Syllabus: Science and Science Fiction, Spring 2007


Instructor:                     Michael Brotherton

Office:                          217 Physical Sciences

Phone:                          766-5402

E-mail:                (best way to contact me)

Websites:            (course materials here!)

Office Hours:               W 1-4pm, also by appointment

Lectures:                      W 7-10pm, Prowse Room

Texts:                            See Course Webpage for list

Course Goals and Activities

This course will explore the physical sciences through science fiction.

Science fiction is the literature of the modern age, possessing a special

relationship with our rapidly changing technological civilization where

issues once found only in fiction are now issues in reality. Science fiction

also permits a unique discussion of man's place in the universe that can

be difficult to have in either science or humanities classes. Course

activities will involve reading, writing, watching, and discussing science

fiction and the intersection of human/scientific issues involved in the

material considered. Both critical thinking and artistic sensibility will

be emphasized. Some topics to be covered include: space travel,

nanotechnology, time travel, pseudoscience, philosophy of science, science

in film, black holes, quantum theory, relativity, and the craft of fiction writing.

Lecture/Class Time

I expect regular attendance. Sometimes things come up, I know, and when they do please let me know as soon as possible and arrange to make things up when necessary. Lecture will be a mix of traditional lecture, discussion, and movie watching.

Homework and other Assignments

Homework will normally be assigned every week and will include both reading and writing. All written assignments should be typed and adhere to standard manuscript format ala the handout. There will be two larger assignments for midterm and finals: complete short stories.

Exams and more

There will be no exams. There will be no problem sets. There will be math in class from time to time, and you may need it to write a story, but that’s about it. We’re here for concepts, understanding, and science fiction.


The grading scheme will be based largely on attendance and completion of written assignments. Perfect attendance, class interaction, and complete, reasonable homeworks will guarantee you an A. More than one unexcused absence, and each extra one, will drop a letter grade. Same with missed homework, or for slipshod BS homework. The first absence/missed homework is your only grace. But I’m reasonable about things, especially if notified in advance of class (email is best).

Special Accommodations

If you have a physical, learning, or psychological disability and require accommodations, please let me know as soon as possible.  You will need to register with, and provide documentation of your disability to, University Disability Support Services (UDSS) in SEO, room 330 Knight Hall, 766-6189, TTY: 766-3073

About Me

I am an observational astronomer specializing in the study of quasars and other types of active galaxies thought to be powered by super-massive black holes.  I received my PhD from the University of Texas at Austin and have previously worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Kitt Peak National Observatory.  I've really used the Very Large Array (the "VLA", a radio telescope in New Mexico featured in the movie Contact), the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.  I'm also a professional science fiction writer — my first novel Star Dragon is about an expedition to a distant binary star system and was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for best Science Fiction Novel of 2003.  I just submitted my second novel to my editor at Tor. I’m also currently editing an anthology of astronomy science fiction stories (funded by the NSF), and will host the first annual Astronomy Workshop for Writers this summer here in Laramie.