The Evolution of Science Fiction discussion

16 views
SF Themes: Discussions & Reads > 1950s SF Writers' Subversions

Comments Showing 1-37 of 37 (37 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) The Big Time from 1958 seemed, when I read it a little bit ago, to kinda fit.

I'm sure most people would disagree with my very loose & casual definition of "New Wave - yah, that weird stuff that's all full of itself wanting to be Literature and avant-garde and pushing against decency...." Well, I mean to say, I'm not particularly a fan of Silverberg or Spinrad or others that I've thought were of that era.

But since I've not enjoyed much published in those years, I don't mind reading what others have to say. I'm particularly curious about your choice of the cutoff dates of 1960 and 1976,.. ?


message 2: by Peter (last edited Aug 30, 2019 03:06PM) (new)

Peter Tillman | 550 comments >"The Marching Morons" (1951). By Cyril Kornbluth alone. >Expresses revulsion at suburbia and its frightening conformity.

I question this story as an example of conformity. It's a pretty gross example of SF's 1950s (and earlier) fascination with eugenics, and a pretty complete failure to understand how heredity and genetics actually work. Which is to say, poor people aren't poor because of poor genes -- they are poor because they don't have money. Doh.

Almost certainly a JW Campbell purchase: nope, H. L. Gold's Galaxy, http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cg...
NB: as a STORY it's great, even now. The blowers inside the car, so the Morons think they are going faster! Online copy: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/51233
Quote:
"The buyer looked up and rumbled, "Ain't you dummies through yakkin' yet? What good's a seckertary for if'n he don't take the burden of de-tail off'n my back, harh?"

"We're all through, doctor. Are you ready to go?"

The buyer grunted peevishly, dropped Whambozambo Comix on the floor and led the way out of the building and down the log corduroy road to the highway. His car was waiting on the concrete. It was, like all contemporary cars, too low-slung to get over the logs. He climbed down into the car and started the motor with a tremendous sparkle and roar." Yowza!


message 3: by Peter (last edited Aug 30, 2019 03:16PM) (new)

Peter Tillman | 550 comments Along these lines is "The Little Black Bag" (1950, Astounding)
by C. M. Kornbluth. Online copy at https://gutenberg.ca/ebooks/kornbluth...

I should reread, but it suffers from some of the same Eugenics taint as his MARCHING MORONS. But it's probably held up better as a story. If you missed it, or it's been awhile, now's your chance!
Publishing history: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cg...
Many, many reprints.

Eugenics crap is more prominent than I recalled:
"After twenty generations of shilly-shallying and "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," genus homo had bred himself into an impasse. Dogged biometricians had pointed out with irrefutable logic that mental subnormals were outbreeding mental normals and supernormals, and that the process was occurring on an exponential curve. Every fact that could be mustered in the argument proved the biometricians' case, and led inevitably to the conclusion that genus homo was going to wind up in a preposterous jam quite soon. If you think that had any effect on breeding practices, you do not know genus homo. "

Complete horseshit. As was known then, too. But it got a lot of people killed -- mostly by the Nazis, but the American eugenicists were the pioneers. "Eugenics was practiced in the United States many years before eugenics programs in Nazi Germany, which were largely inspired by the previous American work." Very sad story: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenic...


message 4: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1901 comments Mod
You stated that your list is derived from Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965. Did that book not find any work by women in the 1950's that is relevant to your post?

Maybe Leigh Brackett or Madeleine L'Engle could be included?


message 5: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4084 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "..Eugenics crap is more prominent than I recalled:
"After twenty generations of shilly-shallying and "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," genus homo had bred himself into an impasse. Dogged biometricians had pointed out with irrefutable logic that mental subnormals were outbreeding mental normals and supernormals, and that the process was occurring on an exponential curve...."


It was the point Wells made in The Time Machine. Many of the heroes of the late 19th & early 20th century believed in eugenics such as Margaret Sanger & Teddy Roosevelt. It wasn't until the Nazi's took it to their conclusion that it got a bad name. Even after that, many nations, including the US sterilized or incapacitated those it considered substandard.

It's still practiced today. For instance, the chance for Down's Syndrome goes up as a woman ages. IIRC, it's roughly 1 in 100 at age 40, so they'll often have an amniocentesis test done & abort if Down's shows up. China's One Child policy led to a lot of boys. I'm sure there are others.


message 6: by Peter (new)

Peter Tillman | 550 comments Jim wrote: "... It's still practiced today. For instance, the chance for Down's Syndrome ..."

