- Golden Age of Science Fiction
The first Golden Age of Science Fiction, often recognized as a period from the late 1930s or early 1940s through to the 1950s, was an era during which the science fiction genre gained wide public attention and many classic
science fictionstories were published. In the history of science fiction, the Golden Age follows the "pulp era" of the 1920s and 30s, and precedes New Wave science fiction of the 1960s and 70s. According to historian Adam Roberts, "the phrase [Golden Age] valorises a particular sort of writing: 'Hard SF', linear narratives, heroes solving problems or countering threats in a space-opera or technological-adventure idiom." [Roberts, "The History of Science Fiction", p 195]
The saying "The golden age of science fiction is twelve", from the science fiction fan Peter Graham [Hartwell 1996] , means that many readers use "golden age" to mean the time when they first developed a passion for science fiction, often in adolescence.
From Gernsback to Campbell
One leading influence on the creation of the Golden age was
John W. Campbell, who became legendary in the genre as an editor and publisher of many science fiction magazines, including " Astounding Science Fiction". Under Campbell's editorship, science fiction developed more realism and psychological depth to characterization than it exhibited in the Gernsbackian "super science" era. The focus shifted from the gizmoitself to the characters using the gizmo. Most fans agree that the Golden Age began around 1938-39 [Roberts, "The History of Science Fiction", p. 195] ; the July 1939 issue of " Astounding Science Fiction" [http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?STNDNJLYB41981] containing the first published stories of both A. E. van Vogtand Isaac Asimovis frequently cited as the precise start of the Golden Age.
Developments in the genre
Many of the most enduring science fiction tropes were established in Golden Age literature.
Isaac Asimovestablished the canonical Three Laws of Roboticsbeginning with the 1941 short story " Liar!", as well as the quintessential space operawith the Foundation series. Another frequent characteristic of Golden Age science fiction is the celebration of scientific achievement and the sense of wonder; Asimov's short story "Nightfall" exemplifies this, as in a single night a planet's civilization is overwhelmed by the revelation of the vastness of the universe. Robert A. Heinlein's 1950s novels, such as " The Puppet Masters", " Double Star", and " Starship Troopers", express the libertarianideology that runs through much of Golden Age science fiction. [Roberts, "The History of Science Fiction", pp. 196-203]
The Golden Age also saw the re-emergence of the religious or spiritual themes—central used in so much proto-science fiction before the pulp era—that Hugo Gernsback had tried to eliminate in his vision of "scientifiction". Among the most significant such Golden Age narratives are: Bradbury's "
The Martian Chronicles"; Clarke's " Childhood's End"; Blish's " A Case of Conscience"; and Miller's " A Canticle for Leibowitz". [Roberts, "The History of Science Fiction", pp. 210-218]
As a phenomenon that affected the psyches of a great many adolescents during
World War IIand the ensuing Cold War, science fiction's Golden Age has left a lasting impression upon society. The beginning of the Golden Age coincided with the first Worldconin 1939 and, especially for its most involved fans, science fiction was becoming a powerful social force. The genre, particularly during its Golden Age, had significant, if somewhat indirect, effects upon leaders in the military, information technology, Hollywoodand science itself, especially biotechnologyand the pharmaceuticalindustry.
The impression of many parents at the time, however, was often tinged with dismay and intolerance, sometimes sparked by the racy cover illustrations of pulp science fiction. The stereotypical cover of a science fiction pulp magazine depicted a brass-bikini-clad woman at the mercy of a bug-eyed monster.
Prominent Golden Age authors
Beginning in the late 1930s, a number of highly influential science fiction authors began to emerge, including:
* Alfred Bester
Nelson S. Bond
* Bertram Chandler
Arthur C. Clarke
L. Sprague de Camp
Lester del Rey
Philip K. Dick
Philip José Farmer
Robert A. Heinlein
L. Ron Hubbard
* C. M. Kornbluth
Walter M. Miller, Jr.
C. L. Moore
Eric Frank Russell
Clifford D. Simak
E. E. "Doc" Smith
A. E. van Vogt
End of the Golden Age
It is harder to specify the end of the Golden Age of Science Fiction than its beginning, but several coincidental factors changed the face of science fiction in the mid to late 1950s. Most important, perhaps, was the rapid contraction of an inflated pulp market: "
Fantastic Adventures" and "Famous Fantastic Mysteries" folded in 1953, " Planet Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories" and "Beyond" in 1955, " Other Worlds" and "Science Fiction Quarterly" in 1957, "Imagination", "Imaginative Tales", and "Infinity" in 1958. At the same time the presence of science fiction on television and radio diminished, with the cancellation of " Captain Video, Space Patrol", and " Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" in 1955. Science fiction had flourished in the comics in the early 1950s, where it was by no means restricted to juvenile material; however, the introduction of the Comics Codein 1954 hurt science fiction comics badly, and one of the most notable publications, EC's " Incredible Science Fiction" was dropped at the end of 1955.
The second half of the 1950s, therefore, opened with a marked reduction in the visibility and marketability of science fiction. At the same time, technological advances, culminating with the launch of
Sputnik 1in October 1957, narrowed the gap between the real world and the world of science fiction, challenging authors to be bolder and more imaginative in an effort not to become yesterday's headlines. Newer genres of science fiction emerged, which focused less on the achievements of humans in spaceships and laboratories, and more on how those achievements might change humanity.
Notes and references
Adam Roberts, "The History of Science Fiction". New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0-333-97022-5
* [http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/fearoffiction.htm InfinityPlus.co.uk] - 'Fear of Fiction: Campbell's World and Other Obsolete Paradigms', Claude Lalumière
* [http://www.nvcc.edu/home/ataormina/scifi/history/goldenage.htm NVCC.edu] - 'A History of Science Fiction: the Golden Age'
* [http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue278/cool.html SciFi.com] - 'John W. Campbell's Golden Age of Science Fiction: An irreplaceable documentary illuminates the man who invented modern science fiction', Paul Di Filippo
* [http://www.testermanscifi.org/GoldenCore.html TestermanSciFi.org] - 'The "Golden Age" of Science Fiction (circa 1930-1959)'
* [http://books.google.com/books?id=uYs2NbD-d4oC&pg=PA81&lpg=PA81&dq=the+golden+age+of+science+fiction+is+twelve&source=web&ots=WMQsCT7rhy&sig=VuyEZov_j5GKHVCR3QpU5_t76EE Google Books] - 'Age of Wonders Chapter One: The Golden Age of Science Fiction is Twelve', David G. Hartwell (October, 1996)
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pySVYz4GfzE YouTube.com] - Isaac Asimov on the Golden Age of Science Fiction
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