Check back tomorrow for a special blog post about Kathryn Mackel and her newest novel, Vanished. Today I wanted to give you sci-fi fans a little something (since I so often post about fantasy, I figure you deserve a turn). With permission, I am reposting Elliot Hanowski’s Golden Age sf, an article that first appeared on his blog, Claw of the Conciliator. And now Elliot.
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Golden Age sf
by Elliot Hanowski
SF Gospel has posted a short review of Space Vulture. (He liked it.) It’s an homage to the old-school pulp sf novels, written by Gary K. Wolf and Archbishop John J. Myers.
His review got me thinking about old-school sf. Lately I’ve been reading The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929-1964. I wanted to further my science fictional education and read more of the classic Golden Age stories which are often referenced by critics and fans. And many of the stories in this collection, voted on by the membership of the SFWA, are new to me.
I didn’t expect the book to be at all relevant to this blog. My general impression has been that religious imagery or spirituality only became a major topic in the New Wave of science fiction, sometime in the 1960s. There were a handful of exceptions, of course (like Walter Miller or Anthony Boucher) but for the most part the Golden Age was apathetic to religion.
But I’m beginning to think I was mistaken, at least partially. There are twenty-six stories in the collection. At least six of them deal significantly with religious themes: Microcosmic God, by Theodore Sturgeon; Nightfall, by Asimov; Mars is Heaven!, by Bradbury; Quest for Saint Aquin, by Anthony Boucher; Nine Billion Names of God, by Clarke; and A Rose for Ecclesiastes, by Roger Zelazny. Two of the other authors included had written or would go on to write classics of religious sf: Cordwainer Smith and James Blish. And another two may not have used such symbolism in their stories, but did identify themselves as Roman Catholics: Murray Leinster & Clifford D. Simak.
The editor, Robert Silverberg (who’s written some great fiction on spiritual themes) notes that one more story was voted into the Hall of Fame (as fifteenth favorite) but had to be excluded because the author was already represented: Arthur C. Clarke’s The Star. Which is, of course, about a Jesuit agonizing over a hard theological problem. Silverberg also commends the first secretary-treasurer of the SFWA for his efforts in forming that organization: Lloyd Biggle, Jr., who was apparently also a Catholic.
So perhaps my impressions should be amended. Much Golden Age sf did avoid religion, and many of the classic authors were determined secularists. But among the very best, a significant minority explored religious ideas in their work, in their lives, or both.