Monday 14 October 2019

Book Review: The Golden Age of Science Fiction by John Wade

As a wargamer, I have always been attracted to the idea of putting on a retro sci-fi game. Whenever I see retro sci-fi figures or rules I am compelled to pick them up. I assume that this is in a wide part down to nostalgia. Growing up in the 1970s in the UK we got our first expose to Star Trek and also I fondly remember watching classic sci-fi movies on BBC2 in the early evenings on Wednesdays. Films that were invariably made in the 1950s, mainly black and white (that might just have been because we still had a black and white TV at that point), and I suppose even by then, fairly dated. "Them", "The Incredible Shrinking Man", "This Island Earth", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and two of my favourite films, "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and "Forbidden Planet".

So when I saw the book The Golden Age of Science Fiction - A journey into Space with 1950s Radio, TV, Films, Comics and Books by John Wade I knew I had to read it.

Although never promising to be a complete look at science fiction in the 1950s (this is a personal memoir to the author's discovery and love of the genre during the 50s), the book does however look at so much more than just movies, covering radio (a far bigger thing back then than it is now), TV, films, books, comics and magazines, all in great depth.

Each different form of media is covered in a separate chapter, starting with radio. Now, I should also point out that the book is very much written from a British point of view, therefore it may well miss the odd American and international productions, although where foreign media made it to the UK they do also feature.

The section on television reviews several TV plays as well as going into some depth on the three Quatermass series. I have had an abiding love of the Quatermass quartet for many years, although missed the original three series, seeing the films and the later series only. I have, however, read the three script books that were released with the original TV scripts. The depth of information in this book is excellent and if nothing else it has inspired me to track down and watch the original TV shows if I can find them.

The section on movies is obviously mainly focused on the amazing US output of Sci-Fi movies in the 1950s. With such classics as those already mentioned at the beginning of this review. First, we have a general overview of the ci-fi movie genre in the 1950s with descriptions of the most common plot elements, then a brief review of the lurid nature of a lot of 50s movie posters, that didn't always reflect the content of the actual films. Then we get an in-depth review of the authors select choice of movies followed by some brief resumes of his choice of "also-rans". Finally, there is a reasonably exhaustive list of all of the sci-fi movies released in the 1950s. I found the movie section to be an invaluable resource for anybody who is interested in classic (and not so classic) sci-fi movies. As someone who has loved sci-fi for as long as I can remember, I will generally watch anything that has a hint of sci-fi about it. Many just to be able to tick them off as having seen them. So this list gives me a lot to work with.

The next chapter of the book proved to be just as interesting as it moved on to books. I devoured a lot of science fiction books in my teens working my way through many of the most well-known authors, to see which ones I enjoyed and which I was not so interested in. On reflection, I feel that I missed a lot that I really should have read, for example, I read several of Issac Asimov's Robot books but none of his Foundation series. I can say the same for many of the other top authors.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction by John Wade mainly concentrates on four authors John Wyndham, Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark and Ray Bradbury. going into some depth on their careers, both pre- and post- 1950s, but with the main focus on that decade. Now if the golden age of Sci-Fi was the 1950s, the 1970s was the golden age of mass-market paperbacks, and many of those books that I picked up were first in print in the 1950s, which was something of a revelation for me.

As a teen back then I picked up most of my reading material either browsing the local newsagents or more likely local second-hand book shops. So there was no real system and no investigation into the correct chronologies or bibliographies of particular authors. The Golden Age of Science Fiction has very much filled that gap and now I have decided to track down several books that I feel that I really should have read. For example, I have not read any of John Wyndham's work, although I am very familiar with the various adaptions of his Day of the Triffids. Now I am planning to read both The Kraken Wakes and The Chrysalids.

Towards the end of the Books chapter, Wade does go through a brief rundown of some other authors (that some might consider more important) that published works in the 50s. So don't be disappointed if your favourite author didn't get a mention.

The final section of the book covers magazines and comics. The 1950s was effectively the last real shout out for the survival of the pulp magazines and a lot of the magazines featured in this book can be seen to have moved to the digest size and away from the traditional pulp-style magazine. Once again the focus is on the magazines and comics that were available in the UK, whether they are British produced or just UK editions of US magazines.

The chapter finishes with a list of magazines that were around during the 1950s. Which once again will prove a useful resource for anyone interested in the history of Science Fiction. Now really, before I got on to the magazines I should have discussed the comics. My introduction to sci-fi in comics came with the Uk Starlord and then 2000AD titles. So it was interesting to see what had been available before that. Obviously, I was aware of Dan Dare, although I hadn't really spent much time looking into those stories from the Eagle comic. The book looks at Dan Dare in-depth, from its initial inception right through to its demise (and its brief resurrection in the 1980s).

Other comics that are mentioned certainly pale into insignificant compared to Dan Dare, but it is good to know the history of British Sci-fi in comics, along with the huge market of US superhero titles that tend to flood the market now.

The book is lavishly illustrated throughout and I found no spelling errors or grammar problems.

As I am sure you can already guess, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be referring back to it often in future. I received the book from Pen and Sword Publishing as a review copy, but I would gladly have bought it. It would actually be very nice if they followed it up with further volumes looking at the science fiction that came out of other decades and the impact that had.

The book can be purchased directly from Pen and Sword HERE.

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