"We Weren't Kidding": Prediction as Ideology in American Pulp Science Fiction, 1938-1949

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Virginia Tech


In 1971, Isaac Asimov observed in humanity, a science-important society. For this he credited the man who had been his editor in the 1940s during the period known as the golden age of American science fiction, John W. Campbell, Jr. Campbell was editor of Astounding Science-Fiction, the magazine that launched both Asimov's career and the golden age, from 1938 until his death in 1971. Campbell and his authors set the foundation for the modern sci-fi, cementing genre distinction by the application of plausible technological speculation. Campbell assumed the science-important society that Asimov found thirty years later, attributing sci-fi ascendance during the golden age a particular compatibility with that cultural context.

On another level, sci-fi's compatibility with "science-important" tendencies during the first half of the twentieth-century betrayed a deeper agreement with the social structures that fueled those tendencies and reflected an explication of modernity on capitalist terms. Tethered to an imperative of plausibly extrapolated technology within an American context, sci-fi authors retained the social underpinnings of that context. In this thesis, I perform a textual analysis of stories published in Astounding during the 1940s, following the sci-fi as it grew into a mainstream cultural product. In this, I prioritize not the intentions of authors to advance explicit themes or speculations. Rather, I allow the authors' direction of reader sympathy to suggest the way that favored characterizations advanced ideological bias. Sci-fi authors supported a route to success via individualistic, competitive, and private enterprise. They supported an American capitalistic conveyance of modernity.



sci-fi, science fiction, pulp magazines, culture, ideology, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, A. E. van Vogt, American exceptionalism, capitalism, 1939 World's Fair, Cold War, John W. Campbell Jr., Astounding Science-Fiction