The so-called Golden Age Of Sci Fi

My writing nook

I will declare my interest straight away.

I’ve been a fan of SF since I was a child. I can clearly remember trying to read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, J Verne, by torchlight under the covers. I read all EE Doc Smith’s Lensman series, Asimov, Blish, Bradbury – the only author I could tolerate reading short stories of (because each story was like a little gem of surprise).

In my teens I read Herbert’s this and that, Ballard’s The Drought, Terminal Beach and the Drowned World. Clifford Simak, Harry Harrison and Robert Sheckley I thought were extremely humorous and wrote great stories to boot. I read plenty of van Vogt, Arthur C Clarke, Heinlein, Silverberg, PK Dick (especially A Scanner Darkly – a tour de force), Pohl, Poul Anderson, T Sturgeon, Kate Wilhelm, David Niven, Philip Jose Farmer and U Le Guin I put in a different category (which I’ll mention in a minute). Some other authors I’ve mislaid or may have forgotten after a mid-twenties upheaval when my material things went missing. I picked myself up, as we all do, and trudged on.

I would say that the authors I’ve mentioned above would easily qualify for being within the Golden Age of SF writing, to a greater or lesser extent.

I am still an avid reader of SF. I decided four years ago that I would like to write SF novels myself. The only piece of advice I carried with me was: write a novel that I, myself would like to read. A very underrated tip, I think.

Now, I spend a lot of time writing but I always try to tack reading onto the the end of a writing session. I don’t spend as much time reading SF now though I’m aware there is a lot of it about. I have become sidelined by Virginia Woolf and R Bolarno, with some Stephen King thrown in for relief.

Now I will come to the reason I’ve tapped out this missive:

I have tried and tried to make these Golden Age writers, their masterpieces, and not so much, work for me as an interested reader. I must confess that trying to turn the pages of Heinlein, Pohl, P Anderson, Arthur C, Silverberg, Sturgeon – I could go on – has been as though I’m trapped in some retrogressive goo made intolerable by their prose and dialogue. Even PK Dick’s, The Man in the High Castle, I could not cop. Is it because of the many decades that have passed? How much the style of writing, the prose, the dialogue, has become more realistic, the plots more energised? Some of the scenarios these writers have built into their novels appear, to me, to be the most banal and narrowly wooden conceived.

If I search out the best 50, or 100 SF books ever written, I can be sure to unearth – well, you know. I just do not understand this knot of SF sanctity that cannot be cut through. I still own collections of old editions of some of these classics. I pick them up now and again, and thumb through the brittle pages: no no no. I can’t bare it – I put them back.

I will give a get out clause to Ursula le Guin and PJ Farmer – they aren’t in the same boat.

I realise that we now live in a different time, many years after these writers, and allowances must be made, but this has been bothering me for a while. What better way to deal with it than writing about them.