The future was a chrome-trimmed triangular window in the front of dad's car, and it had its own knob to open it up. The future was a hamburger under a light fixture that looked like an atom. The future was going to be awesome.—James Lileks, The Bleat, October 31, 2008
"Welcome to THE WORLD OF TOMORROW!"
Raygun Gothic is a ubiquitous aesthetic of early- and mid-20th century Science Fiction, roughly from Metropolis to Star Trek: The Original Series. Raygun Gothic architecture is modeled after Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and/or Populuxe (aka Googie). Everything is slick and streamlined, with geometric shapes and clean parallel lines constructed of shiny metal and glass, lit prominently by neon. Sweeping curves, parabolas, and acute angles are used to suggest movement—movement into The Future.
And of course, futuristic fancy-pants technology of the future is ubiquitous. Ray Guns, jet packs, flying cars, Video Phones, Space Clothes, atomic-powered everything, cigar-shaped Retro Rockets and other Shiny-Looking Spaceships, and "electronic brains" capable of calculating complex equations in mere minutes, all decorated with little blinking lights that don't really serve any purpose (but they sure look futuristic!).
This is the bright, optimistic vision of The Future that, until sometime in the mid-60's, the Western world believed was just around the corner. Our failure to make these dreams a reality means that works featuring Raygun Gothic are highly prone to Zeerust. Retro-Futurism is a George Lucas Throwback to this vision. Stick "Atomic Power" logos on everything, and you've got Atom Punk.
The only thing that could possibly look more futuristic is Crystal Spires and Togas. See also Zeerust, Weird Science, and Retro Rocket. Contrast with Dieselpunk, Used Future, and Everything Is an iPod In The Future.
Not to be confused with Warhammer 40,000, which is just Gothic with rayguns.
Comic Books[edit | hide]
- Zot, who lives in the far-flung future year of 1965. Note that Zot! began publication in 1984.
- Several DC Comics characters who live in between the present era and the Crystal Spires and Togas era of the Legion of Super-Heroes, including Tommy Tomorrow and the Planeteers, the Knights of the Galaxy, Ultra the Multi-Alien, Space Ranger, and Space Cabbie. Adam Strange does this in present time.
- Adam Strange appeared in some Starman comics and fit in very well because the title already had a certain Raygun Gothic aesthetic.
- Warren Ellis's Ignition City.
- Dan Dare.
- Weird Science by EC Comics had a lot of streamlined rocketships and cool futuristic tech, espacially Wally Wood's work.
- Flashbacks to Krypton in the Superman comics from the Golden Age through most of the Bronze Age maintained this look.
- The Fantastic Four stories of Silver Age often have several Raygun Gothic elements.
- Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, which has a lovely Zeerust feel to it, and was published "late in the 20th century".
- Fritz Lang's Metropolis may be the Ur Example.
- Too many '50s sci-fi movies to list.
- Buck Rogers
- The Fifth Element is a weird fusion of this trope and Cyberpunk.
- Used in the Star Wars prequel trilogy: The Naboo space fleet and the architecture of Coruscant are modeled after this, while the Republic space fleet morphs over time into the blocky, Used Future Imperial fleet.
- The Necromonger fleet from The Chronicles of Riddick is a much darker interpretation of this aesthetic.
- Star Trek was always very much this way, although the new movie combines it with the aesthetics of an iPod. (That's not an insult; it still looks cool.)
- Robot Monster.
- Anton Furst's designs for Gotham City for the 1989 Batman film have some elements of this.
- Like the source material, the Flash Gordon movie is full of this. Of note is that the Cool Airship Ajax is referred to by the delightfully old-timey title of "war rocket".
- Zathura takes place in more or less present day, but the magical board game of the same name is most definitely Raygun Gothic.
- Forbidden Planet.
- Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow is a funny corner case. It's set in an alternate-universe version of the 1930's, so it's often cited as an example of Dieselpunk, but the aesthetics and optimistic worldview are much closer to Raygun Gothic.
- The villains in J-Men Forever are all about this, especially the Lightning Bug baby!
