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Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

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Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Old 09-30-13, 07:20 AM
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Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

The post below originates from a thread in Other where the OP had suggested that various "cultural icons" were "in danger of becoming extinct".
Originally Posted by Josh-da-man View Post
I think that most of the golden age SF writers -- Asimov, Heinlein, Pohl, Sturgeon, Clarke, etc. -- will be pretty much forgotten within the next few decades.

They're all dead and not producing new work, and the current generation of kids and teenagers seemingly have little interest in anything older than last year's iPhone.
It struck me as sad that we might lose touch with the work of these greats but I then wondered whether - whether or not there was any risk of these works being consigned to the dustbin of history - I was wearing rose-tinted spectacles.

I certainly recall as a young-teen picking up various anthologies from my local library that collected together award-winning short fiction from the 30s/40s/50s and being amazed at some of the ideas.

I then moved onto other anthologies for the 60s and 70s as well as looking more closely at the novels of some of the winners. At the time Asimov's Foundation series blew me away, Heinlein's works were always something of an eye-opener and I also found Clarke's writings worthy of a fair bit of my time. I discovered Sturgeon and Pohl later as well as a host of others who had started writing in the 60s and 70s.

Nowadays, certainly since cyberpunk etc, I think that there are probably more sophisticated writers around. However, for the sheer quality of ideas and sense of wonder imbued, looking solely at science fiction I am not sure whether I've ever equalled that year or two of concentrated reading of the respective oeuvres of those "grandmasters".

So, is it more about how old I was at the time?

Or is there something about the Golden Age and earlier?

And, given the wealth of new writing that is available, do you think there is room for those older works? Will they stand the test of time?
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Old 09-30-13, 09:23 AM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Anyone that's really into SF will eventually end up reading at least some of the Golden/Silver age classics by the age's big guns. It's authors like Stanley G. Weinbaum or Cordwainer Smith that might get lost. Still, publishers like Baen Books put out (on ebook at least) collections of novels/stories by older authors, like Howard L. Myers, for instance. SF readers tend to be readers and readers read. Alot. And really good SF tends to be timeless, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination for example.

SF isn't like mainstream fiction. SF still remembers where it came from; Shelly/Verne/Gernsback. Yes, titles and authors will fade away but the truly good/great work will persist.
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Old 09-30-13, 02:09 PM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Originally Posted by coyoteblue View Post
Anyone that's really into SF will eventually end up reading at least some of the Golden/Silver age classics by the age's big guns. It's authors like Stanley G. Weinbaum or Cordwainer Smith that might get lost. Still, publishers like Baen Books put out (on ebook at least) collections of novels/stories by older authors, like Howard L. Myers, for instance. SF readers tend to be readers and readers read. Alot. And really good SF tends to be timeless, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination for example.

SF isn't like mainstream fiction. SF still remembers where it came from; Shelly/Verne/Gernsback. Yes, titles and authors will fade away but the truly good/great work will persist.
SF "remembering where it came from" is a good observation

Weinbaum was in one of those anthologies, although I never saw very much else by him.

I've probably got everything that Cordwainer Smith wrote but agree that his relatively small output has struggled to remain in print.

After spotting him with a pile of Star Trek novelisations, maybe ten years ago I began loaning a younger colleague a list of about a dozen "must reads" and included that pair of Bester's. He was blown away, also lapping up the Foundation books and various others including some Van Vogt and PKDick and telling me: "I didn't even know there WERE books like this!".

While tapping this out on my keyboard I'm remembering reading some shorts probably in volumes of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: "Fondly Farenheit", "Mimsy Were the Borogroves" and "The Little Black Bag" and "Scanners Live in Vain" some of which can be found on Project Gutenberg and similar resources. And am just remembering being blown away myself by Lester del Rey's "The Sky is Falling" which was probably dashed out in no time way back when!
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Old 09-30-13, 02:38 PM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Clearly today's young readers will consider people like Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins to be Asimovs and Heinleins of their time.
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Old 09-30-13, 03:03 PM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Ah the wonder that was to be had by reading "Mimsy Were The Borogroves", "All You Zombies" etc etc. and that will be lost! Tsk!
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Old 09-30-13, 03:23 PM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Baen Books republished the works of James H. Schmitz a few years ago. The editor wrote a forward in one of the volumes which discusses why Schmitz, although was very popular in the 1960s, is forgotten today. The answer he came up with was that Schmitz wrote short stories, and those don't sell today. People only read novels.