Down's syndrome abortion is understandable. But China will be paying the price for their ruinous One Child policy for a long, long time. As will India, which has a similar cultural preference for boy children over girls. POS = Plain Old Stupidity. Really, really hard to have a modern economy if you eliminate (or severely restrict) the potential contributions of half your population! Western world is just coming out of this horseshit. Finally!


message 7: by Peter (new)

Peter Tillman | 550 comments Dan wrote: "Peter, I've tried a few times to make it through Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons". Once as a teenager, another time via audiobook earlier this year. I've left the work incomplete because I was una..."

Thanks for the long, thoughtful critique, Dan, especially for a (nearly) 70-year-old story. I recalled more details I'd forgotten. I loved this story when I was a kid. Whatever his weird ideas, Kornbluth was a hell of a storyteller! But really, even by 1950 it was pretty obvious where Eugenics had led: the Nazi death-ovens.

Hope you get to "The Little Black Bag"!


message 8: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1901 comments Mod
Dan wrote: "Ed wrote: "Did they have anything to say about 1950s societal norms, i.e. consumerism, advertising, conformity, repression of outsiders, etc. in their writing? ..."

L'Engle's "Wrinkle in Time" did deal with conformity. It wasn't the main theme, but it is an aspect of the story that made a big impression on me when I read it. But it was published in 1962, and was intended for younger readers, so it isn't really relevant to your post. Sorry.

Brackett, I haven't read. I looked at another list of important 1950's or Golden Age SF, and she was one of the few female writers mentioned.

Based on the description of "Partners in Wonder", I thought that it's premise was that women have always been active and important in SF. If that is accurate, and if even it doesn't find any women's publications to talk about from the 50's, that really seems to say something about the 50's in America.


message 9: by Gregg (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Dan wrote: "Cheryl wrote: "I'm particularly curious about your choice of the cutoff dates of 1960 and 1976,.. ?"

I think your definition captures two prominent features of New Wave science fiction really well..."


I term the post-Golden Age SF as Classical Science Fiction, a period of the first wide publication of sci-fi beyond the pulps.

Cyberpunk and its other punk offsprings dominate the late 20th century.

The era 21st century has been dominated by what I term Neo-Classical Science Fiction and Literary Science Fiction. Neo-Classical SF is full of hard sci-fi and a rejection of the Positivism of the Golden Age and Classical period, "Aurora" and Seven Eves are excellent examples. Atwood, of course, personifies Literary SF.


message 10: by Gregg (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Dan wrote: "Cheryl wrote: "I'm particularly curious about your choice of the cutoff dates of 1960 and 1976,.. ?"

I think your definition captures two prominent features of New Wave science fiction really well..."


This is my overall breakout on the evolution of SF:

American science fiction has gone through a series of periods. In the beginning was the Gernsbackian Era dominated by an almost mythic and gadget-and-space-monster-based scientifiction. Next came the Golden Age dominated by the Astounding's editor, John W. Campbell from 1938-46 and represent the first steps in professionalization of and the movement towards human-focused pulp fiction. Robert Silverberg has argued forcibly for inclusion of the 50s in this grouping but in actual fact it should be described as the Classical Age due to the widespread proliferation of hard sci-fi in quality and quantity of writing and audience. Next in the 60s and 70s comes the New Wave revolution of Harlan Ellison's "Dangerous Visions" and Philip K. Dick's work, and its focus on experimental literary techniques, philosophical issues, psychological drama, and the rejection of the Modernist narrative. The development of William Gibson's cyberpunk of the 80s brings the genre into a full blown Postmodernist fiction completely rejecting the positivism of Gernback and Campbell, and America in general. In the 90s we see a split occurring between the lure of literary success and its "speculative fiction" hauteur with writers like Margaret Atwood, and the return of hard science fiction writers like Kim Stanley Robinson. With his "Mars Trilogy", Robinson creates a Neo-Classical Period for the ghetto genre, one unrepentant of tech and unafraid of mature subject matter of the mind, soul, and the body.


message 11: by Gregg (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Peter wrote: "Dan wrote: "Peter, I've tried a few times to make it through Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons". Once as a teenager, another time via audiobook earlier this year. I've left the work incomplete becau..."

It is my understanding that Kornbluth is a master of parodying the marketing profession. I think if you follow it as a parody of market segmentation you will see it is not eugenics herald but marketing being ridiculed. Unfortunately, despite being a marketing guy I have not read his work.

I should add that many scholars consider Brave New World to also be a parody of American marketing. Again, a criticism of marketing by placing it in eugenics clothing.

