Thursday, March 7, 2019

Review: 'The Golden Age of Science Fiction'

Science Fiction had existed at least since the nineteenth century when fantasists such as Mary Shelley and Jules Verne imagined a technologically advanced, sometimes horrific future. However, the genre positively exploded during the 1950s as the world became fixated on atomic energy, UFOs, and the very real possibility of conquering space. Suddenly cinemas were overrun with little green men; pulp novels and comic books dripped with lurid images of hulking robots carrying away scantly clad damsels; the new medium of TV offered small, blurry tales of tomorrow; and at least in England, soon-to-be-extinct radio dramas hung on by spinning similar sci-fi stories.

John Wade pays tribute to the decade’s various imaginative fictions in his breezy new book The Golden Age of Science Fiction. In five chapters each devoted to radio, television, film, books, and periodicals, respectively, Wade gives a run down of the major fictions of the era. Because he is English, he offers a perspective that often strays from the most commonly discussed fictions of the fifties. Wade shines when discussing such British artifacts as Nigel “Quatermass” Kneale’s TV work (particularly since he bolsters the discussion with tidbits from his own interviews with Kneale), Dan Dare—a sort of British Buck Rogers, and British radio series such as Journey into Space. His chapters on film and long fiction are less riveting because they focus on such well-covered topics as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke and depend too much on long synopses of films and books that are more interesting to actually watch and read. Yet the author offers enough critique to give these chapters some sense of purpose.

I also liked Wade’s personal point of view, which lends a nostalgic air to this study of a particularly nostalgia-stimulating topic. Wade shares autobiographical stories of discovering science fiction as a fifties kid and the complex process of sneaking into X movies (settle down…an X rating implied something very different in the UK). Best of all is the abundance of high quality, full-color photos of pulp mag and comics covers, film posters, spectacular sculptures of the Mekon from the Dan Dare stories, Robbie the Robot, and other items that will transport you back to the fifties’ deliciously distinct vision of things to come.

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