Category Archives: The History Of Science Fiction

An ongoing project in which I attempt to cover the entire history of science fiction and fantasy from it’s origins through to today in chronological fashion. I’m currently working my way through the decades with some special posts to highlight particularly significant individuals.

My thought is that the articles could be continually revised and expanded based on reader feedback, becoming steadily more comprehensive.

The History of Science Fiction Part 9: 1940 – 1949

Brace yourselves, it's a long one. Don't forget these are all posted to +The History of Science Fiction.

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_ ( ) 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 ( ) . 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 ( ).  It is particularly of note perhaps for giving us the first appearance of Lazarus Long.

Rocket Ship Galileo  ( ) 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  ( ) in 1948 and Red Planet ( ) 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 ( ) 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  ( ) 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  ( ) 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  ( ) 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 ( ) 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.

C. S. Lewis completed his Space Trilogy with the release of Perelandra ( )  in 1943 and That Hideous Strength ( ) in 1945.

Fritz Leiber, who would become best known for his sword and sorcery stories wrote what may be the first urban fantasy in Conjure Wife ( ) 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  ( ) 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 ( )
- 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 ( )
- Dead Hand (1945) – As The General
- The Mule (1945)

Second Foundation ( )
- 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 ( ) which appeared in Startling Stories and would later be revised and expanded into The City and the Stars ( ) 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 ( ) in 1945 and Nineteen Eighty Four ( )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 ( ) in 1940. Batman ( ) in 1943, Batman and Robin ( ) 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); ( )

Also of note is The Mighty Joe Young ( ) 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.

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The History of Science Fiction Part 8: John W. Campbell

There are a lot of very colorful characters from the early days of science fiction. But a handful of them were so influential that they influenced the direction of the whole genre. John W. Campbell undoubtedly falls into this category. In fact so significant was his contribution that the Golden Age of science fiction is generally marked as starting from the time he took editorship of Astounding Science Fiction.

Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1910, Campbell attended MIT but was later dismissed from the school. He began writing science fiction when he was 18 and was a successful pulp writer by the time he was 21.

Campbell’s first publishing success was a story called When Atoms Failed which appeared in the January 1930 issue of Amazing Stories.  Between 1930 and 1938 he published twenty one short stories. He built his name initially around pulp space opera fiction.

However a number of stylistically different stories were published under the pen name of Don A. Stuart. One of those is perhaps the best known and most influential of his own fiction Who Goes There which has been adapted for film three times. First as The Thing from Another World in 1951. Then again as The Thing in 1982 and most recently as The Thing in 2011.

After becoming editor of Astounding Stories Campbell moved away from writing himself and started to concentrate solely on editing. His short stories were collected and released in a variety of forms over the subsequent decades.

Astounding Science Fiction

Campbell was appointed editor of Astounding Stories in 1937 but didn’t take full control until 1938. From the moment he took over, he started making changes in an effort to promote the sort of stories he wanted to see.

He instituted regular non-fiction pieces with the idea of stimulating new stories ideas. The style of the cover artwork changed too, with a more mature look that he hoped would be less embarrassing for adult readers. It was during this period that the title of the magazine was changed from Astounding Stories to Astounding Science-Fiction

Those early issues also provided some remarkable finds including Lester del Rey, A E van Vogt, Robert A Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Theodore Sturgeon. Established writers also appeared including L. Ron Hubbard, Clifford Simak, E E Smith and L. Sprague de Camp.

During this time Campbell also started Unknown  (later to be called Unknown Worlds) which was intended as a fantasy companion to Astounding. Unfortunately, war time paper shortages resulted in cancellation after only four years.

What set Campbell apart from his predecessors was his insistence that his writers use science to underpin their stories. The most famous example of this was the story Deadline by Cleve Cartmil which appeared in a 1944 issue. The story used accurate scientific information to describe how to build an atomic bomb (this was a full year before the first detonation). The publication resulted in a visit from the FBI.

After the war a combination of personality conflicts and increased competition from other magazines.marked the end of Astounding’s overwhelming dominance of the genre. It didn’t help that Campbell became increasingly interested in psuedoscience like psionics and heavily promoted dianetics (which would become scientology). A world view that was very much contrary to his earlier science heavy approach.