I have found that often when I speak in terms of market segmentation that individuals unfamiliar to marketing consider my comments judgmental or even prejudicial. Apparently, Kornbluth and Huxley had the same concerns.


message 12: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1901 comments Mod
Dan wrote: "My hypothesis for explaining the lack of women in Chapter 14 is that Davin may have written many of these chapters as separate academic journal articles, and put four or five of them in the book even though they had nothing to do with the title ..."

Thanks for that. Now that book sounds much less interesting to me, so I won't be seeking it out.


message 13: by Peter (new)

Peter Tillman | 550 comments Gregg wrote: "It is my understanding that Kornbluth is a master of parodying the marketing profession. I think if you follow it as a parody of market segmentation you will see it is not eugenics herald but marketing being ridiculed. Unfortunately, despite being a marketing guy I have not read his work.
."


"Marching Morons" is explicitly about Eugenics -- I quoted a bit to demonstrate that, & I'd forgotten how explicit that was.

For marketing satire, read Pohl & Kornbluth's classic "The Space Merchants", which I still liked a lot last time I reread it. Whenever that was -- decades ago?? Jo Walton has a nice retro-review at https://www.tor.com/2009/06/03/the-ev... -- which reminds me of bits I'd forgotten. If you've never read it, you should!


message 14: by Peter (last edited Sep 02, 2019 11:01AM) (new)

Peter Tillman | 550 comments Oh, and here's the cover for Part 1 (of 3) from the magazine serial, published in 1952. Cool art, straight from the story. Pedicabs in NYC! Another bit I'd forgotten.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi...


message 15: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1901 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "... If you've never read it, you should! ..."

It was our book-of-the-month last June. Discussion here.


message 16: by Gregg (last edited Sep 03, 2019 09:53AM) (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Dan wrote: "Gregg, I don't find the names for later periods of SF all that convincing. Cyberpunk was a subgenre. I don't think one can name all of 1990s SF after it. And I've never named anything Neoclassical ..."

Cyberpunk birthed a bunch of 'punks that dominate that era. The main push back against it in that period is Neo-Classical SF in the genre. Just because you don't name them that doesn't mean you shouldn't. It is the best way to describe works like the Mars Trilogy, "The Martian", "Station Eleven", etc. that are clearly hard science fiction but with strong humanistic aspects in the work. Other works like Gibson's "Pattern Recognition" and Atwood's work is clearly literary in intent and supra-genre.

Do you have thoughts on how to explain what we are living or rather reading today?


message 17: by Gregg (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Peter wrote: "Oh, and here's the cover for Part 1 (of 3) from the magazine serial, published in 1952. Cool art, straight from the story. Pedicabs in NYC! Another bit I'd forgotten.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/w..."


Are pedicabs our science fiction future??? I am sticking to flying cars!

Nice pic though.


message 18: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4084 comments Mod
If anyone comes up with a period name for 1980-1999, I'm interested. Ditto with 2000 & Up. We have names for all the other periods we read. They're not perfect, but a decent indicator.


message 19: by Gregg (last edited Sep 03, 2019 11:21AM) (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Peter wrote: "Oh, and here's the cover for Part 1 (of 3) from the magazine serial, published in 1952. Cool art, straight from the story. Pedicabs in NYC! Another bit I'd forgotten.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/w..."


Are pedicabs our future??? I am still holding out for my flying car!

Great pic though and perhaps closer to our climate changed future.


message 20: by Gregg (last edited Sep 03, 2019 10:33AM) (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Jim wrote: "If anyone comes up with a period name for 1980-1999, I'm interested. Ditto with 2000 & Up. We have names for all the other periods we read. They're not perfect, but a decent indicator."

I still think The 'punks is the best descriptor for that time period. It is a sea change in the nature of SF and the introduction of a completely new set of writers.

As both Gibson and Harris-Fain (and myself) state it is integral to the nature of American science fiction:

Not surprisingly it is important that we review the founding of American science fiction in the 1920s. In discussing this subject we must remember that unlike for the Europeans the experience of the Great War was not a collapse of Modernism but rather for Americans it was the triumph of technology, capitalism, and Americanism over the Greater German, French, and British empires and the rise of America’s proto-dominance of global commerce. As explained in Darren Harris-Fain’s Understanding Contemporary Science Fiction, 1926 was the year of creation by Hugo Gernsback of Amazing Stories, the first magazine dedicated to the promotion, in fictional format, of technology as the deliverer of humanity. This is illustrated most vividly by Harris-Fain’s critique and the writing of the Postmodernist author, William Gibson, in his short story, “Gernsback Continuum”.

