The Gunn Center For the Study of Science Ficion at the University of Kansas was founded in 1982 by James E. Gunn. Gunn was a professor at the University and offered one of the first courses in the study of science fiction as early as 1969. Annually, the institute presents both the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. They offer vast resources of science fiction books, articles and videos.
James E. Gunn
Recently, I acquired the Literature of Science Fiction Film series produced by James E. Gunn in the early 1970s. Gunn collaborated on the idea with Gordon Dickson in 1969 at the World Science Fiction Convention in St. Louis and the plan was to produce 18 videos to be used as course content for high schools and universities. The full scope of the project was never realized due to lack of funding, but eventually it did produce ten high-quality interviews with and lectures by major science fiction authors of the time. These have added to the wealth of scholastic material in the science fiction genre and have produced much discussion and critical response over the years. This series is available for purchase on DVD through the Gunn Center for the Study of Science fiction at The University of Kansas.
The parties featured in these videos are the movers and shakers of science fiction from the Golden Age through the New Wave periods. Combined, their contribution to the science fiction genre, not only through their writing, but their work as editors, literary agents and critical commentators, is unmatched and their insight into this period is invaluable.
Forrest Ackerman, the ultimate fan of science fiction, started the first Boy's Science Fiction Club in 1930, attended the 1st World's Science Fiction Convention in 1939 and there sparked what would become Cosplay by publically sporting the first noted futuristic costume. He was an early member of the Science Fiction League in Los Angeles. He published around 50 stories collaborating with other science fiction greats like Donald Wollheim and A. E. Van Vogt. Ackerman represented hundreds of authors as a literary agent and served to inspire writers, artists and film makers. Further, he encouraged immersion into the science fiction genre through continual support of its fandom and promotion of its history. James E. Gunn chose him to give a lecture on science fiction films, an ideal topic considering Ackerman appeared in more than 200 movies and was widely known for his understanding and critical study of the industry.
Forrest Ackerman and John Astin
Ackerman goes over the highlights of science fiction films from the very early days until around the 1960s. He does touch on films as late as 1968, mentioning 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it is clear from his speech that his love is really the earlier works. The innovation and creativity during this time of film production is fascinating and Ackerman provides his listeners with a cavalcade of personalities whose work is truly stellar, advising us to seek them out and study them. He also counsels that it is time to see some of the great works of science fiction in film. Following is a brief excerpt from his lecture.
"...experts estimate that a figure approaching 2500 is the number of films which the sf cineastes would agree on as having been produced during the first seven decades of the 20th century.
2500 films! - but how many classics, how many even based on magazine stories or books? How much richer the past history of sf films could've been had producers reached into the pages of Astounding and Galaxy Magazine, the minds of men like Asimov, and Van Vogt, and Frederik Pohl.
Quality and box office are not entities alien to each other. Artistic successes can also be financial successes. The time is long past when we should already have seen Brave New World, Looking Backward, R.U.R, The Vicarion, The World Below, Ralph 124C41+, To Walk The Night, Sinister Barrier, Slan, The World of Null-A, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, Odd John, half of Heinlein, a lot of Sturgeon and Weinbaum, and Stapledon and Van Vogt and Campbell and even much more of H. G. Wells. Pioneers of basic ideas of science fiction, like Ray Cummings, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, have been shamefully neglected, their works overlooked, when themes they either originated or perfected frequently were scripted by late-comers or nonentities not even associated with the field.
Study the best of the past-
Fritz Lang, for imaginative interpretation of his written material.
Jack Pierce, for the ultimate in makeup.
Boris Karloff, for integrity of performances.
George Pal, for subject matter.
James Whale, for direction.
Carl Freund, for camera work.
Marcel Delgado, for prehistoric life models.
Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen, for animation.
Kenneth Strickfaden, for electrical laboratories.
Max Steiner, for musical scores."
In his 50+ years of science fiction obsession, Ackerman amassed over 300,000 pieces of memorabilia in his California mansion. For a brief look into this collection, which was liquidated upon his death in 2008, you can reference Season 8, episode 36 of Visiting with Huell Howser, titled Ackermansion. This episode aired in PBS in 2000 and features a tour of Ackerman's home, highlighting every imaginable model, prop and movie poster from science fiction film history.
Forrest Ackerman and Ed O'Ross inside the Ackermansion
Damon Knight, known as one of the first critics of science fiction, speaks about the early days of the genre. He correctly states that it is difficult to trace the actual origin of science fiction because the definition of what the genre encompasses is hazy. Literary writers from the dawn of fiction have written stories about people traveling to the moon, but this in and of itself doesn't really constitute science fiction. Knight tells us that: "science fiction is based on an assumption of a dynamic universe governed by natural law; a dynamic universe as opposed to a static or a cyclical universe of classical times, and gathered by natural law rather than by the whims of the gods." Without this, we are really reading works of the supernatural, not science.
Damon does not touch on the works of Edward Page Mitchell in his lecture, though this can be forgiven considering Mitchell's relative obscurity and his lack of presence in any prominent magazine or paperback publishing house. Instead, Knight focuses on the tried and true stalwarts of sf origins, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley. These are all reasonable authors to pin the earliest works of science fiction on as they were making headway in an era where few authors were approaching the subject.
Damon Knight, 1973
"In 1848, here in this cottage, in what is now part of greater New York, a sick discouraged young writer named Edgar Alan Poe wrote Mellonta Tauta, a story about a balloon trip in the year 2848, 1000 years in the future. This story is satire of a not particularly subtle kind: it's in the form of a letter dated April 1st. But it is satire laid in a changed future rather than a remote country, and the first such story that I know of. Alan Poe's predictions in this story are magnetic engines and the trans-Atlantic cable, which he imagines being laid on floating platforms. In this little story I think we see the first unequivocal appearance of the idea that the future will be essentially different from the past; the idea of irreversible social changes brought about by changes in technology. In this sense, even though every one of Poe's predictions was wrong, Mellonta Tauta is modern science fiction, and Jules Verne's stories, which are full of amazingly accurate forecasts, are not.
And still this was not quite what we mean by science fiction because it was too cautious in forecasting technological change and because it did not take into account any social change at all. For that, after Poe, we have to wait a few years for the first scientific romances of H. G. Wells. For all practical purposes, what we now call science fiction was Wells' invention. Between 1894 and 1908 he wrote nine novels and 24 short stories in which he set forth nearly every one of the major themes that have kept science fiction going ever since. The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The First Man on the Moon, The Star, The New Accelerator, and so many more. He described tanks in a story called The Land Ironclads published in 1903; he predicted the atomic bomb in 1908 in a novel called The War in the Air; in The Story of the Days to Come and in The Sleeper Wakes he described a megalopolis of the future - something that hasn't quite happened yet, but we can see it coming, and it's horrifying."
