Education: ENGL 0975

 ENG 0975 - The Science of Science Fiction

Instructor: Mr. Christian R. Mills,
                 B.S. Weber State University, Mathematics & Physics Education
                 M.S. Montana State University, Physics Education.

Have you ever wondered how much science fiction has affected real science? Or, how much of science fiction is based on real science? This course is an examination of the history of science fiction literature, from the early 1930's writings of Hugo Gernsback to Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, and Arthur C. Clarke, to the newest fan-fiction, and the real science behind the science fiction. We will look at the theories behind space travel, time travel, extrasolar planets, the advancement of technology, and the possibilities of alien life. The course will include readings, writings, films, television shows, real science and technology, as well as an opportunity to write your own sci-fi story. A background in science is not needed, but beware, you just might learn some real science during the course of the semester!

This course is designed to help students increase literacy, improve writing skills, and broaden their reading and literature base while at the same time exposing the students to real science contained in the science fiction. The course will require the students to develop, understand, and apply the scientific method as well as to develop and apply a "science fiction method." Students will use hypothesis to identify a problem presented in text or in media, research to understand the conflict, experiment with statistical data and/or the students own experiences, and draw conclusions based on this data. Students will then apply what they've learned about how real science and science fiction affect each other to make educated conjectures about theoretical science, future technological advancements, and practical applications. Students will also compare and contrast golden-age science fiction with modern science fiction to determine if real science has bearing on science fiction. Students will also be asked to determine and document how much of an effect science fiction has on real science.


Students will submit a research paper involving the scientific method as it applies to modern theoretical sciences. Students will research topics such as space travel, time travel, teleportation, etc. and present their research in a true and valid scientific format.

Students will submit upon completion of the term a science fiction story. This story will include the basic elements of science fiction as well as a plot device which requires the scientific method for resolution. The students will use explicit and elaborate explanations when describing the conflict resolution in order to demonstrate their understanding of real science.

The students will read, discuss, and present information from articles from journals as well as the internet about advancements in real science. The articles will cover cutting-edge science and technology. The students will be required to discuss and present how these advancements and ideas pertain to and apply to society, how they better our lives, as well as new technologies and their practical applications.

As the students read, study, watch films, or listen to science and science fiction, they are required to annotate their opinions and feelings, vocabulary terms they don't understand along with their definitions, points of interest, or other pertinent information that the students find necessary in order to complete their other required assignments.

Since this is a class from which you may earn science credit, there will be a midterm and a comprehensive final exam. These exams will require the class to work problems from the online multiple choice test about real-science topics and problems. There will also be a few short-answer questions asking the students to draw conclusions from a number of real-world situations. Keep in mind that the object of the class is to draw relationships between science and science fiction and to apply the scientific method.

Grading will be done in the following manner:

  • Research Paper Rough Draft: 100 pts.
  • Research Paper Final Draft: 100 pts.
  • Fiction Story Rough Draft: 100 pts.
  • Fiction Story Final Draft: 100 pts.
  • Technical Presentations (10): 20 pts. each
  • Journal Contributions (10): 20 pts. each
  • Midterm Exam: 100 pts.
  • Final Exam: 100 pts.
  • Total: 1000 pts.
The students will be given a percentage gradebased on points earned divided by points total, and the students will also receive a performance and proficiency grade on assignments wich meet Wyoming State Science/Math Standards.

Plagiarism is defined as "presenting as one's own work the work of another person -- words, ideas, data, evidence, thoughts, information, organizing principles, or style of presentation -- without proper attribution." While we will talk about the dangers of plagiarism in class, it is your responsibility to be aware of what is and what is not plagiarism, whether intentional or not. Your instructor has a variety of tools at his disposal for testing written work for plagiarism, ample experience at detecting it, and a low tolerance for it. If you have questions about whether you are adequately citing or attributing work, please ask your mentor or instructor.


