mars is No Place for Children.”
Sky & Telescope article, “Asteroid Mining Gets Competitive.”
Neal Stephenson's article, Space Stasis.
Buzz Aldrin's letter to NASA about US space policy.
Wikipedia's "Space Elevator" article (with tons of links to sources).
The How Stuff Works article on "How Space Elevators Work."'s article, "SpaceX to Launch First Private Flights to Space Station."

Bonus! KU Physics & Astronomy Professor and former astronaut Steve Hawley has graciously offered to visit class. Prepare your questions for him!

Mar 4

Mid-term research paper due by end of day on Monday, March 3
(the day before regular class).

Aliens, SETI, are we alone... and what if we're not?

Film clip from Contact.
Interactive Drake Equation.

James Gunn's story, “The Listeners.”
David Brin's story, “The Crystal Spheres.”
Orson Scott Card's story, “Ender's Game” (which later grew into the book).
Greg Egan's story, “Luminous.” article: “Population of Known Alien Planets Nearly Doubles as NASA Discovers 715 New Worlds.”
i09 article, “All Stars Have Planets.”
Astrobiology Magazine's article, “Plentiful Planet Population.”
Article on The 'Wow!' Signal.
The Fermi Paradox wiki page.
i09 article, “Does a galaxy filled with habitable planets mean humanity is doomed?

Mar 11

Cyber space I: effects of communications technology, present and future.

William Gibson's novel, Neuromancer (entire novel).
BBC article, “The ethical dilemmas of robotics.”
First five pages of the introduction to Infoglut (feel free to read and respond to the full excerpt if it draws you in!).

Mar 18

No class this week - Spring Break.

No class this week - Spring Break.

Mar 25

Cyber space II: robots and cyborgs.

Film clip from Battlestar Galactica.

CRACKED "After Hours" short film, "Why The Scariest Sci-Fi Robot Uprising Has Already Begun."

Ray Kurzweil's comprehensive website about artificial intelligence.

Isaac Asimov's story, “The Evitable Conflict.”
Robin Wayne Bailey's story, “Keepers of Earth.”
Cory Doctorow's story, “I, Robot.”
Lisa Goldstein's story, “Paradise is a Walled Garden.”
Alastair Reynolds' story, “Weather." Note: large .pdf that needs to be rotated counterclockwise; see Blackboard.
Jack Williamson's story, “With Folded Hands” (part 1 and part 2).
Wall Street Journal's article, “Could Robots Replace Jurors?
National Geographic Article: “Us and Them.”
Cory Doctorow's essay, “I Can't Let You Do That, Dave: What it means to design our computers and devices to disobey us.”

Apr 1

Disasters! Plague, overpopulation, pollution, climate change, terrorism, war....

Technology, ecology, and the future of the planet.

Film clip from 1984 or A Boy and His Dog.

Check out this great interactive asteroid- and comet-impact site; here's another one with more detail but less drama.

David Brin's story, “Cascades” (part 1 and part 2 of the short novel, The Postman - later made into a movie).
Harlan Ellison's story, “A Boy and His Dog.”
Paul McAuley's story, “Antarctica Starts Here.”

New York Times article, “Earth 2050: Population Unknowable?
Website with projections about population.
The Wiki overview of Malthus' theories about overpopulation. Here's the full searchable text of his "Essay on the Principle of Population."
Smithsonian website's "Next 40 Years" section; particularly:
   The Changing Demographics of America.
   Asteroid Hunters.

Global Warming 101 and NOAA Global Warming FAQ.
Wiki entry on Climate change with outside references.

Apr 8

Nanotechnology, present and future.

Greg Bear's story, “Blood Music.”
Nancy Kress' story, “Nano Comes to Clifford Falls.”
Article on 3-dimensional nanoprinting.
K. Eric Drexler's book, Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (free download, or you can purchase a print copy if you prefer; likely we'll read the entire book). Available for free download on

Apr 15

Abstract, outline, and preliminary reading list for final project due on Monday, April 14, for final project.

Posthumanism and transhumanism.

Moore's law video explanation.
The Mythbusters team explains Moore's Law.
Colbert Report interview with Ray Kurzweil.