All of this of course, led to the beginnings of the science fiction genre with Hugo Gernsback in the 1920s. Gernsback's forays into the popularization of science fiction were based in his extreme interest in invention and gadgetry and the promotion of science. As has been stated in other pieces, Gernsback's largest and most critical contribution to science fiction was his encouragement of fandom. Knight states:
"Another thing that happened that could not conceivably have happened without Gernsback was that science fiction readers began to grope into contact with each other: they wrote letters to the magazines praising their favorite authors and discussing their work; then using the addresses on these letters they actually began to correspond and even meet. They formed clubs and organized conventions; they published amateur magazines, hectographed or mimeographed in those days, full of amateur fiction and artwork. A complete collection of these magazines from the '20s to the present would probably fill a fair-sized swimming pool.
This is something that has never happened with any other kind of category fiction. Western readers do not get together and moon over Zane Grey, for instance. It's more reminiscent of sports or movie fandom; and yet, not quite like either, because the science fiction fans, although somewhat boy-faced, are intelligent and highly articulate. And this too has had an indelible influence on the field, because out of the ranks of these fans began to come professionals who devoted their working lives to science fiction."
The early days of science fiction under Gernsback were certainly critical, but in hindsight, only established a base for the genre. It was after Gernsback that science fiction began to bloom. Isaac Asimov was asked to speak about science fiction post 1938. As he mentions in his lecture, this year was a turning point in sf history. At Astounding, John W. Campbell, Jr. took over the editorial post occupied by F. Orlin Tremaine in 1937. By 1938, he had finally exhausted the inventory that had been built up during his predecessor's reign. Tremaine often published stories without reading them, and allowed these to be much abridged and edited from their original form. This scheme led to confusing and truncated stories which were peppered with incongruent action to keep the reader engaged. Mainly though, before Campbell, sf was lacking in scientific plausibility. Campbell himself was a physicist and had very clearly defined views of what science fiction should be. He encouraged and inspired an entire new generation of writers to emphasize science in their writing, spent endless hours wading through incoming stories and writing detailed analysis and suggestions back to the authors. The effect of Campbell's efforts turned the pulp industry on its head, producing more and higher quality science fiction than had ever been seen before.
"As a result, a flood of new writers came in beginning in 1938 and through the early '40s. Of these by all odds the most important and the one who most nearly gave his personal flavor to the times was Robert A. Heinlein. His first story was published in the August 1939 issue of Astounding Stories; it was called Lifeline. And instantly, instantly he became a favorite with the readers. And from then through 1942 he dominated Astounding, and Astounding dominated the field as few single authors and single magazines have ever been able to dominate the magazine field. Heinlein is still an important writer, still a major talent.
Young Robert A. Heinlein
Heinlein and those like him were indeed engineer-oriented: Heinlein himself had gone to Annapolis and was an engineer. Van Vogt was another author - A. E. Van Vogt - who gave great flavor to what we might call the Campbell era. Now, he was not a scientist; and this shows how easily one can make categories that are not really accurate. It is not possible to say that in 1938 all the earlier romantic adventure pulp - and I stress that I'm not using the word "pulp" in a derogatory sense - vanished and that in its place came along only Heinlein-type engineer-oriented stories. For one thing there, Heinlein couldn't write enough, and other writers weren't as good as he was; and you couldn't fill a magazine with that alone. And if you wanted to, it wouldn't work anyway, because nothing is so good that will please all by itself. And as a matter of fact, even after 1938 you had the colorful adventure story of the previous era continuing."
Of course, Heinlein went on to influence the science fiction industry for many decades, adding to the genre until well after his death in 1988. His works inspired countless writers, spawned a religion, popularized the practical possibility of space exploration and served as an example to generations of scientists and engineers. His works, in this reader's opinion, are unique and ground-breaking, if not always palatable in a social sense.
A.E. Van Vogt was a bird of a very different feather and while his work is considered to be extremely influential to later writers, criticism of these same pieces is much divided. Whereas Heinlein produced works which were vastly different than preceding stories during the Campbellian period, Van Vogt represented a true transition from the Gernsbackian era. His works are a blend of dream-like, chaotic, high-adventure realities and realities dictated by science. His use of science doesn't always stand to reason though and can often cause reader confusion. If however, one is able to dismiss the continual conflicts with the way the world *actually* works scientifically and can instead achieve immersion into the story, one can see the vast interlocking plots and creative story-lines that he has produced. Most notably, Van Vogt was a primary influence for Philip K. Dick. In an interview with Arthur Byron Cover for Vertex in 1974, Dick remarks:
"I started reading sf when I was about twelve and I read all I could, so any author who was writing about that time, I read. But there's no doubt who got me off originally and that was A.E. van Vogt. There was in van Vogt's writing a mysterious quality, and this was especially true in The World of Null A. All the parts of that book did not add up; all the ingredients did not make a coherency. Now some people are put off by that. They think that's sloppy and wrong, but the thing that fascinated me so much was that this resembled reality more than anybody else's writing inside or outside science fiction."
Ray Bradbury, A. E. Van Vogt and Jack Williamson
Of course, while Campbell inspired the Golden Age of science fiction and hosted a large, prolific stable of authors who would become its biggest, most well-known names, he didn't do it all alone. Unquestionably, Campbell's success at Astounding contributed to the popularization of science fiction by creating *competition* among the magazines. Asimov speaks to this as well.
"In any case, what Campbell had done was to create a science fictional world that was very largely a consensus: not everybody wrote in the Campbell background; those who didn't, didn't always write. But the most remarkable stories of the period did create a world of computers, of trips to outer space, of missiles, of a science-important culture. As a matter of fact, the science fictional world of the 1940s was very like in many respects the real world of the 1960s, to the point where to those of us who remember the golden age, we are now living in a science fictional world, in one which Campbell's science fiction did significantly succeed in creating. In other words, no one is going to say that science fiction readers brought a man to the moon all by themselves, but we can say that the kind of science fiction that was published in 1940 helped prepare the public for the acceptance of programs to take a man to the moon. Many of the people involved in it undoubtedly did read science fiction; many of the people involved in it were influenced one way or another by science fiction, even if they hadn't read it. And so we in a real sense, we science fiction writers and readers helped create the present world...
