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"Writing in (& about) the Age of Artificial Intelligence"
Syllabus
Fall 2023

"Science into Fiction" Writing Workshop Series #3
syllabus complete - v.1.11, November 28

Fei-Fei Li at a white board full of equations, with the quote: If our era is the next Industrial Revolution, as many claim, AI is surely one of its driving forces.

Quick contents list

Workshop Goals & Overview

How to Apply

Cost

Scholarships

Instructor

Quick Schedule

-  Weekly Readings & Discussion Schedule  -

More Reading & Viewing Rec's

Weekly Response Notes

Discussion Sessions

Diversity, Inclusivity, & Commitment to Equity

Lawrence & Ad Astra

Related SF-Writing Workshops & Resources

Goals & Overview

  If our era is the next Industrial Revolution, as many claim, AI is surely one of its driving forces.
    - Fei-Fei Li

Artificial intelligence (AI) has played an important - even central - role in speculative literature for generations. It's already beginning to impact our daily lives, and will soon dominate every aspect of human experience. This workshop will not only help you develop, write, and revise a new short story, it provides the foundations of understanding what AI is, its current state of development, and where it might be headed.

To reach these goals, we'll read articles and watch media about the state of the art in AI and spec-fic writing, study fiction and film that dramatizes the future of AI, and maybe even experiment with chatbot writing tools. We'll watch talks by AI experts to help stimulate ideas, hold a weekend of story-development and brainstorming sessions, and draft a new story over the next six weeks. All during the story-drafting period, we'll hold weekly online discussions and writing-support groups, and stay in touch to share ideas, cool stuff to read and watch, and to offer support. After a week to read and critique everyone's stories, we'll hold a weekend critique workshop to help get your story in condition to submit for publication.

At the end of this workshop, you'll have a completed story about what is perhaps the most-important topic of our time, and you'll be better-informed than most folks. This is what "Science into Fiction" is all about!

Cover of the July 1947 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, with cover art for Jack Williamson's 'With Folded Hands.'

Everyone comments on every story, we analyze each story for publishability, and encourage writers to submit their work for publication.

My philosophy of writing workshops:
Through applying effort, drive, and passion - and mastering the fundamentals - anyone can become a published author. We'll work to demythologize the artistic process by breaking it down into everyday acts anyone can learn to do. You don't need to be touched by some angel of creativity to become an author, though this kind of opinion still prevails among certain literary elitists as well as in primary and secondary schools, where talent is immediately visible. You can write successful stories if you learn the tools, elements, and theory, and put what you learn into practice by writing and revising what you write.

To accomplish this, we'll break down the creative act into things we can discuss. Any complex action is only understandable if you break it down into smaller segments. During this workshop, in addition to getting a solid grasp of AI, you'll learn to write engaging short stories by studying successful works and mastering the elements of speculative-fiction writing. In our discussions we'll cover a wide range of subjects including character, dialogue, idea generation, micro-writing, openings, plot, point of view, scenes, setting, structure, voice, publication strategies, and more. We'll also practice editing by critiquing each other's work, because mastering revision is the only way to improve our writing.

In addition to science fiction, we welcome fantasy, horror, magical realism, and other genres - this topic might inspire ideas about other forms of non-human intelligence, raise ethical issues about creating beings only to serve, and so forth. Readers have varying expectations, so we'll discuss those, as well.

I encourage participants to remain in regular contact, continuing participation in our Discord channel, future workshops and write-ins, and supporting one another's writing careers, even continuing to critique one another's work. Attendees have many opportunities to socialize with one another live and online, and many build life-long relationships enhanced by our social connectivity. The AdAstranaut experience is more than an eight-week, two-weekend live and online adventure - it's a community!

2018 Workshoppers in our scholarship-hall lounge
McKitterick's 2018 Spec-Fic Workshop cohort.
Sitting: Pat Cadigan, Julian Richardson. Standing, left to right: Achilles Seastrom, Jean Asselin, Mary Fluker, Kathy Kitts, Theodore Nollert, Sarah Worrel, Patricia Crumpler, Sanna Breytberg, Ian Martinez-Cassmeyer, Chris McKitterick.