Ian Creasey's story, “Cut Loose the Bonds of Flesh and Bone” (see Blackboard).
Harlan Ellison's story, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.”
Ken Liu's story, “Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer.”
Chapters 1 thru 7 of Ray Kurzweil's book, The Age of Spiritual Machines (free download on here - scroll down to see the chapters and click to read each; there's also a print book you can buy).

Apr 22

The singularity: technological black holes.

Future society: global or local? How will cities evolve? Economics and sociology of the future.

Talk with an AI chatbot?

Vernor Vinge's essay, “What is the Singularity?
A Tough Guide to the “Rapture of the Nerds (Charles Stross' glossary on posthumanism).
Article on the Simulation Hypothesis.
Article on "The Measurement That Would Reveal The Universe As A Computer Simulation."
Excerpt from Charles Stross' novel, Accelerando (at least “Chapter 1: Lobsters”). Whole book is available for free download on Stross' website here, or you can also buy the print book.
Chapters 8 thru 12 of Ray Kurzweil's book, The Age of Spiritual Machines (free download on here - scroll down to see the chapters and click to read each).

Apr 29

The far future: Is it unknowable, unimaginable?

Film clip from Dr. Who.

Is this how we might look in a few hundred years (from Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future).

If we haven't already, determine presentation order for next week.

Early opportunity to turn in final project: +6 points.

Excerpt from Olaf Stapledon's novel, Last and First Men. Want to read more? See Project Gutenberg for the entire (free) ebook version of Last and First Men.
Charles Sheffield's story, “At the Eschatonpart 1 and part 2.
Cordwainer Smith's story, “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard.”
Frederik Pohl's story, “Day Million.”
National Geographic article, "Future Humans: Four Ways We May, or May Not, Evolve."
And, for how we might power a far-future human or post-human civilization, see Sentient Developments' article, "How to build a Dyson Sphere in five (relatively) easy steps."
One vision of a "Far-Future Timeline."

May 6

Student presentations.
Note: If we try to fit all presentations into one week
(so we need not meet during Finals Week),
this session might run a little long.

Early opportunity to turn in final:
+4 points.

Presentation topics vary! Be ready to rock. Here's the order in which we'll enjoy everyone's awesomeness:

  1. Group 2: Jackson, Bren, Luke: " technology serves as extensions of ourselves: tech, Facebook profiles, game avatars, etc."
  2. Group 6: Lauren, Cari, Dominique.
  3. Group 3: Tim, Jeanne, Maria, Lindsay, Stef, Jeff: "Undefinable Sci-Fi movie - prepare yourself!"
  4. Group 1: David, Jake, Marcus: "The evolution of the business of science fiction."
  5. Group 5 (aka "Cobra Tribe"): David, Jason, Hoyt, Bryson, Nate: "Science fiction conversations in a Halo universe [Red vs. Blue]."
  6. Group 4: Logan, Mikey.
  7. Nate Dinwiddie (solo presentation).

Remember to be a responsive and attentive audience, and think of good questions to ask the groups after their presentations. Come prepared to enjoy and learn!

Finals Week

Last student presentations... we'll use our scheduled
final-exam time only if needed.

Last chance to turn in final research project.

Last day to turn in missing projects.


Final project deadline: Post to Blackboard by Tuesday, May 13, by 5:00pm.

Late projects:

  • To receive (reduced) credit, hand off your missing response and other papers by 5:00pm to Blackboard by Friday, May 16.
  • An annotated bibliography is a set of references that provide a summary of your research. List your sources alphabetically and include a brief summary or annotation of each document you list as a reference.



Most of the course readings are available on the Blackboard course site and are linked from the syllabus, above. However, you will buy a few books, download other readings, and possibly get others in class. When you lead class discussions, you are also expected to do additional research beyond the regular readings and share these materials with the rest of the class, as well.

Graduate students: Each week, find, read, and respond to an additional work that matches the week's topics; include your response to this work as part of your regular response paper. If you found it online, provide a link in your response paper! Otherwise, include bibliographic information.

 E-Reserve Readings

To access most of your fiction readings, open the .pdf files in the Daily Schedule table, above.

