Dr. Philip Baringer launched the Ad Astra Institute for Science Fiction & the Speculative Imagination's first speculative-fiction writing cycle with his talk, "The Higgs Boson in This Particular Universe: Facts, Speculation, and the Story of a Little Ripple with a Big Bang." We'll continue to offer our traditional (two-week residential) Spec-Fic Writing Workshops each summer, but with the AdAstranaut Spec-Fic Writing Workshop Series we're offering an ongoing, year-round series of interdisciplinary bi-monthly workshops, seminars, talks, write-ins, and much more led by a wide diversity of experts in many fields - plus of course the best spec-fic authors, editors, and educators - designed to help writers gain what we hope is the most well-rounded educational experience offered anywhere!
Award-winning author, spec-fic educator, and Ad Astra Institute director Chris McKitterick leads the Series #1 workshops, with experimental particle physicist, physics professor, and spec-fic fan Philip Baringer - our first Ad Astra Presents speaker - joining us to offer expert advice.
After Phil's inspirational talk on Wednesday, August 31, 6:30pm Central (live at the Lawrence Public Library, livestreaming on our YouTube channel, and video now available for viewing) - workshop events for our first cycle will run for six weeks, both online and in-person in Lawrence, Kansas.
Writing workshops begin with idea and story-development sessions on the weekend of September 17-18, continue through AdAstranaut write groups each week, and culminate with story-critique sessions on the weekend of October 15-16. Workshops begin at noon (US Central time) and - depending on how many participants enroll - run for up to five hours each day (ending by 5:00pm on Saturday and Sunday).
In-person workshop sessions take place in the Ad Astra Institute's library with a wall of windows overlooking the University of Kansas' beautiful Potter Lake and the green center of campus. Weekend and evening parking is usually free beside our building. Write groups will take place there as well as in downtown coffee shops. (All activities will also run simultaneously on online as needed.)
2018 Spec-Fic Workshop cohort
sitting: Pat Cadigan, Julian Richardson.
standing: Achilles Seastrom, Jean Asselin, Mary Fluker, Kathy Kitts, Theodore Nollert, Sarah Worrel,
Patricia Crumpler, Sanna Breytberg, Ian Martinez-Cassmeyer, Chris McKitterick.
Developmental sessions are designed to help writers brainstorm and develop ideas and fictional worlds, deepen characters and their relationships, map out story structure, and address other elements so they can have a complete story in four weeks. Participants are encouraged but not required to turn in a finished story for the critique session - that is, you can apply to only get developmental feedback for something that might take you longer to write.
For critique sessions, we'll use the process I've found most useful over the years: Everyone reads and critiques everyone else's stories, and then we discuss them in a round-robin format, and I'll offer my thoughts last, usually with a short talk on some relevant aspect of writing. I prefer this over random discussion or lectures because writers learn as much from critiquing others' stories as from hearing critiques of their own. It also makes for a much more interactive, lively, and involving discussion for all.
Participants in both workshops are invited to participate in regular Ad Astra Center write groups (in person and online) with their cohort and other writers, for support, to encourage accountability, and to provide a productive atmosphere to get writing done.
I've designed this extended workshop cycle to empower participants through the full process of inspiration through idea through drafting through finished story in just six weeks - to give you a taste of working like a professional author, and to help folks get writing done! We're scheduling workshop sessions only over weekends to improve accessibility for those who cannot get away during weekdays. I'm so excited to launch the year-round AdAstranaut program. It's designed to provide the deepest, broadest, most comprehensive education for folks who want to learn how to write, understand, and teach spec-fic available anywhere - essentially, we've designed the optimal program I would have wanted for myself when I first began my journey into the SF universe (only better now because tech allows us to offer these things globally and asynchronously). AdAstranauts earn points for attending talks, workshops, write groups, and more and track their progress to the stars - we'll provide certificates of completion and other fun things (as well as discounted fees on future workshops and masterclasses) as participants virtually reach the Moon, Mars, and beyond in your writing journey!
I firmly believe that the modes of inquiry speculative fiction enables offer our best hope for understanding the diversity of human experience and helping build a better shared future. If you don't need an MFA (and good luck finding one that specializes in speculative fiction - or even allows or understands it), consider taking our workshops and becoming an AdAstranaut!
