Social Science Fiction

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Social Science Fiction



Types of social science fiction


The creation of imaginary worlds for the purpose of exploring the potential development of society represents one of the oldest traditions in literature. The classic list begins with Plato’s Republic and includes Bacon’s New Atlantis, More’s Utopia, Campanella’s City of the Sun, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and Butler’s Erewhon. Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888) ushers in the modern era. Subsequent examples are Zamiatin’s We (1925), Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), and Orwell’s 1984 (1949), which have been described as“black Utopias,”or“dystopias.”

A common characteristic of this literature is an emphasis on the social landscape rather than the individual protagonist, on the articulation of artificial models of society rather than interaction between fictional counterparts of people in real life, on projections from reality rather than variations of actual social situations. Articles elsewhere in this encyclopedia deal with other aspects of this genre. [SeeLITERATURE, article on POLITICAL FICTION; UTOPIANISM.] This article focuses on a more recent variant of the genre: the novels, novelettes, and short stories that have proliferated since World War ii and which can be grouped under the rubric“social science fiction.”


The term“social science fiction”can usefully be employed to identify narratives that extrapolate from current social science concepts in order to predict or speculate about the future shape of society. This new genre of fiction stems from two literary traditions: the modern Utopias and dystopias mentioned above and classic science fiction, whose early practitioners were Jules Verne and H. G. Wells and which continues to proliferate. In fact, social science fiction is a contemporary development of classic science fiction: it involves the same imaginative leaps into the future, it uses some of the same stylized conventions (time travel, interplanetary explorations), props (spaceships, robots), and characters (aliens, androids), but only as incidental backdrops to a new category of concerns. It differs from classic science fiction in two important respects. First, whereas classic science fiction is concerned with predicting the shape of the physical world through imagining the favorable and adverse potentialities of the physical sciences, the organizing concept of social science fiction is speculation about the future of society through projecting potential innovations in the knowledge and techniques of the social sciences. Second, social science fiction takes the technological innovations of the future more or less for granted and focuses on their social consequences.

Social science fiction is occasionally produced by known writers of more orthodox literature; the bulk of it, however, comes from the pens of immensely prolific writers who specialize in science fiction. The knowledge of the social sciences displayed by most of these writers is understandably naive and superficial since it is obviously gleaned secondhand from popularizations of the various disciplines.Much of social science fiction is so inept in style and plot that it hardly merits consideration as literature, even according to the most tolerant critical standards. Much of it is published between the same lurid magazine and paperback covers as is classic science fiction and is announced in the same penny-dreadful blurbs. As a result, it has shared the same fate of being dismissed by literary critics as a minor, cultist offshoot of traditional literature, of interest only to an intellectually limited circle of aficionados. To the social scientist, however, the emergence of a vast body of literature on the periphery of his academic vision, which incorporatesh owever inaccuratelyhis specialized perspectives, is of more than casual interest.


Social science fiction is noteworthy on several levels: first, as a cultural phenomenon; second, as a medium of social commentary and criticism; and third (perhaps parenthetically) as a pleasant counterpoint to some of the more pedantic complacencies of the social scientists.

As a cultural phenomenon, social science fiction provides evidence of the growing impact of the social sciences on popular culture, just as the older genre of classic science fiction documented popular interest in the successive stages of the technological revolution of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Between Jules Verne’s 1870 submarine and the predictions of nuclear fission and space travel of the 1930s and 1940s, radical changes took place in the perspectives and expectations of the average manchanges that were in part wrought by innovations in the physical sciences. With the closing of the gap between imaginative pseudo science and almost prosaic reality, with the advent of atomic power plants, satellite traffic jams, and space walks, popular interest in the fictionalized potential of the physical sciences has become jaded. There is mounting evidence that it is being superseded by a fascination with the potential applications of the social sciences. The form this interest takes and the purposes to which writers of social science fiction bendor distendcurrent knowledge in these fields constitute the subject matter of this article.