For all that many historically significant stories and articles continued to appear in Astounding’s pages.

To further emphasise the serious scientific nature of the magazine, in 1960 the name was changed to Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Campbell continued to edit the magazine right up to his death in 1971.

Controversial Opinions

Campbell had a reputation for writing controversial editorials on a number of topics. It’s not clear if he necessarily believed all of those positions he took. Author Frederick Pohl recalled that every month Campbell would come up with a polemical statement and present it to everyone who came in the offices and encourage them to disagree with it. By the end of the month he was in a position to counter all of the arguments in his editorial.

Some of his more controversial pieces included an argument that black slaves were better off than they had been in Africa and it would have been better if the civil war had not been fought over slavery since increasing mechanisation would soon have undercut the practice anyway.

He was also ferociously dismissive of anti-tobacco campaigns and insisted there was no demonstrable correlation between tobacco and cancer.

Dianetics & Pseudo Science

Campbell’s interest in a variety of pseudo science increased from the 1950s onwards and he published more stories about things like psionics. This emphasis on what could be generously described as fringe science was off putting to many of the authors that had previously contributed to Astounding. By the time of his death many were no longer submitting to the magazine, including major authors like Isaac Asimov.

The dubious science that got the most attention from Campbell though was Dianetics, invented by L. Ron Hubbard (a figure for another article). The original article by Hubbard was published in Astounding and described by Campbell as one of the most important articles ever published.

In the early pre-Scientology days, Campbell was considered one of the top three figures within the Dianetics group although this gradually changed partly due to Hubbards increased interest in concepts like reincarnation and also a reluctance to accept input from others and by 1952 he withdrew from the group.

Talkative, opinionated, quicksilver-minded, overbearing. Talking to him meant listening to a monologue

That was one of Isaac Asimov’s descriptions of Campbell. And it’s more complimentary than what many had to say of him. Like many pioneers of SF he was a controversial figure with a substantial ego and major character quirks. During the 60s even Heinlein (a good friend of Campbells) was complaining about having his stories rejected. Perhaps that is what it took to succeed in those days. Since he is in good company.

But if his later decline is sad, we shouldn’t let that overshadow the effect he had on the entire genre during the 30s and 40s. The list of authors he promoted is exceptional and the style of science fiction he encouraged are a lasting legacy. Not to mention the phenomenal list of fiction that Campbell was responsible for editing over the years.

Suggested Reading

Who Goes There? – ( )
The John W. Campbell Anthology – ( )

The John W. Campbell Letters Vol I – ( )
The John W. Campbell Letters Vol II – ( )

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 The History of Science Fiction Part 8: John W. Campbell

The History Of Science Fiction Part 7 1930 – 1939

Enter The Golden Age

With the genre now defined and growing, the 30s were when it spread across media. Books, magazines, movies, radio and comics, all were fertile ground for science fiction. New authors began to make their names. And all this against the background of an ever darkening world.


The first ever World Science Fiction Convention was held in 1939 in New York from July 2nd to 4th in conjunction with the Worlds Fair. It would continue to be held (at different locations) every year up to the present day with the exception of 1942 through 1945.

Science Fiction fandom now had a core event to mobilize around and WorldCon remains the premiere science fiction convention. Right from the beginning though there were factions and politics.

The Futurians were a group of influential science fiction fans who closely connected their politics with science fiction. The group included Frederick Pohl (a communist party member for a few years) and James Blish (who dabbled in the notion of fascism for a while).

Several of the Futurians were banned from the first Worldcon as a result perhaps of personality clashes. As Frederick Pohl put it:

“What we Futurians made very clear to the rest of New York fandom was that we thought we were better than they were. For some reason that annoyed them”

Some things never change it seems.

Hard Science Fiction

While the term would not be bandied around for years yet, the 1930s could perhaps be pointed to as the origin of hard or rigorous science fiction.

Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men published in 1930 ( )is one of the earliest examples. Arthur C. Clarke has acknowledged it as one of his influences. Stapledon, a professor of Philosophy at Cambridge gave us a future history of humanity across a period of two billion years

Stapledon also published The Star Maker in 1937 ( ) where he again touched on topics like genetic engineering and looked at the relationship between creation and creator.

