Reflections of a Golden Age by Christopher M. Chupik

Reflections of a Golden Age

by Christopher M. Chupik

Recently there has been some controversy in our community about whether or not the classics of the genre have value. I’m not going to fisk that article, as others have already done so. I’m also not going to call for the genre to return to the Golden Age, though I’m certain that the commenters on a certain blog which has fifty Hugo nominations will almost certainly spin this post as such. What I’m going to do is talk about my own experiences.

It’s said the Golden Age of SF is twelve and this was true for me. When everybody else was discovering the Hardy Boys, I was leaving them far behind as I journeyed with the mysterious Mr. Bass to the Mushroom Planet. Soon I accompanied David Innes and Abner Perry in their iron mole as it broke through the crust of Pellucidar, the prehistoric world at the Earth’s core. I went to Caspak, the land that time forgot, and later was transported to Barsoom with John Carter, the greatest swordsman on two worlds.

And no, I have no idea how nobody ever noticed I was reading paperbacks with nekkid chicks painted by Frank Frazetta and Michael Whelan on the covers. I was lucky. If a kid got caught with those today he would be marched to the principal’s office, possibly suspended and forced to undergo extensive therapy.

With junior high, I discovered Doc Savage (my school library fortunately had a pair of the Bantam doubles, The Headless Men/Devils of the Deep and Secret in the Sky/Cold Death). I read Ray Bradbury’s short stories and spent my reading periods and lunch breaks and discovered a bittersweet Mars which became as real in my mind as that of Burroughs, no matter what the Viking probes had discovered.

A collection of H P Lovecraft (The Outsider and Other Stories) opened my mind to a whole new non-Euclidian realm of cosmic horror. And then I found out about Robert E. Howard suddenly I had a whole new world of adventure open up for me, from the prehistoric empires of Kull and Conan to the Elizabethan exploits of Solomon Kane. A summer visit to my uncle gave me a chance to read both 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mysterious Island in the span of a few weeks. When I went to my public library, I would use their brand new computer terminals to search for decades-old books, not always finding them, but always looking.

In high school, my library had a selection of nonfiction books about SF — from the ’70s. So I got to learn what the SF field was like 20 years earlier. Such a different time: old guard vs. new, gender roles, political slapfights, accusations of fascism and sexism . . . Er, okay, maybe it’s not that different after all. Point is, I learned a lot. My list of authors grew and my horizons expanded to the edge of the universe.

I read Larry Niven and marveled at the wonders of the Ringworld. I learned the Laws of Robotics and pondered psychohistory. I read Orwell and discovered that some animals are more equal than others. Heinlein I unfortunately skipped, due to the fact that I made the mistake of believing in his “fascist” reputation mentioned in those books I had read. Because of that, I didn’t read him until adulthood, which I regret immensely now. You know, that could be a whole other post . . .

And now? My high-tech Kobo e-reader has a copy of Edmond Hamilton’s The Star Kings on it. Does it matter that I was reading this novel with a device more sophisticated than any of the computers contained within? Of course not.

One of the complaints made was that the younger generation can’t relate to “futures” where men still wear hats and they can make intelligent positronic robots but not personal computers. I say you’re not giving the younger generation enough credit. When I was reading Bradbury and Asimov, I was very aware that I was reading of future’s past. It doesn’t matter that Orwell’s 1984 is behind us (or is it?) any more than it matters that the Mars that Burroughs and Bradbury wrote about has no more foundation in reality than Middle-Earth.

It didn’t matter to me because I could see the things that hadn’t changed. Ultimately, the human experience remains consistent across the ages. Sure, superficial things like slang and fashions change with the decades (Think our modern SF won’t look hokey and dated to people mid-century? Think again.) But people still fall in and out of love. There is conflict and injustice. The universe is full of terrors and wonders yet to be discovered. It doesn’t matter if the characters are flying to a swampy Venus in rocketships or taking a starship through a wormhole to Gliese 581.

What matters is this: Is the plot good? Are the characters interesting? Is there a sense of wonder? Were you gripped? Do you want to read it again? These remain true, if you’re reading in 1915, 1955 or 2015.

The Golden Age is whenever you find it.

152 thoughts on “Reflections of a Golden Age by Christopher M. Chupik

  1. I read a bit of RAH in high school (Troopers was the only one that stood out for me). But it was Joe Haldeman’s “Forever War” that roped me in fully.
    Some of the older classics I read were not as absorbed because of the science, but they were, for the most part, good stories that I liked.
    Those who are saying these good stories are irrelevant and no longer needed are not writing anything that is going to be thought of in the future as a “Golden Age Classic”

  2. I am exceedingly glad no one bothered to tell me about the evils of Heinlein before I read him. And I’m very glad my parents hadn’t heard of Stranger in a strange land because they would have banned that for sure.