That social science fiction is an instrument for social commentary and criticism, ranging in tone from earnest concern to outrageous parody, from macabre warnings to comic alarums, is inherent in its subject matter. Three major themes are discernible both in the plethora of wildly imaginative worlds of science fiction writers and in the works of more sober and orthodox writers. The first of these centers on the social aftermath of some cosmic disaster. These“post-doomsday”stories begin with the collapse of civilization, the agent of destruction being a nuclear war or a natural catastrophe, such as a drastic change in the weather, an epidemic, or a massive ecological imbalance. The events of the cataclysm provide dramatic interest, but they are incidental to the main theme of the story, which deals with the disintegration of social institutions, the breakdown of mechanisms for social control, and the emergence of new leaders, a new social system, and a new culture.

The second major theme consists of serious extrapolations from (or gleeful projections ad absurdum of) trends in contemporary society. These range from uncontrolled population growth or total depletion of crucial natural resources to such cultural aberrations as mass drug addiction or psychosis, the rampant development of fads, ultra-conformism, or the total commercialization of society.

The third major theme is the exploration of the effects upon individuals of life in unbalanced or truncated social systems. Novels in this category are concerned with what might be if one element in society (such as teen-agers) should seize control, or one particular technique of planning be allowed to dominate (as in the total planning for consumption), or one particular set of values (such as hedonism) becomes an enforced mode of behavior. The settings are skewed models of society built by writers with an experimental bent whose point of departure is the question“What if. . .?”and whose concern is with the processes and techniques of social manipulation.

Social science fiction is essentially moralistic. The writers of post-doomsday stories ask what happens to ethical and cultural values in the midst of social disorganization and chaos. Writers with a satirical purpose fabricate unidimensional societies top-heavy with absurd exaggerations of today’s mores or aspirations for the express purpose of watching them topple. The creators of Orwellian nightmares exalt the struggle for individual freedom against the enslavement of will and intellect and sound warnings of the stultifying effects of rigid one-class or multiclass stratification systems. Like the insistent hum of the diabolical machines of classic science fiction, there is in social science fiction an undercurrent of distrust of the potentialities of unbridled social scientismof the potential menace of techniques of indoctrination, planned acculturation, population control, and the use of statistical averages as required behavioral norms. The“mad scientist”has been replaced by a species of more plausible villain: the smooth organization man, the amoral advertising tycoon, the cynical censor, the bland but dictatorial bureaucrat, the voracious practitioner of motivation research, the psychiatrist-in-power and his squad of ubiquitous“medicops,”the amiable psychologist in charge of“preconditioning.”The death ray has largely been superseded by the giant computer, and even the spying telescreen used by Big Brother in 1984 has been supplanted by the television wall, the controlled alternative to“real”social participation“the family”as it is called in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953). Much of this distrust of the role and the technology of the social sciences, it is well to remember, is simply the result of inadequate understanding, as well as a reflection of a fundamentally populist bias against all science.

Types of social science fiction

With this outline of the scope and significance of social science fiction in mind it is desirable to turn to some specific examples. Some represent “purer”specimens than others in the sense that they draw upon one discipline, or one topic in a discipline (such as learning theory), for the setting and action. Others, particularly the panoramic novels, chronicle the death and rebirth of civilization. The pseudo histories of the futuresuch as Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), which describes a feudal theocratic society that is the preserver of civilization between atomic holocausts-borrow concepts from all the social sciences. Nevertheless, for present purposes it is possible to group the examples selected according to one or another disciplinary label. Since many of the works of social science fiction described are concerned with the subject matter of political science, that is, with the nature and locus of power and authority in society, and since several examples of political science fiction are described elsewhere, political science is not included as a separate category [SeeLITERATURE, article on POLITICAL FICTION].


The popularization of anthropology and its subdisciplines has provided new insights and perspectives to an entire generation of writers of fiction. In particular, the concept of culture as a holistic approach to the varieties of human life has had an impact perhaps comparable to that of psychoanalysis.

