Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War: American Science Fiction and the Roots of Postmodernism, 1946-1964

Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War: American Science Fiction and the Roots of Postmodernism, 1946-1964

Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War: American Science Fiction and the Roots of Postmodernism, 1946-1964

Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War: American Science Fiction and the Roots of Postmodernism, 1946-1964

Synopsis

Surveying a wide range of major science fiction novels and films, this book focuses on the long 1950s--the period from 1946 to 1964--when the tensions of the Cold War were at their peak. It demonstrates that these works reflect their historical and political contexts through a consistent concern with such phenomena as alienation and routinization, which Marxist critics have seen as central consequences of capitalism. Through its engagement with such issues, American science fiction of this period reflects the growing hegemony of capitalist ideology and consequently demonstrates the beginnings of postmodernism as a major American cultural phenomenon.

Excerpt

H. Bruce Franklin begins his 1980 study of the work of Robert A. Heinlein by noting that, during Heinlein's career, “science fiction has moved inexorably toward the center of American culture, shaping our imagination (more than many of us would like to admit)” (3). Of course, Franklin is writing after the Star Trek television series (which originally aired on NBC from 1966 until 1969 and which first became a feature film in 1979) had become a major institution of American popular culture. He is also writing after Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) had made science fiction film more respectable as an art form than it had ever been and after George Lucas's Star Wars (1977) had made science fiction film bigger box office than ever before. In 1980, the science fiction novel was still regarded as marginal to American literature, but it was considerably more mainstream than it had been in the old days of the 1950s, when it, along with the crazed novels of Mickey Spillane and the offbeat crime fiction of writers such as Jim Thompson, had formed the mainstay of the somewhat disreputable pulp fiction industry. Popular genres such as crime fiction and science fiction were placed in a particularly marginal position within the Cold War climate of the 1950s, when many in the West felt that this war was being waged, not just against the Soviets and communism, but against mass culture as a whole. Indeed, mass culture was widely perceived, even by left-leaning critics such as Dwight MacDonald, as a powerful threat to the very survival of the values of the Western high cultural tradition.

There was a mounting horror of popular culture on both the Left and the Right in American intellectual circles of the 1950s, as witnessed by the cultural elitism of groups otherwise as different in their attitudes as the rightest New Critics and the (supposedly) leftist New York Intellec-

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