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Intensive Institute on Science Fiction Literature:
The Science Fiction Short Story

Course Goals
Diversity and Disability
   Contact Information
   Office Hours

Daily Schedule

Required Books
Course Requirements
Class Periods
   Attendance and Class Participation
   Attendance and Class Participation Scoring
   Daily Response Papers
      Daily Paper Scoring
   Final Project
      Option A: Traditional Research Paper
      Option B: Course Outline, Lesson Plan, or Study Guide
      Option C: Creative Work
      Final Project Deadline
Final Grading
Recommended Works

Course Goals and Overview

"The most powerful works of SF don't describe the future - they change it." - Annalee Newitz, io9. Become fluent in SF by studying some of the most-influential short stories that shaped the genre and the world we inhabit today - and tomorrow.

Gain an understanding of contemporary and future science fiction by studying the history of the genre and many of the great works that started important conversations about what it means to be human in a changing world. After reading a diversity of short SF and excerpts from longer pieces, we discuss how the genre got to be what it is today by examining the stories and their place in the evolution of SF, from the earliest prototypical examples through more recent work. Demonstrate your understanding of the genre by writing daily reading responses and a substantial final project.

Award-winning SF author and scholar Chris McKitterick leads the course.

Satisfies KU Core Goal 6, "Integration and Creativity," and serves as a capstone course. Available to undergraduate and graduate students. graduate students can take up to two 600-level courses for credit. Ask your advisor for details about how the various ways to enroll best fit your needs.

Diversity and Disability

Everyone enjoys equal access to our offerings, and we actively encourage students and scholars from diverse backgrounds to study with us. All courses are also available to be taken not-for-credit for professionalization purposes by community members (if space is available). Click here to see our statement on diversity and inclusivity.

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


In non-pandemic years, we usually bring in guest scholar-instructors, experts in the field with association with the Center. In addition, Founding Director James Gunn hopes to join us on occasion, and Director Chris McKitterick is available throughout the Institute for consultation and informal get-togethers.

Chris at the 2009 Campbell Conference.

McKitterick is a science-fiction author and scholar, Director of the Ad Astra Institute for Science Fiction and the Speculative Imagination, and teaches SF and creative writing at KU. He has been a professional writer for more than 20 years, an editor for nearly as long, managed technical writers and editors, 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). His newest short fiction, "Ashes of Exploding Suns, Monuments to Dust," was on the Tangent Recommended Reading List and won the AnLab Award. Feel free to mine his experience for tips and advice about writing, editing, and the SF industry. His debut novel, Transcendence, is now in its second edition. He recently finished a far-future novel, Empire Ship, and has several other projects on the burners, including The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella.

Read more about McKitterick here, or check out his personal website here.

Contact Information

If you have questions, need assistance, or just want to chat about SF, drop McKitterick an email any time:

Other contact info:
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
SFWA Speaker's Bureau
Tumblr (narrow it down by going to my Science Fiction tags; writers, check out my various Writing Tips tags)

Office Hours

Daily in meeting area after discussions, often beforehand at the Union restaurant (everyone is invited to join and chat!), and in the evenings (we often have dinner downtown, watch and discuss SF movies in the Scholarship Hall, and so forth). Other days and times by appointment.

Meeting Space

Class discussion begins at 1:00pm on Monday in a lounge of our scholarship hall (stay tuned for details). Several of us will meet for lunch from noon to 12:45pm or so just up the hill in the Union cafeteria, where you also might have the opportunity to chat with James Gunn. We'll have someone at the front doors to let in those not staying in the Hall, so be sure to arrive between 12:45pm and 12:50pm - no later! - so we can get you through the doors. Please do not be tardy, as this interrupts the discussion.

The Campbell Conference used to meet in the Kansas Union, just a couple of blocks from our meeting space.

 Reading and Discussion Schedule

You will find this handy Readings Guide very useful in finding the stories in our various volumes (for reference only - see the syllabus, below, for which stories we read, when). Always read the short essays that introduce each story, as well as the book introductions whenever we start a new volume.

Each day, one or two students help lead discussion, bringing enough good questions to keep a lively discussion going for the class period; aim for at least three questions and discussion prompts per story. (Your instructor also brings lots of his own prompts and notes, so you're not alone.) Discussants should also seek relevant information about the authors, how the stories influenced the science fiction that was to follow. You must lead the daily discussion at least once alone or twice with a partner, but may serve more often. This is a major part of your grade and an important learning opportunity.

