Science fiction studies is the common name for the academic discipline that studies and researches the history, culture, and works of science fiction and, more broadly, speculative fiction.

History of the field as a discipline

The modern field of science fiction studies is closely related to popular culture studies, a subdiscipline of cultural studies, and film and literature studies. Because of the ties with futurism and utopian works, there is often overlap with these fields as well. The field also has spawned subfields, such as feminist science fiction studies.

However, the field's roots go back much further, to the earliest commentators who studied representations of the sciences in the arts and literature, and explorations of utopian and social reform impulses in fantastic and visionary works of art and literature.

Modern science fiction criticism may have started with Dorothy Scarborough, who in 1917 included a chapter on "Supernatural Science" in her doctoral dissertation, published as The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction.[1]

As the pulp era progressed, shifting science fiction ever further into popular culture, groups of writers, editors, publishers, and fans (often scientists, academics, and scholars of other fields) systematically organized publishing enterprises, conferences, and other insignia of an academic discipline. Much discussion about science fiction took place in the letter columns of early SF magazines and fanzines, and the first book of commentary on science fiction in the US was Clyde F. Beck's Hammer and Tongs, a chapbook of essays originally published in a fanzine.[2]

The 1940s saw the appearance of three full-scale scholarly works that treated science fiction and its literary ancestors: Philip Babcock Gove's The Imaginary Voyage in Prose Fiction (1941), J. O. Bailey's Pilgrims Through Space and Time (1948), and Marjorie Hope Nicholson's Voyages to the Moon (1949).[3]

Peter Nicholls credits Sam Moskowitz with teaching "what was almost certainly the first sf course in the USA to be given through a college": a non-credit course in "Science Fiction Writing" at City College of New York in 1953. The first regular, for-credit courses were taught by Mark Hillegas (at Colgate) and H. Bruce Franklin (at Stanford) in 1961.[4] During the 1960s, more science fiction scholars began to move into the academy, founding academic journals devoted to the exploration of the literature and works of science fiction.[5][6] The explosion of film studies and cultural studies more broadly granted the nascent discipline additional credibility, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mainstream scholars such as Susan Sontag[7] turned their critical attention to science fiction.

In 1982, James Gunn (now Emeritus Professor) established the Center for the Study of Science Fiction as a Kansas Board of Regents Center as a focus for the SF programs he offered at the University of Kansas, beginning in 1969. This was the first such SF organization at a major university.[8]

The 1990s saw the first academic programs and degree-granting programs established,[9] and the field shows continued steady growth, not surprisingly also at technology-oriented institutions.[10][11]

Degree-granting programs

Significant SF scholars (in roughly chronological order)

Principal journals, conferences, societies, awards


General journals:

Review journals:


Significant scholarship awards:


Significant works

Significant research resources, databases, and archives

A number of significant research collections and archives in SF studies have been developed in the past three to four decades. These include academic collections at the University of Liverpool, the University of Kansas, the Toronto Public Library, and the University of California, Riverside (the Eaton collection).

See Science fiction libraries and museums for a comprehensive list and description of relevant collections and research institutes.

Important databases and portals


  1. ^ Dorothy Scarborough, "Supernatural Science," in The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction. New York: Putnam, 1917, pp. 251-280. See also the Scarborough entry in "Horny Toads and Ugly Chickens: A Bibliography on Texas in Speculative Fiction," by Bill Page, Texas A&M Cushing Library, 2001.
  2. ^ Peter Nicholls, "Critical and Historical Works About SF," in Clute, John, Peter Nicholls, eds., The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (St. Martin's Press, 1995) ISBN 0-312-13486-X.
  3. ^ Nichols, "Critical and Historical Works About SF"; and "Chronological Bibliography of Science Fiction History, Theory, and Criticism" at
  4. ^ "SF in the Classroom" in the Clute & Nicholls Encyclopedia
  5. ^ See, e.g., Science-Fiction Studies, founded 1973. See also bibliographies such as The Year's Scholarship in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Marshall B. Tymn, several volumes of which were published through the 1970s through Kent State University Press.
  6. ^ Paul Kincaid, “Learned Journals,” The Times Literary Supplement (March 7, 2003): 24-25 (reviewing the three primary theoretical journals of science fiction studies).
  7. ^ See, e.g., Susan Sontag, "The Imagination of Disaster," in Against Interpretation (New York: Farrar, 1966), pp. 209-225.
  8. ^ "Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction". Retrieved July 26, 2022.
  9. ^ The University of Liverpool, first.
  10. ^ Lisa Yaszek, "Amazing Stories, or, Why We Do Science Fiction," in: Humanistic Perspectives in a Technological World," ed. Richard Utz, Valerie B. Johnson, and Travis Denton (Atlanta: Georgia Institute of Technology, 2014).
  11. ^ Additional academic programs and graduate programs added at other schools.[citation needed]
  12. ^ "University of Kansas English Department". Retrieved May 5, 2022.
  13. ^ "About – London Science Fiction Research Community". Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  14. ^ [1] International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts: Distinguished Scholarship Award Past Winners
  15. ^ The Locus index to SF awards: Eaton winners by year
  16. ^ Gary K. Wolfe, "SFRA 2007 Pilgrim Award Introduction", SFRA Review, #281 (July-Aug-Sept 2007), pp.14-15 ("Together, this trilogy of essays covering history, technique, and publishing constitutes as coherent a view of SF as I’ve seen from inside the field.").