The Golden Age of Science Fiction

Although people will tell you otherwise, the comment that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12 was supposedly said by fan Peter Graham (according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

For me that means 1964/5. At that time I was indeed reading lots of writing from the “official” Golden Age of 1938 to 1946. The time giants like Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke were t the peak of their powers and transforming SF from its twin US heritages of adventure stories and Gernsback’s gadget based tales to something which used science as a way of exploring our place in the universe as human beings. The spaceships, robots and aliens were there but often as a metaphor of the way we deal with society and each other and the characters and their social interaction -as well as the societies and politics they inhabited – were more realistic. The adventure was still there but in plots that had a resonance for wider society.

I was also reading lots of mainstream fiction, and a lot of books aimed at my age like Billy Bunter, Jennings, and Molesworth. In many ways, those tales of jolly japes in the dorms of a minor public school were as alien to my everyday life living on Tyneside as stories of life in the future.

The period of science fiction I embraced most completely was the New Wave of the mid to late 60s and early 70s. This was partly because of availability – there were no dedicated bookshops in South Shields – a few shelves upstairs in the T&G Allen store and some carousels in newsagents. I had to get on my bike and cycle to Sunderland or Newcastle to access a wider stock. Other sources were Woolworths – which had a lot of cheap US imports shipped as ballast – and “adult” bookshops which drew their window dressing from the same source. A lot of these volumes were from Ace including the new Ace Science Fiction Specials which opened my eyes to Zelazny, Delany, Le Guin, Lafferty, Ellison and others. You could also get the occasional US science fiction magazine.

UK publishers such as Sphere and Panther had also embraced both the US and UK new waves and Panther’s “Best of New Worlds” series and the Judith Merril “Best SF” series by Mayflower also widened my reading. This was exciting in the same way some of the veterans of the Golden Age and just after like Farmer and Leiber were exciting and the best of that generation had also embraced the new freedoms to write some of their best work. At the same time Lin Carter was resurrecting semi forgotten fantasy writers at Ballantine in an attempt by the publishers to find the next Tolkein and Penguin’s Modern Classics grey spines had allowed me to discover Peake, Vian, the Beats and many more.

When I went to University in Manchester, discussions with people like Savoy founder David Britton at his House on the Borderland and Orbit Books introduced me to even more great writers including Jarry and Lautreamont and I was able to fill gaps in my library with books by authors I loved that never received UK publication. Plus the occasional trip to London to visit Dark They Were and Golden Eyed and Compendium.


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