...There were several reasons for this: in the first place, science fiction did increase and intensify, but not in the magazine direction. In the late '40s and early '50s the hardcover publishers began to put out science fiction novels. Science fiction began to appear with increasing frequency in softcovers, the paperbacks. And there were new magazines: one, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, originally just The Magazine of Fantasy, appeared in 1949; and another, Galaxy, appeared in 1950. The former was under the editorship of J. Francis McComas and Anthony Boucher; the second was under the editorship of Horace Gold. Both represented reactions to Campbell's Astounding. In both cases there was a greater tendency to dismiss the engineering aspect of science fiction. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction emphasized literary quality, style - the mere fact that they had the word "fantasy" in the title showed that they were less interested strict science fiction. Horace Gold was interested in more in the reaction to scientific advance than to the scientific advance itself, which made in some cases for more sophisticated stories. For instance, Wyman Guin wrote a story called Beyond Bedlam, which described a world in which schizophrenia was handled by allowing everybody to have more than one personality alternately in their bodies; Alfred Bester wrote The Demolished Man, an extraordinarily interesting novel and an unusual one which detailed the kind of society that would follow if telepathy were commonplace; Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth published their novel Gravy Planet, which was eventually, which eventually appeared in book form as Space Merchants, in which a detailed picture of an overcrowded society in which advertising was dominant, was pictured.
These were not Campbell-type stories. Once again, the center of interest had moved away from scientists themselves towards society. It wasn't back to the adventurous hero; it was towards society. Science fiction became even more socially significant. And Campbell's Astounding, while continuing to be the most successful single magazine in the field, was no longer unchallenged. Now and to the present day there are three important magazines in the field, which maintaining the position it started with: Astounding Science Fiction has changed its name to Analog. Galaxy has had a number of editors, as has had The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but in both cases the original orientation is essentially still there."
In another piece in this film series, Gunn interviews Jack Williamson about the early days of the pulp magazine. Williamson is ideally positioned to discuss this period as he sold his first story to Hugo Gernsback when he was only 20 and continued to publish for more than six decades. His unique and first-hand insight into the evolution of science fiction through the magazine pulp years is incredibly interesting and critical to a complete understanding of this period.
James Gunn and Jack Williamson, 1975
Following is a portion of this interview:
Gunn: "It was in the early '30s that the Clayton Magazines founded Astounding. And you sold some stories to that magazine too."
Williamson: "Yes. Harry Bates was the first editor. The original title of the magazines was Astounding Stories of Superscience. And they, Harry Bates was a good editor in that he paid well - he paid 2 cents a word; he had a definite formula; he encouraged writers. The word "formula" has a bad ring, but I don't think it's altogether bad: that is, Clayton had a chain of pulp magazines, and Astounding had to fit the pattern of the chain. And this meant... well, plotted stories, shaped stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but the action had to be motivated - it had to get somewhere. There was a reason for things. And I think this was, writing for Astounding was good and encouraged a writer to achieve a sense of form and direction, even though the pulp formula itself was narrow, limited."
1st Issue of Astounding Stories of Super-Science - Harry Bates, Editor
Harry Bates' career with Astounding was short lived as he only served as editor from 1930 until 1933 when Clayton went bankrupt and sold the magazine to Street & Smith. His time at the head of the magazine did influence its infancy though. He was not really a fan of science fiction itself and believed the stories were poorly written. His philosophy was that the science fiction stories needed to be exciting and plot driven, but not necessarily accurate. He did publish Murray Leinster and Jack Williamson though, and while their stories were not fully matured at this time, they were pioneering in the field.
Gunn and Williamson continue their discussion of early editors in the following excerpt.
Gunn: "To get back to some of the earlier editors, some names that I recall, people like T. O'Conor Sloane in the early days of Amazing Stories, and F. Orlin Tremaine. Did you know anything of them?"
Williamson: "Well, Sloane was I think, the son-in-law of Thomas Alva Edison. I didn't actually meet him, though he was there. But I feel that he was a pretty passive, inactive editor. Tremaine I met, knew; I feel that he was an excellent editor in that he was interesting, he was dynamic, he had a goal for the magazine, he planned things for it and carried them through. And he was exciting to work with in the same way that Wright was and that John Campbell was later and that Horace Gold always was for the people who worked for him."
Gunn: "His successor in 1937 was John W. Campbell, Jr. What were your relationships with Campbell? Did he write to you? Did you write to him?"
Williamson: "Well, I was already writing for the magazine. And I met Campbell about the time he came in, if not earlier, and..."
Gunn: "It was 1937."
Williamson: "Yes. And I continued sending him stories. Campbell liked the most of them; and later he suggested ideas. He was a creative mind with a sense of direction, and he was a man who inspired and led writers and who made the magazine what he wanted. And it was something different. Tremaine had not been a scientist in the sense that Campbell was - he didn't have the same sense of science and direction. And so that Campbell, with a special, let's say dream or the role of science and the shape of the future and so forth, energized or inspired a new group of writers, such as Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, L. Ron Hubbard, A. E. Van Vogt, Ted Sturgeon."
T. O'Conor Sloane was editor of Amazing Stories from 1929-1938, when it was sold to Ziff-Davis, but he was involved with the origin of the magazine with Hugo Gernsback as well. While serving as editor, he published 1st works by Jack Williamson, E. E. "Doc" Smith and John W. Campbell, Jr. His reputation as an editor was less than stellar as he was known for losing manuscripts, paying poorly (if at all) and publishing plagiarized works. Sloane's lethargic treatment of science fiction was likely a result of his lack of faith in its promise as a genre and as an accurate predictor of future potentials. He was not a "believer" like Gernsback and many other editors were. He was an educated man though, holding a PhD and working as a professor of Natural Sciences at Seton Hall University. Despite his spotty reputation as an editor, his technical publications were used as course books for many years.
Tremaine worked for Astounding after their transition from Clayton to Street & Smith. He nursed the magazine through its youth and set the stage for Campbell to take over in 1937. As mentioned previously, he didn't have a great reputation for being hands-on with the work and often his actions resulted in horribly edited pieces being published, but unlike Sloane, Tremaine was a supporter of science fiction in general. He published his own stories under pseudonyms Warner Van Lorne and Orlin Frederick.
Tremaine's work helped establish Astounding as the magazine with innovation, as opposed to Amazing Stories, for instance, which published less diverse works. He sought unique, groundbreaking submissions which provided insight and creativity. In his editorial from January 1936, Tremaine addresses this particular point.
"The creation of an interesting magazine of fiction requires the intelligent incorporation of many elements. You and I have seen magazines become monotonous because of SAMENESS. That is the danger which is constant to any magazine where the man who occupies the editor's chair is not an editor - and there are many such.