The Schmitz books quickly went back out of print, and Baen put them up for free on their website.

Other people who mostly wrote short stories -- Alfred Bester, Cordwainer Smith, G. Stanley Weinbaum, Clark Ashton Smith -- are being forgotten. The guys who are hanging on are the novelists like Heinlein, and the authors who have been accepted by the educational establishment, like Bradbury and Philip K. Dick.

If someone is already interested in science fiction, they might be interested in those authors. But no one will discover them by accident.

It doesn't help that Asimov, one of the giants of the field, was not a good writer. He published first drafts, and he was so little interested by interpersonal interactions that his stories seem autistic. But he was a giant in the field, so a generation of authors were influenced by his style.
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Old 09-30-13, 03:40 PM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Originally Posted by Nick Danger View Post
Baen Books republished the works of James H. Schmitz a few years ago. The editor wrote a forward in one of the volumes which discusses why Schmitz, although was very popular in the 1960s, is forgotten today. The answer he came up with was that Schmitz wrote short stories, and those don't sell today. People only read novels.

The Schmitz books quickly went back out of print, and Baen put them up for free on their website.
I picked up those Schmitz books while they were free and then bought the other not free editions.
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Old 09-30-13, 03:46 PM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Originally Posted by Nick Danger View Post


It doesn't help that Asimov, one of the giants of the field, was not a good writer. He published first drafts, and he was so little interested by interpersonal interactions that his stories seem autistic. But he was a giant in the field, so a generation of authors were influenced by his style.
Interesting, if not accurate assessment of Asimov, who I like/admire but somewhat reluctantly. Now I am clear!
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Old 10-02-13, 07:57 PM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

That reminds me, whens the last time Manly Wade Wellman was discussed in polite conversation?
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Old 10-03-13, 07:45 PM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Originally Posted by JANK View Post
Interesting, if not accurate assessment of Asimov, who I like/admire but somewhat reluctantly. Now I am clear!
I re-read several Asimov books a couple of years ago. I read The Naked Sun, The Caves of Steel, the original Foundation Trilogy, The Complete Robot, and the beginning of Pebble in the Sky. His faults stood out in high relief. I found the experience disappointing.

I thought that reading Asimov books was a lot like reading those dreary Agatha Christie puzzle-mysteries where the book prints a map of the house and I'm expected to keep track of where everybody was when. Asimov has a gigantic number of clever ideas, but his stories are basically moving characters around to explain the idea.

I read years ago that Asimov was happy to publish first drafts, instead of doing a second draft to improve the writing. I couldn't tell when I was a teenager, but his style is clunky.

He was prolific, but there were authors in the pulps era who were churning out a million words a year. A giant in the field should be held to a higher standard than a large output of writing that can be published without needing a lot of work from the editor.

Last edited by Nick Danger; 10-03-13 at 07:50 PM.
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Old 10-03-13, 11:12 PM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

I just recently bought an anthology of Cordwainer Smith. I find the golden age stuff to generally be more interesting than most cyberpunk and postmodern sci-fi, to be honest.
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Old 10-04-13, 03:52 AM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Originally Posted by Nick Danger View Post
I thought that reading Asimov books was a lot like reading those dreary Agatha Christie puzzle-mysteries where the book prints a map of the house and I'm expected to keep track of where everybody was when. Asimov has a gigantic number of clever ideas, but his stories are basically moving characters around to explain the idea.
Some years after I had enjoyed the first Foundation books I ploughed through a number of Asimov's Black Widower/Union Club tales and it was then it really hit me that, through an awful lot of his work, you could see that he was primarily interested in setting out puzzles and mysteries. It was all more about this than the characters, I think.

Aside from not really having the time, as hinted at in my opening post, I am almost scared to try reading again some of those writings that the teenaged me lapped up.