Graduate students: In preparation for each session, find, read, and respond to additional short (or long, if you choose) work that represents the week's topic, time period, author, or literary movement. Include your response to this work as part of your regular response paper. If you find it online, provide a link in your response paper. Otherwise, include bibliographic information. Also please share these recommendations for your classmates via the Blackboard discussion forum.

Have you accepted the invitation to join our class Google Group? If not, or if you're using a different email than what you registered with KU, please request to join the Google Group called, [this year's] Science Fiction Short Story Institute."

Thursday - Sunday before class (not required - extra credit)

Participants were strongly encouraged to register for and attend the Campbell Conference. There you can meet many authors and editors (including the winners of the Campbell Award, Sturgeon Award, and Lifeboat to the Stars Award), get books signed, and participate in a unique scholarly event in the field. Attendees of the Conference get up to 10 bonus points for attending and writing up a thoughtful response to the event.

Day 1:
 Changing Attitudes

Syllabus last updated February 28, 2022.

Download a .pdf of the readings here, or a .doc file here.

Road to SF Volume

Readings for Class Discussion (and publication dates).

Also read all of Gunn's story introductions.



"What is science fiction?"

The definitions of SF on the Wikipedia page.

Here is a set of definitions (doc file) that I quote from throughout the course.

James Gunn's essay, "The Worldview of Science Fiction." (Gunn founded the Center.)

Check out Ward Shelly's excellent "History of Science Fiction" illustration.



vol 1

Volume 1 introduction

James Gunn

vol 1

excerpt from Frankenstein (1818 anonymous; 1823 Shelley)

Mary Shelley

vol 1

"Rappaccini's Daughter" (1844)

Nathaniel Hawthorne

vol 1

"The Diamond Lens" (1858)

Fitz-James O'Brien

vol 3

"The Cold Equations" (1954)

Tom Godwin

vol 3

"The Engine at Heartspring's Center" (1974)

Roger Zelazny

vol 1

"The Star" (1897)

H.G. Wells

vol 2

"The Machine Stops" (1909)

E.M. Forster

vol 2

"Twilight" (1934)

John W. Campbell

Introductions, course and syllabus overview, discussion leaders sign-up.

McKitterick leads the discussion for this first week, so bring your thoughts, questions, and maybe even your reading response to help guide your thoughts. 

Prepare to discuss your take on "What is SF?"

Your reading response paper for this session is about the stories and other readings above, plus your own definition of science fiction. Always complete these before class.

Day 2:
 Far Travels and Proto-SF

vol 1

excerpt from A True Story (165 - 170 AD)

Lucian of Samosata

vol 1

excerpt from The Voyages and Travels of Sir John Mandeville (1357-1380)


vol 1

"Somnium or Lunar Astronomy" (1610, published 1640)

Johannes Kepler

vol 1

excerpt from The Journey to the World Underground (1741)

Ludvig Holberg

vol 1

"Mellonta Tauta" (1849)

Edgar Allan Poe

vol 1

excerpt from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870)

Jules Verne

vol 1

excerpt from Around the Moon (1870)

Jules Verne

vol 1

excerpt from Looking Backward (1887)

Edward Bellamy

vol 1

"With the Night Mail" (1905)

Rudyard Kipling

vol 1

excerpt from Utopia (1516)

Thomas More

vol 1

excerpt from The City of the Sun (1623)

Tommaso Campanella

vol 1

excerpt from The New Atlantis (1627)

Sir Francis Bacon

Want to read more proto-SF? Check out this page about some of the earliest speculative-fiction literature.

"Kepler's Somnium: Science Fiction and the Renaissance Scientist," by Gale E. Christianson (in Science Fiction Studies online).

"KEPLER'S SOMNIUM," by Andrew Boyd (in Engines of Our Ingenuity online).