 Internet-Based Readings

Many other readings and other materials are available by clicking the links in the Daily Schedule table, above.

 Required Books

The titles below contain links to online booksellers like Amazon and Powell's; click these links to find the books for sale online. A few of the books are also available as free downloads; click the links in parentheses for the free downloads.

Abbot's Flatland. (Click here [HTML] or here [.pdf] to download Flatland free.)
Drexler's Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (Click here to download Engines of Creation free; also available free on here.)
Gibson's Neuromancer.
Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines. (Available for free on here, or click here to order a hard-copy of The Age of Spiritual Machines.)
Standage's The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers.

 Recommended Readings

John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar.
Frank Herbert's Dune.

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

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. Most years, the majority of those works could have won the award if the jury 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.

More to come! Check back later....

 Course Requirements

To successfully complete the course and get out of it all you can, you must:

  • Attend class each week.
  • Participate in class, which means being involved in every discussion, each day.
  • Lead at least one session with a partner.
  • Read the required books, website articles, and other materials.
  • Write insightful weekly response papers.
  • Write a formal mid-term research paper.
  • Create a longer final project due at the end of the semester.
  • Participate in a live group presentation on the last two day or two of class.

 Class Periods

Each week we discuss a variety of stories and articles. Occasionally, we will have guest speakers, film clips, or internet multimedia. Class periods revolve largely around discussion, with some lecture.


The two students assigned as discussants for the week will lead (not monopolize) the discussion. Everyone is required to act as discussant at least once during the semester, preferably twice. If you have special needs and cannot perform this task, let us know early. See the Discussant Signup, below, for our list so far.

Discussants perform additional research prior to class (further readings, identifying possible multimedia content, and so forth) and come prepared with three or more questions to stimulate discussion among your peers about the day's topic and readings. Include your discussion-leader notes as part of your reading response, or in addition to it. We expect all students to participate in discussions, but we also request that you avoid talking too much or talking over others. Be civil: These are discussions about ideas, not arguments or lectures!

Your instructors will likely open each day with some general discussion, plus current events and other things relevant to the day's discussions. After that, the day's student discussants take over. You can split up the tasks among your fellow discussants based on stories, topics, or however you see fit. We simply expect everyone to serve equally.

Graduate students and teachers: Demonstrate solid pedagogical theory! Act as if you're teaching this course for a day. We expect you to participate every day, providing insightful comments and questions while encouraging those less inclined to participate - but not to dominate the discussions.

Discussant Signup

Here's who has signed up so far (opens an Excel .xls file).

Attendance and Class Participation

This is a discussion course, so class participation is weighed heavily! Coming to class and getting involved in the discussions each day are necessary for getting a good grade, not to mention how much value you get from the course. The discussions aren't just explication of plot or concept; we expect you to exercise your critical-reading skills. That is, don't just read the fiction for pleasure, don't just accept everything in the nonfiction as canon, and don't feel the need to agree with your classmates' ideas - this course is all about challenging the notion that we and our world will always be as it has been. In the discussions, we want to hear how you synthesize the ideas from the assigned readings, your outside readings, and your own experiences. Of course, be polite and diplomatic if you disagree, but don't be shy either.

If you know you are going to miss a class for an academic event, illness, or other excusable reason, contact us as soon as possible to see if we can work out something so it does not affect your overall grade. If necessary, we can mitigate this loss so your attendance percentage remains unaffected. Otherwise, here is how we score attendance and participation:

Because we only meet once per week, each unexcused absence after the first drops your final course grade by a third; that is, missing two weeks might mean your final grade drops from an A- to a B+, missing three drops it to a B, and so forth. Missing zero classes usually serves to bump most students up a fraction of a grade (for example, from a B to a B+ when points are close), so don't miss classes! The next illustrates this relationship.

Attendance and Class Participation Scoring

Classes Missed Grade Result
(assuming perfect score)


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


A (minor effect)






(down one full grade)



And so forth

1/3 grade per missed class

During discussions, do not expose yourself or others to distractions such as checking email, Facebook, and so forth. Obviously, turn off your phone ringer/buzzer and put it away. We 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 - or pull up your discussion and response notes - 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.

