Monday 14 May 2012

My Own Personal Golden Age: Part II - The Old Guys

Since the Peter Grant books hit big people have often asked me about the author's that influenced me. These days I pay attention to authors but back in the Golden Age I thought in terms of individual books or series. These books were all enormously influential and looking back I can put some names to titles. I've divided them up into roughly historic waves but I certainly didn't read them in this order.

On a side note; I've tried as much as possible to show the covers of the editions that I first read the book in.

The Old Guys
These were the guys who were in on the start of the 20th Century who were writing science fiction and fantasy when nobody really knew what science fiction was or how they were going to market it.
I've always had a soft spot for the term Scientific Romance which were was often used to describe the works of H.G. Wells. You can make an argument that even today you can still divide science fiction writers into the followers of Wells or his near contemporary Jules Verne. One, internationalist, progressive, more concerned with the implications of technology than the technology itself, the other; nationalistic, conservative, interested in how technology works and the things that it might make possible. Certainly British Science Fiction has always favoured, I put it no stronger than that, the Wellsian side while American writers favoured Verne(1).

Even a partial list of his books is almost a list of the origin stories of the genre; The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau(2), The War of the Worlds and the Food of the Gods - a novel that prefigures our fears that we might be supplanted by a superior race of our own making.  Given that he built most of the engine parts that drive Science Fiction to this very day I'm glad that I read him first when both me and the tropes were fresh and raw. Nowadays he reads like steampunk but back when the world was new so was he.

So too were the interplanetary stylings of Edgar Rice Burroughs who if he didn't invent it certainly perfected the Planetary Romance which has informed everything from Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock and James Cameron's Avatar(3).

I remember his work in fragments like scraps of brilliantly coloured wrapping paper found in a draw years after a birthday. I remember having to look up the word 'sward', upon which my memory insists our hero was swooning. I remember the nudity, the dangerously egg laying women and head shaped creatures with their detachable bodies. I remember a tremendous amount of sword play, shouts of despair and agonising last minute reversals. These books did seem archaic when back in the Golden Age - both the language and the breezy racism marking them as being from an earlier age.

After HGW and ERB comes EES. I sometimes wonder whether Iain M.Banks, Ken Macleod and the rest of the Scottish Space Opera renaissance how directly their work is linked to that of E.E. "Doc" Smith. Ironic post-modernist deconstruction, my arse, big technology doing hugely awesome things to illustrate your utopianism - that's what it's all about.

As with Burroughs I remember his books as isolated fragments; the lightning rod at the start of Masters of the Vortex, the parachute infiltration of Atlantis and the idea that two entire Galaxies were colliding in both a physical and a political sense.

As to the influence these authors had on my writing? I'd have to say that their influence is felt, ironically, through their influence on the writers who came after them. In this I suspect I'm typical of your late twentieth century SF writer.

So I think we'd better move onto the next wave of the Golden Age - The Men With The Golden Slide Rules.

(1) Obviously there are many, many exceptions to this. If you're wondering why Verne isn't in this list it's because I manage to miss reading his books until after the Golden Age was over.
(2) I love the way you can draw a direct line between this book at Jurassic Park.
(3) Which explains all the mighty whitey stuff.


pbristow said...

The Lensman series was my first "gotta read 'em all!" book series. (Well except for Who, natch. =:o} ) I started with "Masters of the Vortex", which for some reason was in the children's section, realised it was part of a series, and via the joys of the card-based catalog system found myself venturing for the first time (and with great trepidation) out into the grown-ups bit of the library. Was I *allowed* to look at books outside of the children's section...?

I left the library that day with a couple of Doc Smiths, and probably big yellow something from Gollancz, and after not being arrested all the way home, I concluded that I was. =:o}

Chris O'Neill said...

HI Ben, I read a lot of the same stuff as you. Add to that the more sordid "Gor" books which I read as a teenager. Slavegirl of Gor featured very prominently, if not for its literary qualities. I also remember the English Library versions of the John Carter series basically falling apart in my hands, due to the poor quality of the bindings! Hence, no current and very few vintage editions exist.
Oh, and have read both the Moon over Soho and Rivers of London. I also hadn't realised your involvement with the seminal Blake 7 series! Was very popular here in Oz...