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In 1949, Science Fiction Was a Just a Fad

Matt Cheney digs up a seriously retro review by Time magazine (?!?) of Stanley Weinbaum’s collection A Martian Odyssey which offers some reflections on the sf field we now call “classic”:

Small publishing houses devoted to science fiction such as Weinbaum turned out have been mushrooming during the last few years, and the business as a whole appears to be on the upgrade. Most of them are three-or four-man affairs. The half-dozen or so outfits in the field each print anywhere from two to a dozen books a year. Press runs usually hover around 5,000. Yet such midget firms as Prime Press in Philadelphia, Fantasy Press in Reading, Pa. and Shasta Press in Chicago eke out profits from their small printings, for two reasons: 1) they keep advertising and other overhead costs to a minimum, and 2) they can count on regular patronage from their own rabid fans.

There has been some speculation about the reasons for the science-fiction fad. The Saturday Review of Literature’s Harrison Smith has speculated about the relation of the “age of anxiety” to the “scientific fantasy story” as “a buffer against known and more conceivable terrors.” Publishers’ Weekly finds that the appeal of these stories lies “in their free flight of [imagination] . . . uninhibited by present reality, yet sometimes terrifyingly close to the advanced discoveries of modern science.”

The reader who reads science fiction dispassionately is likely to be struck by how closely the human imagination is tied to reality, even when it deliberately sets out to violate it. Stanley Weinbaum’s loonies and slinkers have been seen before. The shapes may be different, but his dream-beasts come startlingly close to what the human race has been running across, for a good many years, in its childish nightmares.

Apparently in 1949, science fiction was a “fad” that had “rabid” fans. Oh well, at least they got the “rabid” part right.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

4 Comments on In 1949, Science Fiction Was a Just a Fad

  1. Well, back in 1949, “Time” Magazine was a fairly stuffy, high-brow and Republican magazine. They were a lot closer to, say, “The New Yorker” of today then the populist magazine they are now.

  2. Science fiction is still a fad.


  3. Jim Shannon // January 16, 2007 at 3:17 pm //

    I don’t think its a fad

    anymore. Science Fiction

    is now more mainstream

    then anything else. Our

    own Space Channel has

    put horror movies as part

    of it’s line up. Some book

    stores mix Science fiction

    with Fantasy. Fantasy is not

    SF. A quick look at the

    authors over at Fantastic

    Fiction show authors in all

    kinds of genres. Even Playboy

    has been publishing SF stories

    for years. Just off the top

    of my head I’d say Science

    Fiction in the 30’50’s was a

    fad, then in the 60’s, 70’s,

    80’s became underground. Now

    SF thanks to the Internet

    is more mainstream then before

    more accessible.

  4. Note that TIME now offers free access to the digital archives of the entire run of the magazine. Plug in the names of your favorite classic authors and find every review and mention. Hours of fun.

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