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

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

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

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


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.


I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true
meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all
men are created equal.”

—Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963)

Dreams and Realities in the Space Age

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 elsew/zen 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 developed as a part of U.S. intellectual and popular culture since the Second World War. Not surprisingly, the future it imagines is an extension of the nation’s expansion to continental and global power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The idea of a space frontier serves contemporary America as the west served the nation in its past: it is the terrain onto which a manifest destiny is projected, a new frontier invalidating the 1893 closure of the western terrestrial frontier. But it is also the space of Utopian desire. Astrofuturist speculation on space-based exploration, exploitation, and colonization is capacious enough to contain imperialist, capitalist ambitions and Utopian, socialist hopes. Visions of an American conquest of space go hand in hand with thought . . .

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