Written in 1981, Gibson’s story is a denunciation of the ideals of Gernsback and Modernism through the adventures of a photographer on assignment to catalog the remaining architectural remnants of “American Streamlined Moderne” described by the character’s employer “…as a kind of alternative America: a 1980 that never happened. An architecture of broken dreams.” As Harris-Fain explains “This futuristic yet historical architecture is explicitly connected with science fiction stories, pulp-magazine artwork…and movies such as Metropolis (1926) and Things to Come (1936)…” The Gibsonian character’s immersion into this results in his timeslipping into Gernsback’s time-space continuum and seeing the following visions of this Modernist conception of the future world and its inhabitants:

they were Heirs to the Dream. They were white, blond, and they probably had blue eyes. They were American….the Future had come to America first…in the heart of the Dream. Here, we’d gone on and on, in a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuels, or foreign wars it was possible to lose. They were smug, happy, and utterly content with themselves and their world.

The character finds this a nightmarish experience due to the connection he has already made with the architecture that “…Albert Speer built for Hitler”. He equates it to “…the sinister fruitiness of Hitler Youth propaganda”.

The character finds relief from these visions in what Fredric Jameson has described in Postmodernism, or The Culture of Late Capitalism as the “…degraded landscape of schlock and kitsch, of TV series and Reader’s Digest culture, of advertising and motels, of the late show and the grade-B Hollywood film, of so-called paraliterature with its airport paperback categories…”


message 21: by Gregg (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Jim wrote: "If anyone comes up with a period name for 1980-1999, I'm interested. Ditto with 2000 & Up. We have names for all the other periods we read. They're not perfect, but a decent indicator."

It may simply be too early to name the 00s anything but Contemporary. I find the genre currently divided in two tracks 1) Neo-Classical and 2) Literary. The one is integral to the genre and the other is a simple explosion of the traditional visitors to the genre that have a long history in SF with authors like Huxley, Burgess, etc. and the straddlers like Bradbury, Gibson, etc.

Nomenclature comes with time and retrospection....and we don't have that yet for the 00s and now.


message 22: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1901 comments Mod
Gregg seems to be referring to this book: Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction: The Age of Maturity 1970-2000.

It seems to be part of a series called "Understanding Contemporary American Literature", with one other book related to SF: Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction: The Formative Period, 1926-1970.

Could be interesting.

That Gibson story, The Gernsback Continuum, also looks interesting to me, though I haven't enjoyed Gibson in general. (Cyberpunk doesn't typically appeal to me.)


message 23: by Peter (new)

Peter Tillman | 550 comments Gregg wrote: "Are pedicabs our science fiction future??? I am sticking to flying cars."

Heh, Well, maybe these can be regenerative-braking electric-assist pedicabs?

Flying electric drone taxis have been getting some press attention. To me, that seems scarier than self-driving cars!


message 24: by Peter (new)

Peter Tillman | 550 comments William Gibson. The Gernsback Continuum
Here's a copy, of dubious legality:
http://lib.ru/GIBSON/r_contin.txt_wit...

I do need to reread this one.


message 25: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1901 comments Mod
I love bikes. Soon I'll be old enough to require an electric one, but for now I still pedal.

Just read a nice SF story collection Bikes Not Rockets. It is actually 3rd (or 4th?) in a series of feminist bike-related SF.

There are plenty of bicycles in "Stranger Things", and also in Paper Girls.

Perhaps in the far future we will realize this was a trend and can refer to the 2010's as the "Bicycle Era" of SF.

(Of Course H.G. Wells also wrote a book about bicycles, The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll, but it wasn't a trend then, so that is merely proto-bicycle-fiction.)


message 26: by Peter (last edited Sep 03, 2019 12:46PM) (new)

Peter Tillman | 550 comments Bicycles in SF! One of my all-time favorite Bruce Sterling stories is "Bicycle Repairman". Many reprints: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cg...
And here it is online: https://textfiles.meulie.net/russian/...
Legally? Well . . . I doubt it.

And it really is a great story. I started skimming, looking for a good pullquote, & ended up rereading most of it, for the nth time. The Social Worker vs. Federal Agent stuff is priceless! The agent works for an ancient NAFTA Senator:
"Wow," Mabel [the social worker] said. "The old guy's a hundred and twelve or something, isn't he?"

"A hundred and seventeen."

"Even with government health care, there can't be a lot left of
him."

