01/09/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Prometheus Books. 405 page indexed hardback. Price: £27.50 (UK) although I got it for a lot less. ISBN: 1-57392-702-3.
check out website: www.prometheusbooks.com
Considering how many people love Science Fiction, it's amazing how few books on the subject are available let alone still in print. You really have to stalk the used book market to find any let alone know what you're looking for.
Eric Leif Davin's book, 'Pioneers Of Wonder', is still in print. More importantly, he interviewed either important people or their relatives from the beginning of SF from the 1930s providing first hand information of what it was like back then. With the second and third generation authors dying off now, such records are important. Not only are we carrying the torch and keeping Science Fiction alive ourselves but I think it is also important to realise how and why it started itself.
Although there have been some Science Fiction and fantasy stories right from the beginning of storytelling, SF based off real science didn't really get started until the start of the last century. It wasn't even seen as the genre for 'proper' writers and so could not garner them or decent money. With a greater emphasis on a sense of wonder, it is no wonder (sic) that its start didn't have many 'good' writers' In the Great Depression in America at the time, you just had to get on with whatever was available and churn things out, sometimes for no money at all.
Hugo Gernsback might be seen as the godfather of Science Fiction but he often never paid his writers without a lawsuit. Editor John Campbell would hold a permanent grudge if you crossed him. The dawn of US SF fandom had various factions at war with each other as well. Hmmm...things haven't changed that much over the years if you think about it.
The odd state of affairs with this book is you need to keep one finger in the page you are reading and the other for the informed footnotes at the end of each chapter which in several places are almost as long.
There are interviews with editors David Lasser and Charles Hornig who worked for Gernsback which balance things out significantly. The widow of author Stanley Weinbaum tells much about her husband. If you're never read 'A Martian Odyssey' then you're missing the first significant story that had aliens that were truly alien and he was also a top notch writer. Less well-known today are the authors Raymond Z. Gallun, Frank K. Kelly, R.F. Starzl and Lloyd Arthur Eshbach which goes to show how stars can fade.
We've seen similar things happen with authors from the 60s. An attempt to get an interview with the widow of author Laurence Manning is documented but failed when old age caught up with her. I suspect Davin included this chapter as a reminder that such things can be beaten by time. The same could also be said for the late editor and SF historian Sam Moskowitz although the insight of the man from Davin's personal experience shows things in common with us in having an interest in everything. The interview with scriptwriter and author Curt Siodmak works well if you can put on a deep German accent and his nonchalant attitude to his material.
From the footnotes, there is also sufficient references to track down other books. You shouldn't really miss this book, especially as it gives so much information about Science Fiction in its formative years.
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