Speculative fiction: Literature of political transformation

Charles Edward Gannon, Fordham University


This project investigates how political agendas of modern technophilic superpowers are influenced by speculative fiction. This phenomenon is explored primarily within the domain of post-World War II American literature and policy. In order to ensure that the results are not seen solely as artifacts particular to one nation and one epoch, a detailed, comparative analysis of Edwardian British speculative fiction is also conducted. The inquiry begins by focusing on those narratives most suffused with political significance: texts that portray "future warfare" and its technologies. This limiting criterion also reflects one of the dissertation's primary theses: the relative increase in the political influence of "future war" fictions has paralleled the rise of superpower states and their technophilic ideologies. Records show that there was a profusion of "future war" fiction in late Victorian England, paralleling the British Empire's struggle to convert itself into the first modern superpower. These imaginative Victorian texts were the direct discursive forebears of American "hard" science fiction, a genre which has been increasingly dominated by speculations about advanced military technology and has become an institutionalized part of the nation's research-and-design resource base. By tracing the discursive threads that bind together government, media, and storytellers in both Britain and America, this dissertation proposes to demonstrate the influence of speculative texts upon the perceptions and actions that ultimately transform a society's political agendas and structures. This investigation of "future war" narratives offers strong evidence, and confirms the precedent, for the further assertion that less technocentric works of speculative fiction may have less obvious, but more profound, influence upon political change. Three canonized examples are analyzed: Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables, Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. By virtue of these texts' more generalized epistemological inquiry, and their status as cultural monuments, it is posited that their influence is more lasting than that of technocentric narratives.

Subject Area

American literature|Literature|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Gannon, Charles Edward, "Speculative fiction: Literature of political transformation" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9816356.