The 100 best stories from Radium Age sci-fi

You’ve probably heard of science fiction’s Golden Age, that incredible period in the 1940s and ’50s when masters of the genre like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, and Jack Vance were in their primes. But the early 20th century was an even weirder and more fantastic time for science fiction, when the genre was still in flux and the atomic bomb hadn’t yet transformed our ideas about the future forever.

Sci-fi historian and editor Joshua Glenn has just finished a multi-year project to bring what he calls the Radium Age back into the public eye. He has brought ten Radium Age classics back into print through his indie press HiLo Books, and he has written a number of fascinating guides to the great books of that era. Now, with his definitive list of the 100 best stories and novels of the Radium Age (1904-33), he’s bringing the project to a close. But the journey for you, dear reader, is just beginning…

Glenn told Ars: One thing that distinguishes Radium Age from Golden Age science fiction is its faith in the possibility of a post-scarcity, peaceful, tolerant, just social order. For excellent historical reasons, we became very cynical about utopianism after Stalin and Hitler; Golden Age writers prided themselves on being wised-up, compared to their naive predecessors.

But the Radium Age wasn’t naive: We find many warnings about dystopian tendencies in the cultural, political, and economic tendencies of the period: Karel Capek and Aldous Huxley worried about the drive towards efficiency in all things that characterized both America and the USSR; Yevgeny Zamyatin and Edgar Rice Burroughs worried about the effects of Soviet-style collectivism on the individual; and Jack London’s “The Iron Heel” (1908), which is about fascist plutocrats who take over America, feels particularly relevant right now.

❝ But we also find optimism that people can overcome their worst tendencies and build something wonderful together: Rudyard Kipling’s “With the Night Mail” and Hugo Gernsback’s “Ralph 124C 41+” are technocratic utopias, Alexander Bogdanov’s “Red Star” portrays a successful socialist society on Mars; Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “Herland” portrays a successful socialist society without men…

The warts and ignorance, preconceptions and bigotries of the time appear here and there. Some of these are already familiar to a cranky old geek like me. I heartily endorse joining the search, the exercise of your brain in writings from that portion of the 20th Century before World war 2.

8 thoughts on “The 100 best stories from Radium Age sci-fi

  1. 451℉ says:

    “Four book series that are shaping the future of science fiction on television” https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2017/08/four-book-series-that-are-shaping-the-future-of-science-fiction-on-television/
    “During Trump’s present, it’s hard to write the future, says science fiction writer John Scalzi” http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-scalzi-future-is-now-20170816-story.html
    “In what reads like science fiction becoming reality, researchers at the University of Washington have been able to successfully infect a computer with malware coded into a strand of DNA. In order to see if a computer could be compromised in that way, the team included a known security vulnerability in a DNA-processing program before creating a synthetic DNA strand with the malicious code embedded. A computer then analyzed the “infected” strand, and as a result of the malware in the DNA, the researchers were able to remotely exploit the computer.” https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/11/16130568/scientists-infiltrate-computer-malware-code-dna

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s