The epochs of science fiction production and readership:

  1. Iron Age: Lucian’s True History through all those utopias up till Mary Shelley.
  2. Industrial Age: Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus through The Coming Race and Erewhon and the ultra-popular Jules Verne oeuvre (and many obscurities, such as the short stories of Edward Page Mitchell) to The War of the Worlds and The Food of the Gods.
  3. Radium Age: From just prior to Great War to John W. Campbell’s hiring at Astounding in 1937, this period featured literary classics such as We and Brave New World, the pulp fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s extremely popular efforts and Gernsback’s considerably more obscure “scientifiction” crowd, and many breakthrough oddball efforts, like George S. Schuyler’s Black No More (1931).
  4. Golden Age: This period featured stiff competition among sf journals, the popularity of writers such as Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke and Simak, and the rise of “sci-fi” fandom.
  5. Philippians and the New Wave: Though hints of a new approach to sf can be found in the works of Philip José Farmer and Philip K. Dick, it was in the late Sixties that writers and editors such as Judith Merrill, Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock, Thomas M. Disch and others brought new literary sophistication to the genre. They called it “the New Wave,” and I am mainly familiar with the American wing of the movement, chiefly through Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology and its sequels.
  6. Cyberpunk & Cinema: In the Eighties, a strain evolved out of catching the curl of accelerated but ambiguous history, and inspired by the work of many past masters, focusing on progressive technology and decadent culture. This “cyberpunk” came to dominate literary sf trends, at least until the rebirth of space opera in a more sophisticated, Midcult form, while popular sf and its fandom were subsumed under the Masscult phenomena that congealed around the cinematic series Star Trek and Star Wars.

It’s all been post-historical since then, a postmodern diversity.


A Radium Age satirical novel I am reading, and Harlan Ellison’s celebrated anthology of 1967, which I devoured in the mid-70s.