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50 Years Ago, In a Science Fiction Universe Far, Far Away Recommendations for your Science Fiction Day entertainment from 1971, a banner year for women in science fiction, and for science fiction studies at Georgia Tech.

It may seem like ancient history, but 1971 was a pretty big year. Eighteen-year-olds got the right to vote. Disney World opened. The Soviet Union launched the first space station, and the United States became the first nation to send a spacecraft to orbit another planet.

It also marked the start of something big at Georgia Tech. After all, it was in 1971 that Irving “Bud” Foote, then a professor in what is now the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, created the first science fiction class at Georgia Tech, one of the first such accredited courses in the country.

Fifty years later, the science fiction faculty in Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts are known for their award-winning scholarship that helps us understand what science fiction can tell us about our technological world. Through their research and teaching, these scholars help the public and Georgia Tech’s future leaders understand the past, present, and potential impact of technology on our lives. They also really, really, really love reading, watching, and talking about science fiction.

So, we decided to ask the team to turn on their time machines, jump back to 1971, and let us know what the science fiction landscape looked like in those days.

Just in time for Science Fiction Day on Jan. 2, and to kick off a year-long celebration of 50 years of science fiction studies at Georgia Tech, our intrepid professors have returned with an armload of books and movies for you to watch and read from across the decades, much of it relevant to today’s scientific and political conversations. There’s a film with a lot to say about our current pandemic politics, an early work from the creator of Star Wars that still speaks to many of our contemporary anxieties, and an important milestone in Japanese science fiction, among other choices.

Let’s get started with an overview from noted science fiction scholar and Regents Professor Lisa Yaszek about how 1971 was a big year for women creators in science fiction.

Science Fiction 1971: The Future is Female!

Lisa Yaszek

1971 was an exciting year for women in science fiction. That year, the old guard met the new, and together they stormed the bastions of the science fiction community, capturing the American imagination, and garnering accolades from professionals and fans alike.

Consider Cele Goldsmith — whose work as editor of Amazing Stories and later Fantastic in the 1950s and 1960s helped shape the genre and had significant impacts on the careers of writers including Ursula K Le Guin. It was in 1971 that she was named a finalist for the Hugo and Locus Awards.

That year, science fiction luminary Anne McCaffrey also released Dragonquest—which would go on to earn Hugo and Locus nominations while cementing McCaffrey’s reputation as one of the most beloved authors in the world. 1971 also gave us Katherine MacLean’s The Missing Man, celebrated by the Science Fiction Writers of America in the form of a Nebula Award.

These honors remind us that while women such as Goldsmith, McCaffrey, and Le Guin only comprised 15% of the early science fiction community, they were celebrated as leading voices within the genre.

Even as the science fiction world celebrated these established voices, 1971 saw a new group of women writers join the field and make their mark on science fiction in ways that would radically expand the genre.

Given the diverse new paths that these authors forged in science-fiction storytelling, it’s no surprise that by the end of the 1970s, the number of women in the genre had doubled.

As part of science fiction’s “New Wave,” Le Guin, for instance, insisted that stories about psychology, anthropology, and environmentalism could be as thrilling as those about physics, engineering, or mathematics. The claim was born out by her 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven, a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards and winner of that year’s Locus Award.

Meanwhile, feminist science fiction’s founding mother Joanna Russ published “The Wearing Out of Genre Materials”—one of science fiction criticism’s first and most important explorations of genre fiction as both an aesthetic form and political tool. She also was named a Locus finalist for her novel, And Chaos Died.

White women were not the only ones to make their mark on the science fiction community in 1971. That same year saw the publication of a short story called “Crossover” from a pioneering Black science fiction author named Octavia E. Butler, who would eventually become the first speculative writer of any race or gender to win the prestigious McArthur Foundation “genius grant.” Given the diverse new paths these authors forged in science-fiction storytelling, it’s no surprise that by the end of the 1970s, the number of women in the genre had doubled.

Women have always contributed to science fiction in other ways as well, and 1971 was no exception. Most of the women nominated for Hugo and Locus awards that year were honored for their work in either science fiction art or science fiction fandom, and three of them—semi-prozine editor Dena Brown, professional artist Diana Dillon, and fan artist Alicia Austin—won the top honors in their respective categories.