Instructors

Christopher McKitterick
Workshop Leader

Award-winning author, educator, and Ad Astra director Chris McKitterick leads the workshop. He'll participate from when the application period opens through the end of the cycle, helping brainstorm and critique every story and giving short talks on writing. He hopes to host an expert guest during the AI Workshop to help answer Q&As.

Chris has taken writing and science workshops across the country since the 1980s, and first took James Gunn's Science Fiction Writers Workshop in 1992, then served as guest instructor from 1995-2009, leading the redesigned Spec-Fic Workshop since 2010. In 2016 he founded the "Repeat Offenders" Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop (advanced workshop for returning alums), and the Ad Astra "Science into Fiction" Workshop series in 2022.

Since the 1990s, he has taught science-fiction and creative-writing workshops, seminars, masterclasses, and full-semester courses at the University of Kansas and around the world. In 2018, he was one of three finalists for the H.O.P.E. (Honor for Outstanding Progressive Educator) Teaching Award, the most prestigious teaching award given at the University of Kansas.

Chris' short work has appeared in many publications. His "Ashes of Exploding Suns, Monuments to Dust" made the Tangent Recommended Reading List and won the AnLab Reader's Award for best novelette - his first major fiction-writing honor. He regularly publishes nonfiction, and a poem or two became lyrics for songs. His debut novel, Transcendence, is in its second edition. He recently finished a couple more novels, Empire Ship and the first book of The Galactic Adventures of Jack and Stella, and has several other projects on the burners.

En route to becoming an SF scholar, writer, and educator, Chris studied astrophysics, education, classics, and psychology. He earned his BA in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he ran two observatories and a planetarium and served as assistant instructor for physics and astronomy courses. He spent a year teaching K-12 school in the Montana Badlands, then began formal SF writing and literature studies in 1992 with James Gunn at the University of Kansas, where he earned his MA in creative writing and continued post-graduate studies ever after. He's taken  For nearly a decade, he worked for gaming and tech companies in Seattle, spending summer vacations co-teaching the SF Workshop and SF Institute. In 2002, KU recruited him to teach SF and writing full-time, where he developed many offerings. He never stops learning, including at The Schrödinger Sessions quantum physics workshop and the LaunchPad Astronomy Workshop.

Chris first launched Ad Astra as a KU Center (announcement) in 2021 after having directed James Gunn's original Center for the Study of Science Fiction with Jim and Kij Johnson from 1995-2022, then expanded it into the non-profit Ad Astra Institute for Science Fiction & the Speculative Imagination in 2023. In addition to doing all things Ad Astra, he rescues wild animals, lives with many beloved critters, gardens, and watches the sky. He's also getting married to his beloved Lauren right before we begin!

Read more about Chris here (formal bio), or here (less formal), or hang out with him online: Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr | Xitter | YouTube | Christopher-McKitterick.com

 

Special Guest Instructor
Phil Baringer

We are privileged to announce that experimental particle physicist and science-fiction expert Phil Baringer joins us as Special Guest Instructor for the workshop!

Philip Baringer, PhD, has more than 35 years of teaching and research experience. He's Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy who's received numerous awards for his teaching, including the Department Undergraduate Teaching Award, the Kemper Award for Teaching Excellence, and the University Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) Excellence in Teaching Award, chosen by graduate students in Physics and Astronomy. He served as inaugural speaker for Ad Astra's Science into Fiction writing workshop series, also participating in the developmental and critique workshops, where he not only shared his scientific expertise but also a deep understanding of SF narrative. For the 2023, Phil served as Special Guest Instructor for the summer Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop and "Repeat Offenders" Workshop. For nearly 20 years, Phil has co-taught "Science, Technology, & Society: Examining the Future Through a Science-Fiction Lens" with McKitterick, taught several science-fiction Honors courses at KU, served on many graduate thesis and dissertation committees on SF writing and literature, serves on the nominations committee of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short SF, and is a ravenous SF and comics reader.

Baringer's research focuses on experimental particle physics, particularly production of the top quark. He is a member of the Compact Muon Solenoid collaboration, an international group operating an experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research's Large Hadron Collider. Baringer believes in the importance of communicating science to a general audience. He has also received the Steeples Award for Service to Kansans, an award that recognizes faculty members for sharing their teaching and research with the people of Kansas.