That said, I would imagine that I would still get the same Sense of Wonder from some of the more dense works by the likes of Clarke and Herbert. If I re-read Dune, I don't think I'd be disappointed.

But, as I say, currently I have too much else to read to afford the luxury of re-reading the works that I probably last re-read a couple of times in my early 20s.
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Old 10-04-13, 07:36 AM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Originally Posted by Supermallet View Post
I just recently bought an anthology of Cordwainer Smith. I find the golden age stuff to generally be more interesting than most cyberpunk and postmodern sci-fi, to be honest.
Cordwainer Smith stories definitely hold up for me.
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Old 10-04-13, 10:02 AM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Let's face it, if you are looking for character and dialog, you probably shouldn't be reading Asimov. Remember when he started writing sex scenes? It's like watching a porn starring your 70-year old Grandpa...

That said, his work is amazing because of his grand ideas and mysteries. His robot short stories are nothing more than whodunnits set around the "Three Laws" framework. In my late teens/early 20s I couldn't read enough of his work.

So will these authors be remembered? Surely. If I read Foundation 40 or so years after its publishing, what's to stop the next generation from doing the same?
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Old 07-23-14, 06:54 AM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

In the UK there is a nice collection of SF "classics" (more accurately, they are included under the "masterworks" title) currently available and which are all listed here:I'm not sure whether US and other markets have an equivalent series currently in print.

Perusing my local Waterstones before I had looked up the wiki-entry, I noticed that the UK list has more than its fair share of a certain PKD! As I own all of those in other editions I won't be collecting the full set.

Nevertheless, I scribbled down the names of half a dozen volumes which were less familiar to me even if I was aware of the author by name i.e. Compton; Tevis; Tenn; Griffith; Bass; Turner.

I appreciate that by no means all of the titles (or even the authors) hail from the silver age but this seemed like a good place to park the link.
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Old 07-24-14, 01:34 PM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

One thing I liked about that age of stories is that there was a more of a sense of wonder and journey, as opposed to more recent dystopian and depressing settings that became more popular. I enjoy both, but if I start getting into a funk with current (last 20 or so years) writers, I like to jump back further to kind of cleanse my palate.
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Old 07-25-14, 09:52 PM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

Someone here should make a list of the Great Sci-Fi writers and their best works. Maybe make it a sticky? I'll admit I never got into the classic SF but if there were some recommends I'd start some up.
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Old 07-28-14, 10:50 AM
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Re: Should today's younger science-fiction readers be aware of the "Golden Age"?

I don't really understand the relevance of the question. I am 48 years old and read almost exclusively sci-fi/fantasy. I read for enjoyment and have read several thousand books over the years and in that time probably no more than a handful of Asimov stories. I don't think that I am missing out on anything. I enjoy military sci-fi/fantasy and I don't know that he has written alot of that. Some of my favorite authors are Eric Flint, David Weber, David Drake, S.M. Stirling, Scalzi, Jack Campbell, Taylor Anderson, Wiliam Forstchen, Raymond Feist and Robert Adams. Not all of them are the greatest writers and I know it. But in my opinion, all of them are great story tellers. I have an imagination and with all of the books I read, I use it.

Do I feel that only reading these somehow lessens my reading enjoyment? Not really. The way I see it is this. People that like to read, for the pure enjoyment of it, do so because of the worlds that it opens up to them. Great story telling is in my opinion up there with the greatest achievements that mankind has made. But there have been, are and will be many great story tellers. If Asimov is forgotten by most readers in a hundred years but there are story tellers then that keep people entranced with their stories, then so be it. There will always be someone that remembers Asimov. People that research him and his stories. People that want to know how some stories came about (robot's three rules) and so forth. But only by people taking the foundations layed by previous greats/leaders is there any growth. I would rather that people forgot him altogether (in a couple of hundred years) then for the genre to stagnate to the point that his works (and other golden age writer's works) be considered the pinnacle of achievement in the genre.

Civilizations are built on the foundations of previous civilizations, ideas advance the same way. Few look at western civilization and say thank you Greeks. In years to come few will look to the golden age sci-fi writers and thank them but they did lay the foundations and story lines and the genre will advance from them.

Last edited by MScottM; 07-28-14 at 11:27 AM.
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