1. Description of the original text and its socio-cultural and historical contexts:

When Orson Welles retold the science fiction classic War of the Worlds dramatically on public radio in 1938, it created an international sensation. The classic science fiction text, originally authored by H.G. Wells, told the captivating story about an alien invasion. It also perpetuated a nearly century’s-old myth: when people heard the broadcast, they were so shocked by the use of technology to tell the classic science fiction story, that they were certain it was real—that aliens were, in fact, invading earth.

While the myth has been debunked (people didn’t really believe aliens were invading earth, despite the success of the radio program), the narrative continues to intrigue scholars and cultural critics of literature, pop-culture and emerging technology and platforms. Why? Likely because it clearly illustrates how new technologies have the power to reinvent old narratives, provoking an entirely new sensorial reaction from audiences. And the myth did provoke real regulation, as the adaptation provoked outrage in media circles around the globe.

Using this classic example, I’d like to explore several other instances where science fiction and news media informed and pushed up against one another, and where they ultimately clashed. I’ll investigate several well-known news or science-fiction stories and analyze how they were inextricably linked or misinterpreted for the other.

From stories such as the Dylatov Pass incident wherein Russian college students went missing, sparking science-fiction adaptations; to the famous fictional Limetown podcast about an entire town that vanished; to the true and fictional accounts of what happens when a group of boys are deserted on an island such as in Lord of the Flies; to the true CIA experiment behind the fictional Netflix hit, Stranger Things, and many more. I’m interested in what it is about these stories that illicit their transcendence from news to science fiction and vice versa.

The manifestation of this exploration is an interactive journey or “game” to clearly connect how and where truth and science fiction blur and how the most far-out science fictions can – and do – provoke us to uncover new truths about ourselves and each other.

2. Justification for the alternate version that explains the new socio-cultural/historical context:

“We’re seeing a lot being written right now about concepts that are in the news at the moment, like genetic manipulation or climate change. But we’re also seeing a lot of stories about authoritarian governments, and economic inequity. Those kinds of stories have been around for decades, but there’s a certain urgency at the moment.”

– Sheila Williams, editor, Asimov’s Science Fiction

H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds was a story told via first-person account in a fact-driven journalistic manner, making it optimal for the now-famous radio program adaptation. The way it was told also made it easily mistaken for an actual news account, hence why the myth of confusion over fact or fiction persists.

Similar forces are at work today: Misinformation is on the rise and the ways in which we are telling narratives defy categorization more than ever—of course, like in the case of War in the Worlds, this is also leading to outcry for more regulation regarding labeling entertainment and news respectively, in order to prevent confusion. But as mediums continue to develop and reinvent how we experience traditional narratives–such as podcasts, audio theater, deep fakes and A.I.–it’s becoming more difficult than ever to do so, especially as social media fights with publishers for evermore consumer attention, using news stories to lure and keep audiences on their platforms.

Taking a look at the attributes of stories that transcend classifications of fact or fiction can help us better understand misinformation and how it spreads, while simultaneously providing a deeper appreciation for the elements of storytelling that most intrigue, enchant and provoke us.

Using the format of an interactive “game,” I’d like to put these narratives into a shared space, analyzing the realities and relevant myths that perpetuate them. Users will be able to navigate through the stories, and come to new realizations around the power of narratives to transcend the boundaries of fact vs. science fiction.

3. Engagement with relevant theoretical perspectives as they apply to the original work and to the new version

To further explore this work, I’d like to analyze both theoretical perspectives that we’ve learned from class, in addition to some influences from philosophical texts on ethics, literature, knowledge and imagination:

Theoretical perspectives from the realms of ethical philosophy:

  • Nussbaum, Martha. 1985. “Finely aware and richly responsible: Moral attention and the moral task of literature.” The Journal of Philosophy. P. 516-529.
    • A philosophical investigation of morality and literature
  • Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture. NYU Press. New York, NY
    • To discuss how new media and traditional media are converging, likely lending itself to adaptations that transcend fact vs. science fiction and vice versa

Theoretical perspectives from class:

  • Cheney, Matthew. 2009. “Ethical Aesthetics.” From The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, rev’d; Samuel R. Delaney. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan
    • Exploring the ethical aesthetics of science fiction as it relates to common cultural misappropriation as news and vice versa

4. A work plan for the project

  • Research of 5-8 major news stories that are inextricably linked to science fiction texts and vice versa
  • Research on historical references and cultural criticism around the narratives linking the news with science fiction and vice versa
  • Analysis of characteristics that likely contribute to the stories transcending science fiction to news and vice versa
  • Development of operational plan / proof of concept
  • Development of text and copy
  • Development of interactive prototype exploring the connective link between news and science fiction elements of each story