Golden Age of Science Fiction

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 fiction stories 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 gizmo itself 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" [] containing the first published stories of both A. E. van Vogt and Isaac Asimov is 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 Asimov established the canonical Three Laws of Robotics beginning with the 1941 short story "Liar!", as well as the quintessential space opera with 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 libertarian ideology 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]

Cultural significance

As a phenomenon that affected the psyches of a great many adolescents during World War II and 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 Worldcon in 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, Hollywood and science itself, especially biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry.

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:
* Poul Anderson
* Isaac Asimov
* Alfred Bester
* James Blish
* Nelson S. Bond
* Leigh Brackett
* Ray Bradbury
* Fredric Brown
* Bertram Chandler
* John Christopher
* Arthur C. Clarke
* Hal Clement
* L. Sprague de Camp
* Lester del Rey
* Philip K. Dick
* Gordon Dickson
* Philip José Farmer
* Robert A. Heinlein
* Frank Herbert
* L. Ron Hubbard
* C. M. Kornbluth
* Henry Kuttner
* Fritz Leiber
* Walter M. Miller, Jr.
* C. L. Moore
* Chad Oliver
* Frederik Pohl
* Ross Rocklynne
* Eric Frank Russell
* Clifford D. Simak
* E. E. "Doc" Smith
* Theodore Sturgeon
* William Tenn
* A. E. van Vogt
* Jack Vance
* John Wyndham

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 Code in 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 1 in 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

External links

* [] - 'Fear of Fiction: Campbell's World and Other Obsolete Paradigms', Claude Lalumière
* [] - 'A History of Science Fiction: the Golden Age'
* [] - 'John W. Campbell's Golden Age of Science Fiction: An irreplaceable documentary illuminates the man who invented modern science fiction', Paul Di Filippo
* [] - 'The "Golden Age" of Science Fiction (circa 1930-1959)'
* [ Google Books] - 'Age of Wonders Chapter One: The Golden Age of Science Fiction is Twelve', David G. Hartwell (October, 1996)
* [] - Isaac Asimov on the Golden Age of Science Fiction

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Golden Age (disambiguation) — Golden age is a mythological period in the beginnings of Humanity which was perceived as an ideal state, when mankind was pure and immortal. * Golden Age (metaphor), any period in a field of endeavour where great tasks were accomplished – see… …   Wikipedia

  • Science fiction — (abbreviated SF or sci fi with varying punctuation and capitalization) is a broad genre of fiction that often involves speculations based on current or future science or technology. Science fiction is found in books, art, television, films, games …   Wikipedia

  • Science fiction on television — Science fiction first appeared on television during the golden age of science fiction, first in Britain (UK) and then in the United States (US). Special effects and other production techniques allow creators to present a living visual image of an …   Wikipedia

  • science fiction — a form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc. [1925 30] * * * Fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals, or more… …   Universalium

  • Golden Age (metaphor) — For the mythological meaning see Golden Age, for other uses see Golden Age (disambiguation) A golden age is a period in a field of endeavour when great tasks were accomplished. The term originated from early Greek and Roman poets who used to… …   Wikipedia

  • Science fiction genre — A science fiction genre is a sub category within the broader context of the science fiction genre as a whole. Science fiction may be divided along any number of overlapping axis. Gary K. Wolfe s Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy… …   Wikipedia

  • Science-Fiction — [ˌsaɪəns ˈfɪkʃən̩] (auch Sciencefiction, fachsprachlich oft Science Fiction, nach alter Rechtschreibung Science fiction; abgekürzt Sci Fi, SciFi [saɪ̯fɪ̯] oder SF) ist ein Genre innerhalb der Literatur und des Films, aber auch anderer Disziplinen …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Science fiction film — is a film genre that uses science fiction: speculative, science based depictions of phenomena that are not necessarily accepted by mainstream science, such as extraterrestrial life forms, alien worlds, extrasensory perception, and time travel,… …   Wikipedia

  • Science-Fiction-Roman — Science Fiction [ˌsaɪəns ˈfɪkʃn̩], (auch: Sciencefiction oder Science Fiction, abgekürzt SF, Sci Fi oder SciFi [saɪ̯fɪ̯]) ist eine Gattung innerhalb der Literatur und des Films (siehe auch Science Fiction Film), aber auch anderer Disziplinen wie… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Science-Fiction-Schriftsteller — Science Fiction [ˌsaɪəns ˈfɪkʃn̩], (auch: Sciencefiction oder Science Fiction, abgekürzt SF, Sci Fi oder SciFi [saɪ̯fɪ̯]) ist eine Gattung innerhalb der Literatur und des Films (siehe auch Science Fiction Film), aber auch anderer Disziplinen wie… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.