College of Arts and Sciences
science fiction, sci-fi, literature, literary analysis, Cold War, George Stewart, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Finney, Strategic Defense Initiative, Citizens' Advisory Council on National Space Policy
Arts and Humanities
Geier, Brittany, "A Defense of the Science Fiction Literary Genre: The Interplay between Science Fiction and American Society during the Cold War" (2020). Senior Honors Theses. 945.
Science fiction (sci-fi) has existed for centuries, if not millennia, yet many people still do not view it as a respectable literary genre. In fact, many intellectuals claim that sci-fi does not count as true literature since it supposedly promotes mere adolescent escapism. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Sci-fi is a deep, nuanced genre that allows people to more fully engage with the world around them and to wrestle with their own hopes, fears, and desires. This is evident in the content of American sci-fi novels that came out of the Cold War era (1947-1991). During this period, sci-fi was especially intertwined with the real world of politics, technology, and human emotions. Many novels from this time reflect real fears that people in the United States had about the dangers of communism and the threat of nuclear destruction. Some of these sci-fi stories offered people hope for a brighter future in which communism was defeated while others provided a canvas for imagining how the Cold War could play out. In particular, the sci-fi novels Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Cat’s Cradle, and Earth Abides accomplished a two-fold purpose: they both dealt with real-world issues from the Cold War era, and they spoke to broader questions about the nature of human identity and experience. In turn, Cold War-era sci-fi had very real, tangible effects on human society, particularly by influencing American war policy and military technology. Overall, Cold War-era America embodied a mutual relationship of influence between sci-fi literature and culture, revealing the significance of sci-fi as a tool for speculation and for probing questions about human identity and behavior. This significance continues to hold weight in the world today and points to the legitimacy of sci-fi as a literary genre.