Astrofuturism: Science, Race, and Visions of Utopia in Space

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 304
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    Book Description:

    Astrofuturism: Science, Race, and Visions of Utopia in Space is the first full-scale analysis of an aesthetic, scientific, and political movement that sought the amelioration of racial difference and social antagonisms through the conquest of space. Drawing on the popular science writing and science fiction of an eclectic group of scientists, engineers, and popular writers, De Witt Douglas Kilgore investigates how the American tradition of technological utopianism responded to the political upheavals of the twentieth century. Founded in the imperial politics and utopian schemes of the nineteenth century, astrofuturism envisions outer space as an endless frontier that offers solutions to the economic and political problems that dominate the modern world. Its advocates use the conventions of technological and scientific conquest to consolidate or challenge the racial and gender hierarchies codified in narratives of exploration. Because the icon of space carries both the imperatives of an imperial past and the democratic hopes of its erstwhile subjects, its study exposes the ideals and contradictions endemic to American culture. Kilgore argues that in the decades following the Second World War the subject of race became the most potent signifier of political crisis for the predominantly white and male ranks of astrofuturism. In response to criticism inspired by the civil rights movement and the new left, astrofuturists imagined space frontiers that could extend the reach of the human species and heal its historical wounds. Their work both replicated dominant social presuppositions and supplied the resources necessary for the critical utopian projects that emerged from the antiracist, socialist, and feminist movements of the twentieth century. This survey of diverse bodies of literature conveys the dramatic and creative syntheses that astrofuturism envisions between people and machines, social imperatives and political hope, physical knowledge and technological power. Bringing American studies, utopian literature, popular conceptions of race and gender, and the cultural study of science and technology into dialogue, Astrofuturism will provide scholars of American culture, fans of science fiction, and readers of science writing with fresh perspectives on both canonical and cutting-edge astrofuturist visions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0066-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction: The Wonderful Dream
    (pp. 1-30)

    This book is an investigation of the ideals and conflicts evident in America’s dream of its future, as represented in the intellectual, aesthetic, scientific, and political tradition of astrofuturism. Devoted to breaking the limits placed on humanity by the surface of this planet, astrofuturism forecasts an escape from terrestrial history. Its roots lie in the nineteenth-century Euro-American preoccupation with imperial expansion and utopian speculation, which it recasts in the elsewhere and elsewhen of outer space. Astrofuturism imagines the good or perfect society not simply spatially but in what might be called, to use Einstein’s term, “spacetime.” This speculative tradition has...

  4. 1. Knocking on Heaven’s Door: David Lasser and the First Conquest of Space
    (pp. 31-48)

    As a mature technocultural project, astrofuturism came of age in the years after the Second World War, not least because of that war’s technological innovations. But by the time it gained respectability in those postwar years, astrofuturism was at least twenty years old. Its authors and engineers had been part of amateur rocket societies formed during the late 1920s and early 1930s in Germany, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Of those groups that arose from the literary and technological ferment of early rocketry, the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (Society for Space Travel; henceforth referred to as...

  5. 2. An Empire in Space: Europe and America as Science Fact
    (pp. 49-81)

    In the closing days of the Second World War, German rocket engineers and their technologies became one of the most coveted spoils of a defeated Third Reich. Led by Wernher von Braun and General Doctor Walter Dornberger, these were the rocket scientists and technicians who had designed and built the infamous flying bomb, the V-2 (Vergeltungswaffen Zwei, or Retaliatory Weapon Two).² Shortly after the Allied victory, the German rocket team was shipped to the United States, where it was required to continue its wartime experiments. The arrival of the Germans on American soil was the necessary catalyst for postwar astrofuturism....

  6. 3. Building a Space Frontier: Robert A. Heinlein and the American Tradition
    (pp. 82-110)

    Astrofuturism is expressed in two contiguous fields, popular science and science fiction. As popular science, its pedagogical mission is explicit: through science journalism, polemical articles, and books, astrofuturists present their program as a pragmatic goal for real-world science and technology. They call upon the authority of science with charts, mathematical equations, and blueprints based on contemporary technology. Willy Ley’s Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel, for example, was advertised as “the up-to-tomorrow story of rocket development and space-travel prospects.”² The textbook for rocketry and spaceflight enthusiasm, Ley’s text ranges across celestial mechanics, liquid fuels, satellite communication, planetary geology, astronomy, exobiology, and...

  7. 4. Will There Always Be an England? Arthur C. Clarke’s New Eden
    (pp. 111-149)

    Of all the authors in this study, perhaps the best known and most influential is Arthur C. Clarke. His renown is due partly to his longevity: Clarke’s career spans the entire length of the space-flight movement from its beginnings in the early rocket societies to its current incarnation as integral to the popular culture of science. It leads us from the conjoined adolescences of science fiction and rocketry in the 1930s, through their maturation in the space race of the 1950s and 1960s, their appropriation into the military and entertainment cultures of the 1970s and 1980s, to their resurgence within...

  8. 5. The Domestication of Space: Gerard K. O’Neill’s Suburban Diaspora
    (pp. 150-185)

    All second-generation astrofuturists, whatever their political persuasions, have found it necessary to respond to changes in American society by persuading the public of the democratic uses of the space future. Until the political upheavals of the 1960s, American science fictionists rarely imagined that the future might be one of social or economic movement.² According to the astrofuturism articulated by von Braun, Ley, Heinlein, Martin Caiden, and others, the space future was not meant to change contemporary social, political, or economic systems, but to make them more efficient, faster, wealthier, and less vulnerable to attack from external forces. In other words,...

  9. 6. Ben Bova: Race, Nation, and Renewal on the High Frontier
    (pp. 186-221)

    Ben Bova’s significance to astrofuturism derives from his canny responsiveness to the fora and stratagems used by spaceflight advocates in pursuit of their dream. In the 1960s, he was deeply involved in the immense public and private institutional structure of the space program. In the 1970s, he found himself on the outside looking in, writing popular science and science fiction in the hope of keeping the dream alive in Apollo’s aftermath. As editor for Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact and Omni, he became a prominent force in adjudicating the field’s shift toward the political left. In the 1980s, he became president...

  10. 7. On Mars and Other Heterotopias: A Conclusion
    (pp. 222-238)

    If the interventions of interlopers such as George Takei, Homer Hickam, and Michelle Nichols recover the emancipatory and utopian motivations of the space future, their presence in the actual and fictional places of space exploration holds astrofuturism accountable to its promise of a frontier that will free all of humankind. Indeed, the development of twentieth-century astrofuturism is the story of America’s response to the claims of marginalized peoples. I have focused on the scientific utopianism at the heart of astrofuturism in order to interrogate the alternative societies that it can imagine. American culture persistently projects itself onto other times and...

  11. Abbreviations
    (pp. 239-240)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 241-284)
  13. Index
    (pp. 285-292)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 293-294)