You've probably heard this before, but it is as true as ever: You get out of any activity only what you put into it. The more effort and creativity you apply to your projects and to class discussions, the more you will learn and the better the class will be for everyone else, as well. If you do not regularly attend class or do not participate in discussions, you will miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn and grow as a person. 


In addition to good participation, much of your grade depends on the short response papers you write on a weekly basis, your formal mid-term paper, and the longer final project. If you use non-standard software to create your projects, save them in standard formats (for example, most computers can read .doc, .html, .rtf, and .pdf formats). Turn in papers via Blackboard before class begins on the due date or by end of day on days when we don't meet for class. They will be graded and returned via Blackboard in a reasonable time.

 Weekly Response Papers

Prior to each class, write a short reading-response paper and turn it in via Blackboard. Please paste the text from your response into the Submission text box rather than (or in addition to) attaching the document, to make it simpler for us to read everyone's papers every week.  Along with participation in each week's discussion, these papers are scored as an important measure of your engagement with the day's topics.

This short (300-500 words for undergrads, 400-1000 words for graduate students) paper is a brief but thoughtful response to all of the readings for that week, both nonfiction and fiction. (If you go a little long, that's better than too short, but be kind to your teachers!) Provide your thoughts on the week's assigned works, not just a plot summary, instead offering insightful, critical, and thoughtful reflections on the works. When responding to the fiction, ask yourself what the author was trying to say (themes), and how the story answers the question of how science and technology change what it means to be human in a changing age. When leading the week's discussion, include your discussion-leader notes as part of your reading response, or in addition to it.

As in the discussions, exercise your critical-reading skills with these response papers; that is, don't just read the fiction for pleasure and don't just accept everything in the nonfiction as canon - this course is all about challenging the notion that we and our world will always be as it has been. We want to hear how you synthesize the ideas from the assigned readings, your outside readings, and your own experiences.

Tip: Include questions to pose to the class as well as some points to stimulate discussion, even if you are not leading the week's discussion. We suggest printing out your responses and questions and bringing them to class to help formulate ideas during discussion. (Also be sure to turn them in via Blackboard in advance of class.) They are usually returned to you via Blackboard, scored, the following week.

Regarding format, some find it simplest to either use bullets to separate each reading, bold the reading titles, or use the titles as headings. Some people write responses that resemble essays, citing the works in tandem, while others just respond to each individually. However you handle it is fine, but what's most important is that you've thought through all the readings for each day and their relationship to one another as well as to the changes in science, technology, and society over time.

Grad students: As you might imagine, we expect more from your papers. They should reflect your mastery of the paper form as well as provide insights worthy of your added experience and education. Additionally, for each topic, please find, read, and respond to an additional work that matches the week's topics; include your response to this work as part of your regular response paper. If you found it online, provide a link in your response paper. Otherwise, include bibliographic information. Insightfulness and clarity are important.

Weekly Paper Scoring

Here is how we score the weekly papers, based on a 0-4 point system per paper:
    0 - no paper turned in.
    1 - paper turned in, but does not convince us that you did much reading.
    2 - paper convinces us that you did some of the reading.
    3 - paper either has interesting insights on most of the readings or convinces us that you completed all of the reading.
    4 - paper convinces us that you did all of the reading and provides interesting insights.

Missing response papers are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week at a reduced score. Late papers lose 1 point if up to one week late; after that, they might lose more. Turn them in on time!

 Mid-Term Paper

During the semester, you choose a topic covered in the syllabus (or a new one), perform additional research beyond the readings for that topic, and write a short paper about it. This is essentially a formal, extended weekly response, with bibliography and other references as appropriate (Wikipedia is not a source, but is a good place to find sources).

This paper must be at 1000-2000 words (typically 4 to 8 pages) for undergrads and 3000-5000 words for grad students. A little longer is okay if you must, but try not to get too long! The papers are graded on the quality of writing (including basics like grammar and spelling), the quality of ideas and your argument in support of them, the quality of research and reporting, and use of material and arguments presented during discussions. Format your bibliography as appropriate for your field of study (MLA for Humanities, Chicago for most other fields, and so forth; here's a good list of style guides).