Day 3:
 Natural Mysteries

vol 2

Volume 2 introduction

James Gunn

vol 1

excerpt from A Voyage to the Moon (1657; Gutenberg edition)

Cyrano de Bergerac

vol 1

excerpt from A Voyage to Laputa (from Gulliver's Travels, 1726)

Jonathan Swift

vol 1

"Micromegas" (1752)

Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire

vol 2

"The Revolt of the Pedestrians" (1928)

David H. Keller, M.D.

vol 2

excerpt from Brave New World (1932)

Aldous Huxley

vol 1

"The Damned Thing" (1898)

Ambrose Bierce

vol 2

"The Moon Pool" (1918 [in 2002 RtSF edition only; link is full book version])

A. Merritt

vol 2

"The Red One" (1918)

Jack London

vol 2

"Dagon" (1919)

H.P. Lovecraft

Day 4:
 The Pulp Era and Mad Science

vol 1

excerpt from She (1887)

H. Rider Haggard

vol 2

From Under the Moons of Mars  (aka A Princess of Mars, 1912)

Edgar Rice Burroughs

vol 2

"A Martian Odyssey" (1934)

Stanley G. Weinbaum

vol 2

"Proxima Centauri" (1935)

Murray Leinster

vol 2

"Black Destroyer" (1939)

A.E. van Vogt

vol 2

"The New Accelerator" (1901)

H.G. Wells

vol 2

"The Tissue-Culture King" (1927)

Julian Huxley

vol 2

"With Folded Hands" (1947)

Jack Williamson

vol 3

"Brooklyn Project" (1948)

William Tenn (Philip Klass)

Day 5:
 The Golden Age and SF Adventure

vol 3

Volume 3 introduction

James Gunn

vol 2

excerpt from Last and First Men (1930)

Olaf Stapledon

vol 2

"What's It Like Out There?" (1952)

Edmond Hamilton

vol 2

"The Faithful" (1938)

Lester del Rey

vol 2

"Requiem" (1939)

Robert A. Heinlein

vol 2

"Hyperpilosity" (1938)

L. Sprague de Camp

vol 2

"Nightfall" (1941)

Isaac Asimov

vol 3

"Reason" (1941)

Isaac Asimov

vol 3

"Critical Factor" (1953)

Hal Clement

Day 6:
 The Idea Is the Thing

We'll start with an round-robin reading of " Sail On! Sail On!" led by your instructor.


"The Science Fiction Sentence"

"The Protocols of Science Fiction"

Also check out C.P. Snow's "The Two Cultures" talk (pdf).


vol 3

"Sail On! Sail On!" (1952) For our live-reading convenience, here's a pdf of the story online.

We will do a close reading of this story to discuss the protocols of SF: How do we read SF differently than other literature? What is the "science fiction sentence"? How do "the two cultures" read differently?

Philip Jose Farmer

vol 3

"All You Zombies" (1959) Check out this timeline of the story.

Robert A. Heinlein

vol 3

"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" (1966)

Philip K. Dick

vol 3

"Sundance" (1969)

Robert Silverberg

Day 7:
 The Future of Humankind and the New Wave of SF

vol 3

"Desertion" (1944)

Clifford D. Simak

vol 3

"The Game of Rat and Dragon" (1955)

Cordwainer Smith

vol 3

"Who Can Replace a Man?" (1958)

Brian W. Aldiss

vol 3

"Dolphin's Way" (1964)

Gordon R. Dickson

vol 3

"Day Million" (1966 [hear Pohl reading this piece here])

Frederik Pohl

vol 3

"Tricentennial" (1976)

Joe Haldeman

vol 3

"The Million-Year Picnic" (1946)

Ray Bradbury

vol 3

"Thunder and Roses" (1947)

Theodore Sturgeon

vol 3

"That Only a Mother" (1948)

Judith Merril

vol 3

"The Terminal Beach" (1964)

J. G. Ballard

vol 3

"The Big Flash" (1969)

Norman Spinrad

Day 8:
 The Utopian Impulse, Strange Phenomenon, and Narrative Necessity

vol 3

"Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (1943)

Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore)

vol 3

"The Sentinel" (1951)

Arthur C. Clarke

vol 3

"Kyrie" (1968)

Poul Anderson

vol 4

"Schrödinger's Kitten" (1988)

George Alec Effinger

vol 3

"Coming Attraction" (1950)

Fritz Leiber

vol 3

"Harrison Bergeron" (1961)

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

vol 3

"Slow Tuesday Night" (1965)

R. A. Lafferty

vol 3

"Aye, and Gomorrah" (1967)

Samuel R. Delany

vol 3

"The Jigsaw Man" (1967)

Larry Niven

vol 3

excerpt from Stand on Zanzibar (1968)

John Brunner

Day 9:
 Individual Visions

vol 4

Volume 4 introduction

James Gunn

vol 3

"Fondly Fahrenheit" (1954)

Alfred Bester

vol 3

"Pilgrimage to Earth" (1956)

