Because this is a compressed eight-week course, the research assignment needs to be done in an efficient manner. It is urgent that students be in frequent communication with the professor about their research, letting him know about questions and problems they have, leads they’d like to explore, etc. This sort of communication is a central part of the research process.
STEP ONE: Choose one of the following books to research and sign up for it in the second week activities within the threaded discussion: “Sign up for research topic.” Check first to make sure that no one else has chosen your topic. If someone has, choose another topic. If you have questions, be sure to correspond with the professor about them. If you have another book you’d like to research, check first to make sure it is practical. Only a small minority of books have any extensive amount of scholarship published about them for you to draw on.
STEP TWO: Borrow and read the book(s) chosen as soon as possible.
STEP THREE: (simultaneously with Step Two): Identify scholarly articles and books and other research materials about your book, using The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database at http://library.tamu.edu/cushing/sffrd/. This database is confined to SF scholarship, and is much more efficient than the MLA International Bibliography. Note that you have to search for your author as a SUBJECT, though an AUTHOR search may turn up relevant nonfiction by that author. However, the MLA International Bibliography also analyzes individual chapters in books made up of separate articles, so you should use it as well. The electronic version is available through the library. Go to the DDLS page at http://libraries.wsu.edu/ and scroll all the way to the bottom, and click under “Databases” on “Humanities” and scroll down on the next page tht loads to find MLA. (Pro Quest, often recommended for other classes, is not particularly useful for this one.) If you need assistance with library resources, please refer to the DDLS course page (http://libraries.wsu.edu/) or contact Beth Lindsay at email@example.com or phone her at 509-335-7735. Write up a preliminary annotated bibliography of items that look useful, using MLA bibliographic style, with a sentence or two for each one explaining why you think it might be useful. Post the annotated bibliography in Activity 3, in the “Document” entitled “Annotated Bibliographies.” Look especially for recent bibliographies or checklists on your topic and use them. Remember to track down sources that recent writers seem to cite as important.
STEP FOUR: The professor will comment on your bibliography and make further suggestions for research. It is crucial to act on these promptly. Meanwhile order the books you need through DDLS. You should order copies of articles from journals by ordering them through Iliad at https://wsu.illiad.oclc.org/illiad/PUL/ .Iliad can supply both articles in journals WSU lacks and use interlibrary loan services to supply others, though there will be a longer delay for the latter, and you should not depend too heavily on such materials for your research, since you have so little time.
STEP FIVE: As you read, take notes addressing the following questions:
- What kind of SF is this? (Draw on Palumbo and Landon.
- In what ways is it typical of its type? What other books you have read does it remind you of? How?
- What makes it unique?
- What are its outstanding qualities?
- What are the chief topics addressed by scholars who have written about it? What are the main controversies surrounding it? Characterize the various sides in any debate and try to understand their arguments.
- What perspectives or theoretical approaches seem to be used by these scholars?
- How useful is the scholarship? What did you learn from reading it that could help you in teaching about this work?
- Are there aspects of the work which seem to have been inadequately discussed? Can you explicate these yourself?
STEP SIX: Create a study guide aimed at a high school reader, drawing on the research and your own knowledge to introduce and explain the work without summarizing the plot or making it possible to substitute a reading of your study guide for the book itself (in other words, don’t use Cliff Notes as your model). You can use ideas from my own study guides, but feel free to try different approaches that you think would be useful.
STEP SEVEN: Your paper will consist of an introduction answering the questions above and any others that you deem pertinent, the study guide you have created, and a bibliography (this time NOT annotated) of sources cited in your paper. Submit your paper in Activity 6 in the “Document” entitled “Submit Research Paper.”
STEP EIGHT: Read and make constructive comments for improvement on the papers of other students in the class.
STEP NINE: Taking into account the professor’s comments and those of your fellow students, revise your paper. All papers must be revised and must address the concerns raised by the professor. Submit the final revised version in Activity 8 in the “Document” entitled “Final Draft of Research Paper.”
Papers will be judged on usefulness, clarity, thoroughness of research, and quality of writing.
Topics for Research
- Brian Aldiss: Helliconia Winter
Aldiss realized as he was writing the third volume of his Helliconia trilogy–which had been built around ecological and evolutionary themes–that a nuclear winter theme would fit into the book he was writing, and it became much more of an anti-war statement. It is a sort of counter-epic, structured in just the opposite order of most such works. Very little has been written about it except by Aldiss himself, but it’s worth tracking down what there is. One important article about it is available only in French. Deserves the sort of praise for its ecological awareness that has been lavished on Frank Herbert’s Dune.
- Octavia Butler: Dawn (Volume I of her Xenogenesis trilogy)
Butler is particularly interested in biology, sexuality, reproduction, and questions of freedom and its limits. (Butler now lives in Seattle).
