Golden Age of Science Fiction

The first Golden Age of Science Fiction, often recognized in the United States as the period from 1938 to 1946,[1] 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 1930s, and precedes New Wave science fiction of the 1960s and 1970s. The 1950s are a transitional period in this scheme; however, Robert Silverberg, who came of age in the 1950s, saw that decade as the true Golden Age.[2]

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."[3]

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 science fiction magazines, including Astounding Science Fiction, to such an extent that Isaac Asimov stated that " the 1940s, (Campbell) dominated the field to the point where to many seemed all of science fiction."[4] 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,[3] slightly later than the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, another pulp-based genre.[5] The July 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction [6] is sometimes cited as the start of the Golden Age. It included "Black Destroyer", the first published story by A. E. van Vogt, and the first appearance of Isaac Asimov ("Trends") in the magazine.[7] Science fiction writer John C. Wright said of Van Vogt's story, "This one started it all."[8] The August issue contained the first published story by Robert A. Heinlein ("Life-Line").[7]

Robert Silverberg in a 2010 essay argued that the true Golden Age was the 1950s, saying that “Golden Age” of the 1940s was a kind of "false dawn". "Until the decade of the fifties", Silverberg wrote, "there was essentially no market for science fiction books at all"; the audience supported only a few special interest small presses. The 1950s saw "a spectacular outpouring of stories and novels that quickly surpassed both in quantity and quality the considerable achievement of the Campbellian golden age",[2] as mainstream companies like Simon & Schuster and Doubleday displaced specialty publishers like Arkham House and Gnome Press.[5]

Developments in the genre

Many of the most enduring science fiction tropes were established in Golden Age literature. Space opera came to prominence with the works of E. E. "Doc" Smith; Isaac Asimov established the canonical Three Laws of Robotics beginning with the 1941 short story "Runaround"; the same period saw the writing of genre classics such as the Asimov's Foundation and Smith's Lensman 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.[9]

Algis Budrys in 1965 wrote of the "recurrent strain in 'Golden Age' science fiction of the 1940's—the implication that sheer technological accomplishment would solve all the problems, hooray, and that all the problems were what they seemed to be on the surface".[10] The Golden Age also saw the re-emergence of the religious or spiritual themes—central to 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.[11]

Cultural significance

Many scientists deeply involved in the exploration of the solar system (myself among them) were first turned in that direction by science fiction. And the fact that some of that science fiction was not of the highest quality is irrelevant. Ten year‐olds do not read the scientific literature.

— Carl Sagan, 1978[12]

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.

Prominent Golden Age authors

A number of influential science fiction authors emerged in the early Golden Age (1938–1946), including the following:

and in the later Golden Age (1947–1959):

End of the Golden Age

Asimov said that "The dropping of the atom bomb in 1945 made science fiction respectable" to the general public.[13] He recalled in 1969 "I'll never forget the shock that rumbled through the entire world of science fiction fandom when ... Heinlein broke the 'slicks' barrier by having an undiluted science fiction story of his published in The Saturday Evening Post".[14] The large, mainstream companies' entry into the science fiction book market around 1950 was similar to how they published crime fiction during World War II; authors no longer could only publish through magazines.[5] Asimov said, however, that[13]

I myself was ambivalent ... There was a tendency for the new reality to nail the science fiction writer to the ground. Prior to 1945, science fiction had been wild and free. All its motifs and plot varieties remained in the realm of fantasy and we could do as we pleased. After 1945, there came the increasing need to talk about the AEC and to mold all the infinite scope of our thoughts to the small bit of them that had become real.

He continued, "In fact, there was the birth of something I called 'tomorrow fiction'; the science fiction story that was no more new than tomorrow's headlines. Believe me, there can be nothing duller than tomorrow's headlines in science fiction", citing Nevil Shute's On the Beach as example.[13]

It is harder to specify the end of the Golden Age of Science Fiction than its beginning, but several factors changed the market for magazine science fiction in the mid- and late 1950s. Most important was the rapid contraction of the 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. In October 1957, the successful launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1 narrowed the gap between the real world and the world of science fiction, sending the west into a space race with the east. Asimov shifted to writing nonfiction he hoped would attract young minds to science, while Robert A. Heinlein became more dogmatic in expressing political and social views in his fiction. Emerging British writers like Brian W. Aldiss and J. G. Ballard cultivated a more literary style, indicating the direction other writers would soon pursue. Women writers, such as Joanna Russ and Judith Merril, emerged. When the leading Golden Age magazine, Astounding Stories, changed its title to Analog Science Fiction and Fact in 1960, it was clear the Golden Age of Science Fiction was over.


