In my last Kirkus column, I took a look at A.E. van Vogt, and talked a little about how authors in the 1950s began to adapt to changes in the publishing industry. By 1952, the publishing industry had shifted to paperback novels. One of the more memorable types of publication was Ace Books with their double novel series, which paired up two short novels in a single book. Futurian founder Donald Wollheim was behind this move, and helped to cement science fiction literature in the new paperback field.
In the mid-50s, there was some major changes going on in the publishing industry: readership for pulps and magazines were declining, and it was rising for novels. Authors had an interesting way to respond to this: take a couple of existing stories, rewrite bits and package them as a novel. A.E. van Vogt actually coined a term for this: We call it a ‘fix-up’ novel.
Go read A.E. van Vogt and the Fix-Up novel over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog.
Science Fiction has a reputation as being the boy’s club, where all the major names, such as Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke get a majority of the credit for the development and direction of the genre as a literary movement. It’s unfortunate, because that’s not the full story, and it means that there’s a lot of other authors out there that really don’t get the credit that they deserve.
Margaret St. Clair is one of those authors, and she’s someone who’s name I’ve seen come up a lot as I’ve researched this column. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot known about her life: just her numerous stories that were published throughout the 1950s and 1960s. I’m not sure why she’s not as well known as others, despite the higher quality of her stories.
Go read The Elusive Margaret St. Clair on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
Fahrenheit 451 is one of my absolute favorite novels of all time, and I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while now. The genesis behind the book is an interesting one, because it doesn’t conform to the usual process: author sits down, writes the story. It started as one story, merged with another, got published, got expanded, had other things added onto it, and then onto bookshelves. It’s an important work, and I’ve found that its backstory makes it even more so.
Go read The Ignition Point of Ray Bradbury over on Kirkus Reviews.
Science Fiction has always had an interesting relationship with politics, and with the Snowden Affair brewing in the news, it seemed like a good time to look at one strain of political SF: the Dystopian Novel. It’s certainly relevant: sales of George Orwell’s landmark novel 1984 has been selling in enormous quantities in the last couple of weeks!
Go read A Brief History of the Dystopian Novey over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog.
One of the things that I’ve really loved about this column is getting a sense of how connected everyone was. Truly, everyone seemed to know one another, even as small groups formed around certain editors. A case in point, over the last couple of columns, I’ve been looking at the Golden Age of SF, which is generally regarded as beginning with John W. Campbell Jr.’s rein at Astounding. Campbell’s star was bright and enduring, but it lost its innovative edge. H.L. Gold, I think, deserves more attention for his role during the Golden Age, as his magazine Galaxy Science Fiction provided some of the genre’s most enduring classics.
Go read Changing the Playing Field: H.L. Gold & Galaxy Science Fiction over on the Kirkus Reviews blog!
Earlier this week, SF Grandmaster Jack Vance passed away at the age of 96. His writing career lasted over six decades, and he’s known for his fantastic world building in addition to his enormous volume of works. I wrote about this at the Kirkus Reviews Blog. Go read Jack Vance, Inventor of Worlds.
Last year, I picked up and read The Stars My Destination for the first time. It’s an astonishing book, one that I alternatively wish that I’d read it earlier, and that I’m glad that I read it now, with the capabilities to really get how important of a book it is. I’ve been waiting to get to Bester for a while now.
Over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog today: The Nomadic Alfred Bester, Renaissance Man.
One of the interesting things that I came across recently was the story of the Futurians at the 1st WorldCon in 1939. The Futurians were a legendary group of fans – quite a few notable authors came out of their ranks over the years, and it looked like an interesting story, one that was far more complicated than I thought.
Go read about it at the Kirkus Reviews blog: The Futurians and the 1939 World Science Fiction Convention.
One of the things that I’ve found distinctly interesting about the Golden Age of SF is how the authors shape the field that they’re in, but also how much one can extrapolate a larger picture out of an author’s life. An excellent example of this is Judith Merril, through whom one can find an excellent viewpoint of the shifts in publishing, as well as a number of similarly-high-profiled authors writing at the same time.
Go read The Connections of Judith Merril over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A fantastic hour and a half of SF television.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A body falls out of the sky in the Canadian Arctic and sparks an international firestorm in a post-oil world.
PROS: Fantastic plotting, acting and potential.
CONS: Never picked up for a series.
