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RETROFUTURE Visions of the Future, 1945-1975 By Dusk Peterson

Retrofuture (also called retro-future, paleo-future, and Raygun Gothic) is a word used for past visions of the future. This bibliography of books, films, and online resources focusses on retrofuturistic visions in the decades immediately following the invention of the computer, when scientists, journalists, artists, film-makers, and science fiction writers were especially interested in how technology such as computers would affect life in the future. From the 1960s onwards, human captivity in computer-controlled prisons and dystopias became a recurring theme.

This site serves a partial bibliography for Waterman, my retrofuture series set in an alternative version of the Chesapeake Bay region during the 1910s and during the future as it was envisioned in the 1960s. For other bibliographies in this series, please see the main index of the Turn-of-the-Century Toughs Bibliographies.

Updated January 2010.

Except in the Historical Studies section, works are listed within each section in chronological order.

Sections below (covering retrofutures):

Separate pages:


BOOKS: Fiction

Leinser, Murray (writing as Will F. Jenkins). "A Logic Named Joe" (1946). Reprinted in A Logic Named Joe (2005). A computer becomes too innovative.

Bradbury, Ray. "There Will Come Soft Rains," The Martian Chronicles (1950). A short story about an automatic house that continues to function even after its owners are gone.

Asimov, Isaac. The Caves of Steel (1954). Set in an underground city of the future. The story is notable for its portrayal of androids.

Asimov, Isaac. The Naked Sun (1957). The sequel to The Caves of Steel, showing a society where the androids far outnumber the humans.

Williams, Jay, and Raymond Abrashkin. Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine (1958). Set in the 1950s. A group of children take advantage of the presence of a computer in their house.

Garrett, Gordon Randall. Unwise Child (1962). A worldlywise businessman who has been pulled back into military service finds himself in charge of a spaceship with a childlike computer/robot.

Del Rey, Lester The Runaway Robot (1965). A space-voyaging tale told from the point of view of a robot, loyal to his sixteen-year-old master, who lives in a society where robots have no rights.

Heinlein, Robert A. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1965). Set in a prison colony on the moon, this novel includes a sympathetic portrayal of a computer that develops consciousness.

Williams, Jay, and Raymond Abrashkin. Danny Dunn and the Automatic House (1965). Set in the 1960s. A group of children become trapped in a model house of the future.

Nolan, William F., and George Clayton Johnson. Logan's Run (1967). In cities of the future that are governed by a computer, nobody is permitted to live past age twenty-one. A few men and women try to defy the odds by fleeing to a fabled sanctuary.

Crichton, Michael. The Andromeda Strain (1969). A science fiction thriller, set in an underground laboratory that is watched over by a computer.

Bova, Ben. Escape! (1970). A juvenile delinquent seeks to outwit a computer that runs his prison.

Gunn, James E. The Listeners (1972). "In the center of the room were other units like squat monsters eating cards or spitting out wide strips of paper that folded themselves into stacks if nobody was looking at them, and all the while the computer clicked and chuckled to itself." An elegantly written novel, lightly futuristic, about a group of scientists seeking evidence of life elsewhere in the universe. The novel interludes are entitled "Computer Run," and the final chapter is from the point of view of the project's computer.

Sleator, William. House of Stairs (1974). Five orphan teenagers are imprisoned in a place made up entirely of stairs and must follow the rules of a machine that feeds them.

Nourse, Alan E. The Bladerunner (1974). In the future, sterilization is a requirement for health service. An underground black market in illegal medicine develops; some doctors also oppose the growing use of robotics in surgery. Nourse describes a world where class differences are starkly represented by the division between the Lower City and the Upper City.

FILMS: Documentary

1999 A.D. (1967). Presented by the Philco-Ford Corporation, this utopian short film predicts the effects of computerization on daily life in a household. Clips are available at various locations online; do a Web search on the title to find them.

The Monsanto House of the Future (1957). Presented by the Monsanto Chemical Company Plastics Division and produced by Bay State Film Productions. This model house, part of Disneyland's Tomorrowland, was made mainly of plastics. The video is available in various places on the Web; do a Web search on the title to find it.