    I’m not sure I totally agree with the recommendation to read the classics. At least not all of them, and not as a start. It has nothing to do with the presence of sliderules or whatever or the failure to predict technology, In re-reading many of them, Asimov for ex, I find that the chracters and dialog are godawful in many cases (heinlien being a notable exception) compared to most modern writers.

    1. The value of Asimov is more in seeing how an author takes a single idea (say, the Three Laws) and explores all the facets of them.

      1. I would tend to say, browse the classics, and see if anything grabs you.

        Like Steam Punk? Dude, there’s this Jules Verne guy . . .

        Power armor? E.E. Doc Smith. Lensmen rule.

        Andre Norton’s got space ships, time travel, and fantasy. Usually separate.

        Feeling rebellious? Try The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by that Heinlein fellow . . .

      2. If you want to see explorations of the Three Laws, I recommend the webcomic Freefall. Much better job.

    2. masgramondou , I’m with you on Azimov. I read him when I was young, but with age find him klunky. The fourth book of the Foundation trilogy–my sister gave it to me, I think, and it didn’t work for me. I reread the trilogy a couple years back, and it was better than I recalled until book #3. Heinlein still works for me.

      I’ve read Doc Savage (at least 50 books) and many/most if not all the Barsoom novels I could find. There’s a lot of good old stuff to be found.
      With more than a sufficiency of the so-so, weak, and bad.

  3. The first “grown up” book I ever read was RAH’s “Day After Tomorrow” (I think it’s original title was “Sixth Column.) It was like scales fell off my eyes. RAH literally opened the universe to me and gave me a love of books and SF that lasts to this day.

    I never really understood his “fascist” label. It must have been hung on him by people who never read his books. Heinlein was one of the first to have non-white heroes (and Asian in “The Day After Tomorrow” or a Filipino in “Starship Troopers”) He had crippled protagonists (Baslim the Cripple in “Citizen of the Galaxy”) an numerous works with female protagonists.

    The only strong disagreement I had with him was his love of cats (although I loved the cat characters Blert and Petronious the Arbiter)–I’m a dog person.

    He taught me about politics, philosophy and economics while keeping me entertained with exciting stories. How many writers today can make that claim?

    1. He was “of course” a “Fascist” because in their eyes, he left the leftoid reservation, and in their eyes only a Fascist would do so. That Fascism is a form of leftoid thought is of course denied at all costs, and because some of his views were very unfascist, he must be dismissed out of hand, lest someone learn bad-thought at the reading of his works.

    2. It isn’t that they had or hadn’t read Heinlein, it was that you shouldn’t read him. So they slapped a Mr. Yuck! label on him to discourage tasting.

      1. Can’t say I read much of any Heinlein while young. $HOUSEMATE made a point of lending me The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which I wound good, but somehow I couldn’t get into The Man Who Sold the Moon. I actually read more Bradbury early, but eventually found while his writing was good, the result tended to depress me. Later encountered his line about trying to prevent some futures, which made immediate sense – but I still shy away from Bradbury.

        As for Mr. Yuck! I keep telling $HOUSEMATE that Mr. Yuck! is a pea with a face for good reason, but $HOUSEMATE keeps trying to tell me peas are not only food, but good tasting food. Experience tells me otherwise.

        1. I indeed remember The Man Who Sold the Moon as Heinlein’s least of his lesser works. I read little Bradbury as I considered him gloomy. Consider Snow Peas, they are leafy green.

      2. As I recall, the bio by H. Bruce Franklin (er, America as Science Fiction if memory serves) had a fair amount of the Mr. Yuck branding. (Having a Maoist do a biography of Heinlein strikes me as a bit obvious…)
        I encountered RAH through the juveniles, but really got into them via a gift of paperbacks from my brother’s future brother-in-law in the late ’60s..
        I rather liked the Harriman stories, but it might be a generational thing. My copy of I Will Fear No Evil went away in a move, and I don’t feel a need to replace it, but Time Enough for Love stays.

    3. I don’t know, some of his early works were not exactly fascist, but most definitely socialist. Problem is, he “left the reservation” as RES said, and so is viewed as traitor by those he left behind. And you know nothing is hated and reviled more than a traitor.

        1. Yeah – that was JP K. And it is accurate but not sufficient. A major part of why they tore down RAH was because he stood head and shoulders and torso above them. Easy to forget now, but RAH was the giant in the field, the Moses who led them out of the land of pulps and into the Promised Land of slick magazines and best-selling hardbound books.

          They couldn’t out-write him, they are incapable of gratitude, so they “proved” their power “greatness” by tearing him down. Because if <Ihe ain’t great, they aren’t standing in his shadow like the intellectual, moral and professional midgets they are.

          1. Sigh.

            Because if he ain’t great, they aren’t standing in his shadow …

            Considering this, there is a feel to it of older sibs telling the younger ones that there is no Santa or that their favorite band sucks. There is no constructive purpose, it falls more nearly into the “I can no longer enjoy this so i will deny you the pleasure” category.

