Killian Vetter is a 3rd-year double major in Computer Science and Mathematics with a minor in Science Fiction Studies examining speculative fiction with Dr. Lisa Yaszek.
How long have you been an undergraduate researcher at Georgia Tech?
I have been doing research under Dr. Yaszek since Fall 2022, so just over a year.
How did you get involved with undergraduate research?
I got involved after taking Dr. Yaszek's Women, Literature, and Culture class, which followed women in science fiction through the different waves of feminism followed by taking her Science Fiction class. After that I realized that wanted to learn even more about SF so I asked to join her lab.
What are you working on?
We are currently working on a project with the working title Chip and Octavia’s Ancestors referring to famous African American SF writers Samuel “Chip” Delany and Octavia Butler. We are working to uncover the lost history of African American Speculative Fiction in Black newspapers in the US from 1900 to 1960.
The main push of our research the past couple semesters has been searching through black newspapers to find speculative fiction stories, logging those stories, and then discussing them to figure out where they are drawing their ideas from in literature, art, or current events. One of the cooler examples of this was a story where a family is sent by the United Worlds to establish communication with Mars, but upon discovering that "the men from Mars are colored," Mississippi seceded so it became "United Worlds, Except for Mississippi and Possibly At Any Moment, Georgia." While this is a funny premise and enjoyable story overall, what makes this more interesting was it was republished in October 1958 with Mississippi replaced with Arkansas throughout the story because in September 1958 the voters of Little Rock, AK chose to close their public school rather than integrate them. We also see similar trends with interracial love stories spiking in response to scandals involving interracial relationships.
In short, to fully understand these stories we have to not just read them, but research what was going on at the time that could have influenced their contents and what this tells us about the author and readers. Part of this process of discovery is talking with each other about the stories we find in order to see if we anyone can think of an angle we hadn't covered in our own research.
This semester we're starting to look at some of the authors and editors who published this fiction to see if we can identify any interesting patterns or biographical information for them. This part involves a lot of googling along with some ancestry.com searching and, if we're lucky, there is a book that mentions them. One thing that this might involve is tracking down some descendants to see if we can get any information that way since a lot of these people did not have much written about them. Also finding descendants is also great if we republish this work, because while most of this is in the public domain, it is good form to contact any relatives.
What is your favorite thing about research/researching?
I love seeing science fiction in a light in which it is hardly discussed. Most people see it as a playground just for nerdy white boys, but all branches of humanity have participated in it for much longer than many people realize. Not only that but some of the stories are hilarious take downs of white supremacist attitudes that have fully worn the test of time. Every time we find a story like that it feels as if we have moved a mountain to unveil a diamond.
What are your future plans and how has research influenced them?
I'm not really sure about the future, but overall I plan on staying engaged with the science fiction community for a long time and see if I can contribute to scholarship even if its only a hobbyist basis.