If one story appeals UNANIMOUSLY to a reading audience as GREAT, I feel it my duty to avoid another story similar in style and background, lest the very things that made the first appeal destroy the value of BOTH as interesting reading.
If the story contains the germ of a new and thought-provoking idea, I am prejudiced in its favor. Thus I classify "The Isotope Men" with its superscientific projection of actual isotope experimentation; and "Strange City" with its intriguing electrical "life transfer" which links closely to the theory of life held by the late Thomas Edison.
To balance this presentation of idea stories, we seek and find an imaginative science-adventure in "Smothered Seas." To complete the balance "Blue Magic" carries on. And the spaceways are represented, and the distant planets, and psychological science - in the shorts.
Thus a magazine is made, keened, and put together. Stories as foils for stories. Contrasts set to emphasize contrasts. Varied interests carefully spaced so as not to pall by their sameness."
Williamson does mention two other major editors from the era: Farnsworth Wright of Weird Tales and Horace Gold of Galaxy Science Fiction. Weird Tales was the true pioneer of speculative magazine fiction and began its life being published by Jacob Henneberger and edited by Edwin Baine in March of 1923, even before Amazing Stories. Wright began his career with Weird Tales as Banie's assistant, sorting through the slush-pile for appropriate submissions. He also contributed several stories of his own through 1923 and 1924. After H. P. Lovecraft turned down the position of editor, Wright accepted the job. He took the position in 1924 and spent much of that year flushing the work accepted by Baine through the magazine before he was in charge of its content.
Unlike later speculative fiction magazines, which would focus on science fiction, Weird Tales centered on fantasy and horror. Under Wright's leadership it published 1st works by Edmond Hamilton, C. L. Moore and Tennessee Williams. It relied heavily on regular contributors, Seabury Quinn, Robert Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. After Amazing Stories established a competitive atmosphere in the industry, Weird Tales turned to risqué covers to gain attention by utilizing the artwork of Margaret Brundage. (Brundage's covers would go on to be sought after and collected by fans). Losing main contributors Robert E. Howard (creator of the Conan stories) and H.P. Lovecraft, in 1936 and 1937 respectively, crippled the magazine. Wright himself suffered from ongoing health issues from Parkinson's Disease. He continued as lead editor until he stepped down in 1940 due to complications from his illness and passed away just a few weeks later.
Farnsworth Wright and Illustrator C. C. Senf in Chicago
The November 1940 issue of Weird Tales contains a tribute to Wright in its letters section, written by close friend and contributor Seabury Quinn.
"Like everyone who has long been a reader of or contributor to Weird Tales, I was greatly shocked and grieved at the news of Farnsworth Wright's passing. Any one who has read Weird Tales must have been impressed by his thorough knowledge of weird literature, his complete understanding of the great background of folk lore, superstition and comparative religion from which such literature is drawn, and his nice sense of discrimination in selecting the cream of such stories by modern authors to carry on the tradition of the Georgian and early Victorian masters of Gothic tales. Helped and encouraged by his expert criticism and kindly advice a whole generation of writers has developed, and though many of these have "graduated" to other media of expression, none, I am sure, will ever forget the debt he owes to Farnsworth Wright. There is today hardly a writer of fantasy whose success does not date from the encouragement he received from Mr. Wright, and there is certainly no one engaged in creative work who ever dealt with Farnsworth Wright who does not think kindly of him.
We knew him as a cultured gentlemen, a charming host, an incomparably congenial companion, and a true and loyal friend. His steadily failing health caused us all concern, but his courage and resolution were so great that none of us realized how near the great beyond he was. His cheerful letters lulled us into a sense of false optimism, and when news of his death came out our surprise was almost equal to our grief.
As for his abilities, his work provides the finest monument possible. In the old files of Weird Tales can be read the biography of a man whose genius made possible a magazine which was and is truly unique. As to his epitaph: If it be true that in imitation lies the sincerest form of flattery, Farnsworth Wright has been eloquently acclaimed. When he assumed the editorial chair of Weird Tales almost twenty years ago he was a lone adventurer setting out to bring a highly specialized form of entertainment to the reading public. A recent issue of Author & Journalist lists twenty-two magazines devoted exclusively to fantasy of pseudo-scientific fiction. Could any greater or more sincere compliment be paid to his vision or work?"
Horace Gold came much after Farnsworth Wright, and for an entirely different magazine, but like Wright, Gold pushed the genre forward into unknown territories. He began his science fiction career as an author, publishing his first story with F. Orlin Tremaine in Astounding. He continued to publish fiction in several pulp magazines until assuming the Assistant Editor position for Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories in 1939. He wrote scripts for comics such as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Drafted into the military in 1944, Gold served until he was discharged 2 years later. The experience left him agoraphobic and for the rest of his life he would conduct the majority of work from his apartment.
Robert Silverberg, A. E. Van Vogt, Horace and E. J. Gold
After the war, Campbell was experiencing difficulty at Astounding and was, to some extent, losing his competitive edge to other publications. This was a result of Campbell's strongly held personal beliefs and his inability to compartmentalize them. Campbell editorials are legendary and did serve to alienate some readers and authors. Around 1950, Gold was hired by World Editions to launch Galaxy Science Fiction. Instead of striving for pure scientific accuracy, Gold sought speculative fiction which focused on social issues. Galaxy published its inaugural issue in October of 1950 and boasted some of the biggest names in the field: Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, Isaac Asimov and Richard Matheson. Before turning over the helm of Galaxy to Frederik Pohl in 1961, Gold would bring the science fiction reader The Demolished Man (Alfred Bester), The Fireman (Ray Bradbury) and The Puppet Masters (Robert Heinlein). Despite living his life in seclusion, Gold made major contributions to the science fiction field through expert editing and his congenial relationship with its prominent authors.
Few authors had careers so long, varied and involved in science fiction as did Frederik Pohl. He has been editor of Galaxy Science fiction, Worlds of If and Worlds of Tomorrow. He has produced a wealth of stories, novelettes and novels, both solo and in collaboration with other major authors of the time such as C. M. Kornbluth, Arthur C. Clarke and Jack Williamson. He was a self-educated genius with an incredibly innovative and creative mind. His nonfiction contributions to criticism, fandom and the history of science fiction are also awe inspiring. His blog The Way the Future Blogs provides insight, anecdotes and history of his time in the field of writing and I cannot emphasize enough how great this site is.