            I mean, really, what difference, at this point in time, what difference does it make? Read Heinlein, read Norton, read Bradbury, Burroughs, Howard, Lovecraft, Moorcock, Clarke, Anderson, de Camp, Tenn, Smith (take your pick) or any of hundreds of others. Or don’t — but read or don’t read because you like them, not because some pompous git tells you an author is good or bad.

            James Branch Cabell is today largely forgotten, but he is a major influence on such writers as Heinlein and Neil Gaiman. He was probably racist — it is almost impossible a Virginian of his caste and era wouldn’t be — but his writing isn’t about that. A.Merritt, H. Rider Haggard and others are similarly dated but they are still readable if you’ve flexibility enough to put on your time-traveler pants and sojourn back to a time when the writing took a different style, a more leisurely style suited to a time and place where entertainment had to last, it wasn’t competing with a thousand and one distractions like television, radio, movies, video games and such. Try complex compound sentences, arcane vocabulary, and plots that are cliche because everybody since then has stolen from the creator.

            Or don’t — but why on Earth would you presume to dictate what others should enjoy reading?

            1. If they are not in his shadow, then the darkness looming over them is a Acme weight of 100,000 indy authors outselling them.
              And I think many are now finding what to read by what those fools denying the shadow say is not worth the time.

            2. It is their inability to understand that Zero Tolerance and Intolerance are the same thing.
              ‘Check my white privilege’; guess what? I can no more recognize that privilege than a fish can recognize the water they are swimming in. On I’m sure in fish school they teach it is Dihydrogen Oxide, but understand?
              The biggest absurdity of the SJWs is this demand that writers of the past acknowledge and accept all the multicultural B.S. of today. Guess what? When Mark Twain wrote, the ‘n’ word wasn’t considered taboo. When Heinlein wrote, ‘colored’ people used a different drinking fountain. In that consideration, Heinlein was a vibrant, radical, free thinker.
              All children are taught to believe in Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and God. My Nephew, at a young and tender age asked after being told the first 3 were a lie, was the last one too.

              1. Santa Claus et al are role-playing games. Somehow our culture allows people to call it lying. That is not fair.

                My parents always played games with a straight face, like when my dad would claim not to know where we were going when he was the one driving us to a surprise destination, or when he would claim that we should not eat the cookies because they had arsenic in them. So finding out that Santa Claus was a game was no shock to us.

                1. Santa Claus is that good feeling you get when you do something nice for someone without expecting anything in return. The mythology just makes it more comprehensible to young minds.

                2. My brother-in-law doesn’t want to teach my niece about Santa. I gave him Hogfather as an early Christmas present.

                3. After deducing – and confirming – the truth at a a young age, I had a cynical theory of why it was done in the first place. And i could not discuss it with anyone, for my parents were upset I had figured it out, and I was sworn to secrecy lest I ruin Christmas for family and friends.

                  How young was I? I don’t really remember, but I do have a distinct memory of a classmate exited about the entire deal, and thinking it was pitiful that a 1st Grader still believed in it.

            3. I’ve never heard of Cabell, but covered most of your list beginning with Heinlein. Frankly, Heinlein got a bit weird, particularly when the reading order went Stranger, Friday, and then Farnham’s Freehold. Too much of it was morally repulsive to me, so I just put him down. I still re-read Troopers every once in a while, but that’s it.

              Same thing with Moorcock. I read the various champions series, starting with Elric, the first time seeing the champions as heroes, the second as rationalizing villains. With Byzantium Endures he finally managed to make a narrator so vile that I couldn’t even finish the book.

              To my mind, the hero should be a hero. Which means I have trouble getting through a book of late without wanting to reach between the pages and give one character or another a good shaking.

    4. I object to calling Heinlein ‘one of the first to have non-white heroes’. There were many before him who had non-white heroes because rarely was race explicit (and when it was there was a purpose to it). If anything Heinlein was heading into racism by making the race of characters important. For most of pre-1970s science fiction race was in terms of Earthman or Marsman, not Asian and Fillipino, i.e. while there are more than few descriptions of Northwest Smith, racially Smith is an Earthman and the descriptions could cover just about any racial sub-type of the Children of Earth (he was adopted so his name is not a racial indicator, personally I always pictured him as an American Indian). For most science fiction stories the characters can be white, black, red, or brown – they’re all the same, it is the green folk who up to no good.

      That ‘anti-racists’ demand human beings be classified by sub-types says something about them. The person who requires non-whites to be explicitly spelled out as being heroes instead of assuming that a non-identified hero can be of any race is the one who has racial prejudices.

      argh sorry, the beginnings of a rant, aimed not at the people who deserve it.

    5. the politician Huey Long observed that when fascism came to America, it would call itself anti-fascism. It gets proven every day — with charges of fascicm.