Conan Brings Sword & Sorcery

Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian barbarian Conan began life in Weird Tales magazine (as did so many stories back then. The first story The Phoenix On The Sword was published in 1932. the story was actually a re-write of an unpublished story featuring another Howard character, Kull and is set at a point when Conan is already king of Aquilonia.

A further 16 stories were serialized in Weird Tales between 1932 and 1936. While not technically the first, Conan essentially defined the sword and sorcery genre. Howard committed suicide in 1936 at the age of 30, but the popularity of the character did not diminish.

The first novel to be published (and actually the only Conan novel published during Howard’s lifetime) was The Hour of the Dragon in 1935 ( ). The book was later re-published under the title of Conan The Conqueror but is now more commonly found under its original title.

Other Books of Note

New authors began to enter the field in this decade, alongside the established names. Philip Wylie’s Gladiator published in 1930  ( ) is about a young man with exceptional strength and invulnerability. It is believed to be one of the inspirations for Superman.

Aldous Huxley published the classic dystopia Brave New World in 1932 ( ). Set in London in 2540 and originated from Huxley’s idea to write a parody of  HG Wells utopian novels. The novel is heavily influenced by early 1900s events like industrialization and mass production. It was also a reaction against Americanization and the aspects of American culture which the author disliked.

While best known now for The Chronicles of Narnia C. S. Lewis’ earliest published genre novel was _ Out Of The Silent Planet_ in 1938 ( ). This book was the first in the Space Trilogy. In the novel a Cambridge academic is abducted and taken by spaceship to Mars (or Malacandra).

In 1937 Ayn Rand published her dystopian novella Anthem ( ). In line with Rand’s politics and beliefs the story takes place in a future dark age that is characterized by collectivism and socialistic thinking. Individuality has been eliminated and use of the word I is punishable by death.

Let Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp in 1939  ( )was the first of many science fiction and fantasy novels in the authors 60 year career. It is an alternate history novel in which the protagonist is sent back to 6th century Rome. It is considered one of the best and most influential of all alternate history stories and has been cited by author Harry Turtledove as the reason for his interest in the genre.

Flash Gordon

In many ways Flash Gordon best displays the range of media over which science fiction spread during the 1930s. It started life on January 7th 1934 as a comic strip by Alex Raymond ( ). A direct competitor to the already established Buck Rogers.

The strip followed the adventures of dashing sportsman and Yale graduate Flash Gordon along with Dale Arden and Doctor Hans Zarkov.  Dale and Flash are kidnapped by Zarkov and taken by his rocket ship to the planet of Mongo where they discover that Ming the Merciless is using meteors to attack earth.

However it’s success soon spread and on April 22nd 1935 The Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon debuted on the radio. The series ran for 26 weekly episodes and was then replaced by The Further Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon which ran five days a week for 74 episodes. While the radio series started with the same premise it did stray from the comic strip after a while and send the characters on brand new adventures.

Flash Gordon’s popularity was such that further publishing attempts were made to capitalize on it. In 1936 a single issue of Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine was published. Then in 1936 a novel titled Flash Gordon in the Caverns of Mongo  ( ) and credited to Alex Raymond was published.  Neither went on to establish a series.

But Flash had more success when it came to movie serials. In 1936 a 13 part cliffhanger serial called Flash Gordon ( )and starring Buster Crabbe as Gordon hit theaters. The serial was sometimes titled Spaceship to the Unknown or Space Soldiers. The serial followed the plot of the early comicstrip quite closely.

A second serial called Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars ( ) also referred to as Flash Gordon – The Deadly Ray From Mars came out in 1938 in 15 parts. The serial featured the same main cast as before.

Major Science Fiction Movies

Besides Flash Gordo a number of other science fiction movies cropped up during the 30s. In 1931 James Whale directed Frankenstein ( )  giving us Boris Karloff in the title role. Box office receipts on this movie have been estimated at 10,000% of production cost!

Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi performed in Erle C. Kenton’s 1932 movie adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel The Island of Doctor Moreau called  _The Island of Lost Souls_ ( ).

Another H. G. Wells story made it to the silver screen in 1933 when Claude Rains played Dr. Jack Giffin in The Invisible Man ( ) directed by James Whale.