REQUIRED TEXTS:Callender, C. & Edney, R. (2001). Introducing Time. Crows Nest, NSW, Australia: Totem Books.
Adler, B., Jr. (Ed.) (1998). Time Machines: The Best Time Travel Stories Ever Written. New York: Carroll & Graf. (OUT OF PRINT)
Pickover, C. A. (1998). The Science of Aliens. New York: Basic Books.
Hacker, D. (1999). A Writer’s Reference. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

"Sequence", Carl Jacobi (1972).
"Sky Lift", Robert A. Heinlein (1953).
Selection from "Slaughterhouse V", Kurt Vonnegut (1969).
Ch. 1 "Counter-clock world", Philip K. Dick (1967).
"First Contact"
Murray Leinster (1945).
"To Serve Man", Damon Knight (1950).
Selection from "Dragon's Egg", Robert Forward (1980), including Technical Appendix.
Bova, B. with Lewis, A. R. (1997) Science Fiction Writing Series: Space Travel. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books
Nahin, P. J. (1997). Science Fiction Writing Series: Time Travel. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books
Excerpts from A Voyage To The Moon, Cyrano de Bergerac (1657), plus Act 3, Scene 11 of “Cyrano de Bergerac”, Rostand (1898).
The Travels and surprising adventures of Baron Munchausen: Ch. 6 , Ch. 18 (1785).
From the Earth to the Moon, Ch. 123: Jules Verne (1865).
The First Men on the Moon
Ch. 123: H. G. Wells (1900).
 "The Wind From the Sun", Arthur C. Clarke (1963) (Comic book version: Olivier Boisard (1985))
"The Propagation of Light in a Vacuum", James Patrick Kelly (1990)
"Mail Supremacy" (scroll down for excerpt), Hayford Peirce (1974).
Selections: Infinite Improbability Drive and Bistromathic Drive from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. (1979)
"All mimsy were the borogoves": Ch. 123456789: "Lewis Padgett" (1943)
        (See also "Jabberwocky", from "Through the Looking-Glass", Lewis Carroll (1871))
"A Sound of Thunder", Ray Bradbury (1952).
"Fire Watch", Connie Willis (1982).
"Bad Timing", Molly Brown (1991).
"The Sentinel", Arthur C. Clarke (1951).
"They're made out of meat" (See also stage version), Terry Bisson (1991).
"Tell them they are all full of shit and they should fuck off", Terry Bisson (1994).
"Kindergarten", James E. Gunn (1970).
Ezekiel: Ch. 1.
Top science stories of 2003: Discover Magazine,  Scientific American
NOVA: Hunt for Alien Worlds (transcript)  (additional resources), Kidnapped by UFO's (transcript)
Minority Report, La JetéeNOVATime Travel (1999), The Time Machine (2002), Time and Punishment (Simpsons episode), Donnie Darko (2001).
AlienHunt for Alien Worlds (1997), Kidnapped by UFO's (1997), Twilight Zone: To Serve Man (1962)


Guaicán Literario (Cuban SF in Spanish)
Online SF & fantasy short stories (old, public domain)
Amateur SF sites
Agent to the Stars” (John Scalzi) -- a shareware novel
The Android Times (SLU student SF)
Definitions of SFMore definitions
The Internet Top 100 SF/Fantasy List
SF stories by themeSETITimeRel. Space travel and many others!
Another themed index (mostly novels, but also collections)
Science Fiction Writers' Resource Guide: alphabetical list by topic, with links to other resources.
Time machines in physics (about 200 citations)
Online Writing Laboratories ("OWLs")
60 Minutes transcript: “The Rumor Mill” (1998).
Orson Scott Card's homepage: Includes "Uncle Orson's Writing Class"

Solar sails
Bussard ramscoop
Generations starships
Antimatter fuel
Tachyons, FTL
Wormholes ("stargates")
Quantum teleportation
Warpdrive (Alcubierre)
Zero-point energy from vacuum
Manned travel to Mars
Permanent base on the Moon
Direction of time's arrow
Relativistic (1-way) time travel
Chronology protection conjecture
Gödel time machine
Tipler time machine
Gott time machine
Time branching & alternate universes
The Drake equation
Search for extrastellar planets
Life in this solar system
Theory of panspermia
Non-carbon-based life
Life in extreme environments
Biblical UFOs & ETs
Psychology of UFO abductees
The Raelian movement