        1. wordpress sent this somewhere else. I copy that here:

          I just made a large, stout cup of tea (er, my cup is actually a 24oz soup bowl) with 4 bags of Constant Comment
          Maybe that and breakfast cooking will waked me ups

          I think wordpress needs the C8H10N4O2 more than I do!

          1. OK, had to look that up. Thought you might be referring to one or more Huns, there…

            (Yes, I know diddly about tea. Except that the rest of the family costs a lot more than I do for breakfast beverages. I normally drink generic instant coffee in microwaved water…)

            1. It isn’t my very favorite but it was what I found that was strong enough (of course, once they were steeping, I found the Oolong), and wasn’t Chai. I wasn’t feeling the need for spice and cream this AM.

              Instant? Well, I don’t do coffee, so I can’t judge that. Only cold press is at all drinkable to me, and then it is very much cream and sugar with some coffee.
              At least it wasn’t like Granpa Tony’s. He perked a pot every morning, for as long as breakfast took to cook, and eat, and to read the morning paper. the first cup was poured a few bites into the meal, then after he left the table, he put it aside. then during the day, he’d pour some into a soup pan and bring it to a boil, then fill his cup and pour the remainder back into the pot. after the day, he took the last bit out, heated it and almost filled the cup, and then downed it just before going to bed. A fork would stand up in that last cup.

              1. good coffee should always be boiled. And a few extra minutes perking never hurt anything. In fact that is the way I generally make it myself. Put coffee and breakfast on the stove at the same time. When it starts to perk turn it down so it doesn’t boil over, and when I am finished with breakfast I pour myself a cup and a thermos full. If I am staying around the house I will drink the other couple of cups left in the pot before they cool down, if I am leaving immediately I’ll just take the thermos with me, and may possibly reheat what is left in the pot in the evening when I get back.

                Why did your grandpa pour it out of the pot to reheat it, instead of reheating it in the pot?

                1. Well, he took about an hour or more to read the paper after breakfast (this was days off, or after retirement btw) and it perked that whole time so his weakest cup was the first.

                  No idea why he used and old soup pan to reheat, but likely because it took less time to get it to boil (even once they got a microwave he warmed it that way).

  4. The “Golden Age” is when you’re old enough to be somewhat independent of your parents but they are still paying all/most of the bills. [Grin]

    1. I would use “and,” there Drak. I was paying a goodly chunk of the bills at sixteen (well, not housing, the mortgage was paid off I think when I was still a toddler).

      Although my “Golden Age” of reading probably lasted until I was 22 or so…

      1. Nod.

        My thought was “old enough to be semi-independent” and “not needing to be fully responsible”.

        Of course, this has little to do with “what we enjoyed reading”. [Smile]

  5. I read the first 1/2 of your post wondering “Where is Heinlein?” Then you explained how the proto-SJWs were already poisoning the wells of reason and truth.
    I read Stormship Troopers in the 5th grade (a.k.a. 12 year old), and I was a little too young to understand all the ideas, but I already had a good background in Heinlein’s young adult novels. I am most fond of his flat cats, but while I too am a ‘dog person’, I do have an intellectual respect for felines, and in many ways they tend to be more interesting in novel situations.
    Cat: While my human slept, I further explored the caverns, and encountered the alien crew…
    Dog: While my human slept, I laid down in the small of his back and dreamed of another warm dinner of beef stew.

  6. [T]he younger generation can’t relate to …

    I suspect more codswallop has been served under that rubric than any other. It manages to insult the younger generation as well as the authors it attempts to denigrate.

    I read the Tom Swift Jr. books when I was a pre-adolescent and marvelled at them, but when one summer at camp I discovered the old (sorta) original Tom Swifts (he interjected pointedly) they proved even better reading even if their science was obsolete.

    Verne & Wells were old stuff when I got to them but I (and many others) managed to relate to Captain Nemo, Professor Cavor, journeyed to the center of the Earth and fought Morlocks alongside the Time Traveller. Heck, I could even find ways to relate to Adam Link, to Snowball and many a non-human character.

    You know what the younger generation can’t relate to? Bad writing, cardboard characters and grey goo. I say it’s spinach and I say phooey.

    1. You know what the younger generation can’t relate to? Bad writing, cardboard characters and grey goo. I say it’s spinach and I say phooey.

      I need to ask mine again exactly why they don’t like science fiction. Never got a good answer, and it might be that it simply don’t care for it. I do recall that I hated some juvenile because they were condescending. While I was an Asimov fan, I really didn’t care for his juveniles, either. Heinlein did a much better job, in my opinion.

      Other books I hated were the gray goo type. The first I ran into was On the Beach, which should be banned in Australia as an insult to the entire country. The problem is that there were no efforts to survive. Even if it ended in tragedy, it would have been better to have fought against the night instead of sitting in a car and taking a suicide pill.

