Intensive Institute on Science Fiction Literature:
The Science Fiction Novel

KU credit (3 credits)
or not-for-credit (for professionalization)

contact McKitterick for current syllabus and updates on future offerings

Course Goals and Overview

"The most powerful works of SF don't describe the future - they change it." - Annalee Newitz, io9. By successfully completing this course, you'll become fluent in SF by studying some of the most-influential novels that shaped the genre and the world we inhabit today - and where we'll live tomorrow.

Gain an understanding of contemporary and future science fiction by studying the history of the genre and many of the works that started important conversations about what it means to be human in a changing world. After reading a diversity of of novel-length SF, we discuss how the genre got to be what it is today by comparing the works and their place in the evolution of SF, from Wells through more recent books. You will demonstrate your understanding of the genre by writing daily reading responses and creating 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 my offerings, and we actively encourage students and scholars from diverse backgrounds to study with us. All courses offered by Center faculty are also available to be taken not-for-credit for professionalization purposes by community members (if space is available). Click here to see my Diversity Statement.

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.


See the reading list for the most-current set of books we'll read and discuss.

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 12 questions and discussion prompts questions and discussion prompts per session. (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.

 Required Books

This list reflects important works that helped shape the genre. Here is what we'll be reading, in alphabetical order by author:

Some of these volumes might be difficult to find, so we urge you seek copies early and, when books are out of print, search used bookstores and online services (we've provided links to two major online booksellers after each title, above). The University of Kansas Jayhawk Ink bookstore often has copies of many of these books on hand. The Center also 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. This course-specific lending library 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. You can find tons more great SF novels in the Basic Science Fiction Library.

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

Want more book recommendations? My and James Gunn'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.... 

 Recommended Books

For further reading, here are the books that have been removed from the summer SF Institute's required reading list since 2008 - still important and recommended works for understanding the history of the SF novel, but we only have so much time to discuss:

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. You can find tons more great SF novels in the Basic Science Fiction Library.

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

More to come! Check back later....


Each year, we hope to bring in guest scholar-instructors, experts in the field with association with the Center. Chris McKitterick is available throughout the Institute for consultation and informal get-togethers.

Chris at the 2009 Campbell Conference.

Christopher McKitterick is an award-winning science-fiction author and scholar, founded the new Ad Astra Center for Science Fiction & the Speculative Imagination (launch announcement here), directed (and previously helped run) the J Wayne and Elsie M Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction from 1995-2022, teaches SF and creative writing at KU and elsewhere, and offers workshops and masterclasses around the world. He's been a professional writer and editor for decades, managed a documentation team, freelances for a variety of publishers, worked in the gaming industry, and is a popular public speaker. He writes not just stories and novels, but also nonfiction such as astronomy articles, technical documents, game supplements, journalism (and some poetry, too)... just about every writing genre. He's also edited magazines, developed websites since the 1990s, and more.

His newest short fiction, "Ashes of Exploding Suns, Monuments to Dust," won the 2019 AnLab Reader's Award. 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. Feel free to mine his experience for tips and advice about writing, editing, and the science fiction field.

Syllabi for his other courses

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

Feel free to mine his experience for tips and advice about writing and editing in general, as well as about the science-fiction field. 

Jim dispensing wisdom during the 2008 Workshop.

After retiring, McKitterick's mentor, SF Grand Master James Gunn - one of the pioneers of science fiction education - often dropped in on the discussions, and usually joined us beforehand for lunch (noon-12:50pm most days), health permitting.

The first of James Gunn's most-recent trilogy, Transcendental, came out in 2013, along with two other books. He started writing SF in 1948, was a full-time freelance writer for four years, and has had nearly 100 stories published in magazines and books; most of them have been reprinted, some as many as a dozen times. He is the author of 26 books and the editor of 18; his master's thesis was serialized in a pulp magazine. Four of his stories were dramatized over NBC radio's "X Minus One"; "The Cave of Night" was dramatized on television's Desilu Playhouse in 1959 as "Man in Orbit"; and The Immortals was dramatized as an ABC-TV "Movie of the Week" in 1969 as "The Immortal" and became an hour-long series in 1970-71. His stories and books have been reprinted in many languages.

Gunn was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1923. He received his BS degree in journalism in 1947 after three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and his MA in English in 1951, both from the University of Kansas. He also did graduate work in theater at KU and Northwestern. In 1969 at the University of Kansas, he taught one of the first courses in science fiction. An emeritus professor of fiction writing at KU, Gunn taught and regularly visited workshops and conferences until his death in 2020.

In 2007, he was named Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master. In 2015, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

Read more about Gunn and see his full bibliography here.

If you have questions, need assistance, or just want to chat about SF, visit McKitterick in his office. You can drop us an email any time.

Contact Information

McKitterick's email:

Other contact info:
Ad Astra Center for Science Fiction & the Speculative Imagination
Center for the Study of Science Fiction
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 Hall, and so forth). Other days and times by appointment.

 Course Requirements

To successfully complete the course and get out of it all you can, you are required to:

  • Attend class each day.
  • Participate in class, which means being involved in every discussion, each day.
  • Lead at least one session with a partner or partners.
  • Read the required books and other materials.
  • Write insightful daily response papers.
  • Create a longer final project due at the end of the semester.

 Class Periods

Each day we 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. Class periods revolve largely around discussion, with some lecture.


After an introduction to the topic by your instructor, two or more students act as discussants for each day and help lead (not monopolize) the discussion. Everyone is required to act as discussant at least twice during the course. If you have special needs and cannot perform this task, let me know early.

Optimally, discussants perform additional research prior to class (further readings on the genre movements at hand and the day's authors, identifying possible multimedia content, and so forth). Come prepared with at least 12 questions and discussion prompts to stimulate discussion among your peers about the day's topic and readings. 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 instructor will likely open 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. I 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. 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

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; I expect you to exercise your critical-reading skills. That is, don't just read the fiction for pleasure, don't just accept the related 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. If you apply yourself, by the end of this course you will possess solid expertise of your own in the topic. In the discussions, I 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 session for an academic event, illness, or other excusable reason, contact me as soon as possible to see if we can work out something so it does not negatively affect your overall grade too much. If appropriate, I can mitigate this loss so your attendance percentage remains unaffected. Otherwise, here is how I score attendance and participation:

Because we only meet twelve times, each unexcused absence after the first drops your final course grade by a third; that is, missing two days means your final grade drops from (say) 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. 

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

More Good Stuff

The Ad Astra Center offers several multimedia offerings online - see our YouTube channel.

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

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

Here's a cool event each Spring:

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!

Don't miss the annual Center Conference and Awards during the weekend before we start meeting! It's free for all class members - but don't forget to register.

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

Go here to see lots more resources on this site.

* "'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!

I believe strongly in the free sharing of information, so you'll find a lot of content - including all of my course syllabi and many materials from my classes - on this and related sites and social networks as part of my 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.

The Ad Astra Center is associated with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), the University of Kansas, and other organizations, and is run by Chris McKitterick. Web developer since 1992 is Chris McKitterick.

This website and its contents are copyright 1992-present by 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 Chris McKitterick.)

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