History is Bunk

“Riding the New Wave,” in Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link, The Cambridge History of Science Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

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In Gardner Dozois’s history of SF after the Golden Age, there is a moment when he complains that “although it was easy enough even then to prove that the New Wave as such did not exist, the public insisted on reacting as if it did exist.” If this opinion were entirely true, the next few pages of this book would be blank – so I will assert that there is indeed such a thing as the New Wave, perhaps even several New Waves. The temptation is to assume a linear history to the genre, such as the parodic one offered by Barry Malzberg: “the primitive twenties, wondrous and colorful thirties, systematized and optimistic forties, quiet and despairing fifties, fragmented and chaotic sixties, expressionless seventies . . . ” This straw history claims that Hugo Gernsback and John W. Campbell created an optimistic genre that celebrated engineering and technology, in which characterization and style played a distant fourth or fifth place to ideas, the sense of wonder, and action. John Clute refers to this as “Agenda” or as “First” SF, which is “born to advocate and enthuse and teach”; “the result was an SF universe written in the shape of Man. Women and other aliens had visiting rights only.”

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