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Retro Futurism Science Fiction

What is Retro Futurism Science Fiction?

“The tomorrow that never was.” (Gibson, “The Gernsback Continuum”) Retro Futurism is a trend in the arts that prizes futuristic visions from the past (until about 1960). Futurism was a reaction to a surge in technological progress and featured visions of a utopia just around the corner and a sense of optimism. The return to this historical futurism allows us to reexamine the imagination and dreams of the past.

Retro Futurism is not a retelling of old stories. Retro Futuristic stories are influenced by today's scientific, technological, and social awareness. They offer a new, modern twist on the retro stories and images, sometimes ironically. They are a refurbished story with a sense of nostalgia about what tomorrow might have been, but is not.

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Other Features of Retro Futurism Science Fiction

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  • Level of Real Science

    Moderate. Science is important to the Retro Futurism sub-genre; in many ways science and technology are at the core of this sub-genre. However, there is often a dream-like quality to what is depicted in these stories, featuring technologies that, as science has developed, have proven implausible.

  • Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications

    Moderate. A sense of optimism pervades this sub-genre and so a future utopian society is depicted. Generally, the wealth and happiness depicted is the result of technological advances. As such, there is plenty of space to explore ideas (tension between past and future, alienating effects of technology, empowering effects of technology) but stories do not always delve into the depths.

  • Level of Characterization

    Moderate. Retro Futurism emphasizes aesthetics, so characters will be well developed aesthetically, but may not have rich inner lives. An homage to a popular character from retro Sci Fi is not uncommon either.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Moderate. Retro Futurism Sci Fi stories have plots that are odes to the Golden Age of Science Fiction, that are complex alternate histories, that offer possibilities.However, because Retro Futurism Sci Fi focuses on thematic development and aesthetics, plots are not always complex drivers of the story.

  • Level of Violence

    Moderate. Ray guns and similarly now implausible instruments of violence are not uncommon in Retro Futurist stories. However, scenes involving these weapons will often have a comic, satiric, or nostalgic message.

Related Science Fiction subgenres

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    Alternate History. Some Retro Futurist tales are told as an alternate history—that is rather than depicting a possible future, it depicts a possible today.

  • Steampunk. Like Retro Futurism, Steampunk has a sense of optimism about technological possibilities of the past. Steampunk, like Retro Futurism, has a specific design aesthetic. Sometimes, a Retro Future might incorporate a Steampunk aesthetic (featuring a future full of airships, steamworks, a present day or future Victorian design aesthetic etc).

  • Pulp Science Fiction. Much of Retro Futurism Sci Fi draws on the stories and images of the Pulp Sci Fi sub-genre.

Retro Futurism Science Fiction isn't for you if...

If you're upset about not having a flying car yet.

Retro Futurism Science Fiction Book Recommendations