Week 1: Course overview, introductions, written expectations, and brief discsussion. Watched the 1980s Twilight Zone adaption of The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin and the recent Outer Limits adaptation of Think Like a Dinosaur by James Patrick Kelly. Assingments: 1. Buy required textbooks on the amazon.com list below; 2. Write 3-4 pages in proper manuscript format responding to the shows we watched (and also refering to the written stories as well as "The Cold Solution" by Don Saker available on fictionwise.com.
Week 2: Read/discuss reactions to "The Cold Equations." Tonight we focused on light, did a little lecture and look at a good webpage on refraction. We read and discussed "The Light of Other Days" and slowing down light. We listend to and discussed "First Contact" by Murry Leinster, some scenes from Predator, and optical camouflage (The Lady Vanishes by Charles Sheffield is a nice sf story about this idea). We played with night vision and the thermal camera (operating at 7-14 microns) for real technology demonstrations. This week's assignment is to write a scene, in proper manuscript format, exploring some aspect of light using proper science. While it's perfectly okay to copy one of the ideas here (e.g., optical camoflague or aliens/technology with vision in different parts of the spectrum) please feel encouraged to get more creative.
Week 3: Passed back the pieces on "The Cold Equations." Tried the thermal camera demo again, and another video from the Spitzer Space Telescope about detecting extrasolar planets by their heat signature. Read and discuss the "light scenes" and scenes in general. Light was last week, and we used it to transition to this week's topic: distances in the universe. Watched the Twilight Zone episode "The Star" based on Arthur C. Clarke's famous short story, and had a short discussion. Watched Cosmic Voyages (and had the Powers of Ten, and the opening to Contact follow-up but time didn't permit). Discussed some basics of the universe and the distances between them (slides). Handed out some reference papers (appendices in The Spaceflight Handbook regarding powers of ten, physical constants, and data concerning the nearest stars). Assigments: Read pages 1-18 in Sheffield. Download from fictionwise.com and read "The Shoulders of Giants" by Robert Sawyer. Write a short essay on time, rate, and distance checking Sawyer's numbers and exploring your own numbers: how long does it take to walk, drive, fly, and travel at light speed from New York to Los Angeles? How long does it take to do those same things and get to Alpha Centauri? Estimates here are fine.
Week 4: Discuss the Sawyer story and the associated assignment. Turkey City Lexicon. Sawyer Story and Homework. Lecture on gravity and motion: Slides. Movie clips. Gravity Games. Reading Assignments: Sundancer Falling by Geoffrey Landis, more Sheffield looking toward Space Travel and Relativity (sections 2.4, 2.5, 2.6, all of chapter 8, and 9.5). Writing assignment: write a page from a brochure of space hotel in orbit above Earth. Be sure to make it sound interesting and exciting, and play up the attractions of freefall and variable artificial gravity (e.g., for games, or exercise, or whatever!). Feel free to make it look like a brochure, too, if inclined.
Week 5: Finally demo the thermal camera properly (I have a working battery that came in!). Discuss the Landis story, particularly the gravitational science. Watch Destination Moon, and discuss various strengths and weaknesses, particularly how the science fiction differs from the reality two decades later, and what was necessary to educate the audience about. Reading Assignment: There will be some reading handed out from Nordley (www.gdnordley.com) to expand on the previous reading in Sheffield. Writing assignment: Write a SCENE (not a story!) in which one character must explain how a rocket works to someone who doesn't understand the concept (e.g., a child, an alien, or the silly person who wrote the NYT editorial referred to in this wikipedia entry..
Week 6: Discuss Destination Moon and read homework assignments. Go on into space travel (lecture, discussion from Sheffield reading). Save for next week Nordley's surface gravity article. Lecture/discuss relativity, Nordley articles. Read Relativity by Robert Sawyer and discuss. Finish with "Her Pilgrim Soul" from the 1980s Twilight Zone series for Valentine's Day. Reading assignment: Chapters 1, 2, and 7 from Gillette (lots of review in these, too). Writing assignment: write a passage (2-3 paragraphs) from the point of view of an explorer returning from a relativistic interstellar trip. Choose a nearby star, a form of space travel, a velocity, and work out the time differences and work them into the passage. The explorer's concerns will depend on your choices.
Week 7: Stars, solar systems, and alien worlds. Note that class will officially only run 7-9pm tonight to make up for running late a few times. Review writing and reading assignments. Start discussion of alien solar systems (lecture/discssion) and on extrasolar planets. Informal discussion, if desired past 9pm, and can cover fiction writing. Reading assignments: Gillette chapter 8 for the brave, plus online articles, Science in Science Fiction: Making it Work by Joan Slonczewski, Building New Worlds by Stephen Baxter. Writing assignment: design a solar system/colony world in which to set stories (more on this in class). I've found a webpage with a helpful guide very similar to what I want you to do.
Week 8: I'd like us to meet to watch The Astronaut Farmer at the movie theater at 7:00pm, followed by a discussion at O'Dwyer's. Spread the word (I'll be emailing everyone about this). I'll be subsidizing the evening, but bring some cash. Writing assignment: write a review of the movie in which you include an assessment of the science/realism.
