Tags

, , , , , ,

An interesting little historical footnote. Back in 1950, science fiction was still trying to discover itself as a serious genre, and lay split between John Campbell’s school of Astounding (e.g., harder science fiction with slight social commentary or prophetic content) and a swath of throwbacks from the ’30s and ’40s trying to evolve from “western in space”-style space opera, with bug-eyed monsters and robot menaces (mags like Amazing Stories, Planet Stories, Thrilling Stories, and Startling Stories).

The first serious competitor to Astounding‘s dominance was Galaxy, which focused on harder SF that doubled as social satire (its first editor, Horace L. Gold, loved him some stories that mixed Twilight Zone-style shock endings with comedic real-world commentary). While Campbell gave SF a heart by demanding his writers consider the human side of their stories, Gold gave SF a mirror to humanity—he gave it a soul. And right from the first issue, with the back cover above, the magazine carved out its own niche in the genre; in its early years it featured such classics as Ray Bradbury‘s “The Fireman”, later expanded as Fahrenheit 451; Robert A. Heinlein‘s The Puppet Masters; and Alfred Bester‘s The Demolished Man. Galaxy (and later editor Fred Pohl) would go on to a very successful run up through the ’60s, though the magazine lost steam and by 1979 was a shell of its former selves.

It’s an interesting footnote in a greater paradigm shift in science fiction; the world had been awed by atomic power and other new wonder devices that emerged in the post-war boom, and with start of the the Space Race looming just seven years in the future, science fiction was looking more towards fiction inspired by known science and not space western escapism. Along with Astounding (later Analog) and magazines like The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, the digest magazines were moving the genre towards a more serious, more intelligent use of SF. Certainly, not every story published in those mags was smart, savvy, or tastefully done, but they latched onto Campbell’s school of SF and developed it, molding it into the genre we know today, and moving it out of the pulp ghetto and into a realm where it’s at least somewhat socially accepted.

Of course, the ’50s SF trend isn’t without faults, otherwise the New Wave of the late ’60s and ’70s wouldn’t have come around to deconstruct it. The biggest problem I have with it is the pompous, self-aggrandizing elitism that came along with SF’s newfound respect. I can point to a number of editorials, introductions, and articles by people like Campbell and Heinlein, meandering on about how SF is the hardest genre to write in because of its rigid scientific accuracy, how it is every genre in one, how it’s the genre which all fiction of the future will become, how stressful it is to write something both entertaining and prophetic. You can still see shards of this elitism in Hard SF today. And to be honest, a lot of the stuff published in these old magazines seems pretty ordinary and uninspiring today; formulaic, rigid, unimaginative. I’m not quite sure what those old Golden Age stalwarts were chest-beating about.

I lost my point somewhere in there. In essence, this little back-cover blurb to Galaxy #1, October 1950, fascinates me for its place in the genre’s history. It’s not a lynchpin or Jonbar hinge of any kind, but it does reflect the paradigm shift taking the genre away from pulp space opera to the pseudo-literary digest magazine SF of the ’50s.

Advertisements