Robert Sheckley

vol 3

"The Streets of Ashkelon" (1962)

Harry Harrison

vol 3

"I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" (1967)

Harlan Ellison

vol 3

"Masks" (1968)

Damon Knight

vol 3

excerpt from The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

Ursula K. Le Guin

vol 3

"When It Changed" (1972)

Joanna Russ

vol 4

"The heat death of the Universe" (1967)

Pamela Zoline

vol 4

"Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand" (1973)

Vonda N. McIntyre

vol 4

"Abominable" (1980)

Carol Emshwiller

Day 10:
 Ecology, Change, and the Environment

vol 4

"Born of Man and Woman" (1978)

Richard Matheson

vol 4

"Common Time" (1953)

James Blish

vol 4

"Nobody Bothers Gus" (1968)

Algis Budrys (McKitterick's first literary agent)

vol 4

"The Dance of the Changer and the Three" (1968)

Terry Carr

vol 4

"The Last Flight of Dr. Ain" (1974)

James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon)

vol 4

"View from a Height" (1979)

Joan D. Vinge

vol 4

"Flowers for Algernon" (1959)

Daniel Keyes

vol 4

excerpt from Dune (1965)

Frank Herbert

vol 4

"The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories" (1970)

Gene Wolfe

vol 4

"Gather Blue Roses" (1971)

Pamela Sargent

Day 11:
 The Literary Touch

vol 4

"The Library of Babel" (1941)

Jorge Luis Borges

vol 4

"With a Finger in My I" (1972)

David Gerrold

vol 4

"Rogue Tomato" (1975)

Michael Bishop

vol 4

"The Word Sweep" (1979)

George Zebrowski

vol 4

"The Luckiest Man in Denv" (1952)

C.M. Kornbluth

vol 4

"Where No Sun Shines" (1970)

Gardner Dozois

vol 4

"Angouleme" (1971)

Thomas M. Disch

vol 4

"Uncoupling" (1975)

Barry Malzberg

vol 4

"This Tower of Ashes" (1976)

George R.R. Martin

Day 12:
 Changing Voices

vol 4

"My Boy Friend's Name is Jello" (1954)

Avram Davidson

vol 4

"The First Sally (A), or Trurl's Electronic Bard" (1974, part of The Cyberiad)

Stanislaw Lem

vol 4

"The World Science Fiction Convention of 2080" (1980)

Ian Watson

vol 4

"The Moon Moth" (1961)

Jack Vance

vol 4

"Light of Other Days" (1966)

Bob Shaw

vol 4

"The Planners" (1968)

Kate Wilhelm

vol 4

"Air Raid"  (1977)

John Varley

vol 4

"Particle Theory" (1977)

Edward Bryant

vol 4

"Exposures" (1981)

Gregory Benford


Contemporary story -
Cory Doctorow's Sturgeon-Award winning "The Man Who Sold the Moon"
(Also see other suggested readings we may send to the group.)

Bonus -
 The Conversation Continues:
 Contemporary SF and the Shape of Things to Come

TBA - submit recommendations for contemporary SF (since 2000)

"The Man Who Sold the Moon" (2015)

  Sturgeon Award winner; response to Heinlein's story. From Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future

Cory Doctorow

"Herd Immunity" (2014)

  This story was a finalist for the Sturgeon Award, and the author won the British Fantasy Award and National Book Award.  

Tananarive Due 

"The City Born Great" (2016)

  Hugo Award nominee. 

N.K. Jemisin

"Folding Beijing" (2015)

  Won the 2016 Hugo Award - she's the first Chinese author to win this award. Finalist for the Sturgeon Award

Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu)

"Names for Water" (2010) - see TBA for text, StarShipSofa for podcast.

  Kij is a KU creative-writing professor and the Institute's Associate Director, and the winner of numerous spec-fic awards. Meet the author: Kij will join us today! 

Kij Johnson

"Paradox" (2017)

(Or "Cat Pictures Please" [2015] - won the Hugo Award.) 

Naomi Kritzer

"The Night Market" (2016)

  Onwualu grew up in Abuja, Nigeria, and now lives in Toronto. She attended the Gunn Center summer workshops and Clarion West, edits and co-founded Omenana (a magazine of African speculative fiction), and is lead spokesperson for the African Speculative Fiction Society.  

Chinelo Onwualu 

"Jagannath" (2012) - ask for text, Drabblecast for podcast.

