The Reality of Unreality: Alternate History Science Fiction of the Cold War As a Barometer Of Historical and Philosophical Consciousness in American Popular Culture
The study of science fiction is a recent phenomenon. While the fictional genre has permeated American popular culture since the early twentieth century, it was not until the postwar and Cold War eras that it experienced vitality as a subject of academic study. Sub-genres of science fiction, however, remain relatively untouched in critical analysis. While science fiction's value as a barometer of popular culture is widely recognized today, its subcategories can offer unique insight into facets of the field that comment, either peripherally or directly, upon American popular consciousness. Alternate history science fiction is particularly valuable as a subgenre because of its attempt to answer “what if” questions about history, and while American alternate history science fiction does not strictly represent counterfactual analysis of a historical time period, it nevertheless can offer valuable insights into meaningful subjects within American popular culture. Alternate history science fiction of the Cold War period, including Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle as well as Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek series offer peripheral insights into the lives of their authors and, perhaps more importantly, correlations with historical events and philosophical schools of thought from their respective time periods: the early and late Cold War. The development of alternate history science fiction experienced new vitality with Cold War developments, including the birth of atomic technology and tension with the Soviet Union. A study of alternate history science fiction's development as a consequence of the postwar and Cold War eras, coupled with case studies, including The Man in the High Castle and Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Yesterday's Enterprise”, reveal that real historical events and schools of thought are never beyond the pale of science fiction.