And also in 1933 there was King Kong ( ). Perhaps the most obvious beginning to the special effects that would slowly grow to dominate movie science fiction. A giant ape and a blonde damsel (Fay Wray) in distress. It had all the pulp elements an audience could wish for.

And yet another H. G. Wells adaptation in the form of  _Things To Come_ ( ) starring Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson appeared in 1936. In this case the screenplay was actually written by H. G. Wells who loosely adapted his own story The Shape of Things To Come.

In 1939 another comic staple arrived in the theaters as Buster Crabbe exchanged his Flash Gordon role for that of Buck Rogers  ( ) in a 12 part movie serial.


And the competition continued on the radio where Buck Rogers aired starting in 1932, beating Flash Gordon to the punch as it had in the comics..

But easily the most significant science fiction radio broadcast was done by Orson Welles in his live radio broadcast of War of the Worlds  ( ). A clever updating of another H. G. Wells story that reportedly caused panic amongst listeners. Welles presented the majority of the broadcast as a series of news reports interrupting a standard radio program. With each report heightening the confusion and fear as the story progressed. The resulting show remains well worth listening to to this day.

The Golden Age

In 1937 John W. Campbell was hired as editor of Astounding Stories.  In March 1938 he changed the title of the magazine to Astounding Science Fiction. The Golden Age of science fiction had begun.

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The History of Science Fiction Part 6: 1920 – 1929

In the 1920s everything was no set up for science fiction to burst forth as a genre in its own right. Out of the shadow of the great war, literacy was spreading as was science and a fascination with gadgets. Radio, Television and talking movies all arrived during the 1920s as leisure time also increased.

Space Opera

One of the best known sub-genres of science fiction began very early on. In these stories space travel was taken for granted. They were generally set far into the future and events took place amongst the stars. Generally there were spaceships, adventurers, devious enemies and laser guns.

Early on the term was often used in a derogatory fashion, but somehow it grew beyond that label. Perhaps the pre-eminent writer of space opera in those early days was E. E. “Doc” Smith. His first published work was The Skylark of Space ( ) which was originally published in Amazing Stories August–October 1928. This book, while perhaps a little amateurish to modern eyes has often been described as the first great space opera. This was only the beginning of E. E. Smith’s influence on the genre.


Although the genre was gradually forming (initially around the word scientifiction) it was still largely amorphous. A wide variety of authors tackled all sorts of subjects and styles.

David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus in 1920 ( ) is an almost indescribable mixture of science fiction, fantasy and moral philosophy. Karel Capek’s RUR: Rossums Universal Robots  ( )in 1921 of course gave us the word robot on which I will have a lot to say in future articles.

While also in 1921 no less than George Bernard Shaw wrote the play Back to Methuselah ( ). It’s really a series of 5 short plays starting the past and going through the present to the future. There are some interesting science fiction elements to the work, including people communicating via visual switchboard, an England governed by Chinese and African women. People who live to be three hundred and more.

With science fiction still unformed, there was much less of a barrier to writing it since the modern day prejudice didn’t really exist.


Elements of Fantasy now began to separate themselves a little from science fiction. In 1922 E. R. Eddison published The Worm of Ouroboros ( ) which is clearly in the high fantasy mold and describes a a war between Witchland and Demonland.

And in 1924 Lord Dunsany published what is often considered the source of modern fantasy with The King of Elfland’s Daughter ( ). Dunsany’s influence on Tolkien is well documented as is his influence on the writings of H. P. Lovecraft.

A less well known fantasy entry is 1927’s The House of Lost Identity ( ) by Donald Corley. Which is a collection of self illustrated fantasy short stories. Which was considered significant enough that two of the stories were used in anthologies by Lin Carter during the 70s.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

The only way to describe Burroughs output in this decade is prodigious. Sticking closely to the format that had been successful to him, Burroughs pumped out 9 books between 1922 and 1927. His significance in this decade is lessened only because he really wasn’t pushing the genre in any new directions.

1922     At The Earth’s Core
1922     The Chessmen of Mars
1922     Pellucidar
1923     The Land that Time Forgot
1923     Tarzan and the Ant Men
1925     The Eternal Lover (later retitled The Eternal Savage) –
1925     The Cave Girl
1926     The Moon Maid (later retitled The Moon Men) –
1927     The Master Mind of Mars


Amazing Stories arrived on the scene in 1926 in what was called the “bedsheet” format. It would later move to the more common pulp magazine format, roughly the size of a comic book. The premier issue featured a cover by Frank R. Paul illustrating Off on a Comet by Jules Verne.