Meanwhile, women and feminist-friendly men sought to create new publishing and training spaces for all these new faces in science fiction. Such efforts included the launch of author Samuel Delany and poet Marilyn Hacker’s award-nominated, avant-garde Quark anthology series and the creation of the Clarion West Writers Workshop by biologist and author Vonda N. McIntyre. Indeed, not only did Clarion West feature some of the most exciting new voices in science fiction—including Le Guin, Russ, and Delany as instructors—it also paved the way for the next generation of women in science fiction, including alumnae Lisa Tuttle, Kij Johnson, and former Georgia Tech Professor of the Practice Kathleen Ann Goonan.

Taken together, the accomplishments of women in the 1971 science fiction community prove the truth of feminist bookstore Labyris's now-famous claim that “the future is female.”

Yaszek is one of the nation’s leading science fiction scholars. She researches and teaches science fiction as a global language crossing centuries, continents, and cultures. Her books include, yes, ‘The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women.’

The Andromeda Strain

Aaron Santesso

The Andromeda Strain is a useful reminder that a timely film can still be bad, and a bad film can still be interesting. A 1971 techno-yarn adapted from “Michael Crichton’s dreadful novel,” as the New York Times put it, the movie follows the beginning of a deadly pandemic traced eventually to an alien micro-organism.

An early example of the 1970s paranoid thriller, The Andromeda Strain is actually less worried about the alien virus than by the government’s ruthless, overwhelming response to it (experts are whisked away by armed agents in the dead of night; the outbreak will be contained with nuclear bombs, etc.).

Forget alien life-forms: it turns out that a willingness to use the full power of the state to stop a deadly disease is the most fictional element of the movie.

The real interest of the film today lies in the gap between the imagined response to a pandemic and our present reality. Leaders in the movie are willing to go to terrifying lengths to stop the organism’s spread; many are prepared to sacrifice their own lives. In real life, our leaders can’t even agree on whether or not to issue mask mandates. The movie features a top-secret, underground, ultra-high-tech government base dedicated specifically to alien biological contaminants. In real life, nurses are wearing garbage bags, and doctors are told to re-use N95s.

Forget alien life-forms: it turns out that a willingness to use the full power of the state to stop a deadly disease is the most fictional element of the movie.

Professor Aaron Santesso has published research on a broad range of topics, including privacy law, surveillance theory, early modern education, literary tourism, science fiction and other topics.

THX 1138

Jay Telotte

In the wake of the previous decade’s masterwork, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and amid the distractions of Vietnam, the early 1970s saw few compelling science fiction releases. Often overlooked among these is George Lucas’ first feature, 1971’s THX 1138.

Sounding prescient political alarms, ‘THX 1138’ depicts a nanny state of constant surveillance and regulated activities of every sort. However, it also champions the human ability to escape from these man-made ills.

While both a box office and critical failure on its release, it evocatively explored many of the concerns that would figure into science fiction’s later emergence as a dominant film genre. Made before the advent of digital effects, THX inventively uses shot compositions rather than elaborately-crafted images to sketch its confining futuristic world. Environmentally conscious, it offers a surface realm that has become humanly inhospitable.

Sounding prescient political alarms, THX 1138 depicts a nanny state of constant surveillance and regulated activities of every sort. However, it also champions the human ability to escape from these man-made ills; as Lucas would comment about his film, “we’re living in cages with the doors open.”

Jay Telotte retired in December 2020 after a 41-year career at Georgia Tech. During his career as a professor of film studies, he wrote extensively about the role of technology in film, as well as early animation and science fiction.

Dr.Telotte retired in December 2020 after a 41-year career at Georgia Tech. During his career as a professor of film studies he wrote extensively about the role of technology in film, as well as early animation and science fiction.

'Inter Ice Age 4'

Amanda Weiss

The early 1970s saw an important wave of development in Japanese science fiction, from the utopian futurism of the Osaka Expo to the first major Japanese science fiction award, the Seiun Award. Western interest in Japanese science fiction also grew during that era, leading to two important translations: Inter Ice Age 4, by Abe Kobo, and Japan Sinks, by Komatsu Sakyo.

