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Raygun Gothic
Tom Swift Jr. in The Race to the Moon. Our bet's on the rocket though.

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-1960s, 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 Genre Throwback to this vision. Stick "Atomic Power" logos on everything, and you've got Atom Punk.

The Mad Scientist Laboratory and Spaceship are among the most commonly used locations in a Raygun Gothic setting. The most commonly used monsters tend to be nuclear mutants and aliens in general.

The only thing that could possibly look more futuristic is Crystal Spires and Togas. See also Zeerust, Weird Science, and Retro Rocket. Contrast with Diesel Punk, Used Future, and Everything Is an iPod in the Future.

Not to be confused with Warhammer 40,000, which is just Gothic with rayguns.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • Spoofed and homaged in Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space with Captain Proton tracking down a Tesla doomsday device in the far-flung future of 2009 with its jetpacks, flying cars, domed cities and vast electronic superbrains, not to mention inconceivable marvels like mobile telephones, interstate highways, automatic sliding doors, artificial satellites, and weapons of mass destruction.

    Film 
  • Too many '50s sci-fi movies to list.
  • Fritz Lang's Metropolis may be the Ur Example.
  • Buck Rogers
  • The Fifth Element is a weird fusion of this trope and Cyber Punk.
  • 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 and looks every bit as cool as that implies.
  • Men In Black had the same idea as the above example interestingly just a few years before the iPod was even developed. It could be justified in that the MiB was formed in the mid-1950s in which this aesthetic was in at the time.
  • 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".
    • Just as Star Trek: The Original Series was one of the last unselfconscious uses of this trope, this film is one of the first entirely conscious uses of it. (Also note that the Zharkov's rocket, built on Earth, does NOT invoke this trope, at least in comparison to the ships of Mongo.)
  • 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 Diesel Punk, 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!
  • Bedtime Stories: The final story Skeeter and the kids make up together is set in a futuristic space arena very much adhering to this trope
  • The Martians from Mars Attacks! seem to covet this style.

    Literature 
  • 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."
    • Actually, John W. Campbell coined the term "Science Fiction". Gernsbeck called it "Scientifiction", which may be even cooler.
  • 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.
  • Lensman. In fact, the bulk of E.E. "Doc" Smith's better-known work is this. Although his early works had their first origins as early as 1917, Smith continued writing into the mid 1960s (he died in 1965), by which time men had travelled in space, and his writing takes on a somewhat different focus and flavour after the first manned flights.
  • 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 Steam Punk. Zeppelins are the main form of air transport but their bags are woven of carbon nanofibers. The main motive power is coal powered (because there's no oil in this world) electric motors, which were invented before the steam engine. Their computers are of the vacuum tube and punch card variety. There's radio but no TV, but they use monofilament wire.

    Live Action TV 

  • Pick a Gerry Anderson TV show, any Gerry Anderson TV show. Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet, Fireball XL 5...
  • Any 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 Who, especially in its earlier seasons (as they were made in the early 1960s). This particularly leads to Zeerust Canon, as the look of the inside of the TARDIS (particularly the a big hexagonal console with a glass column that comes up and down) and the Daleks (very Art Deco, but with plungers) can only really be changed so much before they don't look like they're supposed to any more. It should also be noted that during the early Sixties, there was an obsession with hemispheres as being futuristic (similar to the modern-day High-Tech Hexagons aesthetic) which helps to explain the round things on the TARDIS walls and the weird little orbs on the Dalek armour, all of which would cause fan despair if it were removed. This aesthetic carried on showing up as late as the early 70s thanks to the show's No Budget nature - the original Sonic Screwdriver as used by the Third Doctor was actually an unused prop from Thunderbirds (which began in 1965) and hence looks 60s as heck. While the new series modernised everything as much as possible - starting off during the Ninth Doctor's tenure with a semi-organic, Steampunk influenced TARDIS interior and weighty-looking, almost industrial Daleks - the sonic screwdrivers are still knowingly designed to follow this aesthetic, perhaps because in the Ninth Doctor's tenure it's revealed that the screwdriver is laughably low-quality, dated technology.
    • Other things that deserve mentions - the Dalek warships are the most cheesily stereotypical Flying Saucer things ever, designed as they were for the 1950s-B-Movie-influenced "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". They were redesigned with a 00s-SF Used Future paint job in the new series, but kept the original basic shape, the contrast between the two visual styles coming off as rather silly.
    • The Thals in "The Daleks" favour these kinds of Space Clothes even though they live in a low-tech farming society After the End.

    Music 
  • Doctor Steel plays with this aesthetic in his music and interactive Fandom community.
  • Stereolab played "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music".
    • The phrase was applied (probably before Stereolab) to the distinctive lounge musical stylings of Juan García Esquivel. note  Have a listen.
  • "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.
  • Lights' Drive My Soul video.

    Newspaper Comics 

    Pinball 
  • Some of the elements in The Twilight Zone are reminiscent of this, particularly the rocket.
  • This is the predominant aesthetic of The Party Zone, which includes Retro Rockets and attractive young women flying around with jet packs and fishbowl space helmets.
  • Time Machine (Zaccaria) uses this to represent the Future, with massive silver towers and women wearing skin-tight Space Clothes.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Several GURPS supplements covered how to create games with a Raygun Gothic flavor:
    • GURPS Alternate Earths explored the alternate history of Gernsback, which was 1930's science fiction stories come to life.
    • GURPS 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.
    • GURPS Atomic Horror covered similar material as Solar Patrol, but focused more on the dark side - the stuff covered by 50's B movies such as giant insects, blobs, flying saucers, and so forth.
  • One of the styles used by Mad Scientists in Genius The Transgression.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Rocketmen utilizes this as part of its theme, from its space ships, lasers guns, and the whole solar system being colonized.

    Video Games 
  • The Fallout series is set in a post apocalyptic Raygun Gothic world.
  • Blasto falls neatly into this trope.
  • X-Com: Apocalypse, blended with some distinctly Cyber Punk elements.
  • 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 has strong elements of this in its design to go along with the Steam Punk.
  • The character designs for Disgaeas EDF soldiers, particularly Flash Captain Gordon, Defender of Earth!'.
  • The Zombie missions in Call of Duty: World At War 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.

    Webcomics 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Let's not forget Buck Godot - Zap Gun For Hire, which has a lovely Zeerust feel to it, and was published "late in the 20th century".
  • Dresden Codak is in love with this trope, married it, and now has a house in the suburbs with two kids and a robot dog with it.

     New Media and Web 

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 


Diesel PunkPunk PunkCyberpunk
Rain of BloodSpectacleRing of Fire
Exty Years from NowHollywood HistoryRetro Rocket
Ray GunSpeculative Fiction TropesReactionless Drive
Ray GunWe Are Not Alone IndexReality Retcon
Post-CyberpunkRomanticism Versus EnlightenmentReal Robot Genre

alternative title(s): Atom Punk
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