  From the award-winning collection of the same name

Karin Tidbeck

"Utopia, LOL?" (2017) 

Jamie Wahls

What comes next for science fiction? More bonus material (not stories, but great materials for discussion):

  "Sci-fi stories that imagine a future Africa" (2017), Nnedi Okorafor's TED Talk on YouTube (here it is on TED). "My science fiction has different ancestors - African ones," she says. Between excerpts from Binti and Lagoon, Okorafor discusses the inspiration and roots of her work, and how she opens strange doors through Afrofuturist writing.

  Science Fiction Studies dedicated a special issue to the topic (seven articles here). Good piece about Afrofuturism in ThinkProgress.

  Another region that's seeing huge growth in speculative-fiction culture is China. Check out the Future Affairs Administration, a Beijing-based group that operates very much as the Futurians did in 1930s US!

  James Gunn's commentary on "The Future of Science Fiction."

  Will SF return to its roots? Read this short article on the return of Space Opera.

  ...or will it be something completely different, like "Solarpunk" (great discussion with resources about Solarpunk here)? If that sounds interesting, check out the resources on Solarpunk: A Reference Guide (by the people who run the Solarpunks Tumblr). For an example, check out the Hieroglyph project, at Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination.

  Can science fiction be defined? Read the BBC's take.

  Read "Not a Manifesto," Charles Stross' explanation of why he's moving away from writing science fiction - this from the man who coined the term "rapture of the nerds" and is at least partly responsible for launching the posthuman-SF subgenre.


Want even more short SF? Check out the finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short SF of the year. This juried award really does represent the best short SF, even if your favorite might one of the other finalists rather than the winner.

Also check out the Hugo Awards, given each year by the attendees of the World SF Convention. They give awards for many categories.

And the Nebula Awards, given each year by the Science Fiction Writers of America (the professional organization). Also many categories.

Same for the Locus Awards (this link goes to their all-awards news page), whose nominations and votes come from the serious readers of that magazine. 


These materials are all bonus - you recommend 'em (or we'll pick), and your response (beyond your thoughts on the current state and future shape of SF) is pure bonus. Level Up bonus points to those who rec great, influential, and discussion-worthy stories, especially from under-represented groups.

More to come... 


The readings all come from James Gunn's wonderful The Road to Science Fiction series of anthologies. The students assigned as discussants for the day lead (not monopolize) the discussion. Everyone is required to act as discussant at least twice during the courses. If you have special needs and cannot perform this task, let me know early.

Discussants perform additional research prior to class (further readings, identifying possible multimedia content, and so forth) and come prepared with three or more questions per reading in order to stimulate discussion about the day's topics and authors beyond the readings and share what you learn with the rest of the class, as well. I expect all students to participate in discussions, but also request that you avoid talking too much or talking over others. Be civil: These are discussions about ideas, not arguments or lectures!

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

 Required Books

We will read most of the stories in the first four volumes of The Road to Science Fiction, edited by James Gunn. The titles below contain links to online booksellers like Amazon and Powell's; click these links to find the books for sale online:

 Recommended Books

For further reading, Gunn also edited two more volumes (not required reading):

To get a full feel of the complete works from which we read a number of excerpts, be sure to look them up - most are in the public domain.

Want more great SF stories? Check out the finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short SF of the year. Here's a good list of SF magazines. Want lots of free SF ebooks and e-zines? Check out Project Gutenberg's growing SF collection.

Want to read books, instead? See 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. You can find tons more great SF novels in the Basic Science Fiction Library. Also recommended are the complete works from which we read a number of excerpts.

The Center holds a few copies of many of these books, so if you are local to Lawrence or are in town for our other summer programs, check with us to see if we can lend you a copy. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and our library is supplied by previous students donating copies after completing their course.

More to come! Check back later....

 Course Requirements

To successfully complete the 2020 (online-only) course and get out of it all you can, you are required to:

 Class Periods

Each day we gather in one of the lounges of our scholarship hall to discuss a variety of stories, their authors, the science fiction genre, and the historical context in which they appeared. Occasionally, we might have guest speakers.

Participants are also welcome to lunch from noon - 12:45pm with Chris McKitterick, often James Gunn (SFWA Grant Master who first developed the course and CSSF Founding Director), and often Kij Johnson (multiple award-winning author and CSSF Associate Director), as well as dine out in the evenings in lovely downtown Lawrence, attend movies in the theater or gather informally for movies in the scholarship hall, engage in discussions, and so forth.