Grad students: In addition to the basics of writing an insightful paper, we expect you to demonstrate mastery of the form.

 Final Research Project

The final project can be either a traditional essay or a creative work. Your research paper or creative project identifies and explores a topic related to the course theme, but can cover topics not listed in the syllabus. Papers must be 2000-3000 words (typically 10 to 15 pages) for undergrads and 3000-5000 words for grad students. If you expect to go significantly over the limit, please contact one of the teachers before continuing.

Essentially, answer this question in the form of an essay or creative work: How do scientific discoveries, technological advances, and society pressures drive human change? Here is your opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the course's subject-matter, your ability to perform in-depth research on material beyond what we assigned in the syllabus, and your skill at synthesizing interesting insights from that research.

You must include an annotated bibliography (a list of references with brief notes) at the end of your document, especially if it is a creative work. An annotated bibliography is a set of references that provide a summary of your research. List your sources alphabetically and include a brief summary or annotation of each document you list as a reference. Format your bibliography as appropriate for your field of study (MLA for Humanities, Chicago for most other fields, and so forth; here's a good list of style guides). Use both fiction and nonfiction sources. Turn in this paper via Blackboard.

Grad students: In addition to the basics of writing an insightful paper, we expect you to demonstrate mastery of the form. You also have an Option C: Course Outline, Lesson Plan, or Study Guide. Contact McKitterick for details.

References, annotated bibliographies, and endnote pages do not count toward the minimum or maximum.

 Option A: Traditional Research Paper

Most students opt for this option. Research papers are graded on the quality and diversity of research (both fictional and non-fictional), the writing (including grammar and spelling), and the strength of the topic and argument. What we 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: Show us how these readings have changed your perspective on the world. This is not something that you can successfully complete at the last minute. The research paper should represent a semester-long investigation of topics that interest you. If you wish to use readings from the assigned readings that we discussed in class, we expect you to also have something new to say that we didn't already discuss.

 Option B: Creative Work

A creative work (story, series of poems, play, short film, collection of artworks, website, creative nonfiction, and so forth) must dramatize how the ideas and themes posed in your work could affect believable, interesting characters living in a convincing, fully realized world in addition to revealing substantial understanding of how science, technology, and society affect us as human beings. For the purposes of this course, your annotated bibliography (normally not included in creative work) is particularly important if you pursue this option, because you don't want to force information into a story ("As you know, Jim, the hyperdrive generator operates in five dimensions..."), and we want to see the diversity of readings that helped you develop your work (both fictional and non-fictional). Show us your research with a good annotated bibliography, demonstrate your understanding of science fiction and the kinds of topics we discussed this semester, and make your creative work stand on its own.

To be crystal-clear in defining how your creative work displays your understanding of science, technology, society, SF literature, and your response to the relationship between these things, please also include an "artist's statement," as it very much helps in evaluating creative work. Write this either as an appendix to your document (but don't count this toward your word-count) or paste it into the Submission text box of the Blackboard assignment.

Be aware that this option is more challenging - especially if you haven't taken formal creative-writing courses - because we expect the same level of research as in the traditional paper plus it needs to be interesting and entertaining while reflecting insights into how science, technology, and society shifts affect us as human beings. Click here for some useful writing resources.


To ensure good progress on the topic, you must meet the following deadlines:

  • Monday, April 14: Submit an abstract, outline, and a preliminary background-reading list to the course coordinators for approval. Turn this in via Blackboard under the appropriate assignment.
  • Tuesday, May 13: The completed final project is due via Blackboard by 5:00pm (before class) on this day. If you've created a website, posted your short film to the internet, or otherwise cannot upload the project directly, just provide a link (website URL) to the project in the Submission section of the Blackboard assignment.

You may turn in your project early - and get bonus points for doing so - as such:

  • Week of April 29: +6 points.
  • Week of May 6: +4 points.

