Do you like science fiction? Then you owe a debt to what’s known as the Golden Age of SciFi. A period of time where many genre giants like Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov began their writing careers. I’ve started talking about Golden Age Scifi for reasons I’ll explain toward the end of this discussion. For now, let’s discuss: What is Golden Age Sci-Fi?
Identifying Marks of Golden Age Scifi
Golden Age Scifi stories are commonly characterized as hard SF stories that celebrate scientific achievement and progress. Another strong theme, according to Wikipedia was ‘alienation, the making strange of familiar surroundings so that settings and behaviour usually regarded as “normal” are seen as though they were the seemingly bizarre practices of an alien culture.’ At the same time,’ ‘a tradition of more literary science fiction novels, treating with a dissonance between perceived Utopian conditions and the full expression of human desires, began to develop: the dystopian novel.’
But there’s more to the story. In fact, science fiction was proving to be more than just story! According to the Encyclopedia of Scifi, ‘1938-1946 was a period … when most of the themes and motifs of sf were taking their modern shape.’ Additionally, scifi was starting to take shape as a community, since ‘gave the magazine readers something of a sense of belonging to a kind of secret brotherhood (not a sisterhood: the Golden Age stories were by and large written by men for young male readers.)’
Who Made Golden Age Scifi Happen?
Both Wikipedia and Goodreads agree on one single point: “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. 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.”
Others agree to a point. Yes, Campbell provided much influence on Golden Age science fiction. But why did he do it? In HiLowBrow, it’s stated: ‘Campbell and his cohort first began to develop their literate, analytical, socially conscious science fiction in reaction against the 1934 advent of the campy Flash Gordon comic strip, not to mention Hollywood’s innumerable mid-1930s Bug-Eyed Monster-heavy “sci-fi” blockbusters that sought to ape the success of 1933’s King Kong.’
So that’s an interesting takeaway for modern fans of SF. It suggests science fiction is at an intersectional point – where SF creators wearied of lightweight blockbuster SF that was heavy on the special effects and light on the ideas – we’re rushing toward a reboot of that same era as people grow tired of Star Wars and Marvels’ ‘magic punching people.’
When Was the Golden Age of Scifi?
Depends on who you ask. Some say the literary Golden Age of Scifi began as early as 1937, others say it was the 50s. Others still believe that there are three separate Golden Age eras of scifi, but most agree that the literary Golden Age ended some time in the 1960s. However, the golden age of scifi movies seems to be 1968-1984.
I would argue that it started almost ten years earlier with movies like On the Beach. So many formative science fiction films from that era, movies from 2001 to E.T. launched in that era, and their emotional impacts continue to echo through 2021.
In fact, some say ‘Golden Age’ scifi isn’t related to a specific time frame at all. They feel the Golden Age relates to the reader, somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14, ‘when you’re looking for answers, looking to absorb reality, looking to make sense of it, and looking for something else, too.’
As you can see, lots to unpack when answering the question: ‘What is Golden Age Scifi?’ We’ve started by discussing identifying marks, influential people, and specific time periods. In the second half of this piece, we’ll talk about what makes Golden Age Scifi unique, and how it ended up saving the world. Stay tuned!
Click Here to Read Part Two [Coming Soon]