Robotic Lions, Alien Tigers, and Time-Traveling Bears…. Oh My!

Take one part imagination, one part weird science, and sprinkle that with some futuristic technology… maybe a dash of dystopia if you’re feeling bold, and what do you get? Science fiction, of course!

Related to other genres like fantasy, horror, and myths, science fiction is a form of speculative fiction that gives writers and readers alike the opportunity to imagine a world, or worlds, never seen before. With science fiction we can discover far off alien planets with Captain Kirk on the U.S.S. Enterprise, time travel with H.G. Wells, or create an immortal man—or monster—like in Mary Shelley’s 18th century tale. Throughout the ages authors have mined real-world events and culture to create some of the most well-loved sci-fi, often providing a critical look at the news and beliefs of the day and crafting visions of what any number of alternate futures there could be.

Nowadays, we see science fiction all around us in books, our favorite television series, and on the big screen in blockbuster movies. Whether it’s thought provoking or strictly for entertainment, based on real world scientific concepts or fantasy realms, sci-fi is a rich treasure trove of creativity. There’s even a Science Fiction Day on January 2nd – the birthday of famous writer Isaac Asimov! Asimov wrote and edited over 500 books, many of which were science fiction novels and short stories. Did you know he was even the first to coin the word robotics?

Learn more about the history and visionaries of science fiction, explore some of their greatest writings, and get inspired by the real world science behind some of our favorite sci-fi tales below. Then, give science fiction writing a try for yourself with resources from local organizations and home and classroom activities.

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The History & Visionaries of Science Fiction

Pushing Boundaries: Science Fiction and Feminism | Ursula K. Le Guin

Grades 6-12
In this series of videos from the American Masters film Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, learn how Ursula Le Guin and her contemporaries pushed science fiction from a male-dominated genre into a more inclusive form. By redefining the parameters of science fiction, Le Guin herself had to rethink the role of women in the genre. Best known for her science fiction and “Earthsea” fantasy series, celebrated author Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (1929–2018) wrote 21 novels, 11 volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, 12 children’s books, six volumes of poetry and four of translation during her life.

Frankenstein | The Great American Read

Grades 6-12
Experts and artists talk about the lessons in Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, Frankenstein. They explore how the book is about more than a fear of science, but the consequences of not taking care of your creations and letting hubris get in the way. Mary Shelley started writing the book at the age of 18, and in 2018, the book celebrated its 200th anniversary. This classic horror story has a much deeper tale to tell.

Dune | The Great American Read

Grades 6-12
Frank Herbert’s Dune, published in 1965, stands as a pillar of science fiction. It was one of the first in the genre to tell a relatable hero’s journey. It is also known as a political power saga, a religious allegory, and a story about conserving natural resources. Actor Wil Wheaton shares his passion for the novel, and we meet Tom Duke, a fan of the book who moved his family to Taos, NM to live a life inspired by the desert planet Arrakis featured in the novel.

Afrofuturism: From Books to Blockbusters | It’s Lit!

Grades 6-12
Learn how Afrofuturism is more than just “science fiction plus Africa” and the roots of this important genre in this video from the digital series It’s Lit. Afrofuturism addresses the cultural issues and concerns of the African diaspora through technoculture and science fiction (a la Black Panther). Afrofuturism, much like rap, reggae, jazz, blues and all the music to come out of Black experience is about creating art out of pain, strength, loss, and success, but it is fundamentally rooted in being denied a full history and looking to the future to correct that.

The Giver by Lois Lowry | The Great American Read

Grades 6-12
The Giver is a Newberry Award-winning book by Lois Lowry that tells the story of 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly perfect society called “the community,” where memories and feelings have been eliminated. He eventually discovers the community’s dark side and takes a daring step to save a life and seek freedom. We explore how Jonas is an ordinary boy who does the extraordinary.

Why Sci-Fi is a Mirror on Society | It’s Lit!

Grades 9-12
While science fiction is associated with Mars, robots, and cyberpunk, its origin story is shaped throughout several centuries. Check out the origin of science fiction with Lindsay Ellis!

The Handmaid’s Tale | The Great American Read

Grades 9-12
Margaret Atwood
explains the inspiration and motivation behind her book, The Handmaid’s Tale. She reveals how everything in the book is based on something real that has happened in history. The book explores how societal evil can lead people to do unthinkable things.

Science Fiction… in the Real World!

Star Trek at 50: Science Fiction or Science Fact? | STEM in 30

Grades 3-8
50 years ago one of the most popular shows in the history of television premiered. Star Trek has inspired generations of scientists, astronauts, and engineers, and introduced many technologies that have gone from science fiction to science reality. Boldly go on a voyage with STEM in 30 as we explore the Star Trek universe, including the studio model of the starship Enterprise on display in our Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.

Identifying Flying Objects

Grades 3-12
Learn how scientists examine the soil and vegetation in an area to try to determine if a UFO ever landed there.

Big Wooly Gene

Grades 6-12
Dive into the difficulties of resurrecting extinct animals from remnant DNA. While the science fiction is famous, the reality is more complex and maybe impossible, but the science behind why it will likely stay science fiction is revealing.

The Science of Warp Drives

Grades 9-12
Warp drives, negative mass, exotic matter—these all sound like the stuff of science fiction. But MIT explains how our stranger-than-fiction universe could be explained by actual physics!

The Cyberpunk Future | STEAM: Ideas That Shape Our World

Grades 9-12
Science fiction writer, computer scientist, and mathematician Rudy Rucker (The Ware Tetralogy) says the cyberpunk future is already here. Merriam-Webster defines cyberpunk as “science fiction dealing with future urban societies dominated by computer technology.” Rucker says a key element of cyberpunk, however, is an anti-establishment outlook on life. He talks about cyberpunk and imagines the technology of the future. Rucker spoke as part of the 2017 IdeaFestival in Louisville, Kentucky.

Learning Resources & Local Organizations

Adirondack Center for Writing

All Ages
The Adirondack Center for Writing brings people and words together. The ACW cultivates the art of writing and the joy of reading; celebrate the power of language to invite discovery, to create an understanding of people and sense of place, and to build a community. Check out what’s new and newsworthy, join a writer’s group to hone your literary chops, or visit them each weekday afternoon for drop-in reading, writing, and community time at their new Saranac Lake location!

Mary Shelley Reader | Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum

Grades K-2
Learn about author Mary Shelley with this printable biosketch reader and support materials from Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum. Use the associated graphic organizers to support comprehension, research, and assessment in the classroom and at home.

Inspiring Young Authors | For the Love of Lit

Grades K-5
This virtual professional learning experience will introduce a number of teaching models and strategies to enhance your practice. How can you inspire your students to be passionate writers and engaged readers? We’ll explore how mentor texts from The Great American Read, combined with the NaNoWriMo challenge, can empower students of all ages to read and write with enthusiasm and depth. 

The Dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale | The Great American Read

Grades 9-12
In this lesson, students will be able to gain a greater understanding of the symbols used in The Handmaid’s Tale and compare them to historical symbols. Students will be able to demonstrate critical thinking and media literacy as they form connections between close readings of the novel and the historical references. Finally, they will write an essay connecting one of these historical connections to the novel.

Exploring the Drive to Create in Frankenstein | The Great American Read

Grades 9-12
In this lesson, students will explore the drive to create in Frankenstein by working on activities addressing the first three chapters of the novel. Students will close-read sections of the novel and make a critical analysis of the text, summarize and make predictions, compare similarities and themes between the work and Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” and complete a vocabulary building exercise.