Old-School Scifi

So, a few months ago, we were at our local thrift store on one of their half-off-everything days, and I discovered that someone had donated a ton of old scifi books from the 50s. Andre Norton, Asimov, people I’ve never heard of but the stories looked cool. And among them was an anthology entitled SF: ’59 The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy.

(I bought them all. Don’t judge me.)

Yesterday I finished reading the anthology, which was kind of enlightening, honestly. It was like a snapshot into what science fiction and fantasy was over fifty years ago. And it was interesting because most of these stories, the best of the year, would never get published in today’s climate. Part of that is that they would be seen as derivative, but I’m sure they weren’t back then. Some of them aren’t science fiction or fantasy, but just a little off-kilter (like one telling the story of Hickory Dickory Dock in the style of Jack Kerouac). And the editor uses “SF” to mean science fantasy, which she uses interchangeably with science fiction.

There’s still a couple of great stories though. My favorite was a longer story called “The Comedian’s Children” by Theodore Sturgeon, whom I know mostly because he wrote some of my favorite original series Star Trek episodes (including the infamous “Amok Time,” thus delighting fanfiction authors for decades). I should probably read some of his novels or more of his short stories at some point.

Even more interesting than the stories was, at the back, they had a nonfiction section, with essays about space travel and the state of science fiction. In 1959, the manned space program was still a few years out from starting (NASA wasn’t even NASA yet) and Sputnik had just been launched a few years before (in 1957). So it’s very interesting to see them trying to puzzle out how to solve space flight issues since I can look back and see how it actually happened (and I am a huge space nerd, and have read a ridiculous amount of books on early manned spaceflight, so it’s an area I know quite a bit about). And Asimov wrote an essay about the state of science fiction, and how science keeps coming along a few years behind them and proving them wrong, which is kind of hilarious (and I think he meant it to be).

(I think it’s worth pointing out that most of the non-scifi/fantasy stories included were originally published in Playboy.)

Some aspects of this anthology are kind of depressing, because it goes to show how few authors ever truly are remembered past their times. Of the authors included, the only ones I recognize are Gerald Kersh, Fritz Leiber, Brian W. Aldiss, Theodore Sturgeon, and John Steinbeck (who of course wrote one of the non-SF stories from Playboy). Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a SF expert, but here are a bunch of authors who wrote what was considered some of the best SFF of their time, and I’ve never even heard of them. And that’s a humbling idea.

Do you have an experience with old scifi, Squiders? Do you like the style? Who’s your favorite?

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