Plagues, Apocalypses and Bug-Eyed Monsters

How Speculative Fiction Shows Us Our Nightmares


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About the Book

Speculative fiction—both science fiction and fantasy—reflects, among other things, the fears of the culture that created it, contributing (perhaps unconsciously) to our efforts to prevent our fears from coming true. While the names and media change over time, the themes of speculative fiction have a long history. Nineteenth century works such as Frankenstein and The Invisible Man contain many of the same messages as the more modern tales of Terminator, Jurassic Park and even Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, although almost a century separates their creation. This critical study discusses the ways in which speculative fiction reflects societal fears and analyzes how such cautionary tales contribute to society’s efforts to avoid the realization of these fears. Beginning with a discussion of the nature of speculative fiction, it takes a look at the characteristics of the cautionary tale. The core of the book, however, is the concept of the “Nightmares Model,” which examines and categorizes the repetition of specific themes within the genre. The dangers of science and technology, the perils of power, and the threat of the unknown are discussed as recurrent themes within a variety of works in prose, film and television. Works analyzed range from Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea to 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Blair Witch Project. Sources include the author’s own observations as a member of the genre’s fandom, a variety of published commentaries and the perspectives of contemporary professionals gained through personal interviews and panel discussions.

About the Author(s)

Heather Urbanski is currently an assistant professor of English at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts.

Bibliographic Details

Heather Urbanski

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 264
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2007
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2916-5
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8293-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1
Introduction: The Cautionary Tale      5

Introduction      21
1. Nuclear War      24
2. Information Technology      39
3. Biology      57
4. From Frankenstein to the Terminator and Everything in Between: Science and Technology Images in the Mainstream Media      75

Introduction      89
5. Power of the Individual      92
6. Power of the State      109
7. Big Brother and Darth Vader on the Evening News: Power Images in the Mainstream Media      131

Introduction      145
8. Monsters, Aliens, and “Other” Beings      149
9. Progress      169
10. Resistance Is Futile for Rip Van Winkle in the Twilight Zone: Images of the Unknown in the Mainstream Media      192

Afterword: What Does All This Mean?      206
Chapter Notes      217
Works Cited      221
Index      243

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “an impressive survey”—Film and History
  • “provocative”—Children’s Literature Association Quarterly
  • “an insightful addition to sf scholarship”—Science Fiction Studies
  • “interesting”—The Year’s Best Science Fiction
  • “informative”—The Bloomsbury Review