 Group Presentation

Two of the last three weeks of the course are reserved for student oral or A/V presentations. You form a group of students, usually 3-5, and present for a total of about 5 minutes per student; 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-minute film you created, bring discussion prompts for afterward. Your group chooses a topic related to the course theme and makes a presentation to the class. You can select a topic we're covering or something that's not covered but related to the overall course theme: How does science, technology, and cultural change affect us or humankind as a whole? How can literature and other media dramatize, humanize, and prepare us for change?

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 how our world and humankind is changing and is changed by scientific understanding, societal pressures, and technological advancement.

Every group member contributes an equal level of participation overall, including preparation and presentation (you may decide if one member is more script-writer than actor, for example, as long as everyone's work is balanced - just let us know how you divided the work). You may divide your total number of minutes among the presenters however you see fit; let us know how each participated in the project if you're not dividing your live-presentation time equally. A nicely edited film can be a little shorter than the "5 minutes per person" metric, as that takes more work than simpler shoot-and-cut films: Keep in mind that we'll want you to give a live Q&A after you show the film in class, so you'll likely use more time than you think! If someone is acting, we'll see them; not so much for writers, directors, editors, and so forth. We'll let you be the judge of "equitable contribution." If you have any doubts, get your topic and form of presentation approved by the course coordinators at least a week prior to the presentation, preferably well beforehand. 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 their individual contribution.

If you can, please turn this in via Blackboard or post a link to where it lives online. At least half of how we score this project comes from experiencing your live presentation.


Your course grade is based upon these factors, in these approximate percentages:

  • Class participation = 25%
    (includes attendance, participation in all the discussions, and leading at least one discussion with a partner)
  • Weekly papers = 15%
  • Mid-term research paper = 15%
  • Oral presentation = 15%
  • Final project = 30%

Graduate students: We have additional expectations for you - see my comments directed to you throughout this document!

 Extra Credit

Occasionally, we will offer opportunities for you to earn extra credit. We will add these to Blackboard as events become available - and let us know if you've heard about an upcoming opportunity! A good place to look for upcoming talks is the KU Calendar. No one is required to attend these events, so any points you get for reporting on your attendance are added to your overall score. You have the opportunity to earn extra credit just for attending and reporting on these events!


"Asking the Next Question: Science Fiction and the Rational Imagination"

Gary K. Wolfe presents the newest Bold Aspirations talk at KU. Wolfe has been a contributing editor and reviewer for Locus magazine since 1991. He is a Professor of Humanities at Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he has also served as Dean of University College and Dean of Graduate Studies.

Wolfe's recent work includes Evaporating Genres: Essays on Fantastic Literature and Sightings: Reviews 2002-2006, plus earlier studies The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction (won the Eaton Award); David Lindsay; Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy; Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever (with Ellen R. Weil); Soundings: Reviews 1992-1996 (won the British Science Fiction Award, Hugo nominee); Bearings: Reviews 1997-2001 (Hugo nominee). Wolfe received the Science Fiction Research Association's Pilgrim Award, International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts' Distinguished Scholarship Award, and the World Fantasy Award for criticism and reviews. He edited Up the Bright River (2011), the first posthumous collection of Philip José Farmer stories; and American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s (Library of America, 2012); he co-edited with Jonathan Strahan The Best of Joe Haldeman (Subterranean Press, 2013). Wolfe serves on the editorial boards of Science Fiction Studies and The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, and has served as manuscript reviewer for Oxford, Indiana, Illinois, and Wesleyan University Presses.

Since 2010, Wolfe and Australian editor Jonathan Strahan have also hosted the weekly Coode Street Podcast on science fiction, which has been nominated for four different awards in 2011 and the Hugo Awards in 2012 and 2013.

The title of Wolfe's talk borrows from Theodore Sturgeon's motto, "Ask the next question," which he referred to when signing his name with a Q and an arrow running through it, and described as: "...the symbol of everything humanity has ever created, and is the reason it has been created" (more on that here). A reception in the Spooner Hall Commons immediately follows Wolfe's talk, from 5:00pm - 6:00pm. Wolfe is a dynamic and fascinating speaker - don't miss this event!