Frederik Pohl, 1973
In a 2008 interview with Vice, Liz Armstrong states: "Screw Ray Bradbury and all his Midwestern sci-fi fame and glory. It's great that he gets all moony over rolling fields of grass, and sure he's a jolly read, but his characters never really tickle danger. Where's the fucking, the profanity, the evil? It's a bad gimmick, but what the hell, why not even toss in a random alien-zapping dickwad once in a while? He's not writing sci-fi, he's writing fantasy. For elementary school children. When Chicago declared a couple years ago that April 15 was officially Ray Bradbury Day, why was there no looting and rioting? Bradbury's a longtime Californian, first of all, and second, he's no Frederik Pohl." Pohl was editing magazines before he was 20 and from there went on to represent basically every major author in science fiction though the 1950s. He was responsible for pitching Isaac Asimov's first published story Pebble in the Sky.
Gunn chose Pohl to speak to the subject of ideas in science fiction. It was an ideal choice as his own personal works are littered with groundbreaking concepts and his long-lasting position as an editor, literary agent and anthologist provided him with a wealth of knowledge on the subject. In his lecture on this topic, Pohl discusses utopias and anti-utopias and gives examples of each: Swift's Gulliver's Travels vs. Well's When the Sleeper Wakes and The Time Machine. He provides instances of what he refers to as "eschatological fiction" with Cordwainer Smith and C. S. Lewis. At the end of his lecture, Pohl chooses to center on the idea of what science fiction really is in its most basic definition. Following is an excerpt.
" We, human beings, are after all mammalian, biped, vertebrate, warm-blooded animals. We live on a planet that has a certain chemical composition; we breathe a certain particular kind of a mixture of gases; we're used to certain ranges of temperatures; we feel a specific acceleration of gravity every day of our lives. But every indication we now have is that we're not alone in the universe: some scientists have guessed that in our own galaxy alone there may be some 63 million other planets that are capable of harboring life, and experiments that have been conducted with tanks of gas like the primitive atmosphere of earth radiated with the kind of radiation that then reached us from the sun seemed to show that where life is possible, it will develop automatically and inevitably. And what we know of genetics and evolution seems to show that if life once begins, it will proceed towards something in an advanced state which may include intelligence. So as a gambling bet, it seems a pretty good probability that somewhere or other there are races like ours in at least that they display what we call intelligence and have developed what we call science and live in what we call civilizations. But they may not be in a physical or chemical sense like us at all.
Science fiction is our principal mode of discussing these possible aliens, and science fiction stories often use them to show us some aspect of the truth about ourselves which we might not otherwise suspect. How much of our religion and our social laws and our habits, for example, derive from the fact that we're liveborn and need protection for the first years of our lives? What would these customs be like if we were, as some extraterrestrial creatures somewhere may be, something like the sea urchin whose mother casts 100 million eggs at random into the sea, and whose father fertilizes them by chance as he passes by, and who never sees either of them except by the most unlikely chance at any time in his life? What sort of a god would an intelligent sea urchin worship? What sort of a government would he obey? And what do these thoughts tell us about the nature of our own religions and societies?...
.There are many definitions of science fiction, and I have no particular fondness for any of them, because the best of them seem too rigid - they try to describe a field which has as its principal virtue the characteristic of growing and changing. When I was editing Galaxy Magazine, I had a definition of science fiction which went, "A science fiction story is that story which I can publish in Galaxy without causing readers to cancel their subscriptions", but clearly that's a definition which would change in time.
But one can say of at least some kinds of science fiction that they promote conceptual thinking as distinct from the crude calculation that's enough to get most of us through daily lives. And they help us to prepare for the violent cultural shocks that the accelerating rate of change of modern society is throwing at us every day, not so much by warning us of what will happen as by leading us to think in terms of consequences and future developments.
So science fiction, you see, is not only about trips to Mars or giant man-eating cockroaches rising from the sea; it is about man himself, not only man as he is but as he might be and as he can become. Man is the thinking animal, and the toolusing animal, and the time-binding animal; and these are the things that science fiction is about."
As an example of the unique ideas which surface through science fiction authors, Pohl cites the work of C. S. Lewis, Cordwainer Smith and personal contributions including Wolfbane (written with C. M. Kornbluth) and Day Million.
C.S. Lewis is mainly known for his Chronicles of Narnia series, but he also produced several other works of considerable power and imagination. Lewis was a Christian Apologist and many of his writings center on the subjects of sin and morality. Particularly worthy of mentioning when discussing science fiction is The Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. Despite the backdrop of space flight and traveling to other planets, the essentials of these novels do deal with morality and support Christian beliefs and encounters with the supernatural. His writing is eloquent, and aside from what some readers believe is overwhelming Christian content, the style and story definitely are impressive. Also well respected for his literary criticism, Lewis was invited to participate in the first issue of SF Horizons a journal of science fiction criticism edited by Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison.
Cordwainer Smith (Paul Lineberger)
Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger) is another author whose ideas are vivid and whose writing is thick with innovative concepts. His story Scanners Live In Vain was rejected by Astounding in 1945 because it was too eccentric. It was later published in Fantasy Book and that could have been the end of his publishing career had the story not been observed by Fred Pohl. Pohl is quoted as saying: "There was too great a wealth of color and innovation and conceptually stimulating thought in Scanners for me to believe for one second that it was the creation of any but a top master in science fiction. It was not only good. It was expert. Even excellent writers are not usually that excellent the first time around" Pohl was so enamored with the work that he reprinted it in 1952 in an anthology titled Beyond the End of Time.
Over the years, Smith produced a small collection of important works, but these are profound and carry a surreal, psychotic quality. They deal with humankind thousands of years in the future. Humans of this age have lost many of the behaviors and mores we would be familiar with now. In this distant future there exists a governmental organization with vast reach called the Instrumentality of Mankind. He imagines also that humankind reaches a state of perfection and rather than resting on their laurels, they are suffering from boredom and stagnation. Therefore they make a deliberate decision to introduce risk and uncertainty into their lives. Smith's writing was so far ahead, so unlike anything produced before or after, that it takes multiple readings and much thought to absorb.
Pohl also mentions what is called "eschatological" science fiction - meaning that science fiction which deals with the ultimate destiny of humankind. Stapledon'sLast and First Man is a prime (and classic example) of this type of fiction, but sf is littered with others as well. In 1956, James Blish published Art-Work. Scientists in this story recreate the personality of a man long dead and place it in a new body. In 1969, Bob Shaw produced The Palace of Eternity in which the main character's "soul" travels along an astral plane. In a sf twist, this astral plane is the same dimension used by spaceships when they enter hyperspace. Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Gordon Dickson, Harlan Ellison, and most especially Robert Silverberg have all had a hand in this type of fiction. Not always scientifically credible and sometimes dogmatic in their themes, these works can often produce some of the most abstract and thought provoking concepts.