  1. ^ Nicholls, Peter (1981) The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Granada, p. 258
  2. ^ a b Robert Silverberg (2010). "Science Fiction in the Fifties: The Real Golden Age". Library of America. Archived from the original on August 25, 2012. Retrieved September 20, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Roberts, Adam The History of Science Fiction, p 195, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0-333-97022-5
  4. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1989), The Mammoth Book of Golden Age Science Fiction, Carroll & Graf Published Inc., p.1
  5. ^ a b c Budrys, Algis (October 1965). "Galaxy Bookshelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 142–150.
  6. ^ "Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939".
  7. ^ a b Asimov, Isaac (1972). The early Asimov; or, Eleven years of trying. Garden City NY: Doubleday. pp. 79–82.
  8. ^ Isaac Walwyn. "Null-A Nitty-Gritty: An Interview with John C. Wright - Sevagram".
  9. ^ Roberts, Adam The History of Science Fiction, pp. 196-203, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0-333-97022-5
  10. ^ Budrys, Algis (August 1965). "Galaxy Bookshelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 186–194.
  11. ^ Roberts, Adam The History of Science Fiction, pp. 210-218, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0-333-97022-5
  12. ^ Sagan, Carl (1978-05-28). "Growing up with Science Fiction". The New York Times. p. SM7. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-12-12.
  13. ^ a b c Asimov, Isaac (1969). Nightfall, and other stories. Doubleday. p. 93.
  14. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1969). Nightfall, and other stories. Doubleday. p. 328.

External links

A Work of Art

"A Work of Art" is a science fiction short story by American writer James Blish. It was first published in the July 1956 issue of Science Fiction Stories with the title "Art Work". It has often been anthologized, appearing in The Worlds of Science Fiction and The Golden Age of Science Fiction, among others.

Black Destroyer

"Black Destroyer" is a science fiction short story by Canadian-American writer A. E. van Vogt, first published in Astounding SF in July 1939. It has been marked as the story that represents the start of the Golden Age of Science Fiction."Black Destroyer" was combined with several other short stories to form the novel Voyage of the Space Beagle. It was claimed as an inspiration for the movie Alien and van Vogt collected an out-of-court settlement of $50,000 from 20th Century Fox.

Extraterrestrials in fiction

An extraterrestrial or alien is any extraterrestrial lifeform; a lifeform that did not originate on Earth. The word extraterrestrial means "outside Earth". The first published use of extraterrestrial as a noun occurred in 1956, during the Golden Age of Science Fiction.Extraterrestrials are a common theme in modern science-fiction, and also appeared in much earlier works such as the second-century parody True History by Lucian of Samosata.

Gary Westfahl writes:

Science fiction aliens are both metaphors and real possibilities. One can probe the nature of humanity with aliens that by contrast illustrate and comment upon human nature. Still, as evidenced by widespread belief in alien visitors (see UFOs) and efforts to detect extraterrestrial radio signals, humans also crave companionship in a vast, cold universe and aliens may represent hopeful, compensatory images of the strange friends we have been unable to find. Thus, aliens will likely remain a central theme in science fiction until we actually encounter them.

Final Blackout

Final Blackout is a dystopic science fiction novel by American writer L. Ron Hubbard. The novel is set in the future and follows a man known as "the Lieutenant" as he restores order to England after a world war. First published in serialized format in 1940 in the science fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction, Final Blackout was published in book form in 1948 by The Hadley Publishing Co.. Author Services Inc. published a hardcover edition of the book in 1988, and in 1989 the Church of Scientology-affiliated organization Bridge Publications said that a film director named Christopher Cain had signed a contract to write and direct a movie version based on the book.

The novel was generally well received by literature critics, and is seen as an early classic of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. It has received positive mention in the Chicago Sun-Times and the Daily News of Los Angeles, and has been used in a science-fiction writing class at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 15 (1953)

Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 15 (1953) is the fifteenth volume of Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories, which is a series of short story collections, edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg, that attempts to include the best science fiction stories from the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The editors date the "Golden Age" as beginning in 1939 and ending in 1963.

This volume was originally published by DAW books in December 1986.

Old Hundredth (short story)

"Old Hundredth" is a science fiction short story by British writer Brian Aldiss. It was first published in Airs of the Earth in 1963 and has been anthologised many times. It was included in The Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Old Mars

Old Mars is a "retro Mars science fiction"-themed anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, published on October 8, 2013. According to the publisher Tor Books, the collection "celebrates the "Golden Age of Science Fiction", an era before advanced astronomy and space exploration told us what we currently know about the Solar System, when "of all the planets orbiting that G-class star we call the Sun, none was so steeped in an aura of romantic decadence, thrilling mystery, and gung-ho adventure as Mars."Old Mars won a 2014 Locus Award.

