The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Golden Age

Posted on | September 5, 2013 | 38 Comments


I’m getting a late start on this thanks to being distracted by people whining about Dragon*Con and Worldcon, which were on the same weekend this year. If you’re interested in SF fandom, you can go read my LJ post about it, which I didn’t do here because it’s not really pertinent.

Anyhow, what I want to talk about this week is the Canon. The stuff everybody should have at least a passing familiarity with (in my arrogant opinion, anyway) when it comes to science fiction and fantasy. Not all of the Canon is books, and not all of it is award-winning stuff, but in one way or another, it’s had an influence on the field. So you ought to know something about it, even if all you do is go browse the Wikipedia article – and truthfully, for some books like Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, you’re probably better off doing that than actually reading the book.

Let’s start with some award-winning stuff, edited by a legend in the field: The Hugo Winners (Volume I & II), edited by Isaac Asimov. Along with The Hugo Winners, Vol. 3, this covers all the Hugo-winning short fiction from 1955-1975, and if nothing else, should give you a pretty good idea of what you’ll like and what you won’t in SF. Just about all the great authors are in here: Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, Harlan Ellison, Philip Jose Farmer, Ursula K. LeGuin, Fritz Leiber, Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon and a bunch of others. Asimov did two more of these anthologies and the first two editions of The New Hugo Winners before his death in 1992; he was succeeded as editor by Connie Willis and Greg Benford.

I’d also recommend The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1, a sort of pre-Nebula Award anthology of short stories voted on by the Science Fiction Writers of America. The novella collection wound up being broken into two: The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 2A and The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 2B. Unlike the Hugo anthologies, the SF Hall of Fame anthologies only have one story per author, but like them, it’s all good stuff.

Asimov was a solid writer in his own right, and is perhaps best remembered for the Foundation trilogy, I, Robot (which introduced the Three Laws of Robotics), and The Caves of Steel, a murder mystery with robots. Alongside Asimov, of course, is Heinlein, whose Future History spanned three anthologies: The Man Who Sold The Moon, The Green Hills of Earth, and Revolt in 2100 and two novels, Orphans of the Sky and Methuselah’s Children – or you can get the (almost) complete package in The Past Through Tomorrow.

Alongside Asimov and Heinlein, other Golden Age writers of note were Jack Williamson, best known for his novels about the robot Humanoids which begins with the eerie With Folded Hands; and A.E. van Vogt, perhaps best remembered for the mutant novel Slan but also for The World of Null-A and The Weapon Shops of Isher, which gave us the libertarian rallying cry “The Right To Buy Weapons Is The Right To Be Free”.

Which just barely gets us out of the 1940s. Next week, a stab at the memorable novels and authors of the 1950s and early 60s.


38 Responses to “The Golden Age”

  1. preciseBlogs
    September 5th, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

    The Golden Age #news #conservative #books

  2. Dai Alanye
    September 5th, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

    Where are Jack Vance, Jerry Pournelle, Phillip K Dick, Ray Bradbury, Julian May, Sprague deCamp, James Blish? Do these fall into the category of “many others?”

    Many of these would better be described as writers of speculative fiction than science fiction, of course.

  3. JeffS
    September 5th, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

    Jeez, I grew up on those stories! The first anthologies I ever bought (as a young teenager, using my paper route money) were those Hugo Winners, and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. That lead me to a lot of authors I had never heard of. Yowsah! I especially liked Asimov’s backgrounds on the various Hugo winners, usually gleaned from the conventions.

    And I’d have to peruse my collection for titles, but Asimov edited multiple SF anthologies and collections.

    While not “Golden Age”, Heinlein did tie many of his stories (in and out of his “Future History”) together in his later years, ending with “To Sail Beyond The Sunset”. I’d judge that as mostly successful, although a stretch in some ways.

  4. joethefatman
    September 5th, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

    Another anthology by Asimov that is worth a read is his Before the Golden Age. It has stories from the 30’s. It even has one from J.W. Campbell. Interesting book if you can find it. As for Asimov, I never really cared for his robot books. But I did like his story Nightfall.

  5. Soylent Green
    September 5th, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    Great recommendations. Yeah, gotta save Clarke for the 50s, even though he thought up Childhoods End looking at Barrage balloons during the war.

  6. Dungeonmaster Jim
    September 5th, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

    Let me echo The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1. as a mandatory collection of the classics. However, I find your lack of Bradbury disturbing. ‘The Illustrated Man’ can cover that.
    As for cons, I am mostly a local conger (Arisia, Readercon, Anime Boston and, until I started doing the 24 Hour Sci-Fi Movie Marathon, Boskone). I have attended a three Worldcons, bur Dragon*Con and SDCC are on my bucket list.

  7. JeffS
    September 5th, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

    That’s one of those that I was thinking about, JTFM. His commentary is as interesting as the stories, especially since he grew up reading those stories.

  8. Gahrie
    September 5th, 2013 @ 9:04 pm

    I know I am being pedantic, but indulge me.
    IMO, any discussion of the early days of science fiction should either include, or be preceded by, a discussion of Shelley and Verne among others. Perhaps label it the bronze age of Sci Fi?

  9. thatMrGguy
    September 5th, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

    The Golden Age

  10. richard mcenroe
    September 6th, 2013 @ 12:56 am

    They were the guys who read the guys Wombat is talking about.

    I’d also recommend Leigh Brackett’s Northwest Smith’s stories, and L. Ron Hubbard’s “Old Doc Methuselah” stories for an early example of the self-righteous SF scold…

  11. Wombat_socho
    September 6th, 2013 @ 2:15 am

    Also, please re-read the post and pay special attention to the last paragraph. Re-read that several times, and meditate on its truths.

