Can we invent Retro-SF Space-Punk?

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):

  1. Aerodynamic space ship design – bullet shaped rockets with fancy fins, flying saucers, etc…
  2. All computers must be huge and have lots of blinkenlights
  3. Preferred storage media are punch cards and huge magnetic tape spools
  4. Preferred output devices for all electronic devices are teletype dot matrix printers
  5. No computer networks. Or if they exist they are limited to a single room/building.
  6. No big screen TV’s or flat screens. No color TV. All screens must be bulky, black and white CRT’s.
  7. All computer monitors must be tiny and monochromatic
  8. No portable or personal computers
  9. All phones must be rotary phones
  10. No wireless anything – everything must have wires attached
  11. Main form or entertainment is radio.
  12. Robots must be anthropomorphic but with a pronounced tin-can quality.
  13. Typewriters are still commonplace
  14. The only form of FTL communication allowed is the telegraph
  15. 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.
  16. Strict dress code – suits, ties for men, skirts and dresses for women. All men wear hats.
  17. 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.
  18. Lasers. Preferably constant beam type weapons rather than Star-Wars type blasters
  19. All weapons should have that old-fashioned toy gun look
  20. All space suits must have fish-bowl helmets
  21. Etc..

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.

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11 Responses to Can we invent Retro-SF Space-Punk?

  1. you mean… uhm.. Fallout?^^

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    No, not at all. Fallout is post-apocalyptic. What I’m talking about is this sort of setting but without some cataclysm but with space travel, flying cars, etc…

    But yeah, Fallout is close.

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  3. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    No way, bad idea.
    I cant believe words retro and sci-fi be in the same sentence.
    Oh shit, I used them in the same sentence.

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  4. darby UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    sky captain: world of tomorrow; rocketeer; big guy & rusty the robot; brazil (no mention of space travel, but…); just a few… I dig the notion, though… It’d be swell to see / read more like it.

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  5. Rob UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @Liudvikas The mind boggles.

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  6. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I think Luke meant “Welcome to Gattaca”. It fits the genre quite well.

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  7. copperfish Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Not steam-punk, more electro-mechanical punk…..

    I think it is better to extrapolate the 1950’s vision for the future but tweaking it with what we know today. Something like all the advances we have, but assume no miniaturisation and no machine to machine networking.

    So no personal computers, but wireless chunky headsets exist for person to person and person to computer interaction. Something like the current cellphone system and a voice driven internet. “Operator, please search for information on….” Operators on terminals search for data and interact with users. People driven internet with large centralised data stores and computers.

    Sticking with the centralised thought…

    Yes, lasers, but imagine large nuclear powered tanks with cables leading to personal laser guns i.e. 1 tank per 6 troops.

    @ Dr Azrael Tod I also though of Fallout when I pictured this….

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Liudvikas:

    True, it wouldn’t really be much SF. More like retro space fantasy. :P

    @ Alphast:

    Yes, sort of. I think we could do much more retro on the technology though. Gattaca had all these high fidelity screens, holograms, DNA scanners. I want punch cards and tiny screens with ginormous cathode ray tubes in the back .:)

    @ copperfish:

    Yes! This! Can we have this?

    I love the idea of huge power packs and batteries for everything. Here is your personal communicator – and here is the cartwheel with the battery. Make sure you pull the parking break lever when you leave it on an incline – it’s quite heavy. Someone could get hurt.

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  9. Bucky Lazer UNITED KINGDOM Internet Explorer Windows says:

    I like it and think im the only one to get the style you mean. Its nothing like steampunk or fallout. Its more old school B-movie sci-fi. Id love to see a TV series made :)

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  10. Brian B. UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    I realize I’m coming several months late to the conversation, but I’m a huge retro-science fiction fan so I thought I’d chime in. The genre that you’re calling “spacepunk” has already been referred to as “atompunk” and “raygun gothic”. The architectural style based off this is called “Googie” or “Populuxe”. This would be harking back to campy stuff from the 50s & 60s like the Jetsons, Forbidden Planet, Lost In Space, the original Star Trek, comic books like Buck Rogers and the Fantastic Four, as well as more serious stuff like George Orwell’s “1984”, Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001” & Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle”. There’s not a ton of examples of it like there are for steampunk and dieselpunk, but there’s a few: Tim Burton’s film “Mars Attacks”, Matt Groening’s cartoon “Futurama”, “The Fifth Element”, The Star Wars prequels, Alan Moore’s “Watchmen”, and the SyFy Channel’s series “Caprica” (the prequel to Battlestar Galactica).

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