Raymond J. Healy

Raymond John Healy (September 21, 1907 – July 17, 1997) was a pioneering American anthologist who edited four science fiction anthologies from 1946 to 1955, two with J. Francis McComas. Their first collaboratioun, Adventures in Time and Space (1946) is generally recognized as the finest early anthology from the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Robert Abernathy

Robert Abernathy (1924–1990) was an American science fiction author during the 1940s and 1950s. He was known primarily for his short stories which were published in many of the pulp magazines that flourished during the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Many of his stories have been included in anthologies of classic science fiction such as the French Les Vingt Meilleurs Récits de science-fiction edited by Hubert Juin.

Science fantasy

Science fantasy is a mixed genre within the umbrella of speculative fiction which simultaneously draws upon and/or combines tropes and elements from both science fiction and fantasy. In a science fiction story, the world is scientifically possible, while a science fantasy world contains elements which violate the scientific laws of the real world. Nevertheless the world of science fantasy is logical and often is supplied with science-like explanations of these violations.During the Golden Age of Science Fiction, the fanciful science fantasy stories were seen in sharp contrast to the terse, scientifically plausible material that came to dominate mainstream science fiction typified by the magazine Astounding Stories. Although at this time, science fantasy stories were often relegated to the status of children's entertainment, their freedom of imagination and romance proved to be an early major influence on the "New Wave" writers of the 1960s, who became exasperated by the limitations of "hard" SF.Eric R. Williams lists the following "microgenres" which can belong to science fantasy: Discovery, Dying Earth, ET Relations, Mad Scientist, Space Opera, Sword and Planet. Carl D. Malmgren classifies science fantasy by the type of the violation of science and distinguishes the following main types: the time-loop motif, the alternate-present world, the counterscientific world, and the hybridized world.

Specialist (short story)

"Specialist" is a science fiction short story by American writer Robert Sheckley. It was first published in 1953 and has appeared in various collections, including Untouched by Human Hands (1954) and The Golden Age of Science Fiction, edited by Kingsley Amis in 1981.

The Country of the Kind

"The Country of the Kind" is a science fiction short story by American writer Damon Knight. It was first published in the February 1956 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and has been reprinted several times, including in In Deep (1963), The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (vol. 1) (1976), and The Golden Age of Science Fiction (1981).

The Golden Age of Science Fiction (anthology)

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is an anthology of science fiction short stories all originally published between 1949 and 1962. The stories were selected and introduced by Kingsley Amis, who also wrote an Editor's Note and a 21-page Introduction. The collection was first published by Hutchinson in 1981 and was released in paperback by Penguin in 1983.

The Mammoth Book of Golden Age Science Fiction

The Mammoth Book of Golden Age Science Fiction: Short Novels of the 1940s is a themed anthology of science fiction short works edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh, the second in a series of six samplers of the field from the 1930s through the 1980s. It was first published in trade paperback by Robinson in 1989, and reissued in 2007. The first American edition was published in hardcover and trade paperback by Carroll & Graf, also in 1989; a second trade paperback edition appeared in 2007. In 1991 Galahad Books issued two hardcover editions under the variant titles Great Tales of the Golden Age of Science Fiction and Science Fiction: Classic Stories from the Golden Age of Science Fiction; under the latter title it reissued the book in August 2000, April 2004 and March 2010.The book collects ten novellas and novelettes by various science fiction authors that were originally published in the 1940s, together with an introduction by Asimov.

The Stolen Dormouse

"The Stolen Dormouse" is a science fiction novella by American writer L. Sprague de Camp. It was first published as a serial in the magazine Astounding Science-Fiction for April and May, 1941 and first appeared in book form in de Camp's collection Divide and Rule (Fantasy Press, 1948). The story has also appeared in the anthologies Astounding Stories: The 60th Anniversary Collection (Easton Press, 1990), and The Best of Astounding: Classic Short Novels from the Golden Age of Science Fiction (Carroll & Graf, 1992).

The Tunnel under the World

"The Tunnel under the World" is a science fiction short story by American writer Frederik Pohl. It was first published in 1955 in Galaxy magazine. It has often been anthologised, appearing in, among others, The Golden Age of Science Fiction, edited by Kingsley Amis (1981).

The Xi Effect

The Xi Effect is a science fiction short story by American astronomer and author Robert S. Richardson (as (Philip Latham).

It was published first in 1950 in Astounding Science Fiction

It has often been anthologised, appearing among the others in The Golden Age of Science Fiction, edited by Kingsley Amis (1981).

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