It's the ideas in science fiction which shape it as a genre. Of course there is the backdrop of space flight, universe exploration, aliens and alternate histories, but it's the extensive look at humanity - what it is, what it would look like to an outside element and what it could become which carries so much interest and provokes such thought.
Ideas are expressed by utilizing themes, or mechanisms, to make a point. Themes in science fiction can vary widely, but there are many stalwart ones which crop up over and over. Some examples would be: the mad scientist, out-of-control technology, time travel, wild invention, space exploration and war or a catastrophe which causes sudden stress on Earth and potentially the end of humanity. Gordon Dickson and James Gunn have a conversation regarding these themes.
Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, Lester and Judy-Lynn Del Rey, 1975
One of the things that makes science fiction so unique is the genre's ability to make the reader stretch their imagination; remove the comfortable presumptions of the way the world works and force a reader into a different situation, producing critical thought and consideration of human potentials and technological implications. Dickson and Gunn discuss this aspect in the following excerpt.
Gunn: "What were some of the themes of science fiction which traditionally have, science fiction has dealt with, uniquely"
Dickson: "Well, there's quite a list of them. To begin with, there's the theme of far traveling: the wonders of the Earth and the universe. Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This has always been with us; and this is one of the main and early themes of science fiction."
Gunn: "In this kind of story, the reader finds himself in a place where customs are different, where change is what he must accommodate himself to."
Dickson: "That's right, where things wonderful and terrible are happening. And of course he takes this voyage from the security of his own reading chair. But if it's too real, if it's too different, if it implies a reality that may come to pass, again it frightens him. Or it is capable of frightening him. Time travel, for example, is a case - it's all very well to think about traveling in time; it sounds rather exciting. How about going back and seeing the pyramids being built; how about going forward and seeing the wonders of the future. But you start to entertain the thought of what if somebody went back and killed your grandfather, and you never, as a result, were never born. And the concept becomes uncomfortable."
Gunn: "And then there's the time travel into the future, as in The Time Machine; and this can be just as unsettling, don't you think?"
Dickson: "Well, yes the whole idea, it's. Usually when these ideas first come out, it's, when they come on stage completely without warning, they have a tendency to frighten and attract. Usually the people who write them and read them in their original forms are people who are looking for mind stretching possibilities. But the average person tends to come back from that. For example, one of the strong themes is the wonders of science, the wonderful inventions. Here again, Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the submarine, so on, so forth. At first gasp they seem interesting. But then the question is, you know, what would happen if: what if the Nautilus should pop up out of nowhere."
As stated, plots involving time travel litter the science fiction genre. Most science fiction historians will attribute the first time travel story to H.G. Wells with the publication of The Chronic Argonauts in 1888. However, as early as 1733, Samuel Madden published Memoirs of the Twentieth Century and in 1781, Johan Herman Wessel published Anno 7603. Both of these stories use a supernatural mechanism to affect this travel. In Madden's story a guardian angel travels back to 1728 with letters from 1990s and in Wessel's story a fairy sends individuals ahead to 7063 where they find that only women can be soldiers and gender roles are reversed. As the plot lines do not use science to cause time travel though, they are more fantasy than science fiction. In 1881 though, Edward Page Mitchell anonymously published The Clock that Went Backward in The Sun. This is the first true science fiction story which uses time travel and time paradox as a plot mechanism. Nevertheless, as Mitchell published in a newspaper and didn't do so under his name, Well's gets the credit for the breakthrough.
"The mad scientist" is another much used theme throughout the genre. Of course when speaking of this, what comes to mind immediately are stories like The Invisible Man (Wells), Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stephenson) and Frankenstein (Shelley). The stories aren't always as forthright as these however. Modern incarnations of this theme can be seen in Greg Bear'sSlant and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich by Philip K. Dick.
Space travel is a continually explored concept. The discovery of new planets, new species and intelligent beings has always been the most thought provoking. It prompts the reader to look at humans from the angle of beings that have no reference for human mores and traditions. The list of stories which fall into this theme is endless, but some notable ones that should be mentioned are Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven's The Mote in God's Eye, Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves, Stanislaw Lem'sSolaris and Fredric Brown'sThe Puppet Show. The reverse of this is often explored as well: humans themselves being the aliens. Instances of this are The Wilk Are Among Us by Isidore Haiblum and Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein.
Themes and ideas in science fiction help define the genre, but plot is the driving force in any story, regardless of its type. Poul Anderson is known for his intricate and well thought out plots, especially in his Technic Civilization and his Time Patrol series. These sequences encompass dozens of works and their plotlines are intricately interlinked. As a result of Anderson's expert treatment of plot, James E. Gunn chose him to speak on the subject. The benefits of providing an excerpt from this particular film are fairly negligible as Anderson really addresses plot in a general sense. His estimation is that the basics of a good plot apply to every type of writing. More enlightening might have been a discussion on how the plots in science fiction have evolved from its birth through the new wave period.
Poul and Karen Anderson
Early science fiction during the Gernsbackian period focused on the wonders of future technology, how they would improve day to day life and provide a sustained utopia for humankind. The general populace was excited about scientific breakthroughs and public heroes were scientists like Edison, Ford and Tesla. Gernsback was infected with the same excitement and insisted that the ideas behind the science seem realistic to the reader. He was not however a highly competent editor. Most of the work submitted to Amazing was edited by other individuals and while Gernsback wanted scientifically plausible stories, the published pieces were usually not. They tended to be a cavalcade of inventions which spurred the hero through shallow crises until the magic of science saved the day. Plots were simplistic and straightforward, mainly crafted to deploy whatever technological wonder the author had dreamed up. Gernsback reprinted higher quality pieces, by Wells, Verne and Burroughs, but the incoming new material was not inventive in terms of plot mechanics.
During the Golden Age, the focus of science fiction moved away from novelty inventions and instead editors began to look for high-quality fiction with a science background. Stories also began to examine the societal impact of increased technology and exploration, rather than the breakthroughs themselves. There was an explosion in craftsmanship. Alfred Bester, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Hal Clement and many others entered the scene with profound plot development. Hal Clement especially is known for impeccable and well thought out plots. Henlein and Clarke set standards. No longer were main characters stumbling along finding invention after invention. They now took action in new environments, explored emotional and social impacts of new beings, worlds and exploration. Characterizations and backgrounds were used more heavily. These help shape and determine plot movement. Stories began to have a beginning, middle and end. During the Campbellian era plots became geared toward the hero of the story overcoming its challenge. Campbell believed strongly in human superiority and potential and had little tolerance for any other outcome.