A reflection of this impact is found in those novels and short stories whose main preoccupation is with the components of culture; with the dynamics of culture change under stress; with the rise and development of new cultures on earth under primitive conditions following some traumatic event which destroys contemporary civilization; or with the description of different cultures in other worlds in some distant future and the attendant problems of communication and contact between cultures.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949) shows evidence of having been inspired by the concepts of cultural anthropology. Two themes permeate this story, which concerns a handful of survivors in a world that has been nearly depopulated by a mutated virus. First, the founder and leader of “The Tribe”as the group is calledfails in his attempt to teach the children who are born into the group the values and customs of the old civilization. Each society must develop its own cultural symbols, Stewart seems to say, if it is to survive and grow. A miner’s hammer owned by the leader, for example, becomes the focal symbol of his authority. Second, the emergence of the new culture illustrates the conflict between the individual and society. When a straggler appears on the scene and it is discovered that he has a venereal disease, the elders vote to hang him in order that The Tribe may survive. After the execution, the leader reflects on the meaning of what has been done:

This was an end, and this was also a beginning. It was the end of those twenty-one years when they had lived, now he thought, ... as it might have been in some old Garden of Eden. ... In the past, there had been only a little group of people, scarcely more than an overgrown family. In the future, there would be the State. . . . And now the first act of the State, its originating function, had been to bring death. (1949, p. 247 in the Ace edition)

Chad Oliver, an anthropologist, understandably provides the most knowledgeable and integral examples of fiction which incorporates and elaborates upon culture concepts. In the novel Shadows in the Sun (1954a), Oliver extrapolates both from the methodology of cultural anthropology and the concept of culture patterns. The narrative concerns the experiences of the hero (a cultural anthropologist) as he analyzes the data obtained from a community study of an American small town. The data do not produce the expected correlations; there seems to be something strange about the culture which was not detectable during the field work. Gradually the explanation emerges: the town is populated solely by aliens from another planet who have slowly bought up the property and settled there in order to have a base camp on earth. They have successfully posed as earthlings until culture-pattern analysis unmasks them.

Oliver’s short story“Rite of Passage”(1954h)also focuses on the concept of cultural configuration. Three surviviors of the crew of an interplanetary exploration expedition, one of them the official anthropologist, land on a planet of another solar system. They are welcomed by the inhabitants, whose culture is apparently primitive and pastoral. After a brief sojourn among the Nern, during which the anthropologist is taught the language by the village shaman, the other crew members are eager to introduce the basic elements of technology. The anthropologist, however, deduces correctly that the Nern have eschewed technology by deliberate option, by“editing”their culture“down to essentials,”i.e., the goal of“survival with maximum integration, cohesiveness of function, individual fulfillment, constant challenge, and peace”([1954b] 1966, p. 282). They are“masters of the culture process,”experts at introducing their own ideas in other cultures at a distance through psychology, hypnosis, and adroit appeals, at turning enemies into allies, and destroying them.

Linguistics is also a favored theme in anthropological fiction, particularly those aspects that deal with the relationship of language to culture. What fascinates writers of social science fiction is the thesis that language can control behavior. Perhaps the best example is in 1984, a novel which is primarily political science fiction. Newspeak, the language devised by the totalitarian regime described by Orwell, is one of the state’s major instruments of thought control. Its purpose, as Orwell describes it in the appendix to the novel, is“not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc [English socialism], but to make all other modes of thought impossible”(1949, p. 246 in the 1961 edition).

Jack Vance’s The Languages of Pao (1957) is another example of linguistic fiction. The story, set far in the future, centers on the thesis that language creates cultural values and thus can be deliberately used to create new social systems. The ruler of an“acquiescent”society on the planet Pao obtains technical-assistance experts from another planet to help him defend Pao against its enemies. The visiting superscientists are anthropologists and linguists, and they transform Pao into an aggressive caste society by creating and inculcating three separate languages: one for the military, with a syllabary“rich in effort-producing gutturals and hard vowels”; one for the industrialists and technicians, with an extravagantly complicated but logical grammar and“elaborate rules of accordance”; and one for the traders, with“emphatic number-parsing, elaborate honoriflcs ... to facilitate ambiguity, a syntax of reflection, reinforcement and alternation to emphasize the analogous interchange of human affairs”([1957] 1958, p. 57).

