Imagining Urban Futures: Cities in Science Fiction and What We Might Learn from Them

Wesleyan University Press
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Carl Abbott, who has taught urban studies and urban planning in five decades, brings together urban studies and literary studies to examine how fictional cities in work by authors as different as E. M. Forster, Isaac Asimov, Kim Stanley Robinson, and China Miéville might help us to envision an urban future that is viable and resilient. Imagining Urban Futures is a remarkable treatise on what is best and strongest in urban theory and practice today, as refracted and intensely imagined in science fiction. As the human population grows, we can envision an increasingly urban society. Shifting weather patterns, rising sea levels, reduced access to resources, and a host of other issues will radically impact urban environments, while technology holds out the dream of cities beyond Earth. Abbott delivers a compelling critical discussion of science fiction cities found in literary works, television programs, and films of many eras from Metropolis to Blade Runner and Soylent Green to The Hunger Games, among many others.
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About the author

CARL ABBOTT is professor emeritus of urban studies and planning at Portland State University. He is the author of the prize-winning books The Metropolitan Frontier: Cities in the Modern American West and Political Terrain: Washington DC from Tidewater Town to Global Metropolis, as well as Frontiers Past and Future: Science Fiction and the American West.
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Additional Information

Wesleyan University Press
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Published on
Sep 13, 2016
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Literary Criticism / Science Fiction & Fantasy
Political Science / Public Policy / General
Social Science / Sociology / Urban
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Carl Abbott
Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title

It has been called one of the nation's most livable regions, ranked among the best managed cities in America, hailed as a top spot to work, and favored as a great place to do business, enjoy the arts, pursue outdoor recreation, and make one's home. Indeed, years of cooperative urban planning between developers and those interested in ecology and habitability have transformed Portland from a provincial western city into an exemplary American metropolis. Its thriving downtown, its strong neighborhoods, and its pioneering efforts at local management have brought a steady procession of journalists, scholars, and civic leaders to investigate the "Portland style" that values dialogue and consensus, treats politics as a civic duty, and assumes that it is possible to work toward public good.

Probing behind the press clippings, acclaimed urban historian Carl Abbott examines the character of contemporary Portland—its people, politics, and public life—and the region's history and geography in order to discover how Portland has achieved its reputation as one of the most progressive and livable cities in the United States and to determine whether typical pressures of urban growth are pushing Portland back toward the national norm.

In Greater Portland, Abbott argues that the city cannot be understood without reference to its place. Its rivers, hills, and broader regional setting have shaped the economy and the cityscape. Portlanders are Oregonians, Northwesteners, Cascadians; they value their city as much for where it is as for what it is, and this powerful sense of place nurtures a distinctive civic culture. Tracing the ways in which Portlanders have talked and thought about their city, Abbott reveals the tensions between their diverse visions of the future and plans for development.

Most citizens of Portland desire a balance between continuity and change, one that supports urban progress but actively monitors its effects on the region's expansive green space and on the community's culture. This strong civic participation in city planning and politics is what gives greater Portland its unique character, a positive setting for class integration, neighborhood revitalization, and civic values. The result, Abbott confirms, is a region whose unique initiatives remain a model of American urban planning.

Carl Abbott

We live near the edge—whether in a settlement at the core of the Rockies, a gated community tucked into the wilds of the Santa Monica Mountains, a silicon culture emerging in the suburbs, or, in the future, homesteading on a terraformed Mars. In Imagined Frontiers, urban historian and popular culture scholar Carl Abbott looks at the work of American artists who have used novels, film, television, maps, and occasionally even performance art to explore these frontiers—the metropolitan frontier of suburban development, the classic continental frontier of American settlement, and the yet unrealized frontiers beyond Earth.

Focusing on writers and artists working during the past half-century, an era of global economic and social reach, Abbott describes the dialogue between historians and social scientists seeking to understand these frontier places and the artists reimagining them in written and visual fictions. This book offers perspectives on such well-known authors as T. C. Boyle and John Updike and on such familiar movies and television shows as Falling Down and The Sopranos. By putting The Rockford Files and the cult favorite Firefly in conversation with popular fiction writers Robert Heinlein and Stephen King and literary novelists Peter Matthiessen and Leslie Marmon Silko, Abbott interweaves the disparate subjects of western history, urban planning, and science fiction in a single volume.

Abbott combines all-new essays with others previously published but substantially revised to integrate western and urban history, literary analysis, and American studies scholarship in a uniquely compelling analysis of the frontier in popular culture.
Carl Abbott
In January 1933, widowed Canadian psychiatrist Charles Flemming traveled to Rome to deliver a paper at an international psychiatric meeting and to further research the career of the eccentric Ukranian pianist, Vladimir de Pachmann, for a biography he has always wanted to write. En route, he learns of a young, virtually blind Polish pianist, Agnieszka Lipska, who will be giving several recitals in Rome. She has familial retinitis pigmentosa and her specialty is the music of Chopin. Charles and Agnieszka are introduced by Simon Williams, a music critic assigned to review the recitals. Her beauty and talent enraptures the heart of the lonely doctor and a romance develops. Shortly after arriving in Rome, Charles discovers that a manuscript containing aspects of de Pachmann’s life has been stolen from his hotel. This along with other complications, including a near-drowning in the Tiber River, ultimately involves the scrutiny of Mussolini’s fascist police. At her final recital, Agnieszka resists the restrictions of the government by playing the Polish National Anthem as an encore disguised as an anonymous Polish mazurka. However, a music critic recognizes the piece and the lovers are forced to flee Rome with the help of the Polish ambassador. They travel to Kraków, where Charles meets Agnieszka’s family. Before leaving there is concern over Agnieszka’s abdominal pain, which appears to require gynecologic surgery. On his ship back to Canada, Charles opens and reads a disturbing letter written by Agnieszka’s mother about her daughter’s past – a suppressed memory. The truth is revealed later on his return to Toronto.

Written for a mature audience with interests in music, history and mystery, Mourning de Pachmann investigates the subtleties of love, guilt and forgiveness, ambition and ego, as well as the rewards of a personal adventure of a lonely, middle-aged man and a younger woman. In this historical novel the reader will learn much about the career of the real-life de Pachmann, who still mystifies musicologists and critics; life in fascist Italy where it is illegal to sell condoms and dangerous to deny the wishes of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini; and Europe on the verge of another world war.
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