Science Fiction Research Project
Analytical or Creative
due: Mon. 12-11 by 11:59pm
You may choose to take one of two options for this assignment. Either write an analytical paper or make a creative adaptation. Both options require research, as described below.
Option 1: Analytical Research
Choose one or two texts we have read in this class this semester, and investigate a specific topic you formulate. The topic must fit within a general framework: How does science fiction give us a strange, new, alienating experience of ourselves and our world? Consider how one or two of our texts give us an unfamiliar point of view on one or two of the following:
- Language and communication
- Networks and data exchange
- Limits and extensions on physical bodies
- Technological invention: plans, source code, production
- Altering source code
- Evolution, mutation, transition
- Extinction and ruin
- Alienation and exile
- Technology in Religion
Do research to investigate theories of science fiction relevant to your topic (in more depth than we introduced in class in my slides here). Also research historical contexts, scientific inventions, technologies, important people, or social movements relevant to your topic at the time the text was written (and/or in our own time) to help determine how your chosen text(s) may be responding its cultural moment, or anticipating our own time. First, research the texts, and follow leads to contexts. Choose just one or two context to investigate in your paper. You will need to be selective! You probably won’t be able to cover every possible context bearing on a complex novel or series! Investigate one or two particular relevant areas intensively.
Based on what you learn from your research, consider how the inventive, strange and new elements of your science fiction text might relate to continuing issues in our time, to what we understand of ourselves as beings who interact with our world using technology, or as beings who are shaped and modified or who can shape and modify our habitats.
I expect you to cite and work with 4 – 6 good quality sources. (When in doubt about the quality of a source, check in with me and ask about it.) Look for scholarly articles and books on your text in the Pitt Digital Library, and seek out relevant news resources to find out more about issues and events when a text was written. You may also use scholarly articles and links that I post as background and further reading on a particular writer. See Guidelines for Research below.
This may be a traditional, word-processed paper. If so, it should be 2000 - 3000 words not counting the Works Cited Page. That’s about 5-7 double-spaced pages, using an 11-12 point font (Times New Roman, Arial, or the equivalent). Follow MLA citation format, using parenthetical page citations (Author page) to indicate your references to passages in our science fiction readings and to the outside secondary articles or books you are citing. Refer to the Purdue Online Writing Lab for instructions and examples of citing in MLA style and making an MLA style Works Cited page.
- Alternatively, for those of you pursuing the Digital Studies certificate who would like to add this to your digital portfolio, or those with interests in digital media: you may develop this as a webpage or small website, with long blog post entry of about 2000-3000 words. (Ideally you have access to webspace and/or a blog site of your own for pursuing this option. I’m happy to help set this up, as needed.)
- In either format, you may include hyperlinks and images, but images do not count toward the length requirement.
Option 2: Research and Creative Adaptation
This option involves developing short science fiction narrative sketch, extended description, or dialogue between characters. It will require you to apply ideas from other writers, to work within the style and fictional world of one of our assigned writers, and to explain in a preface or postscript of about 3 pages referencing your research and explaining how you applied your reading and research to develop your creative work.
Read and research theories of science fiction writing (such as Darko Suvin’s) or about the alternate worlds/alternate realities constructed by science fiction writers. Read articles that theorize about how science fiction writing works or engages readers. Also seek out recent books and articles that specifically discuss the work of a particular writer on our syllabus in relation to significant issues in science fiction. Do research in the Pitt Digital Library on science fiction writing as well as on one particular writer whose work you admire or wish to model and adapt. Use at least three sources.
Now, try your hand at developing a science fiction story or dialogue of your own written in the style of one of the science fiction writers we have read in the course. This is really an academic exercise in writing something like “fan fiction.” Most likely this will not be publishable work, but rather it is intended to be a learning process and perhaps a stepping stone for you if you’re thinking of seriously writing and publishing science fiction in the future. (Published science fiction texts often take many years to germinate and develop. This assignment is simply an introduction to a thinking process involved in writing in an alternate world.)
Keep this creative sketch fairly concise, 5-8 double-spaced pages. Focus on developing a simple plot and characters by way of introducing them and their world to us.
Options for building on the works of others:
- Work within the domain of an existing fictional world in one of our assigned readings this semester. Invent a new character, or expand or build up a character who is fairly undeveloped within the writer’s work.
- Write a new episode for a science fiction text that involves immersing an already developed character in a new domain or setting, or with a new kind of technology consistent with the world of the science fiction text you are modeling. In this option you’re building an internal space within a larger construction. This space must be shown to fit in some way within the original structure of the science fiction world, but it must be a distinct domain within it, with its own rules and rituals, the revealing of which is your goal in your work of creative description or narrative.