      1. The first I ran into was On the Beach, which should be banned in Australia as an insult to the entire country. The problem is that there were no efforts to survive. Even if it ended in tragedy, it would have been better to have fought against the night instead of sitting in a car and taking a suicide pill.

        It’s also scientifically-absurd. The proposed method of wiping out humanity (radioactive fallout) is one which Humans already (in the 1950’s) had the ability for at least some of them to survive, by building air-filtered deep fallout shelters. (And note: the reason why things had gotten that bad was that it had become so easy to build nuclear weapons that EVERYONE had them in the war which destroyed most of the world, which implies a higher baseline technology than ~1957)..

        True, most of Humanity (even most Australians) would have died. But then the rains (at least on the coast) would have washed the fallout into the sea, the stratospheric fallout would have fallen out of the upper atmosphere, and the Earth would have again been habitable, though biologically impoverished relatively to the pre-war world.

        Come to think of it, On the Beach also exemplifies a mistake made in a lot of apocalyptic fiction — that if not all or most can survive, none can survive — which is not only depressing, but a failure to understand the implications of natural history and evolutionary biology. Species quite often pass through survival bottlenecks.

        1. Humanity has survived such a bottleneck — it’s a big reason why inbreeding is so dangerous for us. It’s thought to be the result of the Tomba caldera super volcano erupting, and may have reduced humanity to 2000 breeding pairs.

          1. In many circles (including non-religous ones) it is commonly believed to be due to the Great Flood. And 2000 breeding pairs is not a bottleneck. I think genetic research usually says a dozen or two, Christians, Jews, and Muslims put it even lower at 4 breeding pairs.o

        2. A more solid treatment of feces-hitting-the-fedders is Dean Ing’s Pulling Through, about as hard-SF a story as you can get (mostly; the Lotus Cellular ground-effects flying car didn’t quite happen).

    2. You know what the younger generation can’t relate to? Bad writing, cardboard characters and grey goo. I say it’s spinach and I say phooey.
      Spinach Fandango! So the others are actually all pen names for Chief Duppstadt?

      1. Wonderful! We so need to start identifying appropriate authors as pen names for Chief Duppstadt in reviews.

    3. original Tom Swifts (he interjected pointedly) they proved even better reading even if their science was obsolete.

      I dunno. The “turbine engine” ended up being somewhat important to the future of aviation. (I think that’s what Swift’s father was working on in the only book of the originals that I’ve read.)

      1. Same sort of deal with Jules Verne’s “all-electric submarine” (powerplant undescribed). Or Well’s Martian deathray (he described the main reflector and beam-director, and the soundlessness of the device (and the nastiness of what it does to targets) rather well. He just didn’t describe the light source.

        If you throw enough crazy inventions at the wall, some of them are going to be prescient. I think the moral is: Just invent as many things as you possibly can to cram into your future worlds. Try to describe (briefly) the parts you can and how they would work with the science you know, but don’t be afraid to imagine a future where people have invented new and interesting things that go beyond that.

        1. Yep. RAH is credited with the invention of the water bed. Well, yes, but his was actually much more complicated (reasonable, he envisioned it for hospitals during a time when he was trapped in one).

          Domestic cleaning robots, ditto.

          The only one he got spot on was waldos.

          It’s not the details, it’s the inspiration that matters. (Actually, if one is able to do all of the details, one is far too busy being a practicing engineer to write fiction about them.)

          1. Also wrote such lines as “the door dilated”. Which is oft used as an example of a great line.

            I’ve often thought that if space explorers came across a drifting abandoned ship and discovered that all the fasteners were lefty tighty righty loosey, they would instantly recognize it as an alien construction…

        2. Astounding’s atomic bomb that got the issue classified in the Manhatten District library. (And nearly got the magazine shut down).

      2. IIRC, Tom Swift just had to content himself gadding about the Midwestern countryside in a barn-built dirigible. 😛

  7. The first novel I read was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in an old library book that might have been not all that far removed from initial publication. Most of my Science Fiction reading was more contemporary; then again, my youth wasn’t that far removed from the Golden Age. There was Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Bester, Bradbury, Spraque de Camp, H.G. Wells, and others. Philip K. Dick and Blish and Niven were contemporary in my eyes. Read some Burroughs, and tried Lovecraft but didn’t care for his stories then (times change).

    Oddly, while the library had two Mushroom Planet books, I didn’t care for them. Nor did I really like A Wrinkle in Time. I didn’t hate them, not like I despised Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Both the Mushroom Planet books and Charlotte’s Web had quite a following in school, so . . . shrug.

    Note that this is just SF authors. I liked Tolkien even if the only thing available for a long time was the first chapter of The Hobbit. and I discovered C.S. Lewis through a chapter book version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe distributed at the church of one of my grandmothers (she was a Sunday School teacher and saved her copies for her grandchildren to read). Oddly, while the next thing I read of Lewis was The Screwtape Letters, I’ve never read his science fiction books.

