Thursday, March 20, 2014

Adventures in Time and Space

Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas's anthology Adventures in Time and Space (also published under the title Famous Science-Fiction Stories) is, like it or not (or both), a landmark. Whatever else was going on in (and out of) the tiny world of American magazine science fiction in the late 1930s and early 40s, it was this book that fixed those coordinates in time and space — indeed, much more specifically John W. Campbell's Astounding of those years, in which all but three of the thirty-five stories collected was originally published — as something that would be permanently referred to, whether in quotation marks or not, and however ludicrously, as a "Golden Age." This anthology, published at the early date of 1946, took the names Robert A. Heinlein, A.E. Van Vogt, Alfred Bester, Isaac Asimov, and many others* out of the pages of low-circulation magazines (where surely they must have thought they would stay, passing out of history forever with the disintegration of the pages) and put them into a hardcover book published by Random House, where they sit uncomfortably to this day.

*All of them men except for the woman hidden inside "Lewis Padgett," three of whose stories appear here.

I am firmly sympathetic to the view that this era was repulsive and embarrassing, because it sure was, but I perhaps even more firmly believe that, mixed in with all the bad, something remarkable happened in those years — something that remains largely unappreciated by its detractors and partisans alike,* something in at least the best of it that, if approached with a sympathetic eye and a different kind of understanding, is still vital, still has something to say to us. I named this blog "Marooned Off Vesta," after Isaac Asimov's first published story, not only because it's obviously a killer name for a blog thank you very much, but also because of my belief in the importance of going back to this moment in sf's history, not as origin and certainly not as litmus test, nor as "the good stuff" to be uncritically lauded and imitated, but as a moment at which something happened, something radically unlike anything else in the world; and it is my argument that a new understanding of just what this thing was and what it still has to say to us, placed alongside as many other things as our overlapping personal, social, and political needs demand (and these demands are many!), could help us to create a contemporary sf literature of great depth and vitality — a living, open literature miles different from both the largely routine one we have now and the nightmarish and restrictive one most sf "traditionalists" seem to want. Though I've touched on these feelings and beliefs before, I've not yet really explored any of them in any systematic way.

*Not to mention, most of the time, the writers themselves.

And so I'll be reading Adventures in Time and Space — not all at once, just a story here and there. I've read many of them before, some recently, some not since childhood; and though I haven't counted I believe more than half will be new to me. My ambition right now is to write an essay about each story, but if you've been reading this blog for any amount of time (hi mom!) you'll know how these ambitions of mine usually turn out (not to mention that the first story in the collection is by Heinlein, which, yeeeesh, barrier). At the very least, then, I hope to be struck from time to time with some thought that demands exploration, and I'll be putting those up here.

Table of Contents

1. Robert A. Heinlein, Requiem
2. Don A. Stuart (John W. Campbell), Forgetfulness
3. Lester del Rey, Nerves

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