Another subdiscipline of anthropologyarcheologyhas provided inspiration for writers of the science fiction school. The reconstruction through archeological techniques of vanished civilizations on distant planets has introduced a new twist to the so-called space operas of an earlier period. The examples are numerous and endlessly fanciful. In fact, the physicist-biochemist Leo Szilard wrote a parody that seems aimed both at archeologists and archeological fiction. Entitled“Grand Central Terminal”(1952), it solemnly describes the efforts of“alien”archeologists from space to reconstruct the image of earth culture from the ruins of the station and its public facilities.


The pervasive influence of the concepts and terminology of sociology is reflected in works of social science fiction that explore new forms of social stratification or new mechanisms of social control or which are imaginative projections of such present-day social pathologies as overpopulation, drug addiction, organized crime, juvenile delinquency, and the manipulation of behavior through the mass media.

Although a popular form of sociological science fiction is the dystopia, in the tradition of 1984, both the character of the menace and the objectives of the protest are different from those described by Orwell. The contemporary sociological version of the dystopia is concerned not with the problem of oligarchy but with the ultimate triumph of a mindless mass mentality. Two novels, The Thirty-first Floor by the Swedish writer Peter Wahlo’6 (1964) and Fahrenheit 451 by the American Ray Bradbury, are cases in point. Both novels describe static, egalitarian societies of the future that are dominated by a mass culture, in which independent thought is stifled and conformity to the bland average in behavior is enforced. The values of these societies are expressed and promulgated by the homogenized mass media. Reduced to the lowest common denominator of emotional and intellectual appeal, the press and television eschew all controversy, offend no one, and level all aspirations to a moronic hedonism. The institutional means of control is censorship. In Wahloo’s world the censorship is unofficial, unobtrusive, but nonetheless pervasive. Private enterprise and government are intertwined and opinion is controlled by a democratic combine of the press, the trade unions, and the political parties. A vast publishing concern shields the individual’s peace of mind and security ([1964] 1967, p. 37) from all information about discontent (suicide, deviance, drunkenness) or negative frightening realities (crime, pollution, overcrowding). It is“the majority of people . . . [who] act as censors”(ibid., p. 175); society protects itself. In Bradbury’s dystopia, censorship is overt: the agents of control are the firemen, whose assigned duty is not to put out fires but to destroy books, which are outlawed as incendiary threats to the mass mentality (451º. is the temperature at which book paper is said to burst into flame). As the Firechief explains to the fireman hero Montag, who has begun to read clandestinely the books he is supposed to burn:“It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick”(1953, p. 53). But the social process became an ideology:

We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. . . . then all are happy. . . . Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again ... is happier than any man who tries to sliderule, measure, and equate the universe. . . . (ibid., pp. 53, 56)

True to form, both Wahloo and Bradbury exalt the rebel against the rationalized society. In The Thirty-first Floor a dissident editor, tricked with other intellectuals into collaboration with the“concern,”threatens to blow up its headquarters. In Fahrenheit 451 Montag joins the underground people living in the hills and backwaters who also bum books but memorize them first. Each person in fact is a book (“I am Plato’s Republic”is an introduction). In this way the oral traditions of man’s preliterate past enable civilization to survive until a nuclear holocaust, beginning as the book ends, destroys the centers of anti-intellectualism.

In The 10th Victim, a humorous novel about the future by Robert Sheckley (1965), another social process is described. In the twenty-first century, a society sick of war has finally evolved a functional substitute for aggression: the legalization of murder through the institution of the Hunt. The Hunt is described as an international contest, in which participation is voluntary. In all the capitals of the civilized world, giant computers randomly select pairs of antagonists who are licensed as “hunter”and“victim.”Prize money is awarded to the victors; the hunters and victims alternate roles until one of them reaches the limit of ten kills. Intended for the control of aggression, the Hunt is also exploited by television advertisers who stage killings in settings appropriate for advertising their products.