Up until that point sciene fiction material had been appearing in the early pulp magazines like Argosy and Weird Tales which started in 1923. Now it had a magazine of its own. In January 1927, Amazing Stories added a letter column “Discussions” to it’s format and fandom was born.

Over the next couple of years Amazing Stories would build a readership of over 100,000 and publish the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells,Garrett P. Serviss and E. E. “Doc” Smith. In August 1928 Philip Nowlan’s serial Armageddon 2419 AD ( ) begins publication in the magazine.

You may not recognize the name of that serial, but you will recognize the national newspaper strip it was turned into: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century ( ).


As is still the case, there was a noticeable difference between American and European cinema during this decade. American science fiction movies tended towards the sort of basic action adventure you would expect.

The 1925 silent movie The Lost World ( ) which was based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel from the previous decade is a good example of this and of interest for the ground breaking stop motion special effects of Willis O’Brien (King Kong and Mighty Joe Young) if nothing else.

But it was in Germany where the most important science fiction film of the decade (at least) was made. Fritz’s Lang’s 1929 silent masterpiece Metropolis ( ) could be argued to be as much fantasy as science fiction, but the set, designs, special effects and social commentary put it in a different league to any science fiction movies up to this point.

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The History of Science Fiction Part 5: Hugo Gernsback

The name of Hugo Gernsback has come up several times already in this series about The History of Science Fiction and his name is going to keep coming up as I get closer to the present day.  However the only way to properly encompass the significance of Gernsback to science fiction is to look at his life as a whole.

Gernsback was born Hugo Gernsbacher in Luxembourg on August 16th 1884 and emigrated to the United states in 1904 where he founded the Electric Importing Company. A pioneer of amateur radio, he founded the Wireless Association of America which had 10,000 members within a year.

Hugo founded the radio station WRNY in 1925 and was also involved in the first television broadcasts, sending an image the size of a postage stamp to the crude scanners owned by 2,000 enthusiasts in the New York Area. Gernsback would use WRNY and his magazine Radio News to cross promote each other and would have articles in his magazine discussed on his radio station. But he also used WRNY to test out various radio inventions and see if they were worthwhile.

An avid inventor, he held some 80 patents by the time he died and some of his inventions included the Hypnobioscope for sleep-learning and the Osophone a bone conductor hearing aid.

But the reason that the name Hugo Gernsback is considered so important to the science fiction genre is that he was central to the promotion and spread of science fiction in the early part of the 20th century. A case can certainly be made that he was a founding father of sci-fi fandom, publishing the addresses of people who wrote letters to his magazines and enabling fans to interact perhaps for the first time.

Gernsback's first magazine was Modern Electrics which he began publishing in 1908. He apparently became interested in the idea of science fiction after reading a translation of the work of Percival Lowell when he was a child and began to sneak science fiction pieces into his science magazines. The most significant of which was his story Ralph 124C41+ (the title is a pun of the phrase "one to foresee for one) which was a twelve part serial. The story was packed with a remarkable number of ideas and speculations, but was lacking in plot and character.

Hugo Gernsback was perhaps the first futurist and his love of science fiction, just like his interest in radio, tv and electronics was linked to his fascination with the future and all its possibilities. That driving interest was also the biggest weakness in his writing which while imaginative was otherwise weak. Ralph 124C41+ was hugely influential and that style of storytelling remained dominant in the genre for many years, no doubt also fostered by Gernsback's influence as a publisher.

Amazing Stories

Gernsback was the first to publish a magazine dedicated to science fiction with Amazing Stories in 1926. At this time the genre didn't have a specific name and Hugo coined the term scientifiction, when that didn't catch on he came up with science fiction instead.

The first editor of Amazing Stories was Dr. T. O’Connor and the first issue mainly consisted of reprints from the likes of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs. This was simply a financial restriction. However, once it became obvious that there was in fact a market for this sort of material, the magazine began to include original fiction.

