Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Grad student’s new exhibit examines history of sci-fi from early Atomic Age roots

Morgan Hubbard has been a science fiction fan for quite sometime.

“I’ve always loved science fiction,” said Hubbard, a second-year graduate student of history at the University of Massachusetts.

In an effort to combine his admiration for the sci-fi genre and his studies in history together, Hubbard has designed a new exhibit at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library that takes a stirring look at sci-fi, and how it was influenced by one of the most significant aspects of the last century.

This exhibit, entitled “Uncertain Futures: Americans and Science Fiction in the Early Cold War Era,” traces the role that the world’s events of the era played in sci-fi publications. 

“Keystone events of the Cold War … really changed the genre,” Hubbard said of the evolution of sci-fi publications.

Starting with the first detonation of the atomic bomb in 1945, Hubbard’s exhibit displays how increased tensions in the nuclear era influenced elements of the stories that many Americans were reading in sci-fi themed magazines and books.

“The Cold War really began in 1945, and was a crucial backdrop to the beginnings of science fiction,” Hubbard said, noting that his exhibit offers a relatively loose interpretation of the Cold War, starting with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, and continuing with heightened anxiety between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Through numerous magazines, books and photographs, the exhibit shows how many sci-fi stories and artwork were seemingly impacted by the events and stories that were making headlines across the globe.  From stories on the effects of a nuclear fallout to pieces inspired by the space race between the United States and Soviet Union, the works by sci-fi authors seemed to mimic the fears and apprehensions that many Americans had during that tumultuous time.

Hubbard conceded that no direct links between specific world events and sci-fi stories are on record, but he still has a hunch that many stories were inspired by the major global occurrences of the era.

“It’s always hard to draw direct casual links between the real world and fiction,” said Hubbard, who was inspired to complete the exhibit after writing a paper for a graduate public history course at UMass. 

According to Hubbard, many sci-fi links during the Cold War era popped up right here at UMass, due in part to funding and lobbying by the UMass Science Fiction Society – a major contributor of documents and pieces to his exhibit.

Sci-fi authors and editors such as Isaac Asimov and John Campbell can be seen speaking at UMass in a collection of photographs that Hubbard compiled for his exhibit.  Most of the events that famed sci-fi figures spoke at, Hubbard said, were put on by the Science Fiction Society, an organization that traces its roots at UMass back to the 1960s, and is still active in many ways today.

“You can’t really talk about sci-fi without talking about the local part, which is where the UMass Science Fiction Society comes in,” Hubbard said.

Additionally, something that is often overlooked is that sci-fi was really ignited on a small scale by people in local communities who would get in contact with each other, according to Hubbard.

“Science fiction is a story based on local people and local histories,” Hubbard said, noting that some sci-fi publications would print the addresses of people who would submit feedback so that others in their area could get in contact with them and form sci-fi themed fan clubs.

Hubbard also added that even though publications during the era seemingly had similar themes, they were still as eclectic as many fiction-based publications are today.

“People tend to think of science fiction as being monolithic,” Hubbard said.  “But there were different audiences for different sci-fi magazines.”

And besides the apparent connections between the Cold War and sci-fi stories, Hubbard said that another thing he feels revolutionized the market is the spike in sales of sci-fi books in the 1950s. He attributes the spike to a wider accessibility of cheap, paperback editions of stories.

Hubbard also said that one thing that he took most out of his research from the exhibit is how many parallels seemingly existed between fictionalized stories and real events.  He’d like exhibit-goers to take that out of his display as well.

“I’d like people to think about the link between fiction and reality,” he said.

Hubbard’s exhibit can be viewed Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the 25th floor of the Du Bois Library through Oct. 31.  Hubbard has also created an interactive Web exhibit on the library’s website.

William Perkins can be reached at [email protected].

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