Among the examples of sociological fiction which extrapolate from the pathological tendencies afflicting modern urban society is Only Lovers Left Alive by Dave Wallis (1964), which envisions a world taken over by teen-age gangs. Once society is free of restraints and adult norms, lawlessness and disorganization become rampant. But eventually, from the struggle for survival among the depleted stockpiles of abandoned cities, there emerges responsible leadership, the division of labor, and a clan organization as a rudimentary form of government.

In Psychedelic-40 by Louis Charbonneau (1965), the themes of mass drug addiction and organized crime are explored. A ruthless elite of superintel-lects,“The Syndicate,”uses mind-expanding drugs to increase its extrasensory perceptions and hypnotic powers and to control the apathetic masses addicted to and controlled by diluted derivatives of hallucinogens. In Tomorrow and Tomorrow, a wildly fanciful novel by Hunt Collins (1956), drug addiction is institutionalized. No longer a compulsion, it is a socially defined legitimate need; indeed, it is both a symbol of status and a way of life.

The theme of race relations, invariably used as a means of expressing enlightened sentiments about the equality of all men, is common in social science fiction. On other planets, in the distant future on earth, all men areor should be brothers.

White Lotus by John Hersey (1965) is another post-doomsday novel which presupposes an altered course of history. Although the narrative begins ostensibly at some unspecified time in the twentieth century, it is described by the author as“a history that might have been, a tale of an old shoe on a new foot.”In short it is a speculative allegory on the theme of race. Hersey imagines a world in which the Western powers are defeated in the“Yellow War”and the tables of history are reversed, the white race becoming subordinate to the superior civilization of its conquerors. Through the eyes of its heroine, caught in the slave raids of the Chinese conquerors, Hersey explores the feelings, perceptions, conflicts, and problems of a despised minority struggling for its rights.

A final example of the uses of sociological concepts in social science fiction deserves notice, if for no other reason than that it represents, in the form of a parody, a warning about the preposterous consequences of overconfidence in the application of social science knowledge.“The Mother of Neces-sity”by Chad Oliver (1955) is a short story that makes a satirical thrust at the potential uses and misuses of social planning. The United States in the twenty-first century is being run by a new breed of technician, the “social gadgeteer.”As a historian of the time describing the process of transformation points out,“As long ago as the middle of the last century, a man named Riesman was already pointing out that our culture was becoming oriented toward the consumers; he called it ’other-direction,’. . . and . . . the increasing dominance of peer groups”([1955] 1962, pp. 251-252). Bored with the self-defeating products of the physical sciences, Americans turn to“really fundamental gadgets”: social systems, invented by social scientists who by now know“what made sociocultural systems tick.”The result is“a series of flexible, delimited social groupsabout the size of the old countieswith variant social systems competing for prestige,”with “a national service culturea government. .. [which] had colonies in each area”(ibid., p. 252). Eventually, however, bored again with eternal change and surfeited with sociocultural packages, the people experience a grassroots reaction and choose“by write-in-vote”a universal model of a static arcadian society.


Two satires in the tradition of Huxley’s Brave New World represent exaggerated projections of today’s economic realities. The first one, a comic admonition of the ultimate consequences of superabundance, is “The Midas Plague”by Frederik Pohl (1951). In the fully automated (robotized) society of the future, ruled by the requirements of the “National Ration Board,”it is the prime duty of every citizen to consume, until“through diligent consuming . . . you were promoted to the next higher class, and were allowed to consume less frantically”([1951] 1963, p. 43). The hero, a mere“Grade Four,”is overwhelmed with material goods, food, luxuries, services, including 11 analysts for his group therapy sessions (“four Freudians, two Reichians, two Jungians, a Gestalter, a shock therapist and the elderly and rather quiet Sullivanite”) (ibid., p. 19). In despair, he sets his robots to work consuming secretly, is promoted to Grade Five, but is eventually unmasked and brought quaking before the Ration Board. He emerges a hero for his contribution to the problem of distributionadjusting the robots’ circuits, so that they desire and consume the goods they produce. The laws of supply and demand are repealed and the Ration Board liquidates itself.

