Bailey Seybolt 9/25/2007

Senior Thesis Prospectus:
British Science Fiction in the 20th Century Since the beginning of science fiction was marked by the birth of Dr. Frankenstein’s monstrous creature in 1818, the genre has remained a unique form of commentary on the society which has created it. While many literary genres seek to provide the reader with an examination of modern life, those genres are limited by the very same constraints which keep the reader firmly planted in the reality of their lives. Often non-science fiction authors cannot clearly identify many of significant issues plaguing their contemporary society because they are too much a part of it; In order to look at what plagues society, you must be willing to go outside it. What science fiction writers have offered the reader over the past 200 hundred years is a clearer view of the problems of society because they do not pretend to represent society exactly as it exists. What better way for an author writing in 1850 to warn of the dangers of the future than to set your novel in the year 2000? And what better way to identify the prejudices of contemporary society than to transfer those problems to a society existing on a completely different planet? It is easier to recognize what is monstrous in what is unfamiliar than it is to look at one’s own reflection or the reflection of one’s own society and see the monstrous reflected there. Throughout the history of modern literature, the science fiction has always been considered without literary merit. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “I have been a sore-headed occupant of a file drawer labeled 'Science Fiction'... and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.”1 Science Fiction

Kurt Vonnegut, jr. Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons.

has its basis in the fantastic and often appeals to one’s sense of adventure, so it is often treated as an indulgence or an escape rather than a serious examination of society and human nature. In order to understand why this is so, it is important to follow the history of Science Fiction as a genre from its roots in the late 18th and early 19th century through its transformation to the widely read pulp fiction it became in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The first section of my thesis will be dedicated to a brief examination of the history of science fiction in order to provide not only a framework for the novels I will look at but in order to raise such important questions as what “literature” is and where science fiction fits into that definition. In order to look at the different genres and strains that came together to create science fiction, this section will also take a concise look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the first novel that could truly be considered science fiction. The rest of my thesis will naturally fall into four sections loosely divided by time period. In the second section I will explore works from the dawn of the 20th century with a focus on the work of H.G. Wells. Many of the post-Victorian science fiction novels share a marked anxiety about the state of the industrialized world. Industrialization was responsible for helping to break down class and gender barriers in the preceding century as well as the rapid progress of scientific discovery. For many, the sense of progress out of control of society created a fear of the potential for new science to result in “bad science”. This fear was especially related to connection between science and technology and the looming shadow of the coming war in 1914. The third section examines science fiction from the time period surrounding Word War II; The improvement in technology as well as the nature of the clash between the forces of the civilized world against the Nazis led to a new kind of fervor surrounding

this conflict; Instead of being based simply on political alliances, WWII was viewed as a conflict between the forces of good and evil. This new kind of ideological warfare which spilled over into the post-war world led to an interesting array of SF novels in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Many of these novels were wary of “improved” technology and in the midst of a huge increase in Nationalist sentiment authors like Aldous Huxley and George Orwell warned their readers not to put too much faith in government or in ideology. The final section of my thesis will examine the fears that rose when the iron curtain descended to divide Europe in 1946. The Western world looked at the Soviet Union and all Communism with a degree of fear that can only come from the unknown nature of the enemy. In addition to this fear of the unknown, the world also had to contend with the fact that on August 6th, 1945 the Atomic age had begun and the world had become a much more mysterious and terrifying place. In my conclusion I will also examine the rise of American science fiction as well as the genres unique place in the television and film beginning in the 1950’s.

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