Due to his early entry into the science fiction field, Clifford Simak is ideally positioned to discuss the evolution of science fiction. His first published story World of the Red Sun was published in Gernsback's Wonder Stories in 1931. He continued to publish in the field up until his death in 1988. Over these decades, Simak's work evolved from the adventure stories popular in the 30s to more philosophical stories which carried social messages, such as the widely-acclaimed City. Gunn chose to converse with Simak about his career. Following are some excerpts from this discussion.
Clifford D. Simak with a Hugo Award
Gunn: "In the early fiction that you did, what did you feel that you were trying to write then?"
Simak: "Well, first of course I was simply trying to write stories. I had not arrived at a point where I was giving too much stock to what I'd write: it was simply a matter of telling a story well enough that it could be sold and published."
Gunn: "Was it mainly about hard sciences, physics and astronomy, or just adventure?"
Simak: "No, I... it was more of as adventure. There might be some physics and chemistry in it, but not too much, because after all, at that time I knew even less about it than I do now; and now I don't know as much, anywhere near as much as I should."
Gunn: "Then there was I think a change in your attitude towards your work, and in the work you did in 1938 and '39. What happened, aside from the fact that you were writing for John Campbell principally?"
Simak: "I was writing for John Campbell - I wrote those stories for John Campbell, John Campbell in mind. I thought that writing for John, I'd have some freedom, and that I didn't need to stick to the mad scientist syndrome anymore. Of course there were a lot of things not mad scientist, but that was the context of the thing."
Gunn: "Then it seems to me there was another change in your, the way you began to work, about the time you wrote Time Query, wasn't it?"
Simak: "Yes, I think perhaps it was. Well, you see, writing the way I was and with the comparative freedom of the magazines that were, that was developing at that time, I was getting an awful lot of confidence. And I was then beginning to ask myself now, instead of just writing, should I begin to try to say something worthwhile? And then of course you have to go through the agony of thinking exactly what should I say, what is worthwhile saying. And I think probably Time Query was the first story in which I really tried to do that. There may have been some earlier ones, but..."
The need to "say something worthwhile" persisted through the Golden Age and into New Wave science fiction. Authors like Philip Jose Farmer, Harlan Ellison and Frank Herbert began to take serious interest in experimental fiction with more literary sensibilities. They wanted to focus not really on the technology itself, although there was plenty of that, but instead on the way humans react to the progress and their place in the universe. There was a large emergence of female writers in the genre, notably Ursula K. le Guin and James Tiptree, Jr. Critics generally state this changeover from Golden Age sf to New Wave was brought about by the publication of New Worlds in 1964, but many anthologists and authors had been pushing the envelope for many years by the time Michael Moorcock entered the scene as a writer and editor in the late 1950s.
In 1970, Gunn filmed a seminar with Harlan Ellison. Well-known and highly-acclaimed for his progressive writing style, Ellison is contentious, gregarious and a generally a force of nature. He does not like to be categorized as a science fiction writer. As a writer of literary fiction he instead insists that he occasionally frames his stories in a science fiction environment. In terms of pushing forward speculative fiction however, Ellison led the pack through the 1960s and onward. Gunn rightly chose Ellison to present a talk on new directions in science fiction. Following are excerpts from this discussion.
Harlan Ellison, 1970
Gunn: "Can you give us a couple of examples of writers who are dealing with contemporary issues in science fiction terms?"
Ellison: "Most notable to my mind right at the moment is Norman Spinrad's book Bug Jack Baron, in which he deals with the effect of McLuhan media message on masses of people; on the effects of power and the uses of power in terms of media message - power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely, all that kind of nonsense which is, you know, old hat. But he does it in the terms of the medium: I mean, the novel is written the same way you would watch a television show. I mean, it's, the medium of the book is part of the message of the book. And I think it's a very effective book.
Roger Zelazny is dealing with religion today in a very strange kind of reality-fantasy way: he is reexamining the various pantheons of gods - Hindu, Egyptian - in his various novels and bringing them up to date and speaking about them in terms of our times and their relevance therefrom, or thereto, whichever one is correct.
It's difficult trying to pin down the writers who I think personally will have powerful voices, because it's too early to know: we've only been doing this kind of thing for five or six years in the whole history of science fiction. I mean, from the beginning in 1926, science fiction writers always dealt with, you know, problems of ecology, and always dealt with problems of the culture, and always dealt with the effects of science on people, but not in this way, not with this kind of strength, not with this almost pamphleteering kind of messianic urge."
Gunn: "Where do you think things are going from here in terms of science fiction and what it has to say about the contemporary scene?"
Ellison: "I think science fiction has some strange anomalies, or anachronisms about it actually: it's beginning to use literary techniques that were outdated in the '30s, now it's beginning to use them; yet at the same time it has an imaginative content that is light years ahead of the mainstream in fiction. And I think that speculative fiction will continue to borrow the literary techniques of the mainstream, and the mainstream will kind of get a leak-off or bleed-off of imagination; and the two will merge in that way, and they will enrich each other. I think science fiction has now become an important, accepted literary medium, one with, one that's viable and that's valid."
Norman Spinrad is well known for smashing preconceptions of appropriate literary techniques. Publishing Bug Jack Baron in New Worlds sparked great controversy in Great Britain. Blazing a trail with provocative word choice, sexual content and social commentary, Spinrad produced works which espoused fully human characters, rather than the shallow, cardboard facsimiles which previously existed. He also went far into the realm of political discussion with the publication of The Iron Dream, in which Hitler is a speculative fiction writer. He has continued in this vein with later publications such as Osama the Gun, which was completely rejected by American publishers and has caused considerable backlash from critics and fans. Like him or hate him, Spinrad, like Ellison, epitomizes the New Wave author by pressing forth with brash and contentious writing.
This is not always considered a good thing though. New Wave authors tended to focus on the negative impacts of social concerns and technological development, in sharp contrast with previous science fiction literature which glorified technological advances and produced hopeful stories about the future of humankind. Jack Williamson was interviewed by Larry McCaffery in 1991 and was asked about the New Wave movement. Following is a brief excerpt from this interview.
Williamson: "New Wave fiction generally sprang from a wrong headed terror of technology and an ignorance of science. It magnified all the ugliness and terrible features of contemporary society-wars, racism, filth and crimes and drugs and pollution-and slanted its presentation against the idea of progress and the system of private enterprise. The worlds it forecast were nightmares of overpopulation, mechanized oppression, universal frustration and repression, with all this glib pessimism only thinly disguised with the "new" stylistic devices they borrowed from the modernist literary generation of Joyce and Faulkner."
