Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

English

First Advisor

Brooks Landon

Abstract

Cities have a paradoxical relationship with science fiction literature. On the one hand, critics like Brian Aldiss have called sf a `literature of cities', citing them as the dominant context for speculative fiction. On the other, critics like Gary Wolfe have noted how sf has an "anti-urban frontier mentality" and how sf narratives involving cities often tend to view them as a trap from which the protagonist must escape. This relationship is even more complex in sf works by African American authors, as contemporary African American fiction in general takes the city as the dominant context for black social life and has turned to interrogate "issues of urban community" in the post-Civil Rights era.

This dissertation explores the connections between the heterogeneous urban histories of Anglo-European and African American sf authors and the cities they construct. It does so by comparing the portrayal of cities by each group and relating the commonalities and contrasts that emerge from these portrayals to the differences and similarities between African American urban history and Anglo-European urban history. To provide a common ground for comparison, two city typologies are focused on: the `imperial city' that reigns at the heart of sf's many empires, and the empty metropolis of the `dead city' or `ghost city'. The study finds that these narratives all interrogate crises of political and environmental sustainability in urban history, but that the focus of these crises often diverge along the axis of race, with an especially large concentration on the crises related to racially targeted urban renewal programs present in black sf's dead cities and on crises related to black anti-imperialist politics in its imperial cities.

Public Abstract

Cities have a paradoxical relationship with science fiction literature. On the one hand, critics like Brian Aldiss have called sf a ‘literature of cities’, citing them as the dominant context for speculative fiction. On the other, critics like Gary Wolfe have noted how sf has an “anti-urban frontier mentality” and how sf narratives involving cities often tend to view them as a trap from which the protagonist must escape. This relationship is even more complex in sf works by African American authors, as contemporary African American fiction in general takes the city as the dominant social context for black life and has turned to interrogate “issues of urban community” in the post-Civil Rights era.

This dissertation explores the connections between the heterogeneous urban histories of Anglo-European and African American sf authors and the cities they construct. It does so by comparing the portrayal of cities by each group and relating the commonalities and contrasts that emerge from these portrayals to the differences and similarities between African American urban history and Anglo-European urban history. To provide a common ground for comparison, two city typologies are focused on: the ‘imperial city’ that reigns at the heart of sf’s many empires, and the empty metropolis of the ‘dead city’ or ‘ghost city’. The study finds that these narratives all interrogate crises of political and environmental sustainability in urban history, but that the focus of these crises often diverge along the axis of race, with an especially large concentration on the crises related to racially targeted urban renewal programs present in black sf’s dead cities and on crises related to black anti-imperialist politics in its imperial cities.

Keywords

publicabstract, African American, cities, Science Fiction, urban history

Pages

vi, 217 pages

Bibliography

Includes bibliographical references (pages 207-215).

Copyright

Copyright 2015 Robert Arthur Gillespie

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