Phil will participate in most of the discussions plus will join for the two weekend events to provide a fresh perspective on your story development and revision.

Read more about Phil on his KU bio page, LinkedIn, or Google Scholar.

Discussion Schedule
Weekly Discussion Reading & Viewing Topics

  We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth.
    - Vernor Vinge

For our developmental-session and brainstorming weekend (October 21-22), as well as for our critique weekend (December 9-10), we'll gather in-person and in our Discord live-video room. Finished draft of story is due to the group by December 1.

The overall schedule for our Fall 2023 "Science into Fiction" workshop on artificial intelligence, at a glance:

 Quick Schedule 

Most weeks we'll gather on Discord to discuss that week's assigned materials. No one will get an "F" for not reading or watching the assigned (or bonus) materials, of course, but use this unique opportunity to not only write and critique a story, but get a firm understanding of the technology that is likely to completely reshape our lives in the very near future.

So here's what we'll talk about while working on our stories. Below you'll find a detailed syllabus of weekly reads and media to enrich your understanding of AI and related topics - please read and watch all of these (and write your responses) to prepare for our group discussions.

A few bonus books are recommended for our final few discussions - The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil (also available as a free .pdf); Accelerando, by Charles Stross (available to read free on Stross' website); Neuromancer, by William Gibson; and Rapture of the Nerds (2012), by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross (also free online at Stross' website); plus a few large websites - so if you'd like to take a deep-dive and get ahead of the readings to focus on your story draft during those weeks, dive in now! Most assigned readings and viewings are pretty short.

 Detailed Weekly Schedule 

Week 1: October 18
What is artificial intelligence?

Readings

Watch

Bonus!

This syllabus includes lots of bonus recommendations, but here are some items especially for this week:

Weekend Workshop: October 21-22
* Story-development brainstorming sessions! *

Bring your ideas for the story you'd like to write over the next several weeks, and come prepared to help develop everyone else's stories during our brainstorming weekend!

For the live developmental sessions, we'll focus on helping develop your project rather than perform traditional critiques, so it'll be more free-form than during the final critique weekend. To help everyone focus, let us know in advance if your work is pretty well underway or if you're at the "throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks" stage. Depending on how many are doing that, we'll alternate between traditional round-robin workshopping and free-form developmental sessions. 

I put together this detailed set of guidelines for developmental sessions - check it out to get an idea of how to make the most of this weekend. As for brainstorming, well, you probably know what that entails, but in short: There's no bad ideas during brainstorming; the idea is to dump out as many ideas and ask as many questions as possible in order to come up with your best set of ideas and put together a story outline, character sketch, worldbuilding, and so forth.

I've been writing and collecting speculative-fiction writing resources for decades, so take advantage of those materials! Tons and tons.

We'll meet live both in-person (in Lawrence) and online via our Discord channel (enrollees will get details in advance). If you're joining us remotely, please make sure in advance that you have a good microphone and speaker setup (or headset), and that you're set up with Discord; a good camera and screen is nice, too.

Week 2: October 25
Robots & AI in our lives

Not part of the workshop, but a quick announcement: World Fantasy begins tomorrow! If you're in the Kansas City area, take advantage of this major convention being in our neighborhood.

Readings

Interact with some chatbots

Bonus!

Some recommended extra items especially for this week:

Week 3: November 1
What's "state of the art" in artificial intelligence?

Readings

Watch

Bonus!

This week's recommended bonus items to level up your grasp of AI.

Week 4: November 8
Ethics & artificial intelligence

Readings

Watch

Bonus!

Some recommended extra items especially for this week.

Week 5: November 15
Terminator, Skynet, & agents of The Matrix: Killer 'bots

Readings

Watch

Bonus!

Some recommended bonus items especially for this week:

no week 6 discussion: Holiday break
- see you next week! -

No assigned materials or online discussion during Thanksgiving week, but feel free to hang out in our Discord!

But since you're here, why not watch "The Last Bastion," a bittersweet video about a battle-robot rebooting in a forest (short animated video for the Overwatch game).

Week 7: November 29
The Technological Singularity

What's the ultimate form of AI, and how will Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) utterly transform human existence?