Like many publishers of the time, Gernsback had a reputation for sharp and possibly shady business practices. The payment rate for stories was as low as a quarter of a cent per word and payment was frequently made late.  In this he was really no worse than many other publishers. It was a harsh market for creators, but not surprisingly these shady practices didn’t win him a lot of friends amongst writers.

Gernsback  went on to found two further science fiction magazines: Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories after a bankruptcy lawsuit caused him to lose ownership of Amazing Stories (in somewhat controversial circumstances). Those two titles were soon combined into Wonder Stories. However, Amazing Stories remains the cornerstone of his reputation in the science fiction field.

Gernsback published many magazines and remained passionate about science, continuing to invent and predict future creations. He died in 1967 at the age of 83 and appropriately enough donated his body to science.

The Annual Science Fiction Achievement Award which was created in the 50s and frequently referred to as the Hugo had its name officially changed in 1993 to reflect Gernsback's significance in early fandom. In 1996 Gernsback was one of the inaugural inductees in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

In recent years there has been some movement to re-consider the significance of Gernsback's influence on early science fiction. Some commentators have pointed to the poor quality of his stories and the effect that may have had in holding back the literary progress of the genre.

It’s true that his writing was universally considered to be bad and that as publisher of the most influential science fiction magazines on the market he likely had a strong effect on what was actually published. Certainly nothing he did would really have promoted science fiction as a serious genre.

But for all those negatives you have to recognize both his genuine passion and the fact that he did something no one else had done. Before him there wasn’t actually a science fiction genre at all.

*Tags:*  #TheHistoryOfScienceFiction  

Amazing%2BStories The History of Science Fiction Part 5: Hugo Gernsback

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History of Science Fiction Part 4 – 1910-1919

The period from 1910 to 1919 was dominated by war. The First World War erupted in 1914 and ended in 1918. That would have been enough for one decade but in 1917 the Russian Revolution(s) occurred. It’s not surprising then that all of this death, destruction and political turmoil had an impact on the works produced during the time.

But that wasn’t the only thing driving culture and society. Scientific advances continued at a rapid pace. One huge breakthrough was Albert Einsteing’s General Theory of Relativity which lead to speculation about time-travel and anti-gravity, both of which still feature in science fiction. Another major advance was Ernest Rutherford’s discovery of the atomic nucleus which significantly reshaped our view of the world. And then there was electronics.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Perhaps the single most important genre writer during this period is Edgar Rice Burroughs. He is best known to the general public for his creation Tarzan in 1912 with Tarzan of the Apes ( ). While the book does have some fantastical qualities, it’s not really genre fiction as such.

Burroughs first published story though was A Princess of Mars ( ), also in 1912, which introduced us to the world of Barsoom (or Mars as we so prosaicly call it here on Earth). This began the Sword and Planet genre, something which has largely died out in the modern day at least partly due to the fact that it doesn’t mesh well with current scientific understanding.  But it was a staple of pulp fiction for many years.

A Princess of Mars was originally published in All-Story Magazine with the title Under the Moons of Mars and it was credited to Normal Bean. As well as Barsoom the story introduces us to John Carter and Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium. It was republished as A Princess of Mars in 1917.

A lot of Burroughs’ work was published in All-Story Magazine, including 1913’s The Gods of Mars ( ) which was a prequel to A Princess of Mars. Then in 1914 we were presented with the subterainian world of Pellucidar in At The Earth’s Core ( ). It and it’s sequel Pelucidar ( ) which was published in 1915 described a hollow earth which was lit by a miniature sun and populated by both savage tribes and fantastic creatures.

While the science behind Pellucidar is obviously deeply flawed, it is interesting to compare some of the core conceits with something like say Ringworld by Larry Niven ( ) which in some ways is giving the same concept a more hard SF spin.


It would be another two decades before the pulp magazines really hit their peak, but even at this early stage an increasing amount of science fiction was being published.

Hugo Gernsback is a pioneer of the genre and his connection with it begins in 1911 when he published Ralph 124C41+: A Romance of the Year 2660  in his own magazine Modern Electrics. The story managed to predict amongst other things radar, tape recorders and television.  Two years later Gernsback started a series of science based comic stories called The Scientific Adventures of Baron Munchausen. While remarkably in it's speculation it is not generally considered a good story, lacking much in the way of plot or character.