  12. Wombat_socho
    September 6th, 2013 @ 2:17 am

    Asimov’s comments were pretty hilarious, agreed – though he had nothing on Groff Conklin when it came to slapping anthologies together. (Now there’s a blast from the past for you…)
    As for Heinlein’s later work…eesh. I think he lost it completely after Time Enough For Love, and usually refer to those as his “seniles”, in contrast to his juveniles.

  13. Wombat_socho
    September 6th, 2013 @ 2:18 am

    I think “Superiority” came out in the 40s as well, but I left him for the 1950s since (like Bradbury) that’s when he became really well-known.

  14. Wombat_socho
    September 6th, 2013 @ 2:18 am


  15. Dai Alanye
    September 6th, 2013 @ 2:52 am

    I had no idea Ursula LeGuin (first pubbed in the 60s) and Gordon Dickson (the 50s), among others, were from the 40s. In fact, no amount of meditation will convince me they were.

  16. Dai Alanye
    September 6th, 2013 @ 2:56 am

    Likes and dislikes. Never could get excited about Leigh Brackett. Same for Elron, especially the Battlefield Earth series, apparently written by his ghost but with no improvement in style. And as for Dianetics…

  17. Wombat_socho
    September 6th, 2013 @ 4:52 am

    Apparently distinguishing between paragraph topics is hard for you, but I don’t have any easy answers for your problem.

  18. Wombat_socho
    September 6th, 2013 @ 4:54 am

    You’ll get your Bradbury next week and LIKE IT! 😉
    I’ve heard good things about Arisia and Boskone; both D*C and Worldcon seem way too big and/or expensive for me, especially these days.

  19. rsmccain
    September 6th, 2013 @ 5:36 am

    ICYMI: @wombat_socho geeking out on classic scifi

  20. ZillaStevenson
    September 6th, 2013 @ 5:56 am

    RT @rsmccain: ICYMI: @wombat_socho geeking out on classic scifi

  21. Dai Alanye
    September 6th, 2013 @ 7:02 am

    You seem to be reacting in a mighty touchy fashion to what was initially a quasi-humorous comment, but thanks for your sincere expression of concern.

  22. BobBelvedere
    September 6th, 2013 @ 8:20 am

    RT @rsmccain: ICYMI: @wombat_socho geeking out on classic scifi

  23. tranplanr
    September 6th, 2013 @ 9:34 am

    The Wombat doth Grok mightily… rt @rsmccain 3h ICYMI: @wombat_socho geeking out on classic scifi

  24. Eric Ashley
    September 6th, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    Pournelle, Dick, Bradbury, and May were either better or probably better than Asimov.

    Compare Mote to Caves of Steel.

  25. Eric Ashley
    September 6th, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    Everyone seemed to hate BE, but I liked it.

  26. Wombat_socho
    September 6th, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

    Yeah, I was a touch nasty. Sorry.

  27. Why Aren’t All Lesbians Hot, Like in the Movies? | Regular Right Guy
    September 6th, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

    […] The Golden Age […]

  28. K-Bob
    September 7th, 2013 @ 6:03 am

    I think it’s because he became obsessed with getting every piece of crap he ever wrote published. He as much as admitted it with a couple of his old short stories.

    I think the idea behind creativity is to make a hundred things, so that at least five or ten are worth keeping. (Ball the rest up as notes for your kid to release parsimoniously for a few decades, like a famous fantasy writer did.)

  29. K-Bob
    September 7th, 2013 @ 6:08 am

    Every time Wombat posts these things he gets comments like “it’s criminal to leave out…” or “how the hell can you not…”.

    It’s a discussion, not a hardbound dissertation. So I’d expect him to get tired of that sort of hyper-hyperbolism.

    Of course, that’s no reason to stop yanking his chain.<emoticon goes here>

  30. K-Bob
    September 7th, 2013 @ 6:09 am

    None of those folks would agree with you. Not one.

  31. K-Bob
    September 7th, 2013 @ 6:16 am

    It’s kind of a hoot to read some old SF. Especially from guys who should have known better. Like Heinlien’s rolling roadways.

    I guess if you had an imaginary material like spider silk times eleventy, and totally frictionless rollers you could do it.

  32. Wombat_socho
    September 7th, 2013 @ 10:22 am


  33. Dai Alanye
    September 7th, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

    I write fiction, K-, and you might find it difficult to imagine some of the comments I get, even when a particular book is free. It’s as if some people resent having me waste their valuable time.

    I’ve been accused of being elitist because I use big words, and of being anti-homosexual for using the term sashay, and of writing books where nothing happens and all the characters are whiny. Still, I seriously consider all the comments and never make an indignant reply, because even fools and idiots sometimes buy books, and their money spends as well as that of more appreciative readers.

    In addition, I’ve become much calmer since I stopped taking those testosterone supplements.[emoticon goes here]

  34. K-Bob
    September 8th, 2013 @ 6:47 pm

    Oh, I can imagine. Putting your stuff out there is like painting a target on your back.

  35. K-Bob
    September 8th, 2013 @ 6:48 pm

    Heh. Sorry.

  36. K-Bob
    September 8th, 2013 @ 10:14 pm

    Also some sort of “inertia remover” gizmo that is capable of removing all inertia from thousands of miles of matter under acceleration.

    It’s probably all done with Asimovium and Buckminsterfullerines.

  37. richard mcenroe
    September 10th, 2013 @ 10:32 pm

    His ghost was Algs Budrys, an interesting writer and character in his own right.

  38. Dai Alanye
    September 11th, 2013 @ 6:21 am

    Budrys was a fine writer and excellent stylist. It’s impossible for me to believe he would (or could, for that matter) have written anything so pedestrian as Battlefield Earth. BE reads like a throwback to some of the forties pulp such as appeared in Amazing Stories, but less creative.