Readings

Watch

Bonus!

Some recommended level-up items especially for this week:

December 1
* Completed draft of your story due to the group today *

Send your story to everyone in the workshop by the 1st of December so we have time to give it a good read and write up our critiques over the next week.

Clean up any mechanical issues (formatting, spelling, grammar, and so forth) before you submit your work, and use professional manuscript format as if you're submitting to a publisher. Here's a great example (follow it!). Here's another piece on "Manuscript Preparation" (pdf), by Vonda McIntyre. Practice looking like a pro now (plus it'll make everyone's lives easier).

When you start seeing stories, dig in right away!

Weekend Workshop: December 9-10
* Story-Critique Sessions! *

edited frame from the 
Tank Girl comic that says, This story can be wonderful. We can be magnificent. We can turn this shit around.

Now we launch our championship weekend!

We'll gather in-person in Lawrence, Kansas, and simultaneously via our Discord livestream channel to critique everyone's stories.

As soon as your cohort's stories begin appearing in our group, give them a read to see what the author is trying to do, then write a solid critique. Feel free to mark up typos, punctuation, and grammar issues, but for time's sake, please don't bring up those details during our live discussion.

Primarily, your goal is to identify the "Platonic ideal" of the story and then suggest ways to help the author achieve that ideal. I put together this outline of the process that I urge you to read now:

https://adastra-sf.com/Workshop-stuff/Critiques-and-Discussions.htm

Here's another in-depth critiquing page I created for my KU writing students, which goes into greater detail - perfect if you've never done workshopping before.

For these final critique sessions, we'll use the process I've found most useful over the years:

After everyone has read and critiqued your cohort's stories in advance, we'll discuss them in a round-robin format, and I'll offer my thoughts last, usually with a short talk on relevant aspects of writing.

Before we begin, I encourage the stories' authors to ask specific questions they'd like us to address, and after each set of critiques we'll hold a short open discussion.

I prefer this process over random discussion or lectures because writers learn at least as much from critiquing one others' stories as from hearing critiques of their own work. It also makes for a much more interactive, lively, and involving discussion for all.

We'll also analyze each story for publishability, and I encourage writers to submit their work for publication. You've just worked through the full idea-to-finished-draft process like a pro, so take the next step like a pro!

If you're joining us remotely, please make sure in advance that you have a good microphone and speaker setup, and a good camera and screen is nice, too.

Reading & Viewing Materials

  You can't please all of the readers all of the time; you can't please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.
    - Stephen King.

For our discussions and to grow your grasp of the scope of AI, you'll find a whole bunch of reading and viewing materials in the weekly syllabus as well as a whole bunch more recommendations below - what you'll find in the weekly schedule is what we'll talk about in our ongoing Discord channel discussions, so be sure to check those out and write up responses.

The recommended works is for taking an even-deeper dive - not required, but great inspiration for writing about the future of human life with AI. If you read or watch these items, by all means bring these to the discussions and share your thoughts with the rest of the participants.

Have more recommended reading, listening, and viewing suggestions to add? Let me know and I'll try to get them in here ASAP!

cover of Asimov's I, Robot book 
	 with a retrofuturistic robot carrying a space-suited human and the text, MAN-LIKE MACHINES RULE THE WORLD!

(Check back soon for additions to these reading lists! Creative-writing materials to come, as well, to discuss writing techniques, rules, and so forth.)

More Recommended Reading & Viewing

Here's a whole lot more great reads and media to enrich your understanding of AI and related topics. You'll find additional items in the weekly syllabus in the Bonus! sections. Lots of creative-writing materials available from the Ad Astra Speculative Fiction Writing Resources page.

Articles

Short fiction

Novels and books

Movies and shows

Multimedia

Relevant curated playlists of short SF films on McKitterick's YouTube channel:

Artificial intelligence | Cyberpunk and cybernetics | Robots and androids | The Technological Singularity

Relevant tags on McKitterick's curated Tumblr blog:

AI | Animal intelligence | Artificial intelligence | Chatbots | Computers | Consciousness | Cyberpunk | Cyberpunk dystopia | Cyberpunk dystopias | Robots | Sentience | Technological Singularity | the Singularity | the Technological Singularity | The brain | The mind

 Response Notes

Prior to each discussion session, write a short (I've found 300 words or so is plenty, about one page) response. These notes are an important way to read critically, retain what you've learned, and help engage with the topics, and you'll likely find yourself writing story ideas during this process. I've heard from former students that they find these very useful for future reference - several use them for classes they teach! - so hang on to them.