Class periods revolve largely around discussion of the readings, with some lecture. We meet every day for twelve consecutive days, including the Saturday and Sunday between those two weeks, and plan to be in Lawrence for the Campbell Conference before class begins to get a glimpse inside SF today.

Participants were strongly encouraged to register for and attend the Campbell Conference, where you could meet many authors and editors (including the winners of the Campbell Award and Sturgeon Award), get books signed, and participate in a unique scholarly event in the field. Attendees of the Conference get up to 10 bonus points for attending and writing up a response to the event! Institute participants may register for the Conference at no cost - note that you are an Institute student in your registration form (if you want dinner during the Awards ceremony on Friday night, you must still pay for your meal).


After an introduction to the topic by your instructor, 1-2 students assigned as discussants for each day lead (not monopolize) the discussions. Everyone is required to act as discussant at least once (alone) or twice (with a partner) during the 12 days we meet, and you can get bonus points for leading the discussion more times if we're short of volunteers. If you have special needs and cannot perform this task, let me know early. I will assign discussants on this page (in the daily readings, above), on a first-requested, first-granted basis, so if you have favorite works whose discussions you want to lead, let me know ASAP! We'll have a "Discussants request" email in late May or early June.

Discussants perform additional research prior to class (further readings on the genre movements at hand, the day's authors, and so forth) and come prepared with questions and discussion prompts: prep at least a few questions per story, and aim for at least a dozen questions per day, or enough to stimulate 2-3 hours of discussion about the readings and the day's topic.

We expect all students to participate in discussions, but also request that you avoid talking too much or talking over others. Be civil: These are discussions about ideas, not arguments!

Your instructor opens each day with some background on science fiction, especially the topics and genre movements relevant to the day's discussions, and some information about the authors. 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: We expect you to demonstrate solid pedagogical theory! Act as if you're teaching this course for a day.

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, though we will discuss those; we expect you to exercise your critical-reading skills. That is, don't just read the fiction for pleasure, don't just accept the scholarship or introductions as canon, and don't feel the need to agree with your classmates' ideas - no one scholar can tell you the One True History of Science Fiction. By the end of this course you should possess expertise of your own in the topic. In the discussions, we want to witness your growing understanding of the genre based on the required readings, your outside readings, and your own experience with SF over the years. 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 negatively affect your overall grade too much. If appropriate, we can mitigate this loss so your attendance percentage remains unaffected. Otherwise, here is how we score attendance and participation:

Because we only meet for 12 consecutive days, each unexcused absence drops your final course grade by a third; that is, missing a day 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 table illustrates this relationship.

Graduate students and teachers: I expect you to participate every day, providing insightful comments and questions while encouraging those less inclined to participate - but not to dominate the discussions. 

Attendance and Class Participation Scoring

For those taking the course for credit, here is how we grade attendance and participation:

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, avoid distractions such as checking email, Facebook, and so forth. Obviously, turn off your phone ring/buzz and put it away. We know it's sometimes a challenge to focus during a long discussion, but many 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. Monkeying around online also interrupts your neighbors' attention. Feel free to take notes on your computer or portable device if you choose, just stay away from distractions. It's difficult to remain engaged in discussions if your mind is elsewhere, and this 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 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. 


For those taking the course for credit, much of your grade depends on the short response papers you write on each story covered in the daily discussions, plus the longer final project. If you use non-standard software to create your projects, be sure to save them in standard format (for example, most computers can read .doc, .html, .rtf, and .pdf formats). (If taking for professionalization and not for credit, you are not required to write papers.)

Want to enhance your literary-criticism chops by incorporating traditional (or novel) lit-crit approaches into your papers? Check out this overview page about "Literary-Criticism Approaches to Studying Science Fiction."

 Daily Response Papers

Prior to each class, write a short reading-response paper and turn it in to your instructor (via Blackboard for KU students). This short (300-500 words for undergrads, 400-1000 words for graduate students) paper is a brief but thoughtful response to all readings for that day. Insightfulness and clarity are important. Along with participation in the discussion, these papers are scored as an important measure of your engagement with the day's topics. Participants taking the course not-for-credit are not expected to turn in daily responses, though you may if you wish - let me know in advance so I can add you to our mailing list.

Regarding format, I find it simplest when people either use bullets, 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; either way 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 SF's evolution.