You may write a narrative (a plot or storyline), or a dialogue between characters, or concentrate on developing a passage of description. (Your submission may contain some elements of each: scripted events, dialogue, and descriptive exposition). In choosing your approach and developing your project, try to mimic the style of your science fiction writer. (Consider: How does dialogue appear in the text, what kinds of voices and turns of phrase sound true to the characters? What kinds of details does your chosen writer use to help to develop a sense of a strange new place?)
Finally, when you’ve finished your work, write a framing, introductory essay of about 2-3 pages in which you comment on how you are responding to ideas from your reading of secondary sources, and in which comment on the experience of writing within a “secondary” or alternate world in science fiction that is distinct from our reality. Quote from your own work as you reflect on the implications of what you have accomplished, in order to show me how you are responding to the theories and practices of writing science fiction that you have learned in this course.
If you pursue the Creative option, you will create two submissions:
- the creative adaptation
- the framing essay
You may produce these as traditional word-processed papers. The creative adaptations should be between 2000-3000 words, with a title. I expect the framing essay to demonstrate and reflect on the research you did, and to include a Works Cited page. Incorporate source citations in the same way as you would for the Research option. Follow MLA citation format in your framing essay, using parenthetical page citations (Author page) to indicate your references to passages in our science fiction readings and to the outside secondary articles or books you are citing. Refer to the Purdue Online Writing Lab for instructions and examples of citing in MLA style and making an MLA style Works Cited page.
Doing the Research (Both Options)
Locate at least half of your sources using the Pitt Digital Library, where you can find very useful articles and historical context. Part of the challenge of this assignment is locating in-depth information and authoritative, peer-reviewed material on SF. Note well: Some sites on the public web will be useful to you, but I also want you to locate at least two or three sources from the resources listed below. When in doubt about whether it’s OK to use a particular source, ask me. • Access to the Pitt Digital Library: http://www.library.pitt.edu/
o Off Campus Access to the Pitt Digital Library: Use the same link. As you access the specific databases below, you’ll be prompted to log in with your Pitt user-id and password.
For our assignment, here’s how to locate good library resources.
- Click on the button to “Find Articles” (left hand side of the screen in the Pitt Digital Library).
- In “Find Articles,” find the link to locate Databases “BY TITLE.”
- The long list of databases on the next screen is organized in alphabetical order. Scroll down to find the specific databases below. Search within each database to find good materials. Try the following. Check in with me if you’re having trouble!
- Use Find Books & More links to PittCAT+ and PittCAT Classic to search for books in the Pitt campus libraries. PittCAT+ will give you a complicated mix of resources, so after you run an initial search, use the menus to limit content type to “Book / eBook” or “Journal Article.”
- If looking for articles here, select “Limit to articles from peer-reviewed publications.”
- **PittCAT Classic often locates particular titles or kinds of material more quickly.
- Literature Resource Center: Very useful source for articles on science fiction theory, cyberpunk, and on particular authors. Use the results in the “Literary Criticism” tab.
- Project Muse (Muse): Electronic Journals: up-to-date scholarly articles available online
- JSTOR: good scholarly articles available online.
- MLA International Bibliography: indexes high quality articles and books published on literary subjects—Not everything here will be instantly accessible online: Some materials will be in book or print form, which you can access or order by Interlibrary Loan through Millstein Library.
- Literature Online (LION) Database: a good source of journal articles, but only the ones marked with a full-text or a page-image icon are available online. Others can be requested by Interlibrary Loan.
- Academic Onefile: broad interdisciplinary coverage of articles and news. May be useful in researching particular issues, events, technologies in a particular science fiction text.
- Academic Lexis-Nexis: good resource for finding news articles relevant to history/context of a science fiction text. Use the search limits to narrow down your results to a range of dates.
- Outside Pitt Library System: Try Google Books or Google Scholar if you are trying to track down books and articles that don’t appear to be available in the Pitt system.
Talk to our librarians at Millstein Library (especially Renee Kiner), and check out the Libguide (Library Research Guide) they developed for our class, to help with the research process and evaluating the quality of your search results.
Find me when I’m in my office or online, and I’ll help you, too! My office: FOB 204, office phone: 724-836-7195, e-mail: ebb8 at pitt.edu .
Go back to our syllabus Finally, I wish you patience, good fortune, and the reward of sudden discovery as you work on this assignment. Good research is almost always tedious and frustrating at first, but ultimately very rewarding when you find your way! Bon courage!