    FWIW, I got into trouble in the 6th Grade for having a copy of Mad magazine in my desk. The teacher didn’t appreciate it at all.

    1. I finally had to look that up (Mushroom Planet). I can see why I don’t remember that one; it’s one I would have picked up and dropped again right away.

      I read RAH juveniles, of course, but my other ones were the Miss Pickerell and Danny Dunn series.

  8. Once you write something like this, the memories start flooding back.

    I never even mentioned the Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher, or a book which I recently discovered was a juvenile by Robert Silverberg.

    There’s one book which I’ve spent a long time trying to remember the name of. Interstellar travel is done by transmitting consciousness across the stars to android bodies. The only difference between android and real bodies is a scar at the back of the neck. I’ve googled key words and come up with zilch.

    1. Ah, the Tripod trilogy, I really need to find that and reread it, see if it is as good as I remember. I didn’t realize it was old enough to be considered Golden Age, but it has been a long time since I read it.

    2. That sounds like Farthest Star by Williamson & Pohl, but it’s been 30 years since I read it. I could be wrong.

      1. Checked Wikipedia, and no, it doesn’t sound quite like what I remember. Plus it doesn’t sound like something my school library would have carried.

      2. Not quite. They had you being duplicated at the other end (and explored some of the psychological problems of being the “other” one, that had lost everything in their prior life).

    3. I’ve read something recent by Greg Egan that sort of does that.

      I suppose it makes sense in a setting where shipping matter across space is extremely expensive and barely within the realm of your civilization’s capability, but transmitting information is easy and happens at lightspeed. You’d have to have the same lack of hangups about continuity as the users of Star-Trek’s transporter though.

  9. I didn’t read science fiction growing up… except for Burroughs. I started out with the Tarzan books, and it was a long time before I graduated on to the Barsoom and Pellucidar books, but when I did I managed to ignore the fact that they were science fiction. Because I liked them, and I Knew that I didn’t like science fiction. It was Anne McCaffrey that finally convinced me that I might like science fiction, and still it was a long time before I branched out to other authors.
    Frankly I’m not a huge fan of a lot of the Golden Age authors, I’ve picked up some obscure ones that I liked, but many of those mentioned I find readable, but not memorable. One of the greatest accomplishments of Golden Age authors, in my opinion, is inspiring more contemporary authors that I really enjoy. I may not be particularly endeared to Heinlein (some I like, some I can take or leave, and some I actively dislike) but more authors that I like cite him as an inspiration than any other author (or possibly all other authors combined), so I am imminently grateful for his writing. Another inspiration for future authors was Tolkien, I’ve tried several times to read his books, and find them absolutely unreadable (I’ve owned the Lord of the Rings trilogy at least twice, possibly three times, but no matter how hard I tried, I’ve been unable to force myself to read more than a few chapters) but he has inspired a number of authors that I thoroughly enjoy, so I’m glad he was published as well.

    1. A friend lent me The Hobbit as an ‘easy’ introduction for Tolkien, which I slogged through. After that I was done with Tolkien. The tech manuals I was going through at the time were more engaging – and had less dire need of a good editor.

  10. I do not recall the first SF I encountered, though often I would see a TV/movie version of a story and then go find the book. This was how I found Animal Farm and The Mysterious Stranger (and stopped disliking Twain after having Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn assigned in school. And then read almost everything I could of Twain. So the references were old? So what? But I would still like a good, full explanation of what a ‘chromo’ is or was.)

    Outright fantasy I can trace most likely to The Wizard of Oz as my maternal grandmother had if not the full collection, something very close. Curiously the thing I remember most of whole lot is the intro to one of very last in the series, after the world having been getting far too well explored Oz had been magically sealed off from travels to and from. So how did the last stor{-ies,-y} get out? Well, the author built himself a wireless set and…

    1. That wireless set probably worked on the Gridley Wave. 😉

      Speaking of Oz, it was quite the revelation to the younger me that there were loads of other Oz stories which had never been made into MGM musical extravaganzas.

      1. I remember the critics’ outrage that Disney’s Return to Oz was not a musical. And I remember my and Beloved Spouse’s delight that it was true to the later books, Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Gump, Mombi, Billina the Nome King and all.

        1. I think I remember being perturbed, more by that one than the original movie, by the overlapping bits between Kansas and Oz. This might have been because the frame story was creepier.

          I also am pretty sure I had no grasp of the point that there was about a 45-year gap between the two productions, because I remember thinking of Return to Oz as a sequel specifically to the movie version of the Wizard of Oz and also being vaguely irritated that they had a new actress for Dorothy.

          1. My being an adult who saw Return in theatre at least 25 years after first seeing Wizard on television, and some 20 years since reading the sequel novels probably helped distinguish the two. Plus knowing Judy Garland had not only grown up but died in the interim.