Tip: Especially in years when we meet for discussion, include questions to pose to the other participants as well as some points to stimulate discussion, even if you are not leading the week's discussion. I suggest printing out your paper and especially your questions and bringing them to class to help formulate ideas during discussion. (Also be sure to turn them in before class.)

Graduate students and teachers: As you might imagine, I expect more from your papers. They should reflect your mastery of the form as well as provide insights worthy of your added experience and education.

Daily Paper Scoring

Here is how I score the daily papers, based on 0-4 points each:
    0 - no paper.
    1 - paper turned in, but does not convince me that you did all the reading.
    2 - paper convinces me that you did some of the reading.
    3 - paper either has interesting insights on most of the readings or convinces me that you did all the reading.
    4 - paper convinces me that you did all the reading and provides interesting insights.

Response papers are due before the relevant class discussion begins. Those turned in after we meet to discuss those stories are considered late and are marked down -1 point if turned in on the evening of the discussion, -2 points (half off) if turned in later. The last day to turn in any paper is (tba). Turn them in on time! 

 Final Project

The final project can be either a traditional essay, a set of teaching materials, or a creative work. Your project explores a topic in science fiction, preferably something not listed in the syllabus or discussed in class - though you may pursue those if you select an angle we didn't already cover or discuss. Projects must be at least 2000 words for undergraduates (max of max of 7500 words), 3000 words for graduate students (max of 10,000 words). Non-text-based projects must clearly demonstrate a similar level of effort.

This project is due by (tba).

At the very least, answer this question:

How does the work(s) 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:

You must include an alphabetized bibliography with a traditional paper or lesson plan, or an annotated bibliography at the end of your document if it is a creative work. 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).

References, bibliographies, artist's statements, and endnote pages do not count toward your word-count.

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

Participants taking the course not-for-credit are not expected to turn in a final project, though you may if you wish.

 Option A: Traditional Paper

Formal papers are graded on the quality and diversity of research (both fictional and non-fictional), the writing (including grammar and spelling), and the strength of the topic and argument. What I most want is for you to demonstrate what you've learned from the class readings, your outside readings, and class discussions, and how you express this synthesis: Demonstrate your understanding of science fiction, its development, and possibly where it might go from here.

This is not something that you can successfully complete at the last minute. This paper should represent a summer-long investigation of topics that interest you. If you wish to use stories from the assigned readings that we discussed in class, I expect you to have something new to say that we didn't already discuss. 

 Option B: Course Outline, Lesson Plan, or Study Guide

This option is especially for educators and those planning to teach. Choose from these three options or provide another option that fits your pedagogical approach:

All of these options make wonderful additions to! I encourage you to share this project with other teachers via this educational-outreach program.

 Option C: Creative Work

A creative work (story, series of poems, play, short film, website, creative nonfiction, and so forth) must dramatize how the changes posed in your work could affect believable, interesting characters living in a convincing, fully realized world in addition to revealing substantial understanding of the science fiction genre. For the purposes of this course, your annotated bibliography (normally not included in creative work) is particularly important if you pursue this option, because I want to see the diversity of readings that helped you develop your work (both fictional and non-fictional). Show me your research with a good annotated bibliography, demonstrate your understanding of science fiction, and make your creative work stand on its own.

To be crystal-clear in defining how your creative work displays your understanding of SF, its history, and your response to it, 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 don't count this toward your word-count) or (for KU students) paste it into the Submission text box of the Blackboard assignment slot.

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 other options plus a good story or other creative expression. Click here for some useful creative-writing resources

 Final Project Deadline

Your final project is due (tba - earlier is fine). If you've created a website, posted a short film to the internet, or otherwise cannot upload the project directly, just provide a link (website URL) to the project.

 Final Grading

Your course grade is based on these factors:

Your course grade is based upon these factors:

Graduate students and teachers: As you might imagine, I expect more from you. Your work must reflect your mastery of the paper form, provide insights worthy of your added experience and education, and reflect a broader understanding of the genre, critical approaches, and SF's place in literature and broader culture. See the comments directed to you throughout this document!

Recommended Works

Want to read more SF? You've come to the right place!

My lending library holds many books, magazines, and more, so if you are local to Lawrence or are in town for the summer, 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 our SF courses - 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? James Gunn's and my "A Basic Science Fiction Library" is a go-to internet resource for building reading lists. It's organized by author.

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 this site.

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

Stay tuned for more to come!

* "'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!

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

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

updated 6/28/2022