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BOOK REVIEW: Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve, by William H. Patterson, Jr.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The first of two volumes of Robert Heinlein’s life.
PROS: Detailed; exhaustive.
CONS: Volume 2 is still in the works.
BOTTOM LINE: A comprehensive and serious look at an author’s life and legacy.
I received a copy of Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve following its publication in 2010, intending on reading and reviewing it then. After cracking it open and starting it, I… stopped. There’s no good reason for this; it’s detailed, interesting, and does much to shed light on a very notable author in the science fiction community. But, it’s a dense read, and not really something that’s conducive to sitting down and reading cover to cover. I set the book aside at one point, intending to return shortly thereafter, and the break stretched out.
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BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In 2046, the Earth has been radically transformed following the arrival of seven alien races and subsequent war between the newcomers and humanity. After the war, the town of Defiance springs up in the ruins of the old world.
PROS: Vivid, immersive new world with lots of potential.
CONS: Story, CGI are somewhat lacking.
After five years of development and a major media blitz, the SyFy Channel has released their latest tent pole show: Defiance. Following the cancellation of shows like Caprica and Stargate: Universe (not to mention the failure to pick up Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome), the channel has a new space-based show. There’s a lot to like here: There’s aliens! Frontier-like settings! Lasers! Drama! A cynical hero! Amongst it all, the network that’s been known for its space shows, such as Stargate SG-1/Atlantis/Universe, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, and others, finally has something that directly appeals to the fans who have been missing their fix of the prime-time Science Fiction drama that’s been missing from the airwaves for so many years.
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I came across an interesting tidbit a while ago, while reading something about Robert Heinlein: he served as a researcher during World War II, alongside fellow SF authors Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp. At the NAES, they all worked on various experimental projects, working in the high-tech, cutting edge of R&D that’s so often portrayed in the genre at the time. It’s a neat story, one that tells quite a bit about each of the authors.
Read all about it over on Kirkus Reviews: Asimov, de Camp and Heinlein at the Naval Air Experimental Station.
When I was writing about C.L. Moore a couple of weeks ago, I came across a familiar name several times: Leigh Brackett, another female author writing during the Golden Age of SF. She had a fascinating career as both a short story author, novelist and screenwriter.
Want to know more? Read about Leigh Brackett’s Planetary Romances over on Kirkus Reviews.
Of all the works of his career, Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories are perhaps some of his best known works. Spanning short stories, novellas, centuries and even genres, his fiction helped change the perceptions of robots in science fiction.
Go read Isaac Asimov and the 3 Laws of Robotics over on Kirkus Reviews.
This was a surprise: Early on Wednesday, Entertainment Weekly broke the news that Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars, was launching a Kickstarter project to bring his character to the big screen. Within hours, the project amassed $900,000 (as of the start of my writing this), and it looks as though we’re going to have a new Veronica Mars production. It’s exciting news for fans of the show, with its pop-culture references, smart characters and great stories. The project, according to Thomas, aims to raise $2 million in the next 30 days, which will finance the production of the movie. Warner Brothers, which owns the rights, will handle the distribution, production and promotion of the film, with a limited theater run and online VOD release. What’s interesting about this project is that it’s the latest in a crowd of projects that seem to be gaining a new lease on life with the help of its fan bases.
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Tom King is the author of the 2012 book, A Once Crowded Sky. (See the SF Signal Review.) Following the attacks on September 11th, King worked for the Central Intelligence Agency as an Operations Office. Prior to his service, he interned with Marvel and D.C. Comics. He recently had a moment to speak with us about his first novel:
SF Signal: Hi Tom, thanks for taking a couple of moments to speak with us! My first question is one you probably get a lot: how do you go from interning with comic book companies to the Central Intelligence Agency?
Tom King: The basic answer is 9/11. After the attacks, I was one of the millions of people who volunteered to help. The way I chose to do it was to apply to the CIA; I just figured they’d be the closest to the front lines. It was a new and righteous war. I wanted to be in it. I wanted to save the world. I was very young.
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After working our way through the pulp era, it’s time to begin looking at the ‘Golden Age’ of Science Fiction. Many people felt that this movement began with John Campbell Jr.’s work at Astounding magazine, and there’s no better way to start off this movement than examining the magazine that helped bring science fiction out of the pulp magazines.
Go Read John Campbell Jr. and Astounding Magazine over on Kirkus Reviews.