The second satire, The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth (1953), posits a world in which government and private enterprise are indistinguishable (senators represent large corporations rather than states). The society is policed by“Business Espionage,”and it is rent by feuds between rival companies. Society is rigidly stratified into three classesproducers, executives, and the lowly consumers. Overpopulated and depleted of resources, it is a world in which“Science is always a step ahead of the failure of natural resources. .. .”(When oil runs low, technology develops the pedicab.) Advertising agencies are no longer engaged merely in selling the products of industry but in creating them and in reshaping mores to fit the requirements of commerce. This includes motivating people to colonize Venus to reduce the pressures on a creaking economy. Travel, incidentally, is on the spaceships David Ricardo and Vilfredo Pareto.


Writers of fiction have been fascinated by the manipulative potential of applied psychology. Just as writers of imaginative fiction of earlier generations, in particular Bulwer-Lytton in The Coming Race (1871) and W. Olaf Stapledon in Last and First Man (1930), exploited the potentialities of biology in creating fictional superbeings, contemporary writers in the same tradition have been attracted by psychological research in intelligence and conditioning.

One illustration of the former concern with the potentialities of altering intelligence in the psychological laboratory is John Hersey’s seriocomic satire The Child Buyer (1960). In the name of so-called progress and rationality, a mysterious firm called United Lymphomilloid buys exceptional children for the purpose of turning them into dehumanized thinking machines.“Specimens”are altered by stages ranging from conditioning through brainwashing to surgery that ties off the five senses. In isolation, without sensations or desires, the final product has an IQ of more than 1,000 and is trained to solve problems of fantastic complexity for the deity U. Lympho.

Closer to realityan extrapolation of the brainwashing techniques reputedly employed to indoctrinate American prisoners in the Korean Waris Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate (1959), which tells of the transformation of an American prisoner through conditioning by Chinese psychologists into a triggered mechanism for political assassination. The same theme appears in a short story by Hayden Howard,“Our Man in Peking”(1967), set in a future era of Mao in.

Implicit in these three examples of psychological science fiction is a warning of the dangerous potentialities of human conditioning. For an optimistic appraisal, one must turn to B. F. Skinner’s Utopiannovel Walden Two (1948), which expatiates on the virtues of“behavioral engineering”as a means of achieving the perfect society. Frazier, the master planner of an experimental community and the mouthpiece for Skinner’s theories, guides his visitors through a pastoral cooperative society-in-microcosm where creativity flourishes and children are educated according to the most benevolent potentialities of conditioning. Their ethical training is designed to nurture self-control rather than obedience to authoritarian norms, to encourage tolerance of annoyances and deprivations as a means of counteracting the destructive effect of the emotions of failure and frustration, and to equip the individual to exploit his potentialities with maximum efficiency. Education stresses independent thinking and inquiry rather than traditional subjects. In Skinner’s society the individual fulfills himself while at the same time working, free of the pressures of venal competition, for the benefit of the community.“Labor credits”rather than money are the official tender.


It was inevitable that Freudian psychiatry, which has for so long provided novelists, playwrights, and television scriptwriters with the stock figure of the priest-father-scientist, should spawn its own brand of science fiction. Three examples which extrapolate from the present state of psychiatry are of interest here. The first two, a novelette and a short story, look toward a future in which the psychiatrists are in control: they are the policemen of the psyche, the overwatchful, ever-present, and impersonal bureaucrats who enforce conformity. In Wyman Guin’s“Beyond Bedlam”(1951), schizophrenia has become a way of life in the twenty-first century. With the discovery of new drugs which control emotions and facilitate“ego-shiftability”without conflict, schizophrenia is no longer considered a disease manifested by a split personality but rather an overendowment of personality that requires two identities to express its many viewpoints and talents. The omnipresent Medicorps sees to it that everybody takes the prescribed dose, which allows the“hyperalter,”or prime ego, and the“hypoalter,”or alternate ego, to share the same body, in shifts, without mutual awareness. Married couples and their children must“shift”at the same time, everyone leads a tension-free double life, and aggression is eliminated; but communication outside and across the assigned shiftsbetween hyperalters and hypoalters in the same marriageis rigidly tabooed. Death is meted out by the Medicorps to the errant half of the personality through electronic erasure. In“Happiness Squad,”a novelette by Charles W. Runyon (1967), incipient madness is also controlled by precipitating a climax. In this case it is the P.A.L., or“Psychiatric Agency-Local,”who sends the Medicops to arrest the deviant and administers“environmental therapy,”which restores him to a tranquilized state of euphoric illusion that shields him from ugly reality. In a turnabout,“The Insane Ones,”a story by J. G. Ballard (1962), envisions a more immediate future in which the psychiatrist is the hunted outcast instead of the hunter. A popular reaction against the uncontrolled commercial utilization of the techniques of mass persuasion, against“subliminal living,”turns into an anti-intellectual rejection of all the psychological sciences and their pervasive influence in other areas, including over-permissive courts of law, and pseudo-enlightened penal reformers. An ultraconservative world government enacts the Mental Freedom Laws, which outlaw all forms of psychic controlfrom the market survey to psychiatry.