            And yes, much creepier framing story.

      2. Same here. I read aloud a few of the Oz books with my kids … but the story that absolutely terrified me personally was in the first book, but not the movie, the land of china people. This was when my kids were about 5-9 years old and I had put away everything breakable in the house, lol

  11. I’m not sure 12 is the Golden Age. I’m 44 and I’m just reading Jack Vance’s Dying Earth for the first time. It’s the mindset, not the physical age. It’s about seeing the wonder in the world, looking at each day with new eyes. Those who have lost that ability, or smothered it under a blanket of cynicism are reading in the wrong genre.

  12. While it came later in my life, I have to mention the library at my post-secondary institution. I went there back in the late ’90s and I don’t think they had a single book from later than the mid-’80s. They even had some of the Gor novels on their paperback wall. I rather doubt they still do.

      1. College roommate of mine had all of that series (up to that time). I read the first three (or was it four?). Reasonably interesting world building, somewhat Burroughs like.

        Then, whichever the next one was, I got about halfway and dropped it. I’ve heard that they only got worse after that… By the way, I also dropped Daw Books after that one, too. Not that I’ve missed much of interest by simply ignoring that imprint on anything.

        1. My first introduction to Gor was through a review that claimed they were very “Burroughs like.” Yep, without mentioning the Other thing that Gor is famous for. I agree the first couple were readable, with an actual plot, the ones after that… well at least there is a thriving market for used John Norman books. In fact I found it thriving enough that for some time I looked for any copies I might find in secondhand stores or at estate auctions, because I could always make a couple bucks on them.

          1. Way back in my salad days when I worked at Ace Books, we received a courtesy package of DAW titles including the latest GOR novel. Susan Alison and Terri Windling seized upon it and took turns reading paragraphs of the defenseless prose, at the end of which they would chorus, “And then he tied her up again!”

        1. I think Hillary’s idea of Adult Fun and ours are quite different. Let’s keep her out of office.

  13. And my list of authors to read just keeps getting longer.
    Thank you.
    (How many of these books would be free on my Kindle? Lots of the classics come at no charge.)

  14. “Think our modern SF won’t look hokey and dated to people mid-century? Think again.”

    That criticism is something I’ve never understood. People still read Shakespeare. The Bible. The Friggin’ Epic of Friggin’ Gilgamesh. Those aren’t “dated” at all, are they? 🙂

    People like good stories, no matter how “dated” they may be. This is even less understandable when it comes to F&SF, where the reader is accepting a not-real world as the starting point.

    I’d bet money that people will be reading Larry Correia long after Anne Leckie has been cast on the heap of discarded literary fads.

    There’s even an example of this with a single author: H.G. Wells. People are still reading The War of the Worlds, and making movies (loosely) based on it. His works from the period after he (as G.K. Chesterton put it) sold his birthright for a pot of message? Unread and largely unreadable.

    1. Hell, if you can read Jane Austen, you can read Heinlein, Burroughs, Bracket, et al.

    2. Read a 1940ish SF story with mention of boiled shirts, or a slightly more recent story where they toss “plasti-bottles,” or stories about Venus and Mars written with the very best known science of the era. Then read a story where the author didn’t quite get the ramifications of General Relativity on space travel. It’s as jarring as that ST:Lost in Space episode where Voyager slipped through a crack in an event horizon.

      Good stories remain good stories, but as the years pass the visions of the future become more jarring.

      1. I’m thinking of a class of stories that had Mercury tidally locked to the Sun. OTOH, The Andromeda Strain dealt with improving science with a line about 48 vs 46 human chromosomes. Don’t have the book any more and it’s already been a long day, but Crichton invented “Dr XXXX’s law: All scientists are blind.”

        1. Sometimes it’s sad in a depressing way. There was once a story about a National Geographic expedition attempting to cross Mercury. Decades later, the rot had set in so deeply that the real National Geographic essentially came out against manned space exploration. I dropped them soon after.

        2. Must be a different Andromeda strain than the one I read. That one was a about a lethal virus-thing from space. (The movie, which I saw first, wasn’t bad, either).

          1. Same one, but it was a line in passing in the book. The head of the unit was Doctor XXX. IIRC, it was in a discussion of scientific error (confirmation bias?) Paraphrased:

            Dr. WWW “The human cell has 48 chromosomes and here are the pictures to prove it!”
            Dr. XXX “Er, take another look and really count the chromosomes in the pictures.”
            Drs AAA, BBB, …WWW “1,2,3,…46. Oops!”
            Dr. XXX “All scientists are blind.”

            Not a bad discussion when dealing with Life as We Don’t Know It.
            (I have the movie soundtrack on LP. Smartasses cut it to be a hexagon.)

          2. Anyone else recall a Harry Harrison novel called (variously) Plague From Space and The Jupiter Plague? Published 1965, republished in 1981?

