Extrapolating Nostalgia: Special Issue of Science Fiction Studies

Aris Mousoutzanis (Editor), Yugin Teo (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportBook - editedpeer-review


We invite papers on the role of nostalgia as a structure of feeling that animates speculative, utopian, and (post)apocalyptic texts across media. Although there has been increasing critical attention to the role of memory in these genres, nostalgia is a neglected topic. We seek papers that explore nostalgia as affect and motif in the genre, following Jameson’s description of sf as a mode of “apprehending the future as history” (1982), while discussing seemingly future-oriented texts such William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). Nostalgia had already been consolidated within mainstream popular culture via George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977) which self-consciously harkened back to earlier eras, texts and subgenres, from the space operas of E.E. Doc Smith to the film serials of the 1930s, from Fred Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet (1956) to Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965). In contemporary media, Star Wars itself is now one among many rebooted titles, as mainstream science fiction reanimates its own popular history. As Judith Berman argues in “Science Fiction without the Future” (2001), even the stories of Golden Age pulp sf were less about the future than “full of nostalgia, regret, fear of aging and death.” The genre has frequently been preoccupied with the past as it imagines the future even in cinema, evident in films such as Code 46 (Winterbottom 2003) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry 2004) which are driven by almost futile search for the lost object. Further connections may be detected between nostalgia and gernes such as utopia and dystopia. If utopianism produces future-orientated discourses that seek to transform the present into an idealised future, nostalgia might be described as inverted utopianism that generates an ameliorated, utopianized recollection of the past, as is evident in nineteenth-century utopias, such William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890) whose post-apocalyptic future betrays a yearning for a pre-industrial, pastoral era. In The Future of Nostalgia (2001) Svetlana Boym contends that nostalgia can function as as a critical form of remembering that is not bound to a single version of the past, enabling texts to revisit the past to animate different realities and futures, a technique central to works such as Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1974) and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1974). Classical dystopias, on the other hand, such as Eugene Zamyatin’s We (1920-21) and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948) often look to the past as a time of more authentic existence, a motif that continues in recent television series such as The Walking Dead (2010-) and The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-), especially in their use of flashback sequences.
Most recently, we have seen widescale interest in sf that nostalgically engages with the 1980s, often through allusions to sf of that era. Netflix has been a major agent in this trend, exemplified by the phenomenal success of Stranger Things (2016-), whose 1980s setting is also contemporary with Jameson’s theorization of sf and history. Other Netflix projects indicate an ongoing interest in nostalgia and this particular decade, such as the German series Dark (2017-), which uses time travel and alternative histories to evoke the 1980s as a consequential turning point in history, or the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror (2011-), whose recreation of the 1980s in an online virtual afterlife is often described as the only optimistic episode of the series. This recent cycle of sf might be thought of as second-order nostalgia, that is, texts that encourage young audiences to feel nostalgia about a period they did not live through, one they experienced only via media made at this time. Drawing on Marianne Hirsch’s theorization of “post-memory,” we suggest the term “post-nostalgia” as a way to conceptualize the affective and thematic preoccupations of such work.
We invite submissions that explore these complex intersections of nostalgia and sf. We are interested in papers that revisit the dominant perception of nostalgia as a conservative affective response to a contemporary sense of crisis, and we especially welcome those that explore reflective, critical, or transformative examples of nostalgia that enables a dialectic relationship to the past. We encourage papers that explore how and why nostalgia has resurfaced in genres of the speculative at this particular historical moment. We welcome submissions that explore science fiction in any medium.
Indicative yet not exhaustive possible topics include:
•sf, nostalgia and cognitive estrangement
•sf, nostalgia and temporality
•sf, nostalgia and media archaeology
•nostalgia, utopia, dystopia
•reflective nostalgia
•nostalgia and (post-)apocalypse
•identity, nostalgia and counter-memory in (literary, film, television) genre fictions
•steampunk, nostalgia and media archaeology
•commodifying nostalgia and the screen industries: rebooting, franchising, cross-marketing
•nostalgia, sf audiences and fandom

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Mar 2021

Publication series

NameScience Fiction Studies
ISSN (Print)0091-7729


  • nostalgia
  • Science Fiction
  • Utopia
  • dystopia
  • apocalypse
  • speculative futures


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