- The Trope Namer, William Gibson's "The Gernsback Continuum", is about a freelance photographer hired to take pictures of buildings inspired by this aesthetic, who either slowly finds himself being sucked into an alternate timeline where it was all Canon or is hallucinating the whole thing.
- Gibson's story refers to Hugo Gernsback, the "Father of Science Fiction," who founded the first science fiction magazine, created science fiction fandom (by encouraging readers who wrote to him to interact with each other directly), wrote very early examples of the genre, such as Ralph 124C 41+, and coined the term "science fiction."
- Gernsback's Amazing Stories, John W. Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction, and other classic pulp Speculative Fiction magazines.
- The cover art of many of the Tom Swift novels.
- Most of the Robert A. Heinlein juveniles.
- Larry Doyle's Go Mutants! is a parody of this.
- E3 in Ian McDonald's Planesrunner is an Alternate History that combines aspects of this trope and Steampunk. Zeppelins are the main form of air transport but thri bags are woven of carbon nanifibers. The main motive power are coal powered (because there's no oil in this world) electric motors, which were invented before the steam engine. Their computers are pf the vacuum tube and punch card vareity. There's radio but not TV but they use monofilament wire.
- Any Eager Young Space Cadet show aired in the 50's, from Tom Corbett to Captain Video.
- Star Trek The Original Series, the last unselfconscious example. Subsequent visual media followed the leads of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Real Life space program.
- Star Trek: Voyager's Show Within a Show Captain Proton is a parody, modeled after Flash Gordon.
- The alien message decoded in the final episode of Dark Skies had elements of this, presumably as a nostalgic in-joke, since the rest of the series's aesthetics and mythology were much more modern X-Files-inspired sci-fi.
- On The Flash, 1950s villain the Ghost adheres to this motif, and is rather dismayed to find that 1990 isn't like this when he awakens from cryogenic sleep.
- Doctor Steel plays with this aesthetic in his music and interactive Fandom community.
- Stereolab played "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music".
- "IGY," the first track on Donald Fagen's 1982 album The Nightfly, is pretty much this trope in a nutshell. He describes a world where there's a train running undersea from New York to Paris every 90 minutes, everyone gets their own Spandex jacket, weather is controlled and solar power is plentiful - and it's all run by computers programmed "with compassion and vision." The liner notes describe the album as "certain fantasies that might have been entertained by a young man growing up [...] during the late fifties and early sixties, i.e., one of my general height, weight and build."
- The title is a reference to the International Geophysical Year, a scientific event in 1957-8 that was the USSR's excuse to launch Sputnik into space, thus kicking off the "rocket age" for real.
- Infocalypse has album named "Raygun Gothic" which uses Retraux-sampling and has thematically appropriate image on the cover.
- Alternate Earths explored the alternate history of Gernsback, which was 1930's science fiction stories come to life.
- Tales of the Solar Patrol is a more fleshed out version of the concept, set in a universe consciously modeled after Flash Gordon and 50's era Young Adult science fiction stories.
- World of Darkness:
- Many, many Sons of Ether made use of this aesthetic, their greatest triumph being their alternate dimensional laboratory city - and perfect example of this trope - the Gernsback Continuum. Occasionally an eccentric Technocrat, usually a Void Engineer, would do something similar, particularly if they'd been around for a while.
- One of the styles used by Mad Scientists in Genius: The Transgression.
- Spaceship Zero featured a retro-Space Opera setting where, for instance, there was no miniaturization, and bigger computers were always better. Partially deconstructed as well, as there were definite indications that underneath all that chrome was a decent amount of grit, causing one reviewer to refer to it as "pulp--with bathrooms."
- Realms of Mars from Exile Game Studio promises to be this for sword and planet, much as Hollow Earth Expedition harkened back to adventure pulps.
- Star Frontiers. Just look at those covers. And yes, the favored weapons are lasers, which usually are wired to belt or backpack accumulators, there are jetpacks, wristwatch/communicators, and so on. Oh, and gyrojets.
- Astounding Interplanetary Adventures - "It's rayguns, aliens and swashbuckling amongst the stars!"
