I’m a pretty huge science fiction nerd, but until recently, that intense love rarely extended beyond weird movies, bad Star Trek novels (f0rgive me, I was young), and the amazing writing of Harlan Ellison. This year, as I started working in New York City, and enduring an extremely arduous 2-hour trek to work by way of everything but airplane and ostrich, I started exploring my fairly ridiculous collection of science fiction paperbacks to help me escape the greasy sneezers and screaming cellphone blabberers of the Metro North. It was with this intense desire to escape the painfully mundane that I found a new love of alien worlds, and I was glad that I had built up a considerable store of “maybe I’ll read these one day” books.
Almost as a rule, I only pick up science fiction authors who aren’t nearly-household names. I’ll skip Asimov, Bradbury, Niven, LeGuin, Dick, Heinlein and Clarke for, say, Brian Aldiss’ Starship… which, as it turns out, was a supremely weird, but completely enjoyable, read. I’ll also ignore anything that says “book x in a series”, because I have a fear of literary commitment, and I think that if you can’t tell your story in one book, you’re probably telling too much of a story, JRR Tolkien excepted. All of these rules taken into account, Library of America’s American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s is a beautiful collection of stories written by authors known and relatively unknown (or simply underappreciated).
Science fiction from the 1950s is a magical theme in the best way. Every era of fiction (and most especially, science fiction) is an expression of the fears, hopes, dreams and general feelings of the era. Science fiction provides the liberties necessary to blow these thoughts up into a language that can both explain and obscure the finer points of the collective consciousness without getting too personal. And the 1950s were rife with social, political and existential turmoil: racism, atomic submarines and bombs, Elvis and James Dean, and man’s first explorations into space all fed into the writing of the era, speculating about what the world might become based on these terrifying and wonderful events. Because of this, perhaps there’s no finer science fiction writing than that which came from the 1950s, though I’m sure that point is debatable.
All of these stories are housed in two hardcover books, within a slipcase, decorated superbly with 1950s-styled space illustration. While it might not fit on my pocket for the train, these make for a pretty slick addition to the bookshelf, and many hours of comfortable, immersive reading.
Exploring the history of each of these science fiction tales is also a great exploration into just how collectible these publications can be. For example, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (included in this collection) was originally serialized in Galaxy Magazine across four issues. Many great sci fi tales first appeared in magazines, and many have been lost to time due to the ephemeral nature of these publications, and the fact that historically, they’ve had trouble being taken serious. A set of these pulp magazines can sell for around $50. This story was gathered together into one book, originally called Tiger! Tiger!, and released in the UK. First editions of this book have recently sold for as much as $750. While reprints are common and inexpensive, this is vibrant evidence that sci fi book collectors are willing to pay significant prices for rare editions.
And the same can be said about many of the stories included here: A Case of Conscience, The Long Tomorrow, Double Star, Who?, The Space Merchants, The Big Time, The Shrinking Man and More Than Human, all by a wide variety of important authors, and representative examples of the genre.
This is a great collection of classic science fiction, whether you’re a well-seasoned reader or you’re looking for a way into the genre.
[Book graciously provided by the publisher.]