McKitterick will send all enrolled participants complete workshop guidelines and process well in advance of both sessions. We'll use the Ad Astra Institute's #AdAstranaut Discord channel for those who would like to participate online. Participants needn't work on stories that specifically use (for this cycle) particle physics - all ideas and spec-fic subgenres are welcome! - but try to take full advantage of the talk and other materials we'll share with participants for inspiration and to get the most from our physics expert's feedback. Thinking about how your universe is structured will help with worldbuilding for any genre!
Everyone comments on every story, we analyze each story for publishability, and encourage writers to submit their work for publication.
We'll continue to offer more expert talks and other opportunities to learn more about spec-fic and writing. At least twice a year, we plan to offer a new AdAstranaut "Science into Fiction" Workshop, and we'll host a writing-journey tracker for those who continue to engage with cutting-edge research, writing workshops, and popular media. Track your path to the stars and earn certificates that show your dedication to the art!
We hope participants will remain in regular contact, continuing participation in future AdAstranaut workshops series and write-ins, supporting one another's writing careers, and even continuing to critique one another's work. The AdAstranaut experience is more than a two-weekend adventure; it's a community!
McKitterick leads the workshops, helping develop participants' work, critiquing stories, and giving short talks on writing. He's been taking writing and science workshops across the country since the 1980s, and has taught residential writing workshops, masterclasses, and full-semester courses at the University of Kansas and around the world since 1992.
He 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 Gunn and Kij Johnson from 1995-2022, then expanded it into the non-profit Ad Astra Institute for Science Fiction & the Speculative Imagination in 2023.
Chris' short work has appeared in markets including Aftermaths, Analog, Argentus, Artemis, Captain Proton, Discovery Channel Magazine, E-Scape, Extrapolation, Foundation, James Gunn's Ad Astra, Libraries Unlimited, Locus, Mission Tomorrow, Mythic Circle, NOTA, Ruins: Extraterrestrial, Sentinels, Sense of Wonder, SFRA Review, Synergy, Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, Top Deck magazine, various TSR publications, Visual Journeys, Westward Weird, World Literature Today, a bowling poem anthology, and elsewhere.
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 about SF and other writings, including a poem or two that became lyrics for songs. His debut novel, Transcendence, is in its second edition. He recently finished a couple more novels, Empire Ship and 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, McKitterick studied astrophysics, education, and psychology. He earned his BA in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he ran two observatories and a planetarium. He spent a year teaching at a K-12 school in the Montana Badlands, then began formal SF writing and literature studies in 1992 with James Gunn through his Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, where he earned his MA in creative writing and continued post-graduate studies ever after. For nearly a decade, he worked for gaming and tech companies in Seattle, spending summer vacations co-teaching an SF Workshop and SF Institute. In 2002, KU recruited him to teach SF and writing full-time, and to direct Gunn's original SF center, where he developed many other offerings before launching Ad Astra.
Special Guest Instructor
Philip Baringer, PhD, has more than 25 years of teaching and research experience. He's a 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 studying Physics and Astronomy. Baringer's research focuses on experimental particle physics, particularly the production of the top quark. He's a member of the Compact Muon Solenoid collaboration, an international group that is 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's the lead faculty member of the University of Kansas QuarkNet center, which connects the University's particle physics research group with local high school physics teachers and students. He 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 is also a serious speculative-fiction fan and co-taught "Science, Technology, & Society: Examining the Future Through a Science Fiction Lens" with McKitterick (as well as other exciting courses using SF to dramatize and better understand complex physics ideas).
Apply for the next workshop!
To have enough time to give proper attention to everyone's work, enrollment is limited to 10 active participants. So if you wish to attend, apply early! Positions go quickly.
Age 18 and older only, please (we plan to offer youth programs soon!).
Related SF-Writing Workshops and Resources
"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"
Chris McKitterick's Spec-Fic Writing Workshop & Repeat Offenders Workshop
Kij Johnson & Barbara Webb's SF&F Novel Writing Workshops and Masterclasses