The Golden Age of SF (Summary)

The present thesis on The Golden Age of American Science Fiction was written with the intention to give an outline of the evolution of American SF throughout the first half of the twentieth century. It focuses on the so-called Golden Age era and it is based on information gathered from reference books, the Internet, and science fiction literature of the thirties and fourties.

The delimitation of the exact time span of this era shows to be rather problematic. Some suggestions are given in the opening chapter. These are accompanied by some ideas about what it can be, and some discussion about what makes this era so exceptional as to be called the Golden Age.

Hugo Gernsback
Hugo Gernsback

The next sections outline the evolution of the American magazine SF from its very beginning in connection with the early development of the pulp market. In 1926, SF established itself as a stand-alone literary genre, owing to the effort of a single man – Hugo Gernsback. He was the founder of the very first SF magazine called Amazing Stories and many others. Several chapters deal with his editorial policy and his concept of “scientifiction”.

This concept was subject to changes in the decades to come. In the thirties, the changes were rather of an evolutionary kind, while the fourties can be referred to as having started a true revolution in the field of magazine SF (the closing chapter gives an outline of its development after World War II).

John W. Campbell, Jr.
John W. Campbell, Jr

The main focus of this thesis is the Golden Age. It gives a detailed analysis of the most common topics and aspects of magazine SF of the fourties. It deals with the evolution and the entropy, robots, aliens and alien invasions, women and sex, as well as racism. The key magazine of this era was John W. Campbell, Jr’s Astounding Science Fiction. Several chapters are devoted to its development and the gradual improvement of its literary quality. Astounding’s emphasis on hard SF is also dealt with. The analysis shows that during the Golden Age new topics were introduced into SF, the old ones being developed in new ways.

A special section deals with the most important Golden Age writers, especially with their early works, most of them being still rather unknown to Czech readers. It also deals with the way in which the Golden Age era is reflected in their writings.

As it is stated in this work, the story of  the SF genre has two highpoints, the first being Hugo Gernsback’s foundation of the first SF magazine in 1926, called the Amazing Stories; the second being Campbell’s taking over of Astounding Science Fiction. Although Gernsback defined the new genre and he created a new market for it, his effort had no effect on the quality of the genre itself. It was Campbell, who revised Gernsback’s concept of SF, that the standards of writing improved dramatically.

Not only did he manage to take over the best authors of his period, but he also developed the skills of new writers, who were to dominate the SF field in the years to come. The fourties saw SF embarking on a difficult journey to re-establish its literary status. For this reason, this era is nowadays called the Golden Age.

© Martin Diviš 2002