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“The tomorrow that never was.” (Gibson, “The Gernsback Continuum”) Retro Futurism is a trend in the arts that prizes futuristic visions from the past (until about 1960). Futurism was a reaction to a surge in technological progress and featured visions of a utopia just around the corner and a sense of optimism. The return to this historical futurism allows us to reexamine the imagination and dreams of the past.
Retro Futurism is not a retelling of old stories. Retro Futuristic stories are influenced by today's scientific, technological, and social awareness. They offer a new, modern twist on the retro stories and images, sometimes ironically. They are a refurbished story with a sense of nostalgia about what tomorrow might have been, but is not.
You can view the crowd-ranked "Popular" Retro-Futurism Science Fiction books list and vote and/submit entries to it.
Other Features of Retro Futurism Science Fiction
- Level of Real Science
Moderate. Science is important to the Retro Futurism sub-genre; in many ways science and technology are at the core of this sub-genre. However, there is often a dream-like quality to what is depicted in these stories, featuring technologies that, as science has developed, have proven implausible.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
Moderate. A sense of optimism pervades this sub-genre and so a future utopian society is depicted. Generally, the wealth and happiness depicted is the result of technological advances. As such, there is plenty of space to explore ideas (tension between past and future, alienating effects of technology, empowering effects of technology) but stories do not always delve into the depths.
- Level of Characterization
Moderate. Retro Futurism emphasizes aesthetics, so characters will be well developed aesthetically, but may not have rich inner lives. An homage to a popular character from retro Sci Fi is not uncommon either.
- Level of Plot Complexity
Moderate. Retro Futurism Sci Fi stories have plots that are odes to the Golden Age of Science Fiction, that are complex alternate histories, that offer possibilities.However, because Retro Futurism Sci Fi focuses on thematic development and aesthetics, plots are not always complex drivers of the story.
- Level of Violence
Moderate. Ray guns and similarly now implausible instruments of violence are not uncommon in Retro Futurist stories. However, scenes involving these weapons will often have a comic, satiric, or nostalgic message.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
Alternate History. Some Retro Futurist tales are told as an alternate history—that is rather than depicting a possible future, it depicts a possible today.
Steampunk. Like Retro Futurism, Steampunk has a sense of optimism about technological possibilities of the past. Steampunk, like Retro Futurism, has a specific design aesthetic. Sometimes, a Retro Future might incorporate a Steampunk aesthetic (featuring a future full of airships, steamworks, a present day or future Victorian design aesthetic etc).
Pulp Science Fiction. Much of Retro Futurism Sci Fi draws on the stories and images of the Pulp Sci Fi sub-genre.
- 1 The Difference Engine
By Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. An example of Retro Futurism with a Steampunk feel.
- 2 Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep?
By Philip K. Dick. A novel that contains images that are Retro Futuristic, but is also a story about a post-apocalyptic Earth.
- 3 Leviathan saga
By Scott Westerfeld. Westerfeld takes today's futuristic visions of cyborgs and genetically engineered creatures and puts them into WWI.
- 4 Electropolis
By Dean Motter. A comic book world built on early 20th century ideas of the future.
- 5 Flash Gordon
By Alex Raymond. A comic that was first published in 1934 that has been revamped and updated for today.
- 6 Red Star
By Christian Gossett. Revisits historical constructions of the future from Russia.
- 7 Ignition City
By Warren Ellis and Gianluca Pagliarani illus This sequences has ray guns, space heroes, rockets, and some good old fashioned mystery.
- 8 Atomic Robo
By Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener illus. This series centres on Atomic Robo, a robot with automatic intelligence created by Nikola Tesla, as it battles Nazis, clockwork mummies, pyramids, cyborgs, and more.
- 9 The Mining Mess
By John Picha Skyracos. Jet packs, alien worlds, the promise of glory, shiny suits, and a bit of moral ambiguity and questions on good and evil.
- 10 Master of Machines
By Tony Russo Zak Corbin. Set in a retro futuristic era, the young protagonist Zak wants to impress a girl and uncover the mystery of his uncle's imprisonment, so he builds a banned robot.