Due Dates

  • Subgenre selection and preliminary bibliography due: Friday, September 4 by 10 pm via course site
  • Lit Review due: Friday, September 11 by 10 pm to Blackboard

Project Overview

Despite its name, a “literature review” is not exactly about literature. Instead, it focuses on scholarship about literature. For this assignment, you will compose a critical overview of recent (and/or landmark) scholarship about a certain branch of science fiction (SF) literature (afrofuturism, steampunk, biopunk, ecocritical SF, postcolonial SF, hard/soft SF, utopia/dystopia, invasion literature, SF and myth, SF and the epic, SF and travel literature, SF and queer theory, SF and gender, SF and race, SF and the body, etc.). You will select an SF “subgenre,” research its attendant critical literature, and present your findings in a reflective, analytical essay.

To help craft your review, I have posted a sample literature review, completed by a college student just like you, on our Blackboard site on the Course Readings page. Because this sample literature review is about cyberpunk, you may not choose cyberpunk as your subgenre.

The idea behind this assignment is to give your reader the following three things:

  • A brief description of your chosen “subgenre” and reference to at least 2 primary sources, or examples of the subgenre.
  • “The lay of land” pertaining to your chosen branch of science fiction. This means you will provide a concise, strategically-organized, and well-documented synthesis of an SF subgenre’s critical reception that highlights the subgenre’s presumed political and/or aesthetic priorities. What kinds of questions are literary critics asking about your branch of SF, speculative literature, or intersections between your branch of SF and fantasy? What issues seem to endure? What new critical interventions seem especially urgent and compelling? What problems do SF authors identify as particularly pressing and necessary to explore? What authors, critics, or philosophers recurrently appear in these articles and why? What historical events or figures repeatedly figure in these essays and why?
  • Your own evaluation of this body of critical work. Do these authors ask the right questions? What are they getting right and where do you see room for growth? What’s missing?

Passing literature reviews will include all of the above three things.

Assignment Details & Requirements

There are two sequential parts to this assignment:

(1) Subgenre selection and preliminary bibliography: The first step in this assignment is to choose your SF subgenre and to begin your research. To that end, the week before the literature review is due, you will submit a post to our course site that lists your chosen subgenre (categorized under the “Literature Review” category). It is fine if you choose the same subgenre as someone else, but this project must be done individually. I therefore expect your finished products to differ substantially. This post will also include a list of at least four of the scholarly sources and at least one of the primary sources you plan to use for your literature review.

This portion of the assignment is due on Friday, September 4 by 10 pm.

I will not accept literature reviews from those who have not completed their subgenre selection and/or preliminary bibliography.

(2) Literature Review: In addition to the requirements outlined above, your literature review should consist of the following:

  • 4-5 pages double-spaced (1400-1800 words)
  • Citations and format according to some established citation style (MLA and Chicago style are the best for these kinds of sources)
  • 6 scholarly sources (minimum)
    • These generally include journal articles, book chapters, or full-length books (or more likely, specific parts of full-length books).
    • They should be written by scholars and published by a scholarly and/or university press or journal. This means that, in most cases (and there are exceptions), articles from popular magazines, online outlets, newspapers, etc. do not count for this assignment.
    • They should also be relatively recent, meaning they have been published within the past 15 years or so. This requirement does not apply to landmark scholarship in your subgenre. If you find a source that you can demonstrate has clearly been important to the scholarship about your subgenre and it’s older than 15 years, you can include that source. However, you need to be able to demonstrate its importance to the field.
  • 2 primary sources, or examples of the subgenre (minimum)

Your completed, polished literature review is due on Friday, September 11 by 10 pm.


*Databases to consult and mine for scholarly sources:

  • MLA International Bibliography
  • Academic Search Premier
  • Project Muse
  • Oxford Reference Online

*SF-focused scholarly journals:

  • Science Fiction Studies
  • Extrapolation

*Ask the librarians at Cooper Library for help! They can help you to find sources. This is, in fact, part of their job – and they are very good at it. They will be the best friends you could have for this assignment if you let them.

*Read through the example literature review I have given you (posted on Blackboard on our Course Readings page). When you do, you’ll note that it, like all good literature reviews, contains the following things:

  • Definitions of key concepts and terms and a description of the subgenre.
  • A rough explanation of a field’s central questions or preoccupations.
  • What these lines of questioning/scholarship open up in terms of thought and cultural practice. What do they allow us to think about, or to think about differently?
  • A sense of what’s at stake in these lines of study, or of why we should care.
  • Discussions on developing a critical vocabulary for better understanding the field (refining our language to add nuance to our thinking about the topic in question).
  • Calls for work in understudied areas and for extending existing thought in focused directions.
  • Bibliographic literacy and legitimacy (note how well the sample is supported and sourced).

*If you find a source that you think will work well for this assignment, mine its bibliography for other potential sources. This is often the quickest way to find related scholarship.

*You can also use Google Scholar to do something similar. Once you’ve found a solid source, go to scholar.google.com and type its title into the search bar. If the source is indexed, which most scholarly articles and books are, the search results page will return not only the source and how you can find it, but also a list of all of the other articles and books that have cited that specific source. It looks like this:

results from google search

Click on image to enlarge

From these results, we can see that Darko Suvin’s book Metamorphoses of Science Fiction has been cited 1066 times. This tells us that it’s probably an important text in the field. You can also click on that “Cited by” link to see the titles of the articles and books that are citing Suvin’s work. AND, if you’re on campus or signed into the campus network via VPN, you can often find out how to get the source – particularly articles – via the “Full Text @ Clemson” link off to the side of the title, as you see below:


Click on image to enlarge

*Last but definitely not least, come and talk to me about the assignment if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or you’re not sure where or how to begin, or even if you just want to bounce some ideas off of me. From the day that we discuss this assignment in class until the day that it is due, you have about two weeks, or four class periods and four office hours periods. Don’t waste them!

This assignment is based on a similar assignment by Michele Speitz.