The Golden Age
Main Article : Astounding Magazine
With the emergence in 1937 of a demanding editor, John W. Campbell, Jr, of Astounding Science Fiction (founded in 1930), and with the publication of stories and novels by such writers as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein, science fiction began to gain status as serious fiction.
Ventures into the genre by writers who were not devoted exclusively to science fiction also added respectability; early such writers included Karel Capek, Aldous Huxley, and C. S. Lewis, and later writers included Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Magazine covers of bug-eyed monsters and scantily-clad women, however, preserved the image of a sensational genre appealing only to adolescents.
The post-war era
A great boom in the popularity of science fiction followed World War II.
Some science fiction works became paperback best-sellers.
The modern era
The modern era began in the mid 1960s with the popularisation of the genre of soft science fiction. In literary terms it dates roughly from the publication of Frank Herbert's Dune in 1965, a dense, complex, and detailed work of fiction featuring political intrigue in a future galaxy, strange and mystical religious beliefs, and the eco-system of the desert planet Arrakis. While in 1966 Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek brought such science fiction to a mass television audience. The original Star Trek seems a little dated today, but at the time it was at the forefront of liberalism. It preached the universality and equality of humanity. It had an attractive black officer, the first interracial kiss on American TV, a Russian officer (this was at the height of the Cold War), an Asian officer, and even an alien officer.
The field saw an increase in:
Also, technological fixes to a problem became a far rarer plot device.
- the number of writers and readers
- the breadth of subject matter
- the depth of treatment
- the sophistication of language and technique
- the political and literary consciousness of the writing.
A second generation of original and popular science fiction films begin to appear, among the most significant of which were (1968), THX 1138 (1969) Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (1977), and Star Wars, (1977). (See the list of science fiction films article for a more detailed list of notable science fiction films).
The success of Star Wars was especially influential since it caused an explosive increase in interest for several years after its release in all forms of science fiction, though this has since somewhat abated. Science fiction literature strongly benefitted from this heightened interest and science fiction or fantasy titles frequently filled the bestseller lists well into the 1980s. Eventually, cultural interest in science fiction literature declined somewhat with consumer fatigue, flooded markets, and competition from other entertainment venues being a few of the reasons for this. Also, science fictional or fantasy "elements" began to be usurped by traditional authors and other types of media, though they were not significant enough to be classified as purely science fiction or fantasy. Today, pure science fiction or fantasy books only occasionally make the bestseller lists, although, in overall numbers there are more science fiction or fantasy books published now than in the past. Science fiction literature magazines, on the other hand, have seen a progressive and steady decline over the last 50 years.
The influence of fantasy on the genre resulted in what is now called science fantasy. Contributions of these works to the literature of the fantastic include an awareness of irrationality and the inexplicable, the transformative force of language, and the power of myth to organize experience. Star Wars is the most powerful example of this trend.
The increasing intellectual sophistication of the genre and the emphasis on wider societal and psychological issues significantly broadened the appeal of science fiction to the reading public. Science fiction became international, extending into the then Soviet Union and other eastern European nations, where it was frequently used as a vehicle for political commentary that could not be safely published in other forms. The Polish author Stanislaw Lem is one of the non-English science fiction writers who has become widely known outside his native country. Serious criticism of the genre is now common, and science fiction is studied in colleges and universities, both as literature and in how it relates to science and society.
The principal science fiction awards are the Hugo and Nebula.
Science fiction has also been popular in radio, comic books, television, and movies; it is notable that about three-quarters of the top twenty highest grossing films (source: IMDb June 2002) are based around science-fiction or fantasy themes.
One of the unique features of the science fiction genre is its strong fan community, of which many authors are a firm part. Many people interested in science-fiction wish to interact with others who share the same interests; over time an entire culture of science fiction fandom has evolved. Local fan groups exist in most of the English-speaking world, as well as in Japan, Europe, and elsewhere; these groups often publish their own works. Also, fans were the originator of science fiction conventions, which gave them a way of getting together to discuss their mutual interest. The original and largest convention is the Worldcon.
Many fanzines ("fan magazines") (and a few professional ones) exist that are dedicated solely to informing the science fiction fan on all aspects of the genre. The premiere awards of science fiction, the Hugo Awards, are awarded by members of the annual Worldcon, which is almost entirely volunteer-run by fans.
Science fiction fandom often overlaps with other similar interests, such as fantasy, role-playing games and the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Genres and subcategories
- Brian W. Aldiss with David Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (Atheneum, 1986) ISBN 0-689-11839-2
- Thomas M. Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of (Touchstone, 1998) ISBN 0-864-82405-1
- Jutta Weldes, ed., To Seek Out New Worlds: Science Fiction and Politics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) ISBN 0-312-29557-X