McCaffery: "Did the Wave's emphasis on experimentalism and its conscious efforts to make SF more "literary" have any kind of permanent effects on the field?"
Williamson: "After it subsided-it's old hat now-it probably left us with a sharpened awareness of language and a keener interest in literary experiment. It did wash up occasional bits of beauty and power. For example, it helped launch the careers of such writers as Chip Delany, Brian Aldiss, and Harlan Ellison, all of whom seem to have gone on their own highly individualistic directions. But the key point here is that New Wave SF failed to move people. I'm not sure if this failure was due to its pessimistic themes or to people feeling the stuff was too pretentious. But it never really grabbed hold of people's imaginations."
Roger Zelazny, also mentioned by Ellison, erupted on the science fiction scene in the 1960s and thus became associated with the New Wave movement, but unlike many of his more forward peers, his work was not controversial or political in nature. Instead, Zelazny brought a wealth of literary skill and a deep ability of expression that created stories of an enduring nature. He was a word-smith of the first degree but did not explore any hard sciences. He focused on combining mythology with psychology and sociology. His work was witty and very language-driven. George R. R. Martin, a close friend of Zelazny's, had this to say in a memorial post after his death in 1995:
"He was a poet, first, last, always. His words sang.
He was a storyteller without peer. He created worlds as colorful and exotic and memorable as any our genre has ever seen."
Certainly Ellison, Zelazny, Delany, Spinrad and others changed the science fiction genre and the public's expectations regarding its legitimacy, but were unable to fully succeed in merging the genre with the mainstream. Genre fiction has routinely been disparaged by the literary world and none more so than science fiction. Early readers of this genre would find themselves purchasing contemporary magazines of the day with more "respectable" titles such as The Saturday Evening Post or Time and nesting their Amazing Stories issues inside them to cover their shame.
The word "mainstream" itself is very imprecise. It is basically used to refer to anything that isn't genre fiction: horror, fantasy, science fiction, mystery etc. Separating fiction into genres is certainly convenient for publishers and for readers, but there is no useful distinction when analyzing the works themselves. Charles Dickens' writing is no better thought out than is Frank Herbert's, so why would the literary world embrace one while rejecting the other? It really comes back to what Gordon Dickson was speaking about in his installment of this film series. The unknown, the unexpected, the unusual which is found in science fiction makes the public uncomfortable and knocks their sensibilities off-balance. The public's disdain for genre fiction began to recede with the introduction of science fiction into the film industry. Blockbuster hits like Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey broke through the barrier and injected mass appeal of futuristic ideas and speculative fantasy.
In the last installment of this film series James E. Gunn chose Grand Master John Brunner to discuss the merging of science fiction into the mainstream. Brunner began selling novels at the age of 17 and contributed several highly-provocative and influential works to the genre, namely Stand on Zanzibar, The Jagged Orbit and Shockwave Rider. He experimented with many different literary techniques and was a merciless critic. His contributions to the field of science fiction and science fiction criticism are legendary and throughout his prolific career he was honored by fans and colleagues (if not always personally liked). His broad appeal and highly varied career ideally position him to discuss this topic. Following is an from his lecture.
John Brunner, 1975
"Still, more important in the erosion of the barriers between science fiction and the rest of fiction is a rapprochement of styles, which is and has been for some years very conspicuous. On the one hand, one might sight people from outside the field, like Kurt Vonnegut and Anthony Burgess who have used science fiction themes. Equally, on the other side, one might sight people inside science fiction who have used techniques drawn from elsewhere: Jimmy Ballard in England, for example, has drawn quite heavily on stylistic effects, some of which can be traced back to Jorge Luis Borges, and many of which are reflected in contemporary poetry. Brian Aldiss has made a deliberate adaptation of Joyce's most extreme styles in the book of his called Barefoot In the Head.
And for me, this is an excellent thing. While it is true that the standard chronological narrative form has served writers whose shoestrings I am not worthy to unlatch, it is equally true that the matter and the manner must be matched in whatever kind of writing. For many years science fiction has been stylistically rather conservative. In the hands of Wells, who was not writing category sf, it was not. I think it is an extremely healthy trend that the stylistic techniques evolved in the so-called mainstream are now being applied to science fiction, just as I feel it is very healthy that writers in the mainstream are falling upon science fiction themes, and instead of treating them with the disdain which was typical perhaps as recently at 20 years ago, are according them as much intensity, as much application, and as much imagination as the more contemporary subjects, the more conventional subjects, I would say, to which they have also applied their craft..
. Well, these rather brief indications I think could be summed up by saying that so long as there is an overlap for the audience of various types of fiction, one can not possibly hope to create a definition of science fiction, pure and simple, which is any more exclusive than the traditional rain storm. For me, this is a very good thing indeed. I come to science fiction conventions; I travel to many countries; meet science fiction readers who speak diverse languages, who've read my books in Italian or Portuguese or German or Swedish; and one factor remains constant: I get feedback. I would far rather have feedback from people whose horizons are not limited by reading nothing but science fiction. It impresses me a great deal more if the person who has just said, "I like such and such a book" of mine, then proceeds to discuss poetry or the novel in general or the question of history or the question of politics, than if the person then proceeds to discuss nothing else but the work of my fellow science fiction writers. I'm a great believer in broadening horizons to the maximum possible. And I have learned the hard way that it is literally out of the question for a science fiction writer to imagine anything more extraordinary than what is bound to appear in tomorrow morning's paper.
I hope very much that under the impact of the growing interchange between category science fiction and mainstream fiction the walls of what Dale Mullen called the science fiction ghetto will finally be eroded away for good and all, because I like to go wherever my imagination takes me."
Science fiction has continued to merge into mainstream fiction, and now in the 21st century, as we enter the world only imagined in the Golden Age, it has become a respected genre. Course studies treating science fiction as literature exist at universities all over the world. The general public is well versed in science fiction themes, characters and ideas. This changeover from the early days of the genre was brought about, in large part, but the authors featured in this film series. Their combined literary skills, critical thought and exacting standards pushed sf into the hearts and minds of the masses and helped eradicate the previously imposed stigma. In producing this lecture series, James E. Gunn has captured a small portion of the intellectual contributions of Clifford Simak, Harlan Ellison, John Brunner, Poul Anderson, Fred Pohl, Forrest Ackerman, Gordon Dickson, Damon Knight, Isaac Asimov and Jack Williamson. There exist a wealth of interviews, writings, critical analysis and works of these authors that can further the study of the development of science fiction and its place in our society.