Science Fiction Assignment

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


The Objective:

One of the goals of this course is that you improve your skills in critical analysis by articulating your original insights and by organizing and polishing formal presentations of them. This assignment asks you to identify one significant facet you perceive in one particular science fiction work and to explore its implications. Select an excruciatingly focused angle for, minimally, a five-page manuscript using MLA-style format. You have several options for meeting this objective which can both appeal to your own individual talents and still allow you to package brilliant scholarly analysis in impressive and professional ways.

The Options:

Depending on how you work best, you may want the idea first. Identify one intriguing facet in one of the works we have examined and explore its implications. You are aiming for an excruciatingly focused angle on this facet of the work and will present your analysis in either:

A) a minimum five-page complete manuscript using MLA-style format (use of secondary source journal articles is optional but professional and therefore strongly advised; we’ll discuss literary research and writing conventions in class);


B) another kind of complete project (such as a web page or other media product) equivalent in scholarship, analysis, and grunt work to a mimimum five-page manuscript;


C) about five pages worth of incomplete work, with a detailing of the state of, and remaining plans towards, a larger project (a web site or twelve+-page manuscript, for example) to be turned in as complete near the end of the semester.

Finding a Topic:

The rule here is simple: the more particular the better. First, select one work. Trying to jam two or more different works into one discussion when you’re thinking of this project in terms of “filling pages” will backfire, because, in a word, your paper will suck. Instead, treat this one work either as isolated and valuable in its own right or as a chosen representative example of a wider cultural phenomenon. Next, find something original to say about your selected work: a unique perspective on the piece, a specific theme or motif, a striking implication, possibly a detail you think is peculiar (if it does prove to have significance when you think it through). These works may have been discussed for a long time; so ideally you want to find a new angle on them, something unusual and arcane that no one else will think of. Papers lumbering through hackneyed topics will be disappointing — all around! Also, the focus should be on your perceptions rather than your evaluations or on you (e.g., “I feel that Dr. Moreau is an OK joe”). Cleverness and creativity (of an scholarly sort) are most welcome when it comes to crafting the project at this stage.

The Project:

Traditional papers are fine, but so are PowerPoint presentations or web pages, or films, or other scholarly products of your work. You are encouraged to research and include secondary sources, but original insight and analysis should still dominate the entire discussion. Your revised submitted project must be a minimum of five full, typed, double-spaced pages — or the electronic equivalent — containing a heading, an intriguing (not underlined) title, an original unified thesis, vigorous analytical work, no extra spaces between paragraphs, all in a clean, effective, illuminating, properly documented presentation (correctly punctuated in-text parenthetical citations of author and page, and a correctly formatted MLA-style Works Cited list). (We’ll talk a bit about literary research in class soon.) You will include a Works Cited list even if the only work on the list is the primary source you’re working with. Meeting these requirements, on time, assures you of at least a C grade (see grading sheet). Specific quotation from the literature, or descriptive detail from another type of primary source, should help demonstrate the validity of your argument. Your analytical discussion should be persuading readers or viewers of the significance of adopting your unique perspective on the material; it should not be a report of pointless factoids! MLA documentation is required for humanities writing and should be carried out correctly; so stop making me cross out commas, p’s, pg’s, pgs’s, and all other manner of clutter between author and page in parenthetical citations! Also quit it already with the bastardized Works Cited lists (MLA cross-bred with numbered references, APA corruptions, etc.). Refer to the accompanying MLA-style sheet, or my web page, or a handbook (MLA, Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference, etc.) for correct documentation, or ask me ahead of time. Proofread well so that minor surface matters do not distract readers from your ideas. The grade for any manuscript lacking a Works Cited list or containing a renegade, variant, or insane documentation system will strike you as intensely disappointing.


You may work alone or with someone else creating a useful resource for current and future students of science fiction. Realize that this is a scholarly project, not an advertisement or fan page. Pick an appropriately manageable scope for the project and include all the key ingredients that you would provide for a paper: research, analysis, commentary, and whatever else would make this creation impressive and valuable. And then package this in ways appropriate for a web site (research gets registered in a Works Cited that may include hyperlinks, for example) and for an audience consisting of future students of this class. Do not just create a recycling dumpsite, that is, don’t replicate what’s already available. Instead, be sure to offer the one thing most lacking on the web: critical analysis — not a full paper’s worth, since that just invites plagiarism, but some sophisticated components of commentary.

If you choose this project because it seems easy and you think you can submit any old crap with a jpg of Jules Verne, you are doomed and will fail most miserably. If you take up this challenge heroically and meaningfully, it will show.

Alternate Projects:

I welcome other kinds of projects that demonstrate the same objectives: ability to carry out sophisticated research, to discover an original purpose and focus, to write with clarity and influence your audience’s perspective. You may find a way to construct a bibliographical, filmic, pedagogical, or popular culture related project appropriate to our studies which will inspire enthusiasm and break new ground impressively. You may work on a cooperative endeavor with a colleague. There are many possibilities. Think about it.

Doing the Bloody Work:

You are obligated to hand in the project at the beginning of the class period on the designated due date. If you create a web site, give me a copy just of the textual portions and the URL. Truancy is, of course, no excuse (i.e., “I couldn’t get my paper in cuz I cut class”). Fate, as we know, plays amusing tricks. Despite mid-semester miseries, don’t screw around. I tell you right now that Aunt Millie could drop in a flash on February 12th: it is your obligation to anticipate anything like this in your life that could go wrong and to take preventive measures or to develop back-up plans. You also must accept responsibility for being so foolish as to stake your grade on a computer’s or printer’s reliability. And no bitter ironies about roommates and alarm-clocks. No paper submitted means you did not meet the requirements of the course (big F); late papers will not be read but at least you will have met requirements minimally (little F factored in). On a more positive note, I assure you that I am happy to provide advice and help at any stage of the pre-writing and drafting processes, short of giving you a topic and doing the project. And I’ve placed various helpful materials on the web for your consultation, such as examples for the required MLA-style documentation here.

Proposal Paragraph Due: MONDAY, FEBRUARY 6th.