Video Games[edit | hide]
- The Fallout series is set in a post apocalyptic Raygun Gothic, world.
- Blasto falls neatly into this trope.
- X-COM: Apocalypse.
- The Covenant in Halo are modeled after a version of this, as everything they design has a very sleek design. As do most things on the titular halo rings, which are designed by the Forerunner. Understandable, as the Covenant just copied everything they have from the Forerunner.
- Rapture in BioShock (series) has strong elements of this in its design.
- The character designs for Disgaea's EDF soldiers, particularly
FlashCaptain Gordon, Defender of Earth!.
- The Zombie missions in Call Of Duty 5 qualify.
- In Star Control II, the Syreen had this aesthetic—their ships were old-fashioned rockets, and what you saw of the Syreen themselves and their ship controls would look right at home illustrating some 1920s sci-fi pulp about Amazon princesses in space or what-have-you. Appropriate, as the Syreen were a species of good old-fashioned Blue Skinned Space Babes in a game otherwise populated by Starfish Aliens and Eldritch Abominations; their pulpy style helped lampshade this fact.
- The Soldier of Team Fortress 2 has several retro rayguns modeled after Weta's "Dr. Grordbort's" line.
- As have the Engineer and Pyro now, and the medic and scout are next in line.
- Space Channel 5 uses more of a 60's and 70's take on this design.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, the plot inside the simulator features a spaceship, a Death Ray, and Latex Spacesuits straight out of 1950's pulp sci-fi.
- See the poster and following pages.
- One of the characters in Andrew Kepple's Goodbye Cruel World! accidentally turns the entire world into this by activating a non-Y2K-compliant VCR and triggering the bug.
- Zap has a lot of aspects of this, especially in the spaceship design.
- Dresden Codak is in love with this trope, married it, and now has a house in the suburbs with two kids and a dog with it.
- The Jetsons
- Meet the Robinsons
- Parodied in Futurama, where a novelty bar is decorated in this style, and the patrons enjoy it in an ironic sort of way. "Everything's so retro!"
- Of course, a lot of the look of Futurama as a whole is partly inspired by Raygun Gothic itself, particulary some of the buildings, the technology and the lot of the Planet Express Ship.
- Futurama itself is an inversion of this trope, using the Raygun Gothic style as a backdrop for a Crap Saccharine World where what would normally be helpful technology is instead trying to kill you.
- Dexter's Laboratory.
- The art style of Kim Possible was designed to be like this, and of course, they have all the Ray guns, jet packs, flying cars and the rest of the fancy-pants technology.
- The classic Looney Tunes short "Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century"
- The TV show Jonny Quest features hints of this design style in the design of the vehicles and guns.
- And its sardonic successor The Venture Brothers continues the tradition of "super-science" and retro-looking technology.
- The Incredibles takes place in an alternate-universe version of The Seventies, and features a strong mid-sixties take on how wonderful the future nearly was.
- Atomic Betty's art style is largely an homage to sci-fi Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the sixties. See here for an example.
- Pinocchio In Outer Space.
- The website Days of Future Past collects a great deal of art predicting this kind of future—good, bad, and ugly.
- Also the Paleo-Future website.
- The Tomorrowland sections of Disney parks were redesigned in 1998 to look like this, Disney having (perhaps wisely) given up on trying to keep up with present-day visions of the future.
- These space travel posters by Steven Thomas.
- Atomic Rockets is a website that starts with this trope, but uses it as a launchpad to explore very hard science-fiction ideas about space flight. It refers to "raygun gothic" as "rocketpunk", to follow "steampunk" and "dieselpunk".
- Much artwork associated with the various World's Fairs. For example, this map cover which manages to make a bus look absolutely glorious.
- Guess what's staying at Pier 14 in San Francisco for 14 months starting in August 2010?
- Revived from a Disco-like death in the modern age of industrial design: Urwerk Watches. They were specifically made to look like they were going to be worn by Darth Vader over the sleeve of his suit. With one small twist, they were designed in the late 1990s and early 2000s.