Cavalier magazine was another source of early science fiction. Garrett P. Serviss' The Second Deluge ( )was published in 1911 and offers a retelling of Noah with a flood from outer space. George Allen England's serials Darkness and Dawn, Beyond the Great Oblivion and The Afterglow ( ) were published there between 1912 and 1913. In 1914 Cavalier merged into All-Story Magazine under Robert H. Davis and continued to feature science fiction stories including Charles B. Stilson's Polaris of the Snows trilogy ( ), Abraham Merritt's Through the Dragon Glass ( ), The People of the Pit, The Moon Pool and Murray Leinster's The Runaway Skyscraper ( ).

The first true science fiction magazine though might be the Swedish magazine Hugin which was first published in 1916 under editor Otto Witt.

Also worthy of note is Children of Kultur by Milo Hastings which was published in True Story magazine. Later re-issued as City of Endless Night ( ), it has been claimed that this was the inspiration for Fritz Lang's Metropolis ( ). Which leads me nicely into the topic of…

Science Fiction Films

Science fiction movies really began to blossom in this decade. In 1910 Frankenstein was adapted to the silver screen for the first time by Thomas Edison's studios, directed by J. Searle Dawley.

1916s Homunculus was the most popular serial in Germany during World War I.  This six part silent movie was about a scientist who creates a "perfect" creature which seeks revenge on humanity when it discovers it has no soul. Perhaps of particular interest is the fact that Fritz Lang was an assistant working on this movie.

Another 1916 movie was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Universal Studios which featured some impressive underwater footage shot in a watertank. This was actually the second movie adaptation, Georges Melies having released a version in 1907.

Denmark's Himmelskibet ("The Airship" ) which was released in 1918 with a plot about the daughter of the High Priest of Mars ending planetary war.

HG Wells science fiction story The First Men in the Moon was adapted in 1919 by Bruce Gordon and J.L.V. Leigh. 

Finally 1919s Die Spinnen (The Spiders) is worth a quick mention if only because it was directed by Fritz Lang.


While the genre still didn’t have a collective name, it was become a more and more popular subject for writers to tackle. In 1911, F. W. Mader published Wunderwelten (Distant Worlds) which is claimed to featured the first example of faster than light spaceship travel in fiction.

William Hope Hodgson gave us another example of apocalyptic science fiction (a sub-genre that seems destined to last forever) with The Night Land ( ) in which the last humans are holed up in a seven mile tall pyramid, attacked by mutants and monsters on a future earth where the sun has gone out.

Of course one of the most popular preoccupations for writers then, just as now, was to try and predict future technology based on current developments. Bernhard Kellerman's Der Tunnel in 1913 was one of the best selling novels of the first half of the 20th century. It's protagonist wanted to build a tunnel from Europe to America but the novel also predicts airplanes being able to make the trip faster.

In 1915 (after the start of World War One) Guy Thorne predicted armored tanks a couple of years before they first appeared in his novel The Cruiser on Wheels. While in 1920 the world was finally introduced to robots (or at least the word) with Karel Capek's R.U.R ( )

Of course writers were also tackling the social issues of the time. Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1915 novel Herland ( ) presents a society composed entirely of women who reproduce through asexual reproduction. The story was actually published as a serial and did not make it to novel format until 1979. It is an early example of feminist science fiction. 

Many more science fiction books were published during this decade so here are links to a few more:

1914 – The World Set Free ( ) by H G Wells
1915 – The Star Rover ( ) by Jack London
1918 – The Moon Pool ( ) by Abraham Merritt.
1920 – A Voyage to Arcturus ( )by David Lindsay.

Book aprincessofmars History of Science Fiction Part 4   1910 1919

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The History of Science Fiction 3: 1900 – 1909

The first decade of the 20th century continued the remarkable scientific progress of the previous century. Two events in particular informed the "scientifiction" writing of this period. In 1903 the Wright Brothers built and flew the first airplane, something that would inspire a lot of stories.

But probably even more significant was Albert Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity  which he published in 1905. As well as giving us the only equation most people know (E=mc2), Special Relativity gave us the concepts of Time dilation, Length contraction and relativity of simultaneity. These are things that science fiction writers still use in stories today.

