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The forties were of course dominated by World War II and its after-effects. Perhaps the biggest immediate influence that had on science fiction was the peak and decline of pulp magazines.
Paper shortages caused the cancellation of some lower selling titles, but also pushed publishers and authors to look more towards other approaches. As the Golden Age came to a close, the more familiar current model of publishing began to dominate.
Another aspect of WW II that clearly impacted on science fiction was The Manhattan Project and the splitting of the atom. Perhaps the single most impactful moment of science in modern history showing off both the good and the bad.
Science Fiction Arrives On TV
It’s perhaps not the most impressive of arrivals and certainly wouldn’t help the masses to take science fiction more seriously, but the airing of _Captain Video and Hist Video Rangers_ ( http://amzn.to/XuAMFe ) starting in June 1949 marked the start of science fiction on tv.
Heavily influenced by pulp and also by the cliffhanger movie serials, Captain Video had a miniscule budget and initially the Captain and his teen sidekick didn’t even have their own spaceship. In fact one of the recurring characters was a robot named I TOBOR. Rumor has it he was supposed to have been called ROBOT I, but they stenciled the name backwards on the costume and didn’t have the budget to fix it.
Later the budget would expand so that three spaceships were featured and more than the initial three Rangers appeared. The show was pretty much panned by critics but popular with kids and stayed on air for 6 years. It probably had a lot to do with forming the public’s view of science fiction.
Captain Video himself was initially played by Richard Coogan and can be seen in this archived episode from 1949 ( http://archive.org/details/captainvideo ) . He was replaced by Al Hodge, who played the role until the show ended in 1955.
Robert A. Heinlein is considered one of the Big Three SF writers. One of the people who really defined the modern form. And he was extremely productive during the 40s, publishing a lot of short stories in pulp magazines, but also publishing novels.
Methuselah’s Children was original published in Astounding Science Fiction over three months and was later expanded into a novel for publication in the 50s ( http://amzn.to/WLLEkA ). It is particularly of note perhaps for giving us the first appearance of Lazarus Long.
Rocket Ship Galileo ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000MTE8Q6 ) was Heinlein’s first published novel in 1947 and also the first of his juveniles essentially young adult novels. It would be adapted in 1950 into the movie Destination Moon.
Two further juveniles were published this decade, Space Cadet ( http://amzn.to/XuFuTv ) in 1948 and Red Planet ( http://amzn.to/WB03lw ) in 1949. Space Cadet would serve as the inspiration for the tv series Tom Corbett Space Cadet in the 1950s.
While clearly aimed at children, these books did contain hints of continuing Heinlein themes. They are certainly much more obviously in the adult targeted Beyond This Horizon serialized in 1942 and then published in 1948 ( http://amzn.to/XuFsLg ) where he presents a society in which dueling is used to keep people civil (An armed society is a polite society), promotes eugenics as the way to improve the human race and yet simultaneously rejects racism.
Racism is at the forefront of Sixth Column ( http://amzn.to/VMH0pG ) which was published in 1949 and is also known as The Day After Tomorrow. The story was actually based on an unpublishable story by John W. Campbell. Heinlein took the core idea, toned down some of the more extreme racism, providing an explanation for how the weapons in the novel worked and also filled out the rebels strategy. Despite this he apparently considered the work an artistic failure.
Certainly the racial elements remain pretty in your face by modern standards, but it’s interesting to note that the racism does seem to exist on both sides. Also of note is Heinlein’s approach to religion in this book where he has a group making up their own religion and then starting to believe it.
A E. Van Vogt
Another particularly prolific author this decade was the Canadian author A.E. Van Vogt. Much of his work was serialized and then later fixed up into novel form. Van Vogt was significantly influenced by World War II. He had a particular interest in exploring systems of knowledge and his work has been criticised for being overly sympathetic to the system of absolute monarchy..
His earliest published novel of the decade was Slan ( http://amzn.to/Xw3t4M ) which was originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction in 1940 and then released as a novel in 1946. A relatively straightforward adventure SF adventure it does have some deeper aspects and some have compared the mutant Slans and their treatments to Jews in Nazi Germany.
Published in 1947, The Weapon Makers was serialized in _Astounding Science Fiction _ 1943. The book was then significantly revised in 1952. There is a distinctly libertarian slant to this work (The right to buy weapons is the right to be free).
The Book of Ptath was also published in 1947, another previously serialized work and is an unusual story about the casualty of a tank battle who is reincarnated as a god figure.
The World of Null-A ( http://amzn.to/14LvStv ) published in 1948 in novel form is one of Van Vogt’s best known and most influential works. It throws together non-Aristotelian logic, general semantics, cloning and telekinetics amongst other things. It’s sequel novel The Pawns of Null-A was serialized starting the same year.
