Forgotten Futures


Forgotten Futures
How the Korean War Changed American Science Fiction

University of Nebraska Press, under advance contract

Table of Contents

Introduction: American Science Fiction, Cold War Orientalism, and the Korean War

1. Asia Strikes Back: The Return and Transformation of Yellow Peril Science Fiction

2. No Longer Ourselves: The Emergence and Threat of Brainpower

3. Conquered / Liberated: Alien Metaphor and the Critique of K1C2

4. Space Patrol: Imperial Humanitarianism and the Speculation of Police Action

5. When the Future Began: Korea and the Militarization of Science Fiction

Coda: From Korea to Vietnam to Forever


Forgotten Futures: How the Korean War Changed American Science Fiction is about how a short war fought on a distant peninsula and largely forgotten in the United States nonetheless forever changed the popular genre of American science fiction. This book asks what happens when we put the Korean War, its memory in American culture, and the effects of policies and conflicts launched during the war—part of the larger geopolitical formation of the Cold War and the sociopolitical formation Christina Klein calls “Cold War orientalism”—at the center of thinking about the field of 1950s science fiction. Forgotten Futures momentarily decenters the overwhelming trend of reading 1950s science fiction and its Cold War anxieties as necessarily and solely about the conflict between the US and USSR, a trend in scholarship and in cultural memory that ignores the larger contexts of the global geopolitical East/West split and conveniently forgets US foreign policy and military actions toward Communism in Asia until the Vietnam War began.

In a broad understanding of midcentury science fiction, the genre’s primary concerns jumped from conflict with the USSR—often in the form of nuclear anxieties and allegorical aliens—in the 1950s to angsty, countercultural reactions to the Vietnam War and American hegemony in the 1960s. This overly simplistic gloss of science fiction’s history, supported even by some science fiction scholars’ references to the 1950s as the era of “bug-eyed monster” films (with the few exceptions of quality storytelling like The Twilight Zone presented as anomalies), sees 1950s science fiction as little more than a pawn in early Cold War popular culture’s solidification of the shared sentiment of American belonging known as “consensus culture” and defined by rhetorics of individual equality, ceaseless progress, and American exceptionalism. This is only part of a much larger, more complex story about anxiety, crisis, consensus, and ideological and military conflict in American science fiction at midcentury that Forgotten Futures revivifies.

This study refocuses the discussion of science fiction’s history in the 1950s to show how the genre responded to the expansion of American empire in the years during and after the Korean War, paying specific attention to the war’s place in the global scope of the Cold War and in US foreign policy. By centering the Korean War and its reverberations in Cold War American cultural history, when talking about science fiction, a new story emerges. This is a story that recovers yellow peril’s influence on racial discourse in 1950s science fiction, that sees the rise of brainpower in science fiction through tropes of psionic powers and fears of brainwashing in a new light, and that identifies the Korean War as the beginning of a new era of thinking about the relationship between the military and the future of American power in science fiction. These are a few of the threads woven into Forgotten Futures that together form a new history of midcentury science fiction.

Featured image: Illustration by Kelly Freas for Tom Godwin’s “The Gulf Between,” Astounding Science Fiction (October 1953).