Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Seven Decades of Science Fiction Books: The Fifties

Now it's getting hard.

The fifties was when sci-fi really took off. The age of the Atom Bomb and the Space Race people were split into believing we were on the verge of curing all the world's ills, or else that we would blow ourselves to oblivion. In the end we did neither, but we did write a lot of good books.

This was the decade that defined sci-fi, and for me four authors stand out.

Firstly there was Bob Heinlein, an all American right wing individualist nut job, but a first rate writer. Starship Troopers is scarily fascistic, but pretty much gave us the well known Star Trek future of minimal states with massive navies as well as Avatar-style power armour.

Then there was Ray Bradbury, who this decade wrote The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury though was more of a stylist than an ideas man, so he only gets the bronze medal.

So this leaves the two giants of the fifties to battle it out: Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. It's a tough choice, in no small part because both have written an awful lot of guff over the years.

Asimov gave us the big picture, the fall and rise of space empires in the Foundation Trilogy , time travel in The End of Eternity, space opera whodunnits in The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun and robots by the bucket load.

Clarke, the man who invented the communications satellite, eventually became the master of the 'nuts and bolts' style of realistic near-future stories. However in the 50s he was writing about broader topics and his great books of this decade are The City and the Stars, Childhood's End and the short story The Sentinel - which eventually turned into 2001 A Space Odyssey.

It's a close call, and I'm tempted to give the award to Asimov's Foundation for the breadth of its vision. However the sheer 1950ishness of a space empire with atomic powered spaceships and a filing system based on microfilm lets it down and, to be honest, it's not that well written.

So maybe it's just patriotism, but I'm going to give the award to the Englishman for Childhood's End. Clarke may not have predicted the future of space travel, but he did predict the future of sci-fi as he gave us giant alien spaceships hovering over our cities and the world's children being rounded up to give to the aliens fifty years before District 9 and Torchwood: Children of Earth.

Winner: : Childhood's End by Arthur C Clarke (1953)

No comments: