What's Your Golden Age?

Discussion in 'SFF lounge' started by J-Sun, Feb 7, 2012.

  1.  
    J-Sun

    J-Sun Active Member

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    Over in the February reading thread Extollager was promoting 1887-1912 and Fried Egg said he'd have to think about it and Connavar voted for 1924-1936 and 1959-1972. So I thought about saying something there but figured it might be time for a new thread.

    For me, it's 1937-1962 if we're talking a 25 year stretch (shaving a couple of years off the end and sticking them on the beginning because I'd rather have de Camp and del Rey's first stories and the start of Galactic Patrol than Glory Road and whatnot) and I guess I'd pick something like 1977-2002 as an alternate. I don't know what era I actually have the most of (though it's likely 40s/50s) but I have a lot of everything from the 30s on and I don't think there's any particular era that wasn't good. 1965-75 or so would likely be a lesser period for me - but even then there was Zelazny, Spinrad, Le Guin, and some good older ones like Clarke, and Asimov's The Gods Themselves, and less older ones like Anderson's Tau Zero and Farmer, Dick, Silverberg, Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog", etc.

    I think what makes golden ages is a group of writers working in a similar zeitgeist towards something good. While the 20s and 30s had some fun and good stuff it was, except for a brief attempt at scientifiction, mostly either literary or un-literary. With Campbell reshaping Astounding and gathering a gigantic stable of superstars, "true" SF was (re)generated. But by the 50s Astounding was trying to compete with Galaxy and F&SF, Asimov largely retired from fiction for a time beginning in 1959 or so, Heinlein quit writing short fiction and mostly quit writing good novels by 1959-1962. Van Vogt mostly diminished to fixups. Sturgeon did his best work in the 50s and started sputtering through the 60s and 70s. Leiber had similar issues I think mostly in the 60s. Etc. And, while something like the New Wave was necessary (though 50s radicals like Farmer, Dick, and Ellison are not given enough historical credit for what they accomplished - they're given general credit as writers but history still overestimates the New Wave/underestimates the 50s) I think it generally went a little far in a one-sided reaction and didn't produce as much enduring great work. And most of the 70s were in a sort of doldrums - post-70s hangover. Very dull, tedious work in general although there are always exceptions. But in the mid/late 70s there were authors as diverse as Cherryh and Varley breaking in and then Chairman Bruce and his unjustly more famous comrade Gibson and the gang of cyberpunks (which was a big enough tent to include the likes of Rucker and Shirley) came along and lit things up again. I think the 80s and beyond have achieved a good synthesis of Golden Age and New Wave.

    So those are my candidates.

    And then there's always "the golden age of SF is twelve". :D For me it was actually probably 13-16 or somewhere in there but close enough.

    How about you?
  2.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    If it's all right, I will post here what I wrote about the 1887-1912 Golden Age:

    ---I would seriously nominate 1887-1912 as the Golden Age of Fantasy and Science Fiction -- although, like most of us here, I wouldn't say that my very favorite works appeared in those 25 years.

    But in that quarter-century you have everything from Haggard's She at one end to Conan Doyle's Lost World at the other. In 1997-1912, among other things, you have H. G. Wells's best; Dunsany's major short stories of high fantasy; all of William Morris or at least all of the great works; all of William Hope Hodgson; notable stories by Machen and Blackwood; Yeats's faerie poetry; George MacDonald's magnificent Lilith; and odd gems like Lucy Lane Clifford's "The New Mother." The period includes more:The Wind in the Willows. Poems by Walter de la Mare. Many of Kipling's most notable weird stories. Many more still-enjoyable romances (not just She)by Rider Haggard. For the ERB fans, Under the Moons of Mars and the magazine serialization of Tarzan of the Apes. You also have the best of Sherlock Holmes!----

    My thought is that this really is the Golden Age, because it doesn't just contain so many works that I like, but it contains so many works that embody what we seek in fantasy and science fiction (and, if you read dark fantasy, Dracula falls in this period, by the way). Wells has an importance, as a pioneer, for sf, that I would suggest no one else can have. And at the same time that he is writing sf, you have William Morris and George MacDonald for fantasy. It's not just that they are early explorers of the form, but that they are so amazingly good at it.

    And there was so much! Imagine being a youngster of 12 or so and reading She when it appeared in 1887. For year after year as you continue reading fantasy and science fiction, works that would turn out to be classics appear.

    I'm not saying that the very greatest work of fantasy appeared in this time -- I see The Lord of the Rings and its satellite texts as that. Nor am I saying that nobody's ever written greater sf than Wells did, in The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and some imperishable short stories, etc. But I have to doubt if even the collective achievement of the Campbell-Astounding stable is, in terms of achievement plus influence, as great....

    But I hope to see more people join in with their own ideas about great periods in fantasy or sf -- and, for that matter, doldrum periods too.

    I think there's some truth in that quip about the golden age of sf being 12 or thereabouts....
  3.  
    dask

    dask dark and stormy knight

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    For me it would probably be something like 1945 - 1970. Just 'cause.:)
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    Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Active Member

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    I provisionally suggested it would be from 1950 to 1975 but after looking through my favourites I think that period would probably be, more precisely, 1953 to 1978, if I had to confine myself to 25 years. Although I would love to extend that to 30 and go up to 1983.

    This period includes many of my personal favourites from Poul Anderson's "Broken Sword", Fredrich's Phol's "Space Merchants", Richard Matheson's "I am Legend" and Theodore Sturgeon's "More than Human" at one end with Joe Haldaman's "Forever War", Patricia McKillip's "The Forgotten Beasts of Eld", Philip K. Dick's "A Scanner Darkly" and Isaac Asimov's "The Gods Themselves" at the other end. Not to mention many other favourites in between including much of the best work from Ursula Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman and Kurt Vonnegut.

    As I said, if I could extend it to include 30 years, I would go into the early 80's to put in Jack Vance's "Lyonesse" trilogy and Brian Aldiss's "Helliconia" trilogy but both these authors would feature many great works in my 25 year period anyway. It would also have encompassed Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun" quartet.

    Then again, I would also probably be quite happy confining myself to the early part of the 20th century although again it would be difficult to pick a particular 25 year period.
  5.  
    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    No cheating FE and extending it to 30+ years. If i could i would take 1920-1980 heh ;)
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    Interference

    Interference Destroyer of Words

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    Shouldn't a "Golden Age" be fifty years?

    Either way, if restricted to Silverising it, I'd probably have to go with '30 to '55. Somewhere in here we started to get some serious de-pulpifying of fiction as heroics in fiction began to be considered from a scientific, or at the very least "real world", perspective.
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    James Coote

    James Coote Spoon Thumb

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    Looks like you've been using his time machine too
  8.  
    J-Sun

    J-Sun Active Member

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    I made a similar date typo when the 70s had a "70s" (60s) hangover. :)

    I particularly like reading about people's explanations for and qualifications of their eras but here are the bare dates so far:

    1887-1912 Extollager
    1924-1936,1959-1972 Connavar
    1930-1955 Interference
    1937-1962 J-Sun (honorable mention c.1977-2002)
    1945-1970 dask
    1953-1978 Fried Egg

    I should have noted in the first post that this is very much for fantasy as well as SF if people want and which Extollager, especially, considers but speaking of the conventional historical SF "Golden Age" which is usually taken to be 1939-194? (sometimes as short as '43 or late as '49) I find it interesting that only 2 of 6 include that era and yet everybody puts theirs "a long time ago".
  9.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    For me, "Golden Age" means more than just "a period in which a bunch of my favorites were published." It means a period of particular importance for writers who came afterwards. My 1887-1912 nomination works exceptionally well on this basis.

    I'm more knowledgeable about fantasy than sf. I stand by that original nomination for its "Golden Age." I would nominate 1954-1974 as fantasy's 20-year Silver Age. This encompasses publication of The Fellowship of the Ring and the rest of LOTR at one end, and the completion of Ballantine's Adult Fantasy series of (mostly) reprints at the other. In between you have such works as Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy, which I think may be the highwater mark of post-Tolkienian fantasy, Adams's Watership Down, Lewis's Till We Have Faces, Alan Garner's most accessible works, the Lloyd Alexdander Prydain books for youngsters, the revival and completion of Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion quartet, Peter S. Beagle's Last Unicorn, and other works that I will be embarrassed to realize I forgot. For those who like sword-and-sorcery, this period sees the revival and continuation of Conan and Kull, plus new entries such as Moorcock's stories of Elric and Dorian Hawkmoon. I can hardly read them now, but this period sees the first paperbacking, if I'm not mistaken, of the Fafhrd and Mouser stories. It also sees Lovecraft out in paper, with the Lancer and then Beagle Books editions. Borges is out in paperback during this period. This Silver Age is, like the Golden, a seminal one. Innumerable writers of fantasy in recent times are writing largely from their experience of books from that time.

    By this time, sf and fantasy have become pretty well established as separate publishing categories.

    I would contend that the Golden Age should be no more than 25 years and the Silver Age no more than 20 because we are dealing, as everyone seems tacitly to agree, with a period of about 125 years total, i.e. from about 1887 to the present. If you broaden the Golden or Silver Ages, you end up with not very many years left over to be less noble metals.

    As for my Silver Age, some important and very good fantasy is published after 1974, but you also get the emergence of yards and yards of books that, so far as I can tell, are really quite bad, churned out to capitalize on the appetite for long fantasy series. No doubt some folks here have actually read some of this and would advocate for it. But don't we enter -- what? -- the Age of Lead, with the Shannara books and so on?!

    1971:
    [​IMG]
  10.  
    J-Sun

    J-Sun Active Member

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    Yep, I agree on the historical/personal distinction though personal bias will naturally make me favor certain historical periods. :) But, yeah, they shouldn't be just pulled out of thin air.

    In your Silver Age you also have probably the most important paperbacks of all when that pirate Wollheim at Ace did Tolkien the biggest favor in history by publishing tawdry unauthorized paperbacks around 1965. I don't know if it was Tolkien himself or his UK hardcover publishers who were so myopically against it but I gather that these (and the later authorized Ballantines) were what really set off the rest of modern fantasy such as the Ballantine "Adult Fantasy" (unfortunate title) you mention. I gather Tolkien was well-regarded prior to this but nowhere near as influential. But, as you're more knowledgeable about fantasy, I'm less, so may be wrong.

    Well, the Silver Age idea gives me the opportunity to officially include what I "honorably mentioned", except that I have to adjust the dates. I'll nominate 1974-1994 because I need to include all of Varley and I'd forgotten Varley started so early. Then all the cyberpunks and sometimes so-called "humanists" follow. And this period gets the start of the New Wave of British Space Opera. It's not that I don't think more recent stuff is still good and may ultimately be even more important but it's too soon to tell and I just have to include Varley and the 80s cyberpunks at this point. Of course, part of this is larger than just fiction - SF was big then. My Silver Age happens to include Star Wars and the launch of Asimov's and Omni and other things that went along with a booming SF market that really mattered and stops prior to the bottom falling out of the magazine market around '96 (largely due to corporate distribution issues but also partly due to market apathy).
  11.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    One more reason that I like 1954-74 as the Silver Age of fantasy is that fandom devoted specifically to fantasy arises and flourishes in this period. Among the best, or even the best, fanzines I have ever seen were these four: Tolkien Journal, Orcrist, Mythprint, and Mythlore*: the best in that they combined good, substantial articles on great fantasy and interesting book reviews with a friendly fannish feel, and were illustrated by artists such as Tim Kirk and George Barr; and there was also Mallorn (the journal of the Tolkien Society -- I know that the TS was founded in the Silver Age, and I think their journal also began then; I have seen only relatively recent issues of Mallorn, I confess). Perhaps the best interview J. R. R. Tolkien ever gave appeared in a fanzine, Ed Meskys' Niekas.** For the sword-and-sorcery fans, there was Amra. For the Lovecraftians, Nyctalops and, I believe, a rather thick tribute 'zine which, as I recall, was edited by Meade and Penny Frierson. There were fantasy-related apas (amateur press associations) such as Elanor. Fantasy-oriented conventions were held. During this period Mervyn Peake's major writings became available in paperback.

    Also, btw, during this period Cele Goldsmith edited Fantastic, a pretty good little prozine. It published a lot of sf, but provided a home for some fantasy too, as, I suppose, did The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

    *I refer to Mythlore's earlier issues. In issues published since the Silver Age, it has published (from what I have seen) a lot of good stuff, but also a dreadful amount of warmed-over criticism a la Jung and Joseph Campbell... from whom may we be defended.

    **This was Tolkien's interview with Henry Resnick. Resnick wrote a major profile of Tolkien for a national magazine, but the transcript of the interview appeared in the fanzine. It's in this interview that Tolkien confesses the importance of Rider Haggard's She.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2012
  12.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    The Mythopoeic Society didn't just issue Mythlore and Mythprint; many branches were set up for face-to-face fantasy fan socializing and the shared exploration of the legacy of fantastic literature. The Tolkien Society had its smials for fannish activity.

    Also, during this period I believe the late Glenn Lord started his [Robert E.] Howard Collector, and Arkham House issued its uniform editions of Lovecraft's fiction and (FWIW) launched a revival of Cthulhu Mythos-izing by other authors with a 2-volume set of new stories by many authors working with Lovecraft's concepts.

