As an avid lover of both science fiction and the history of popular culture in the 20th century, I’ve found that my time spent as a graduate student at GMU has only deepened my excitement for reading and interacting with science fiction, no matter the medium. A really wonderful professor of mine, Dr. Brian Platt, once said “nostalgia is a criticism of the present made from the past.” We were in a Post-War Japan class discussing Japanese memories of WWII and the atomic bomb, but I think this statement applies to all memory studies, and should be kept in mind when we are evaluating our own nostalgia for the past and how that nostalgia manifests through popular culture, among other things. We can see this statement in operation through cultural phenomenon like Mad Men, a television program set in the 1960s that comments on our own feelings about the American Dream while hiding behind the screen of its historical setting. It’s easier to view ourselves through the lens of the past because temporal distance takes the sting out of the criticism.
This statement also works the other way around. It’s just as easy to criticize or examine the present from the future, or alternate universes, or parallel universes, or alternate pasts, or whatever other foreign iteration of existence science fiction takes us too. Coming of age under the long nuclear shadow of the Cold War, science fiction as a genre creates worlds both distant and familiar that provide us with an escape from our own world while simultaneously shining a mirror on us to show us what we might be fleeing from.
In this blog I have made it my goal to read and blog about science fiction novels from the perspective of both a fan of the genre and a historian who specializes in the study of culture, memory, and the the time period in which many of these great works were created. I am also a gender scholar, with a broader interest in identity construction, which includes social constructs like race and class. All of these areas of inquiry will play a role in how I approach reading and writing abut these works.
As a jumping-off point, I’ll be reading all the Hugo and Nebula award winning novels to date, with some deviations that I’ll explain later. Eventually I hope to expand this project to include other media as well, like television (a personal favorite) and film. Also, expect to see reviews of books not on my award winning reading list. I also reserve the right to venture into the realm of fantasy if I should find a book compelling enough. Finally, I may also include reviews of works written about the genre itself.
I’ll note now that this is also my “professional” blog, a place to establish my presence in the digital history community, as well as the historical community at large. As such, the blog itself will not be entirely dedicated to the science fiction project, but will also include posts more exclusively related to other historical projects. I do, however, feel this blog is an appropriate place to carry out the science fiction project, as it is relevant to my own field of study, and can hopefully provide enjoyment to fans of science fiction as well as academics. If a post doesn’t speak to your particular interests, please feel free to skip!
Okay, introduction’s over. The first book I’ll be reviewing is Clifford D. Simak’s Hugo winning Way Station, so look for that post soon!