Cities in Flight: A Descriptive Examination of the Tropical City Imagined in Twentieth Century Science Fiction Cover Art

Christopher Benjamin Menadue


A search for imaginary cities and city-like objects portrayed in twentieth century science fiction magazine cover art employed digital tools and followed a PRISMA methodology for systematic analysis. The findings include a correlation between indigenous peoples being portrayed as possessing less advanced technology than human visitors or human city builders in the tropics. Human cultural tropes are identified in the depiction of indigenous peoples, and trends over time in the increasing sophistication of portrayals, and a decline in gratuitously sexual artwork are visible, which supports findings of other work on changing cultural perceptions of the tropics found in science fiction. Notable themes were the tropics as a place of conflict, simplistic depictions of women, the difference between the portrayal of jungle and desert environments and the colonial mythology perpetuated in cover art over this period. Science fiction cities of the tropics were often still or devoid of life, rather than vibrant, active places. An intriguing finding was that building a filtering model for tropical environments in a science fiction setting leads naturally to a consideration of how the concept of the tropics is based on arbitrary, Earthly, cartographic conventions, which do not exist on other worlds. This difference highlights the value-laden meaning of tropical environments and societies applied by the ‘alien,’ whether European colonist or visiting Earthling, and that the inhabitants of the tropics are not bound by these conventions.


Digital Humanities; Magazine Art, Science Fiction; Tropical Cities; imaginary cities; colonial mythology

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