"He's already gone," Kitty muttered. "His frontal lobes are burned
out ... He can still sit up, and if he's stoked on stimulants he can
repeat whatever's whispered to him. So he's got two permanent implanted hearing aids, and basically ... well ... he's being run by remote control by his mook."

"His mook, huh?" Pete repeated thoughtfully.

"It's a very good mook," Kitty said. "The coding's old, but it's
been very well looked-after. It has firm moral values and excellent
policies. The mook is really very much like the Senator was. It's
just that ... well, it's old. It still prefers a really old-fashioned
media environment. It spends almost all its time watching old-
fashioned public political coverage, and lately it's gotten cranky
and started broadcasting commentary."


message 27: by Gregg (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Ed wrote: "Gregg seems to be referring to this book: Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction: The Age of Maturity 1970-2000.

It seems to be part of a series called "Understanding C..."


I have not read 1926-70 as of yet since I cut my teeth on that period as a teenager.

Try reading Gibson's Burning Chrome collection of short stories.


message 28: by Gregg (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Peter wrote: "Gregg wrote: "Are pedicabs our science fiction future??? I am sticking to flying cars."

Heh, Well, maybe these can be regenerative-braking electric-assist pedicabs?

Flying electric drone taxis ha..."


No doubt!


message 29: by Gregg (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Peter wrote: "Bicycles in SF! One of my all-time favorite Bruce Sterling stories is "Bicycle Repairman". Many reprints: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cg...
And here it is online: https://textfiles.meuli..."


Great story. Is it from "Mirrored Shades" or "Wired" collections? Both are great cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk collections.


message 30: by Peter (new)

Peter Tillman | 550 comments Gregg wrote: "Is it from "Mirrored Shades" or "Wired" collections? Both are great cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk collections"

I most recently reread it in "Ascendancies: The Best of Bruce Sterling" -- another great collection.


message 31: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4084 comments Mod
Gregg wrote: "Nomenclature comes with time and retrospection....and we don't have that yet for the 00s and now."

Agreed. I disagree about 1980s-1999 being called the Punk age, although you make a decent case. Were there any other named movements during that period?


message 32: by Gregg (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Jim wrote: "Gregg wrote: "Nomenclature comes with time and retrospection....and we don't have that yet for the 00s and now."

Agreed. I disagree about 1980s-1999 being called the Punk age, although you make a ..."


Not that I have ever heard of. Basically, Gibson dropped Neuromancer and everybody went "Wow!"


message 33: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4084 comments Mod
I don't want people to think, even subconsciously, that only 'punk' could be nominated during the 1980-1999 era. Being human, we tend to like to put things in tidy little boxes. That's OK so long as we don't get so caught up with the label that we forget about the material & that's really easy to do. (Read some of the arguments about defining a species.) That's the basis of my issue with naming an era after a subgenre; it tends to constrain the material. All the rest of the eras are named for basic movements that don't. The name doesn't preclude feminist literature in the "Golden Age" or a campy Mars story in the "New Age".


message 34: by Oleksandr (new)

Oleksandr Zholud | 806 comments I disagree that all time periods should have their names. As SF developed, there were simultaneously several branches. E.g. we read The Forever War, which ought to go to New Wave but actually is seen much better as a discussion with Starship Troopers


message 35: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4084 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "Bicycles in SF! One of my all-time favorite Bruce Sterling stories is "Bicycle Repairman". Many reprints: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cg...
And here it is online: https://textfiles.meuli..."


Let's not do the possibly illegal, iffy site links. Edit them out of your comments, please. It's against the terms of service for GR - promoting illegal activities. I'd really appreciate it if the only sites folks posted were safe & stable.


message 36: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1901 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "... Legally? Well . . . I doubt it ..."

Like Jim said, please don't link to sites unless you are sure of the legality of it. Some authors make some of the work available for free. But when in doubt, don't link.

You can say something like "You can find this on the internet" and let people search for themselves. But please remove those links from your post or we will delete the whole message.


message 37: by Gregg (last edited Sep 06, 2019 09:49PM) (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) Jim wrote: "I don't want people to think, even subconsciously, that only 'punk' could be nominated during the 1980-1999 era. Being human, we tend to like to put things in tidy little boxes. That's OK so long a..."

Neither would I advocate for Punk or Punk Era. I would recommend The 'punks. Cyberpunk's impact resulted many punk variants including steampunk, techpunk, biopunk, etc. It changed the general nature of SF and its perspective on science.

It could also be called the Postmodernist Period but I think we should use the terminology developed in the genre.


back to top