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

contact McKitterick for 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. 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 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 achieve@ku.edu  Feel free to contact me privately about your needs in this course.

 Instructor

In non-pandemic years, McKitterick usually brings in guest scholar-instructors, experts in the field with association with the Center. In addition, my Founding Director James Gunn used to join us on occasion, and Director Chris McKitterick is available throughout the Institute for consultation and informal get-togethers when we're not all just trying to stay alive!


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 and 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 science-fiction field.

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

Other contact info:

Academia.edu
Ad Astra Center for Science Fiction and the Speculative Imagination
JWEMG Center for the Study of Science Fiction
Christopher-McKitterick.com
Facebook
Goodreads
Instagram
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
LinkedIn
SFWA Speaker's Bureau
Patreon
Pillowfort
Tumblr (narrow it down by going to my Science Fiction tags; writers, check out my various Writing Tips tags)
Twitter
YouTube
Wikipedia

 Readings

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.

 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 2020-21 (online-only) course and get out of it all you can, you are required to:

  • Attend every discussion (for 2020-21, consult with instructor about how we'll handle this).
  • Read the required stories. Don't just skim them - I'm looking for in-depth discussions about each story's characters, plot, ideas, and so forth, how each story helped shape the genre.
  • Read the essays and introductions to the required stories.
  • Read outside materials about these stories and their authors, and their place in the genre.
  • If you are taking the course for credit, write insightful daily response papers for all the stories, in advance of class. I strongly recommend writing these as soon as you finish reading the works at hand, so start now! (If taking for professionalization and not for credit, you are not required to write responses.)
  • If you are taking the course for credit, create a final project, due by the end of the semester. (If taking for professionalization and not for credit, you are not required to write the paper.)

 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 Grand Master who first developed the course and founded the first SF center), 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 are strongly encouraged to register for and attend the Campbell Conference, where you can 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).

Discussants

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)

0

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

1

A- (minor effect)

2

B+

3

B
(down one full grade)

4

B-

5

C+

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. 

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? 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.

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

Go here to see lots more science fiction resources.

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