This my second and last review of the late Lester Del Rey’s 1980 book The World of Science Fiction, 1926-1976: The History of a Subculture. The first review was more political and cultural. This one is more personal.
First of all, the copy I currently possess is a first edition. Like I said, the first printing of this tome was in 1980, and according to the old fashioned stamps in this library book, it was first acquired by my local library system on January 24, 1980. It’s like holding a piece of history in my hands.
The first 22 chapters are interesting, but also made up of long lists of ancient science fiction stories, their authors, which magazines they appeared in, the editors, and occasionally what was going on in the world around them. A tad dull overall.
It speaks well of Astounding editor John W. Campbell, even though decades later, fantasy writer Jeannette Ng would trash his reputation while simultaneously accepting an award bearing his name (which was later changed to “Astounding” because of the sins of John Campbell). Oh fun fact. Did you know Ng received a 2020 Hugo Award for Best Related Work? Basically that means the speech she gave the previous year bitching…uh, complaining about John Campbell “earned” her a 2020 Hugo. She won a coveted Hugo award for complaining. Go figure.
Anyway, Chapter 27 of the book talks about rivalry between two different groups at WorldCon for some form of dominance. This would have been back in the 1960s. I guess the Sad Puppies weren’t the first ones to rock that particular boat.
However. it’s that section of the book, starting on page 229. that particularly caught my interest because the events recorded had a direct impact on my life as a young teenager.
When I was in Junior High, the works of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, E.E. “Doc” Smith and others were highly prominent in the bookstores of that time. I frequented one called B. Dalton’s in a mall in Las Vegas, and bought up every “John Carter of Mars” and “Skylark” novel they had. Of course the other kids were reading the “Tarzan” and “Lensman” series, but I always had to be different.
I had no idea that many of these stories had been written decades before I was born or why their being offered as paperbacks right then was revolutionary.
You see, these stories had never seen the light of day before except in the old, popular science fiction magazines or in hardback novels. The estates of each of these writers had finally, after many years of cajoling, decided to allow the rights for these works to pass into the hands of paperback novel publishers, which were very much in favor back then.
I just happened to have been born at the right point in history to benefit from this decision, of which I was totally unaware.
A few years later, I started reading the stories of Harlan Ellison, who with a small group of other writers, launched a “New Wave” of science fiction tales (although Ellison strongly objected to being called a science fiction writer) based on various social issues (I remember in the early 1970s reading an Ellison story about abortion, and this was before Roe vs. Wade).
Basically, history had cooperated to allow my teenage years to be awesome. I ended up reading all the Conan the Cimmerian stories, starting with Robert E. Howard who committed suicide in poverty at the age of 30. Then the later stories by those writers who cherished his legacy including L. Sprague de Camp. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these authors each had an active hand in preserving Howard’s works and making sure they didn’t fade away into the dust of the pulp fiction era.
That’s pretty much it. Then we ripple almost immediately into Star Trek, Star Wars, and the so-called “mainstreaming” of science fiction, though most fans of these shows and movies never really translate into actual science fiction fans.
The book is an outstanding landmark in science fiction, it’s grand sweep encapsulating, as best as Del Rey could, the first 50 years of this important genre. But as I mentioned in my previous review, the one thing that he feared was that science fiction would be rendered a mere propaganda tool should America become a socialist state.
People like Jeannette Ng seem to want the exact outcome that Del Rey feared. People like her call people like me the stale, pale male crowd. They may very well have completely devalued the once proud Hugos. Anymore, almost everyone complains about anything they don’t like at a WorldCon. Any slight against a “marginalized voice” either real or imagined, at a WorldCon is seized upon by the cancel culture.
The first 50 years of science fiction were glorious although the road was indeed bumpy. The next 50 years, and we’re near the tail end of it, has seen some great works, but lately, there’s also been a decline. What would once have been considered dreck, is now praised as the highest level of SciFi. Trust me, when John Scalzi has to have his characters drop F-bombs every other word just because it makes him feel like a big boy, you know the author has missed a step or two. Plus when Annalee Newitz has a human male not only fall in love with, but actually have sex with a robot who not only doesn’t have emotions, but lacks the “equipment” to permit coitus, then you can realize something went haywire.
The first 100 years of science fiction will be “celebrated” in 2026, a mere five years away now. I know that some will say it will be the pinnacle of inclusive, progressive, raising up of marginalized voices achievement in the genre. Yes, SciFi should open up to movements such as Afrofuturism, because, after all, there are an infinite number of seats at the table, thus there’s room for an infinite number of “voices.” But as Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) said in the 2012 film “The Avengers:”
When I went under, the world was at war. I wake up, they say we won. They didn’t say what we lost.
There are still good science fiction writers out there producing good work. They’ll never win a Hugo because, well, they aren’t always obsessed with identity politics. They just care about what Lester Del Rey cared about; writing a good story and entertaining readers.
The Celestial Echo Press anthology The Trench Coat Chronicles has just come out in paperback. That’s right, a book you can hold in your hands. It features my short story “The Haunted Detective.” Yes, it’s about a female private detective in 1947 San Francisco which would have been unusual, and yes, I do mention some sexist issues such as the police department not hiring women as officers back then. But it’s really a mystery and a ghost story, one of struggle, undying friendship, and a thirst for justice, that nearly costs my detective, if not her life, her very soul.
My short story “Saving the Apostle” will be featured in the Planetary Anthology Series: Saturn which is available now for pre-order to be delivered to your kindle device on February 16 2021.
This one required the help of a Jewish Israeli friend (since I don’t know Hebrew and am missing more than a few steps in Jewish religious lore). The tale depicts a Jewish Israeli scientist from slightly in the future traveling back to first century Malta on a mission to save the life of Paul the Apostle. With a modern Israel surrounded on all sides by her enemies and about to be wiped off the face of the Earth, only by changing Paul’s legacy, and especially his teaching to the non-Jews in the diaspora, will today’s Israel survive. Naturally, there are unanticipated side effects that change history entirely.
Judaism, religious themes, God, angels, HaSatan, a deep, personal conversation with, besides Jesus, what is arguably the most famous person depicted in the New Testament. This one’s got it all, plus a fantastic surprise in the climax.
Yes, I write stories to make people think, but most of all, I write stories because it’s fun. I want the reader to have fun too. That’s what science fiction is really all about, not all this other stuff. Here’s to the second 50 years and beyond.
4 thoughts on “Review of The World of Science Fiction 1926-1976: A Personal Past and Uncertain Future”
Well guess whose attention I just got. I feel kind of proud. https://twitter.com/scalzi/status/1345366800087871488
John’s thin skin is getting thinner. And your review of The Collapsing Empire was not that critical and much kinder than the one I would have written.
It’s the text in this review, in which I called Scalzi’s writing “dreck” and accused him of being an immature adolescent obsessed with the word f*ck that pissed him off.
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Apparently John Scalzi blocked me on twitter. I guess he’s weaker than I thought.