FILMS: Fiction

Metropolis (1927). A pioneering silent film that portrays a dystopian city of the future.

Things to Come (1936). The great utopian film of the Art Deco period. Its imagery would help shape later movies about cities of the future.

Destination Moon (1950). What is remarkable in this George Pal film, which Robert A. Heinlein helped to script, is how few references to computers it contains. When last-minute calculations are made for the flight in Destination Moon, the flight planners consult printed tables and call out numbers to each other, just as they would in Heinlein's 1953 novel Starman Jones; but in the novel the numbers are punched into a computer, whereas in the film they are written down.

When Worlds Collide (1951). A film about a small group of people who must escape from the Earth, which is doomed. Toward the beginning of the movie, viewers are shown an early calculating device, the differential analyzer. Nearly halfway through the movie, there is a short scene showing a "microfilm lab," where printed books are being photographed onto microfilm, so that they can be taken on the spaceflight.

Forbidden Planet (1956). Taking as its theme the temptations of technology, this film is set on a colonized planet, features a friendly robot, and has one of the first electronic soundtracks.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Portrays life in space. The film includes the famous film portrayal of a computer who decides that he knows better than the humans how to handle things.

The Andromeda Strain (1971). A science fiction thriller, set in an underground laboratory that is watched over by a computer.

THX 1138 (1971). George Lucas's first movie, based on a film he made as a student in 1967, is about an underground dystopia of the future, where technology is used to control humans. The film includes a prison sequence.

Silent Running (1972). An ecological tale set on a space station, complete with the world's most lovable robots.


The Jetsons (1962-63). The best-known Space Age animation series, offering a comic vision of a utopian future. A small number of episodes from the 1962-63 season are available online (legally) at Fancast, a streaming video site run by Comcast. Check the episode titles against the season guide to see which episodes are from the 1960s. The other 1960s episodes are available on DVD.

Star Trek (1966-69). About a starship crew, the series holds a primarily upbeat attitude toward the future. All episodes are posted by CBS online at YouTube.

HISTORICAL STUDIES (including primary-source books, films, recordings, photographs, and artwork)

Chandler, Daniel. Imagining Futures, Dramatizing Fears: The Portrayal of Technology in Literature and Film (1994). Includes a chronology listing titles.

Corn, Joseph J., and Brian Horrigan. Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future (1984).

Fulton, Roger, and John Betancourt. The Sci-Fi Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction (1998).

Googie Architecture Online. "Googie architecture was born of the post-WWII car-culture and thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. Bold angles, colorful signs, plate glass, sweeping cantilevered roofs and pop-culture imagery captured the attention of  drivers on adjacent streets. Bowling alleys looked like Tomorrowland. Coffee shops looked like something in a Jetsons cartoon." The site attempts to track the surviving Googie buildings. Photographs are included.

nywf64.com: New York World's Fair 1964/1965. An admirably detailed multimedia site that strives to recreate every detail of the world's fair, including its futuristic predictions.

Nicholls, Peter. The Science Fiction Encyclopedia (1979).

Paleo-Future. Matt Novak's very active blog, which posts and links to retrofuture texts, images, and videos. The blog entries are neatly tagged by decade and subject.

Retro-Futurismus. A German-language site with samples of retrofuture art. The "Retro-News" and "Links" sections lead to other sites.

Space Age Museum. "We look for the spirit of the Space Age in familiar objects such as toys, amusements, fashion, advertising, decorative arts, architecture – things that reveal how deeply the spacefaring vision infused [American] culture." Includes photographs of the objects.

Tales of Future Past. Retrofuture images with accompanying descriptions by David H. Szondy. A large site.

Walt Disney's Original EPCOT Project. Using primary source materials, Sebastien Barthe describes Disney's plans for an experimental community that would showcase emerging technology. A cousin to Tomorrowland (they both featured monorails), the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow drew upon Ebenezer Howard's nineteenth-century vision of garden cities, yet it was intended to incorporate such mid-twentieth-century futuristic plans as glass-domed shopping districts.

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