These are brief but thoughtful responses to all of the assigned materials for the week:

Don't just provide a narrative summary (though studying plot and narrative structure is useful). Strive for insightful, critical, and thoughtful reflections on all the works, including how we can learn artistically from them. Articulate how the various storytelling media affect the pieces under consideration - artistically, narratively, visually, in the social context, and so on - and how the affect your understanding of AI, the genre of speculative fiction, and the various media forms, and how they inspire your writing.

Exercise your critical-reading, -listening, and -viewing skills when writing these responses; that is, don't just read the fiction, watch the shows, or otherwise interact with the content simply for pleasure - and don't just accept everything that scholars and critics have written about them as canon. We want to hear how you synthesize new ideas from the materials and your own experiences. The best way to do a good job here is to take notes as you're reading or watching or listening, then expand upon those notes for the papers.

Regarding format: Many people use bullets for discussion points, bold the titles of the works you're discussing, or use the titles as headings. Some people write responses that resemble essays, citing the works in tandem, while others merely respond to each individually. However you prefer to handle it is fine - you're not being graded and no one needs to see these! - but what's most important is that you've thought through all the works for each discussion and how they inform your understanding of spec-fic writing and artificial intelligence - and of course the human condition.

Tip: Include at least a couple of questions to pose to the class or points to stimulate discussion. I suggest having these handy - especially your questions - to help formulate ideas during discussion.

Discussions

Starting October 18 (when yours truly returns from our wedding trip!), we'll hold weekly live and asychronous discussions of the assigned reading and viewing materials, as well as other things folks check out (see the massive list of recommended stuff). We'll hold our discussions in Discord (and in-person if enough locals want to gather), and I'm sure we'll continue our discussions asychronously in our Discord channel. We'll discuss both topical nonfiction and fiction and writing-related topics.

Your instructor will help direct these discussions and ensure we're all considering how these ideas will affect our writing and our world. Please have your response notes handy, and for best discussion please also bring at least a few questions that come up for you that help prompt further discussion (or how you disagree, and so forth) and help everyone get thinking more deeply about the topics.

I love group discussions like this, because working together we can transcend the level of thought any one person is capable of, becoming a sort of super-mind without any assistance from AI. As Theodore Sturgeon put it, More Than Human.

Be civil: These are discussions about ideas, not arguments! Civility and respect for the opinions of others are vital for a free exchange of ideas. You might not agree with everything I or others say in the classroom, but I expect respectful behavior and interaction all times. When you disagree with someone, make a distinction between criticizing an idea and criticizing the person. Similarly, try to remember that discussions can become heated, so if someone seems to be attacking you, keep in mind they take issue with your idea, not who you are, and respond appropriately. Expressions or actions that disparage a person's age, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, nationality, race, religion, or sexual orientation - or their marital, parental, or veteran status - are contrary to the mission of this course and will not be tolerated. And of course please try not to dominate the conversation while encouraging more-shy participants to join in. If we all strive to be decent human beings, we'll get the most out of this course!

"Science into Fiction" Spec-Fic Writing Workshops:
  Series 1: "The Higgs Boson in This Particular Universe"
  Series 2: "Creativity and the Brain"
  Series 3: "Writing in (and about) the Age of Artificial Intelligence"
  Fall 2024 Series 4: "Six great stories and what makes them work: The science of SF writing"

Chris McKitterick's Spec-Fic Writing Workshop & Repeat Offenders Workshop

Kij Johnson & Barbara Webb's SF&F Novel Writing Workshops and Masterclasses

Speculative-fiction writing resources

Scholarships

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This site is associated with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), AboutSF, and other organizations, and its contents are copyright 1992-present Christopher McKitterick except where noted, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License: Feel free to use and adapt for non-profit purposes, with attribution. For publication or profit purposes, please contact McKitterick or other creators as noted.

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updated 12/28/2023