A classic of bioethics and environmental science fiction, Inter Ice Age 4 is a major landmark in the development of Japanese science fiction.

I recommend Abe’s Inter Ice Age 4 (1958-59), which became available to English-language readers with the 1971 Tuttle Classics translation by E. Dale Saunders.

Abe Kobo was a major avant-garde postwar author and playwright known for his surrealist mixture of literary genres and forms. Heavily influenced by Dostoyevsky, Heidegger, Kafka, and Poe, Abe’s modernist tales often featured alienated protagonists in surreal circumstances. While his best-known work may be 1962’s The Woman in the Dunes, winner of Japan’s prestigious Yomiuri Prize for Literature and later adapted into an Oscar-nominated film, he is also known for writing the first full-length Japanese science fiction novel: Inter Ice Age 4. The novel’s fragmented narrative follows computer scientist Professor Katsumi as melting ice caps threaten to submerge the Earth. A classic of bioethics and environmental science fiction, Inter Ice Age 4 is a major landmark in the development of Japanese science fiction.

Amanda Weiss is an assistant professor in the School of Modern Languages, where she teaches about Japanese language, culture, and media studies.

The Rise of Dracula Scholarship

Carol Senf

Today, Dracula is a canonical text studied and written about by scholars in disciplines from anthropology to literary criticism to zoology. I am among those researchers, having written one book on Dracula and three on its author, Bram Stoker, among numerous other studies since my days as a graduate student. In 1971, however, few people were thinking seriously about Stoker’s work as literature.

Instead, what that year gave us was Hammer Film’s Countess Dracula. In previous films, the studio had emphasized vampiric sexuality and established Christopher Lee as both threatening and seductive. In Countess Dracula, however, the main character — Elizabeth Bathory, a real figure from Hungarian history who killed and tortured untold numbers of young girls— is depicted as little more than a beauty-obsessed monster. It is a startling departure from Lee’s more subtle and nuanced portrayal, which revealed the vampire as politically powerful as well as attractive in a feral way.

In previous films, the studio had emphasized vampiric sexuality and established Christopher Lee’s Dracula as threatening and seductive. In Countess Dracula, however, the main character — Elizabeth Bathory, a real figure from Hungarian history who killed and tortured untold numbers of young girls— is depicted as little more than a beauty-obsessed monster.

Fortunately, Dracula would emerge as an important literary text just a year later, in 1972 with the publication of five scholarly studies: Joseph S. Bierman’s “Dracula, Prolonged Childhood Illness, and the Oral Triad,” in American Imago; C.F. Bentley’s “The Monster in the Bedroom,” in Literature and Psychology; Jean Gattegno’s “Folie, croyance, et fantastique dans Dracula” in Litterature; Carrol L. Fry’s “Fictional Conventions and Sexuality in Dracula,” in Victorian Newsletter; and Royce MacGillivray’s “Bram Stoker’s Spoiled Masterpiece,” in Queen’s Quarterly.

As is evident from their titles, most of the articles written in 1971 follow closely on the heels of Ernest Jones’s On the Nightmare and are written from a psychoanalytic perspective, although both the Fry piece and the MacGillivray article explore the fictional conventions with which Stoker was working as a Gothic novelist.

My own work also looks at Dracula from within the Gothic tradition. It helps explain the novel’s Mina Harker as a far richer character who escaped from the traditional roles required of women to establish herself as equal to the male characters — a rich counterpoint indeed to the unfortunate stereotypes of Countess Dracula and as a New Woman within the context of nineteenth-century history.

Carol Senf is a noted scholar in Gothic literature who has written four books on Bram Stoker and his works. She is a professor in the School of Literature, Media and Communication

About Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech

Housed in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication in Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, Science Fiction Studies explores how people communicate the experience of science and technology across centuries, continents, and cultures. Offerings in Science Fiction Studies include classes about science fiction, fantasy, and horror across media; an undergraduate minor; and a lab for science fiction research, writing, podcasting, and Twitch streaming.

Credits:

iStock, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., Tuttle Classics, 20th Century Fox