    So I'm quite confident in saying that 1954-74 was the Silver Age of modern fantasy.
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    jojajihisc

    jojajihisc vast and cool

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    I don't feel like I'm that familiar with any one stretch of twenty-five years to know real well but I think I've read and enjoyed the most SF novels from about 1955 through 1979 (+/- five years). There are a lot of exceptions and I read more recent stuff mostly now but from that period I've read multiple books from Silverberg, Dick, Clarke, Farmer, Niven/Pournelle, Sturgeon, Heinlein and some others. The height of that period for me seems to be about 1964 to 1973.
  14.  
    dask

    dask dark and stormy knight

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    The distinction is a necessary one. Unless you were 12 years old in 1887 your personal Golden Age would have to be "a period in which a bunch of my favorites were published." I'm not comfortable with the notion that the true Golden Age is not actually a period of published work but how it fosters future writers to write. Sounds like a catalyst rather than an element of vast value. Even Clute and Nicholls avoid this particular view. It appears that as no two personal Golden Ages will reflect the other, neither will historical Golden Ages. And no matter how qualified the historian, do they really have the right dictating to us what our personal Golden Ages should be? Readers are pretty good figuring that out for themselves. Like Bob Dylan said, "You don't need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind is blowing."
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    Triceratops

    Triceratops Triceratops

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    I remember making the off-handed comment to Poul Anderson about this issue when I was a tumbleweed of a writer, and by all accounts, probably still am. I told him that I enjoyed the 1950s and 60s Golden Age of science fiction, and cited a few of his books I particulary liked. He was so endearingly calm and sweet when he told me the Golden Age spanned the 30s and 40s, although he didn't mention any starting or ending points. I was floored. Maybe because of the influence of all the SF b/w movies that sprang from the 50s decade.

    If the Golden Age spans about 25 years, I would pick 1930 to 1955 as the heyday. And I don't have very good reasons for saying so, other than my mentor's opinion.

    Chris
  16.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    I've mostly been commenting on a Golden Age and Silver Age for modern fantasy.

    I realize that the Golden Age of SF is widely held to begin with John Campbell's assumption of the editorship of Astounding whenever that was -- 1939, right? -- and to extend for a few years thereafter.

    My contention for SF's Golden Age falling in the 1887-1912 period is based on so many absolutely seminal classics, still very readable, of the sf genre being published then -- Wells's masterpieces and so on. Thus, if I had quickly to figure out what to do with the Campbell era (Heinlein, Asimov, Sturgeon, et al.), I might call that SF's Silver Age. That period too saw a great deal of still-readable, classic, seminal sf being published.

    Alternatively, one could call the 1887-1912 period the Golden Age of British SF and the conventional sf Golden Age -- the Campbell era -- the American Golden Age of SF.

    Not that any of this is worth getting mad about.
  17.  
    J-Sun

    J-Sun Active Member

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    The July '39 issue (the van Vogt debut with Asimov's Astounding debut to boot, followed by Heinlein in the next issue, and Sturgeon in the next) is the traditional start marker but Campbell officially took over with the October '37 issue - though there's often overlap: on the one hand, editors sometimes start work before they actually hit the masthead and, on the other, they often have to spend time working through the inventory of the previous editor's buys. '38 is when Campbell is generally understood to have assumed full control, having made the first of his name changes from Astounding Stories to Astounding Science Fiction with the March '38 issue.
  18.  
    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    For me it is not the times my personal favourites was published, it is more like which times has most historical important authors in Fantasy and SF . Lord Dunsany is important to modern fantasy, more important than late 1800s authors for example. His influence compared to authors earlier than him.

    It is still personal bias because 25 years is too limited for historical importance and it is still subjectival which authors we find important. Plus we can only list the eras whose authors we have read. Also its near impossible to say certain times was more important than others.

    So i choose my so called golden age on personal bias and historical importance put together. Weird tales era authors because that type of fantasy is loved today. I would personally choose that before Tolkein era.

    Im the opposite of you, i havent read enough classic fantasy to fairly compare the different eras. I know much better classic SF, the many authors important in different times in SF.
  19.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    I think 25 years is generous, because the history of sf covers fewer than 150 years. (Yes, I know: there are those precursors, Kepler's Somnium, Swift, etc.) So unless we're going to have a Golden Age that accounts for a lot of the whole historical period, it needs to be relatively short.
  20.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    In the 1957 Modern Library edition of Healey and McComas's Adventures in Time and Space, they seem to suggest (p. xxi of undated the Random House reprint) that 1939-1945 was a/the golden age of sf (the great years of the Campbell-Astounding period). That's just six years. A becomingly modest number of years, I would say.

    I'd say that's the Golden Age of American SF, but that the Golden Age of SF per se is that era of H. G. Wells, Doyle, Haggard, Hodgson, earliest ERB, etc. You get alien invasion, time travel, "cosmicism," lost civilizations, near-future war (When William Came), the wonder-child (The Hampdenshire Wonder), the ecological catastrophe (? Machen's The Terror), etc. More sophisticated versions of some of these came along later, but something is owed to the early expression of standard themes, and I would contend that many of these remain very readable. (I admit I haven't read all of them.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_William_Came
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hampdenshire_Wonder

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