Monday, March 10, 4:00pm - 5:00pm

Spooner Hall Commons
University of Kansas
Lawrence, KS


This could well be the greatest show in the history of ever, and the relevant-est series possible for this course: Starting on Monday, March 9, at 8:00pm, Neil deGrasse Tyson brings back Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Journey with a new show:Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Check out the promo video:

Here's a direct link to the video:

Here are some recent events, to give you an idea of other appropriate events you can attend and write up reports on for extra credit. Just let us know and we'll make an extra slot for your event:

"The Coming War on General Purpose Computing: every single political issue will end up rehashing the stupid Internet copyright fight"
Cory Doctorow
Richard W. Gunn Memorial Lecture
Go here for the press release

"Data & Democracy: Our Technology, Our Future"
James Moor, Professor of Daniel P. Stone Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Dartmouth College
Perry Alexander, KU Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Details: The Commons will host a debate, moderated by Leonard Krishtalka, about the data deluge, our growing reliance on silicon and algorithms, and the outsourcing of decision-making to artificial "thinking machines." Dartmouth Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy James Moor, and KU Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Perry Alexander will speak from opposing positions. Moor will speak about human relationship and reliance on technology from a conditional dystopian perspective, and Alexander will deliver the Utopian counterpoint. Audience participation is highly encouraged, as the second portion of the event will rely upon questions from the public.

Science on Tap: "Global Shift: a Challenging Twist on Climate Change"
Free State Brewery

"Down to Earth" pre-release event for the Aftermaths anthology
Readings from several area authors who have stories in the book, including James Gunn and yours truly (Chris McKitterick)
Click to see the event poster, here

"Neutrinos, Time, Einstein, and Paradox"
Dr. Thomas Weiler of Vanderbilt University
Physics is sometimes summarized as the study of space and time, mass and energy. Arguably, and surprisingly to many, time is the least understood of these concepts. In September of 2011, a collaboration of 120 international PhD physicists claimed to measure the speed of the neutrino as exceeding the speed of light. If this experiment is reproduced by other experiments, then even the concept of "cause" occurring in time before its "effect" becomes untenable. For example, according to Einstein's relativity, a moving rocket could receive the original neutrino signal, and send another in reply, with the second neutrino arriving at the source of the original BEFORE the original neutrino was emitted. Is Einstein's theory incomplete? Are neutrinos this weird? Is our concept of time meaningful? Or is this experimental result just wrong? All this and more to be presented and discussed in just 55 minutes!

John Tibbetts Celebrates the 100th Birthday Of Literary Icons
Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars

Nöel Sturgeon
KU Gunn Lecture:
"Avatar and Activism: Ecological Indians, Disabling Militarism, and Science Fiction Imaginaries"
This event is free and open to the public.

Cory Doctorow
Kansas Library Association conference talk:
"Copyrights and Human Rights"

History Professor Jeff Moran, author of the forthcoming American Genesis: Antievolution Controversies from Scopes to Intelligent Design
"The Antievolution Controversies and American Culture"
This event is free and open to the public.

Also consider exhibits at campus museums that are relevant to the course. We offer extra credit to students who explore these exhibits and submit a response paper. (These papers add to your total score in the class, often making up for missed papers or low scores.) You are expected to commit an hour or more with an exhibit, plus whatever time it takes to write up the one-page response paper. Maximum point value per exhibit is equivalent to a regular response paper. Recent exhibits have included:

  • At the Spencer Art Museum, visit "Climate Change at the Poles" (North and South balconies) and the Terry Evans photography exhibit "A Greenland Glacier" (go through the Asian art room on the main floor to get to the photos).
  • At the Natural History Museum, visit the "Explore Evolution" exhibit on the 5th floor.
  • And more! If you have a suggestion, let us know and we'll share it with the class. There's no limit to how many events you can attend and report on for extra credit!

Your response paper should discuss the event or exhibit similarly to how you discuss the weekly readings and is scored the same. We encourage you to bring your thoughts to the relevant in-class discussions. Turn in these extra credit papers within a week of the event.

If you have any questions, you can either ask us in class or send an email. 

More Good Stuff

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.

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

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

Love science fiction and want to stay in touch with other like-minded folks? Join the Lawrence Science Fiction Club! Info, discussions, and meeting times at our Facebook page.

Here's a cool event, right after finals:

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

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

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

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

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