What do you get when you combine a vivid imagination, weird science, futuristic technology, and maybe a dash of dystopia? 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.
Authors around the globe 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 their time while 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 author Isaac Asimov, who wrote and edited over 500 books, many of which were science fiction novels and short stories. Asimov was also the first person to coin the word robotics!
Learn about the history of science fiction, explore works by some of the genre’s greatest visionaries, and get inspired by the real world science behind some of our favorite sci-fi concepts below. Then, give science fiction writing a try for yourself with classroom-ready lesson plans and activities.
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The Art & History of Science Fiction
Afrofuturism: From Books to Blockbusters | It’s Lit!
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.
How Fictional Pandemics Reflect the Real Thing | It’s Lit!
Pandemics in literature represent fears and anxieties that emerge out of sociopolitical contexts, while also reminding people of the power of humans to evolve, adapt, and survive in a world altered by tragedy. Examine the changing depictions of pandemics in literature over time with this video from It’s Lit! Support materials include discussion questions, a pandemic jigsaw, creative writing response, and literature extension ideas.
Why Sci-Fi is a Mirror on Society | It’s Lit!
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!
Literary Visionaries & Trailblazers
Pushing Boundaries: Science Fiction and Feminism | Ursula K. Le Guin
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, the celebrated author 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
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
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.
The Giver by Lois Lowry | The Great American Read
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.
The Handmaid’s Tale | The Great American Read
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
Star Trek—one of the most popular shows in the history of television—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 the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.
Cockroach Cyborgs | Gross Science
Learn how to turn a cockroach into a tiny controllable “bugborg,” in this episode of Gross Science from NOVA. Why would you want to? It turns out that these nasty pests could turn into life savers in the future. By inserting wires in the cockroaches’ antennae and connecting the wires to a backpack containing a battery and computer chip, scientists can control where the cockroach moves.
Big Wooly Gene
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
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!
When Will We Worry About the Well-Being of Robots? | PBS Idea Channel
Do you worry about your vacuum? Not in the way you’re concerned about breaking a valuable object – but in an emotional, empathetic concern for its being? If so, then you’re primed for our discussion about the wellbeing of robots! We can personify objects, assigning them human qualities, but will technology get to a point where it deserves these moral concerns? Can you imagine a day when you will empathize with your computer or care whether it lives or dies?
Activities & Lesson Plans
Mary Shelley Reader | Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum
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
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
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
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.