Week 9: Catchup on old work (planet building, Astronaut Farmer reviews). Discussion/lecture on fiction writing and short stories in particular. Reading assignment: Chapters 2, 3, and 4 in Card. Writing assignment: Write a complete short story set in an extrasolar planetary system using all the science tricks and lessons we've had to this point. Probably a minimum length is about 2000 words, but the sweet spot where it's easiest to fit things in is 3000+ words (and I'd suggest trying to keep it under 5000 words). Use standard manuscript format. Don't worry if it's not brilliant for now -- just try to make it complete, with good science, and some sort of plot, setting, and characters.
Week 10: Midterm stories due! We'll discuss how we'll critique these over the next two weeks in class, and critique guidelines will be distributed. Also, questionairre for topics for the remainder of the semester. We'll talk about several science issues, like how to estimate the temperature of a planet orbiting a star (see this helpful wiki article), and eclipses.
Week 11: Turn in late stories. Discuss/critique the first set of stories in the first hour. Second part of class, watch Event Horizon.
Week 12: Discuss the science in Event Horizon, what there is of it anyway, particularly the effects of human exposure to space (Wiki articles on Human Space Adaptation, Vaccum, and Explosive Decompression are worth checking out). Discuss/critique the second set of stories in the first hour. Some slides and discussion about Black Holes. Reading assignments: The Hole Man by Larry Niven, Impact Parameter by Geoffrey Landis, both available on www.fictionwise.com. Writing assignment: Write a scene (only a scene!) describing some effect in the vicinity of a black hole of some plausible type.
Week 13: Quantum Weirdness.
Discuss the black hole stories The Hole Man by Larry Niven and Impact Parameter by Geoffrey Landis. Read aloud and discuss the plausibilty of the black hole scenes.
Quantum physics has many aspects of "weirdness" that are not very intuitive, that differ from our every day experience, but nevertheless are supported by experiment. And there is still great philosophical disagreement on how to interpret the equations. Topics to be introduced and discussed include: quantization, E=mc2, wave-particle duality, superposition, Copenhagen and many-worlds interpretations, quantum teleportation and the question of whether or not god plays dice with the universe. Quantum Computing represents a science fictional type of technology to arise out of superposition. Here is another good article. Here is a video introducing, humorously, Schrodinger's Cat experiment. Here is another video of a weird old guy explaining the paradox. Another humorous take on the idea.
Discuss how to come up with story ideas (brainstorming) based on the discussion of quantum mechanics. One of the best quantum physics science fiction novels out there is Quarantine, by Greg Egan, FYI, bursting with ideas.
Writing assignment: write a synopsis of three science fiction stories, complete with characters, setting, and a plot, in anticipation of the year-end assignment. It should use science we've covered in class and ideally the science will be central to the story. You might check out http://www.writesf.com/ if you want more direction. Reading assignments: Chapter 10 in Sheffield (particularly quantum computing and nanotech sections. Hugo nominee All the Myriad Ways, by Larry Niven. (Note, this replaces a much longer and less focused story, The Planck Drive, by Greg Egan, both available on www.fictionwise.com.)
Week 14: Discuss last week's assignments. Move on to nanotechnology. The story starts with nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynmann and his 1959 talk "Plenty of Room at the Bottom." Another step was Eric Drexler's dissertation Nanosystems and famous popular science book, Engines of Creation (1986). While this is the visionary thread, the nuts and bolts have been pushed all along in various branches of science, and key steps there involve the discovery of buckyballs and carbon nanotubes (here's a video), which are potential building blocks for nanotech (although Smalley, who discovered buckyballs, was critical of Drexler style molecular nanotechnology). Nanofabrication will become reality in one form or another, and the ability to create designer materials will have a large impact. Applications include the space elevator, Star Trek style replicators, nanomedicine and related biological applications, and super soldier suits. A good location for non-stop shopping for nanotech information is The Foresight Institute, originally founded by Drexler. Science Fiction treatments are many and good, such as the novels Blood Music by Greg Bear, Bloom by Wil McCarthy, and the Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, among others. Writing Assignment: Final stories, due Wed. of finals week.
Week 15: Far-future SF, the Singularity of Vernor Vinge, Post-Humanism, and the limits of science. After Vinge, Ray Kurzweil is the guy to go to, and gives a supported vision of the near future. Discuss the far future, the difference between science and engineering, and how future technology and their impact on humans may be anticipated. In class reading: Day Million by Frederick Pohl, The Last Answer by Issac Asimov, and Making Light by James P. Hogan. Final stories will be due the Wednesday of finals week.
The course syllabus.
All written assignements should adhere to standard manuscript format as shown here. (pdf format)
Here is an amazon.com list with the texts used in the course.
Some stories that are required reading for this course can be purchased for a small feed and downloaded from fictionwise.
Another location with new and classic stories of high quality is Sci Fiction. It's free, too.
If you ever get the urge to want to submit stories for possible sale/publication, this is the place to go for current market information: www.ralan.com
This webpage has a very comprehensive grand index of writing advice. I'd appreciate feedback on articles here as it may be possible to move away from requiring textbooks in the future.
Andy Fraknoi has compiled a list of stories/novels with good science on a variety of astronomical topics.
Astronomy Picture of the Day is a great webpage to visit every day.