- Arthur C. Clarke: Rendezvous With Rama
Although there may appear at first to not be much scholarship on this classic “giant artifact” novel, it is covered in almost every discussion of “hard” SF and in general discussions of Clarke. Famous for depending on “awe and wonder” rather than character for its effect, combining Clarke’s peculiar combination interest in hardware with transcendence. THIS TOPIC HAS BEEN SIGNED UP FOR BY STACIA MISNER.
- Samuel R. Delany: Triton (retitled Trouble on Triton)
A satirical utopia stressing personal freedom and choice written partly in response to LeGuin’s The Dispossessed and drawing on Delany’s own experiences living in a commune and in an experimental marriage in the 1960s. Should be read in conjunction with his autobiographical volumes about that period The Motion Of Light In Water: Sex And Science Fiction Writing In The East Village 1957-1965 and Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love. Not for the squeamish–Delany is gay and into S&M (though the novel is much milder than the memoirs). Hint: there is a mailing list about Delany where the novel has been discussed, but read the book first–people talking about it tend to give away the ending: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/delany-list/.
- Philip K. Dick: The Man in the High Castle
The most famous of all alternative-history novels, in which Japan and Germany win World War II and conquer the U.S. Discussed in any survey of alternative history fiction. Hint: look for “alternate history” rather than “alternative history” as a subject. THIS TOPIC HAS BEEN SIGNED UP FOR BY AMY LAPTAD
- Philip K. Dick: Ubik
Considered by some to be Dick’s masterpiece, this is a work filled with his trademark satirical ambiguity and confusion about the nature of reality.
- Thomas M. Disch: 334
A grim portrait of a dangerous urban future which wrestles with many of the ethical issues we are only confronting seriously today. Discussed in most examinations of Disch’s fiction or in scholarship on urban SF.
- Harlan Ellison: selected short stories.
Ellison is one of the most influential short-story writers in the field. Identify a couple of his most-discussed stories and compare them. Identify which volumes the stories appear in by using the “Locus Index to Science Fiction” at http://www.locusmag.com/index/. Ellison’s stories are as often fantasy as they are SF (he objects strenuously to being labelled a science fiction writer). His work is often dark and shocking, but brilliant. He can be quite verbose in discussing his own work.
- Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
Huxley’s anti-utopia is still widely read and influential. Place it in the tradition of utopian and anti-utopian science fiction. THIS TOPIC HAS BEEN SIGNED UP FOR BY LIV LEID.
- Ursula LeGuin: The Left Hand of Darkness
LeGuin’s most-discussed novel, an early attempt at exploring gender roles and ambiguity, highly controversial in some circles.
- C.S. Lewis: Out of the Silent Planet
The first volume of Lewis’ Christian SF trilogy, which continues with Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. Now rather dated, but Lewis is still popular with young Christian readers. If you’ve already read the first volume, you may wish to discuss the somewhat more interesting Perelandra instead.
- Marge Piercy: Woman on the Edge of Time
Many non-SF readers don’t recognize this as SF at all: a fierce attack on the medical establishment’s treatment of mental patients with elements of a future utopia. Included in most discussions of 1970s feminist utopias.
- Joanna Russ: The Female Man
A fiercely funny, highly experimental examination of gender roles by one of SF’s most uncompromising feminists, now retired from the faculty of the University of Washington. Discussed in almost every survey of feminist SF.
- Robert Silverberg: Dying Inside
Moving portrait of a man slowly losing his telepathic powers, by one of SF’s most influential and popular authors.
- Olaf Stapledon: Sirius
A sensitive love story of a girl and the super-canine she is raised with by one of SF’s most original thinkers. Not as widely discussed as some of his other works, but a better-constructed novel. Stapledon’s consistent themes are evolution and challenging traditional morals.
- Theodore Sturgeon: More Than Human
Sturgeon is famous for his sensitivity to character and especially to his depiction of children and adolescents. This is an unconventional approach to the future evolution of the human race with an emphasis on emotion rather than the flexing of super-powers.
- James Tiptree, Jr.: Selected short stories
Alice Sheldon, writing under this pseudonym, produced some of the most powerful short fiction ever in the field. Choose two of her most-discussed stories and compare them. Identify which volumes the stories appear in by using the “Locus Index to Science Fiction” at http://www.locusmag.com/index/. There is an award for feminist SF named after her.
- Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five: or the Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance With Death
Vonnegut has written many SF novels which he has persuaded his publishers not to label as such, thus breaking out of the SF ghetto into a wider audience. This anti-war novel about the Dresden bombing incorporates classic SF elements and is still widely read and discussed. THIS TOPIC HAS BEEN SIGNED UP FOR BY GUY SMURTHWAITE.
- H. G. Wells: The Time Machine
Wells’ first science-fiction novel, enormously influential; discussed in any survey of time-travel fiction. THIS TOPIC HAS BEEN SIGNED UP FOR BY MELISSA WEISE.