Wells and Verne

The established masters of the genre both continued to write and publish in this decade. In 1904 Jules Verne published Master of the World ( ) which featured a ten meter long vehicle that could be a speedboat, submarine, car or airplane. The vehicle was able to travel at 150 mph on land and 200 mph in the air. Verne went so far as to have the vehicle be invisible at the speed of 150 mph which at that time was an unheard of speed.

HG Wells published a series of stories during the decade including The First Men in the Moon ( ) which tells the story of a trip to the moon by the two protagonists and their encounters with the Selenites there. This story was an influence on the writings of C.S Lewis which we'll reach later in this series.

1908's The War in the Air ( ) was remarkably prophetic in anticipating World War I and the use of airplanes in warfare.

Enter Cinema

Georges Melies was an early pioneer of science fiction cinema. Inspired by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells he released Le Voyage dans la Lune (The Voyage to the Moon) in 1902 which showed a spacecraft launched by a powerful gun traveling to the Moon.

In 1904 Melies produced Voyage a Travers L'impossible (An Impossible Voyage) a half hour picture that included a train which morphed into a spaceship.

Both of these are milestones in the cinematic medium and are still available on DVD and Blu-Ray today ( ).


It would be some years before magazines became the driving force of science fiction writing, but much of the fiction of the era was serialized. In 1902 Park Winthrop wrote The Land of the Central Sun about people inside the earth. While in 1903 William Cook wrote about robots in A Round Trip To The Year 2000. Both stories were serialized in Argosy Magazine which is considered the first "pulp" magazine.

In 1904 Hugo Gernsback arrived in the United States. Gernsback would play a pivotal role in the development of science fiction. Four years later Gernsback would launch his first magazine "Modern Electrics".

In 1905 Rudyard Kipling published With the Night Mail ( ) in McClure's Magazine. Kipling is not generally regarded as a fantasy or SF writer since the clear divisions simply did not exist back then. His story envisages a future where airships or "dirigibles" rule the skies.

Astronomer Garrett P. Serviss' story A Columbus of Space ( ) was serialized in All-Story Magazine in 1909. The story is about an atomic rocket travelling to Venus.

New Blood

Many other authors began to essay this new genre of fiction. George Griffith's A Honeymoon in Space from 1900 takes a newly married couple on a whirlwind tour of the solar system. And is in many ways typical of the stories of the time, featuring an English explorer who marries and American girl, goes into space and fights Nazi style Martians.

In 1901 M. P. Shiel published two books which form what is perhaps the first future history series in science fiction. The Lord of the Sea ( ) features the founding of an Israel like Jewish homeland.  While The Purple Cloud is about the last man on earth desperately looking for the last woman on earth.

G. K. Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill is an interesting entry in the genre. Set in late 20th century London, it depicts a Government where quite simply no one cares what happens and technology halted back in 1904.

In 1905 Edwin Lester Arnold published Lt. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (re-released many years later as Gulliver of Mars ). The book was actually very poorly received and Arnold stopped writing fiction as a result. However it is thought that this book may have partially inspired Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom series which was also set on Mars.

A particularly  important non-fiction publication was Mars and its Canals by Professor Percival Lowell in 1906 which contained his theories about the Martian civilization that must have built the "canals". This heavily influenced science fiction authors for a long time afterwards.

The Iron Heel ( ) by Jack London (1907) has been described by some as a forerunner to the "soft" science fiction of the 1960s and 70s. This negative utopia looks at the rise of an oligarchy in the United States and its emphasis is on social changes and politics rather than technology.

In The Smoky God; or, A Voyage to the Inner World ( ) (1908) Willis George Emerson's treads a similar path to Jules Verne with a sailor sailing through an entrance to the earth's interior at the North Pole.

1909's The Machine Stops ( ) is an unusual story from E. M Forster (much better known for works like A Passage to India, Room With A View and Howard's End) tells of a future humanity who isolate their entire lives living one person per apartment and communicating with videoscreens.

It's interesting to note that at this point Science Fiction was not nearly as ghettoized as it has been for much of it's history. Perhaps because it wasn't even called science fiction it was simply seen as another avenue for writers to explore subjects.

VoyageToTheMoon The History of Science Fiction 3: 1900   1909

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