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American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s
American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s
Various
Library of America, 2012
1750 pp., $70.00

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Stranger in a Strange Land: John Wilson


American Science Fiction

In August of 1978, Ballantine Books, under their Del Rey imprint, published The Way the Future Was, a memoir by science-fiction writer and editor Frederik Pohl (who is still writing today, in his nineties). Here is the way it begins:

When I first encountered science fiction, Herbert Hoover was the President of the United States, a plump, perplexed man who never quite figured out what had gone wrong.
A boy of ten is not without intelligence. It seems to me that then I was about as educable and perceptive as I was ever going to be in my life. What I did lack was knowledge …. My father would be in one place, my mother in another, and me with some relative until they could get it together again. The name of the game was the Great Depression, but I didn't know I was playing it. And at some point in that year of 1930, I came across a magazine named Science Wonder Stories Quarterly, with a picture of a scaly green monster on the cover. I opened it up. The irremediable virus entered my veins.

I would have enjoyed Pohl's book whenever I came across it (and in fact I have read it again a couple of times over the decades since), but the timing of that first reading was particularly right for me. Like Pohl, I had encountered science fiction around the age of ten. For the next several years, I read immense quantities of it, along with many other things. But then there occurred a hiatus. It was as if a switch had been flipped in my teenage brain, and for years I read very little sci-fi.

In my late twenties, I began to read science fiction regularly again, though not nearly as intensively as before, and I had been doing so for a year or more when Pohl's book appeared. I was reading a mix of newly published sci-fi and writers I had missed altogether or hardly taken in the first time around (preeminently, Philip K. Dick) while catching up a bit with books published between the mid-1960s and the late '70s. Pohl sent me back to my first immersion.

I ...

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