Not only Freudian psychiatry but brain physiology has provided grist for the mill of the science fiction writer. The stories of disembodied brains kept alive, an old staple of science fiction, have been supplanted by stories which depart from present knowledge of brain physiology into hypothetical avenues of development. One such story is“Discontinuity”by Raymond F. Jones (1950), which deals with experiments carried out by a future research institute in“rebuilding”the brains of trauma victims. By advanced techniques of electroencephalography and by imprinting coded knowledge and experiences on the unused portion of the brain, the neurologists of the future attempt, but seem to fail, to re-create the mind. When the doctor who originated the process undergoes it himself, he discovers it to be a horrible“success,”since he finds himself equipped with a superior, infinitely well-ordered and efficient brain but totally cut off from communication by aphasia. Fleeing capture and commitment to a mental institution, he seeks out his former subjects and finds they have a common language incomprehensible to the outside world. With their help he finally succeeds in re-establishing communication with his colleagues.

Thus far there has been no social scientific research on social science fiction, although there has been some attention paid to classic science fiction. One intent of the brief survey in this article is to suggest that the genre might warrant systematic analysis (such as content analysis or readership studies), not only because the substantive content of social science fiction is a reflection of the spreading influence of the social sciences but also because of its growth as a medium of popular culture. The sociologist Walter Hirsch, in a study of classic science fiction, cited a rough estimate of six million as the 1954 readership. Readers are typically either students or college graduates in their early thirties, engaged in technical, professional, or managerial occupations ([1958] 1962, p. 261). It should be noted that social science fiction appears regularly in a number of science fiction magazines and that it has also begun to appear in magazines of more general circulation. The best stories are reprinted in a constant stream of anthologies which, in both hardcover and paperback editions, are sold in bookstores in the United States, Great Britain, and other countries. Writers such as Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest (see Amis I960; Amis & Conquest 1962; 1963) and Isaac Asimov (1962a; 1962b) have directed attention to the metamorphosis of classic science fiction into social science fiction and to its spreading influence and acceptance. Several works have been produced for television and made into films.

Without placing undue stress on the intrinsic importance of social science fiction, it would seem desirable to study the ways in which the concepts of social science are distorted or misrepresented by a genre of literature that reaches a sizable public and provides one more indication of popular perceptions of the role of the social scientist in society.

Another reason for undertaking research into this field is that social science fiction provides at least a footnote to what Daniel Bell terms”the sociology of the future.”If the cities of the future, as they are described in social science fiction, are not the gleaming optimistic visions of earlier generations sanguine about the promises of the physical sciences but, rather, are grim megalopolies afflicted with social maladies worse than our own, and if the societies projected for tomorrow are perverse and pessimistic versions of today’s reality, does this in any sense provide valid clues to popular expectations of the efficacy of social planning? If, on the other hand, the optimism reflected in nineteenth-century Utopian literature finds significant echoes in today’s social science fiction, then the sources and the premises of this optimismwhether they are rooted in naivete or in overconfidence in the social scientific management of human affairs should also be examined. Both attitudes are of interest to social scientists, since they would appear to be in some small measure reflections of the apprehensions and aspirations of a self-conscious society.

Yole G. Sills



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