English - Patyk and Hageman

Professor Andy Hageman and Katie Patyk working on undergraduate research together.

Research Project: Exploring the Archives of Science Fiction: Theodore Sturgeon

Katie Patyk ’18, English and History
Andy Hageman, Associate Professor of English

A Tale from the Archives

Hageman describes the summer project with Patyk as “a tale from the archives.” The two mapped out a visit to a Kansas University archive that houses the papers of science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, who wrote acclaimed short stories, novels, and TV screenplays. The archives house correspondence between Sturgeon and writers like Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and other science fiction notables. Patyk visited the archives alone and “got deep into these letters,” Hageman says, “to discover conversations among the genre-forging writers about the roles of science fiction in social ethics, techno-culture, and religion.”

Why Sturgeon?

Sturgeon was “a major shaper of science fiction through his wildly innovative short stories, his novel More Than Human, and perhaps his most well-known contributions to Star Trek, such as the expression ‘Live Long and Prosper,’” Hageman says. “In that sense, Katie was researching one of the people who exerted an influential hand in making science fiction both wilder and more grounded in critical social issues and ideas.” Hageman also notes that Sturgeon was “extremely thoughtful about the genre and its impacts, so a lot of his letters written and received discuss what science fiction writers and stories and editors can and ought to do to contribute to society and the common good.”

Flexibility Is Key

“One of the tricky and great things about archival research is that you never know exactly what you’ll find,” Patyk says. “So while I did preparation at Luther for a week before I went to Kansas, I didn’t know if any of the questions that I went into the archive with would actually be answered.”

She continues, “The archives are a place of discovery, and while they don’t always contain what you go in looking for, you are guaranteed to find something intriguing and perhaps more interesting than what you started with before you went. It’s all about being open-minded in there.”

“I was so impressed by Katie's energy and capacity for self-direction on this project,” Hageman says. “She returned to campus with a trove of poignant and provocative materials and some insightful ideas on what to do with them.” At the end of the summer, Patyk wrote a 24-page paper outlining the modification of the science fiction genre during the 1950s, and she plans to continue working with her findings for her senior honors project.

Science Fiction as a Vessel

Through her research, Patyk concluded that for Sturgeon and his editor and friend, John Campbell, “science fiction served as a vessel for discussing human emotions. Both Campbell and Sturgeon believed that the way to truly change the way people view the world was by showing them what could happen to human nature in the future,” she says. “These men wanted to deconstruct the realities and identities that people created for themselves through the fiction they produced.”

She adds, “Books, including science fiction novels, record the stories of humanity—they capture our deepest secrets and hidden emotions. We read to figure out who we are.”