            Harry was a prolific writer and dealt with many SF sub-genres; space travel, time travel, alternate histories and universes, and in this case a First Contact story which is also a medical drama. Here the Jupiter probe returns to Earth with a devastating disease on board – prescient as always, Harry chose the plague to be a super-deadly form of avian flu!
            In 1969, the up-and-coming author Michael Crichton published his first SF novel, The Andromeda Strain. This is the story of a probe which, having visited Mars, returns to earth bringing with it a deadly virus against which scientists and the military must join forces to fight. If this sounds almost exactly like the set-up of Plague From Space, well, it is. Harry certainly felt it was, and when Crichton’s book made the New York Times bestseller list and was turned into a big-budget, not-very-good Hollywood science fiction movie, Harry also felt that he lost out on a substantial revenue stream. So, realizing that times had changed and that “popular” books were bought on the basis of bulk rather than brevity, he decided to expand Plague From Space.

            I don’t know exactly when I read it, but it certainly predates the release of the film version of The Andromeda Strain because I recognized the basic plot device.

      2. > “plasti-bottles”

        Heh, I remember one where the far future protagonists were running around with diskettes. That at a time when diskettes were already going out of circulation and the internet was a thing.

  15. “And no, I have no idea how nobody ever noticed I was reading paperbacks with nekkid chicks painted by Frank Frazetta and Michael Whelan on the covers.”

    Heh. I remember my mom stubbing her eyes on this one:

    (not quite naked). I’d read all the Burroughs in the library, then spotted this one in the store, you see. I was old enough that the cover was…interesting, but my main motivation was that I wanted to read the story. I promise.

    To her credit, she let me buy it.

    1. So what did you think of it? I have all of Burroughs Pellucidar books, but was unaware others continued writing in that universe.

  16. Mysterious island. i loved that book, it described how to make nitroglycerin. What more could a boy want?

  17. I’d also like to mention the illustrated abridged versions of Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson. Must have read those a hundred times. Wish I still had them. Sigh.

    1. Do those count as fantasy/SF?

      I actually have problems trying to figure out ‘when I started reading fantasy/science fiction.’ They were part of the ‘fiction’ category for me, versus ‘nonfiction’.

      I enjoyed reading stories; and my dad liked to get us these illustrated ‘comic book’ versions of classic stories, or illustrated children’s book versions of classic stories (Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, 20k Leagues Under the Sea) were read along with Asterix, Yoko Tsuno (a Japanese FEMALE protagonist from way back in the day!) TinTin, the Smurfs… while devouring the ‘Question and Answer’ books and “Do You Know Why” and “Imponderables” and children’s history books and dinosaurs and so on and so forth. Most of them had illustrations, and one of the few things I remember was one of the history books briefly discussed how Egypt fell. The scene painted depicted people getting killed, blood pouring from the head wound of a man who had just taken an axe to the skull, his wife reaching out for him, unaware of her own impending doom behind her; and other scenes of violence in the background.

      I wasn’t ‘traumatized’ by it, it showed people in the picture and helped me empathize with the history I was reading. I don’t exactly remember ever learning that ‘bad things simply happened in history and today,’ it simply was. Thus I wasn’t ‘traumatized’ by fights, death, murder, betrayal or such happening in fiction and could enjoy imagining the worlds I read about without issues. Not everybody is good; because as my parents once pointed out when I’d gone and asked lots and lots of whys, ‘if everyone is good/have no problems, then there would be no story.’

      So I read books like Dragonworld, and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series aged 8-9, focused on the story, accepting good and evil, and in a way prepared me for the harsh reality of the real world.

        1. Yep, I noticed that, even at the tender age I read it. In fact Swiss Family Robinson was the first big book I read. My mom was reading it to me in the evenings, and I was pestering her to read to me while she was doing housework, and she got frustrated and told me to read it myself. So I lay on the living room floor and read the whole rest of the book in one sitting. I would have been in the first or second grade then (at a guess, it was actually summer vacation between the two). From there I’m sure there were some others in between, but I don’t really remember them, and I know by the third grade I was devouring my mothers Louis L’amour collection.

      1. I can’t remember what was the first SF or fantasy because my early reading blurs together in a mass. I can remember works but not order.

  18. Completely off topic…
    Over on today’s Ace of Spades book thread, the history of Portugal got a prominent mention.
    While I hope our hostess is enjoying her vacation, I’d also dearly love to know her reaction to the bit. I mean, I found it fascinating, but freely admit that I have no context.

  19. I got Viled. 😛

    And no, they didn’t miss my thinly-veiled swipe at them either.

  20. I confess to still reading mostly “Golden Age” books.
    I began to notice “social justice” themes creeping into my sci-fi and fantasy early on (what I mentally labeled as “preachy”) and it eventually drove me from the field for quite a number of years.
    I still most often re-read books from the above-mentioned authors and am very selective of more recent works.

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