I had this idea for a new retro style aesthetic based on really old science fiction movies. Think 40’s, 50’s and 60’s science fiction where all spaceships are stylized slim rockets with the signature fins, where space suit helmets resemble fish bowls and computers are gigantic constructs which accept punch cards and print output onto spooled up paper rolls. Just tell me that this wouldn’t be awesome? Imagine a science fiction movie/show made today, with current state of the art aesthetic, but set in a world that closely resembles what people in the 50’s imagined the year 2000 would be like. This includes the social mores, attitude, dress codes and etc…
Here are some basic rules I would use to define this genre (in no particular order):
- Aerodynamic space ship design – bullet shaped rockets with fancy fins, flying saucers, etc…
- All computers must be huge and have lots of blinkenlights
- Preferred storage media are punch cards and huge magnetic tape spools
- Preferred output devices for all electronic devices are teletype dot matrix printers
- No computer networks. Or if they exist they are limited to a single room/building.
- No big screen TV’s or flat screens. No color TV. All screens must be bulky, black and white CRT’s.
- All computer monitors must be tiny and monochromatic
- No portable or personal computers
- All phones must be rotary phones
- No wireless anything – everything must have wires attached
- Main form or entertainment is radio.
- Robots must be anthropomorphic but with a pronounced tin-can quality.
- Typewriters are still commonplace
- The only form of FTL communication allowed is the telegraph
- Human labor over automation. All elevators should have an attendant. All phone systems should rely on human operators. Mail should be delivered by a mail man.
- Strict dress code – suits, ties for men, skirts and dresses for women. All men wear hats.
- Social mores, ideological structures and customs should be based on US in the 40’s and 50’s or thereof. Inhabitants of far-away colonies and aliens can be exempt from this.
- Lasers. Preferably constant beam type weapons rather than Star-Wars type blasters
- All weapons should have that old-fashioned toy gun look
- All space suits must have fish-bowl helmets
Feel free to add more restrictions or proscriptions to this list. Just keep in mind that I’m not talking about lampooning this particular style. I’m not even talking about creating a homage or nostalgia-fest. I’m talking about taking the look, feel and ideas from it and running with it. Just how Fantasy feeds on medieval aesthetic and steam-punk on Victorian era, our retro-SF should feed on 40’s and 50’s style but tell modern, mature stories. It should take the setting and run with it.
The setting could be used to explore ideas that writers in the classic Science Fiction wouldn’t usually talk about: issues of race, sexuality, gender. Issues facing a patriarchal segregated society when sentient robots and aliens are thrown into the mix. Make it dark, ugly, gritty and starkly realistic. Inject real science into the fairy-tale retro-technology – stuff like artificial gravity causing muscle atrophy, terraforming causing ecological/geological havoc even on barren planets. Possibilities are endless…
Of course there is a challenge here: the old school science fiction decorations, costumes and special effects have a unique look and feel to them. That look is probably best described as “hilariously fake” – with ship models obviously being made out of cheap plastic, the shiny, silvery space-suits obviously made out of thin flashy fabric, and etc. Can that look be modernized without losing the essence of that period? Can we design a fish-bowl helmet that is true to style but actually looks functional? Can we make a space-ship bridge look like 50’s science fiction without having it look like it was made in the 50’s? It would be interesting to see how would that look. Is anyone doing this right now? Are there artists out there working in this particular type of genre?
What would you call this setting? Retro-SF? Space-Punk? I have no clue. Is it an setting that would interest you? Has it been done before? Let me know.