Van Vogt had an unusual writing method whereby he presented scenes of roughly 800 words during which either a new complication was added or something was resolved. While that might seem formulaic, it does make sense given his work was originally serialized.
His work was heavily criticized, particularly by SFWA founder Damon Knight. Though it should be noted the two had substantial differences of idealogical position and the criticism may have been biased by this. Despite this criticism, the influence of Van Vogt’s work should not be underestimated. Major names like Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison have listed him as one of their influences.
E. E. Doc Smith
Smith continued to work on the two series he is best known for serializing the last two Lensman stories Second Stage Lensman and Children of the Lens in Amazing Stories in 1941 and 1947. The third of his Skylark books Skylark of Valeron ( http://amzn.to/Xmhu8O ) was republished as a novel in 1949
Other Books of Note
The Incomplete Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt introduced the world to Harold Shea for the first time in 1940. He and his colleagues travel to various parallel worlds where ancient myths and legends are reality.
Fritz Leiber, who would become best known for his sword and sorcery stories wrote what may be the first urban fantasy in Conjure Wife ( http://amzn.to/U20kNR ) in 1943 in which a college professor discovers that not only is his wife a witch, but so are the other wives at the college. He also published Destingy Times Three ( http://amzn.to/UTuDIe ) in 1945. A science fiction story in which the probability engine enables alternate realities to exist side by side.
Throughout the decade Isaac Asimov serialized eight of the nine stories that would come to be the Foundation Trilogy in Astounding Science Fiction. The story names were changed when the books came out, but the original stories that make up each book are:
Foundation ( http://amzn.to/WCMuSv )
- Foundation (1942) which became the second story The Encylopedists
- Bridle and Saddle (1944) which became the third story The Mayors
- The Wedge (1944) which became The Traders
- The Big and the Little (1944) which beame The Merchant Princes
Foundation and Empire ( http://amzn.to/WPPfOs )
- Dead Hand (1945) – As The General
- The Mule (1945)
Second Foundation ( http://amzn.to/YOZyTu )
- Now You See It… (1948) as Search By The Mule
- And Now You Don’t (1949) as _Search By The Foundation)
While the bulk of his work was to come in later decades, Arthur C. Clarke, the last of the so called Big Three also began publishing in the 1940s. Starting in 1948 with Against the Fall of Night ( http://amzn.to/VNAgCK ) which appeared in Startling Stories and would later be revised and expanded into The City and the Stars ( http://amzn.to/XyKvfD ) in 1956.
Ray Bradbury, another of the Golden Age giants, also began his publishing career in 1947 with his first short story collection and first book Dark Carnival.
And of course there was George Orwell who published two of the best known science fiction works ever during the 1940s, although they are primarily seen as political satires. Animal Farm ( http://amzn.to/14LGjgU ) in 1945 and Nineteen Eighty Four ( http://amzn.to/VNBeik )in 1949. While they are indeed political satires, the satire is presented in unquestionably science fictional/fantasy tropes.
Science Fiction In Comics – Planet Comics
Of course there had been elements of science fiction in comics from the beginning, but Planet Comics which published monthly from 1940 through to 1949 and then bi-monthly and eventually quarterly until 1953 was a direct spin-off of the pulp magazine Planet Stories.
Not surprisingly then to style of stories and the artwork were very similar. The emphasis was on space opera and the so called good girl art which featured buxom women scantily clad. The emphasis on attractive females did result however in a lot of stories featuring strong female protagonists.
Science Fiction Movies
The pulp sensibility of the magazines was well represented in cinemas by cliff-hanger serials. Including another outing for Flash Gordon in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe ( http://amzn.to/12Hjr3D ) in 1940. Batman ( http://amzn.to/157jXaG ) in 1943, Batman and Robin ( http://amzn.to/Vc1S7n ) in 1949 and King of the Rocket Men in 1949. The Batman serials are of note, not just for being the first film appearance of Batman, but for actually introducing concepts like the Batcave into Batman mythos and defining what Alfred looked like.
There were many horror movies during the 40s and they certainly contained fantasy and scifi elements. But relatively little that would be considered science fiction by modern standards. However, throughout the decade H. G. Wells influence was felt with a string of Invisible movies inspired by his Invisible Man: The Invisible Man Returns (1940); The Invisible Woman (1940); The Invisible Agent (1942); The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944); ( http://amzn.to/12Hj74L )
Also of note is The Mighty Joe Young ( http://amzn.to/12Hj3SB ) released in 1949 and produced by the same team who had previously done King Kong. The storyline is quite similar, but the special effects are considerably superior and the movie is still worth watching for the stop-motion.