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When Science Fiction Was Golden

I love science fiction and exploring all the wonderful aspects to what makes us human.

Science Fiction in the Golden Age

The 50s and 60s were the Golden Age for Science Fiction literature. Many of the genre's giants were writing and creating new narratives and perspectives of seeing the world around them and the potential of what could become. Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov are just a few of many names written in history for their contributions. In order to be a true pioneer in their fields and raise the bar, many would’ve had to live at the height of their powers while also grappling with the reality that was life.

Science fiction in this era was driven by creating a possible future of technology and survivalism, a sense of a technologically and socially ordered dystopia. Short stories like Orson Scott Card’s “The Peacekeeper Wars,” Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle”, and many others were fueled by ideas. They imagined futures intended to spur the imagination of what could become and may someday be.

The time period was known for a significant focus on survivalism and a sense of having one’s freedom endangered by what could become a centralized fascist government (Nixon in the U.S.) or an oppressive religious regime (the Ancien Regime in France).

Asimov, in particular, established himself as a prominent writer in this genre by addressing these exact concerns.

Indeed, we see that survivalism, regarding individuals and families, becomes increasingly important as the generations increase and life becomes more and more interconnected.

In real life, this era is the dawn of our ascent into the realms of the cosmos. We collectively refer to this as the Space Age for an excellent reason. The best authors imagined what these potential these new places would hold and how humans would be reflected in the grand story of the universe.

Those like Arthur C. Clarke and Stanislaw Lem would show what threats and potential we have while showing the faults of humans. Their work has often been considered visionary, and many of their stories showed us what could become if we didn’t act in time. Even today, we have only scratched the surface of what could be possible in the universe.

But what of life on Earth? That’s a very different story. As above, so below.

Before it was fashionable, the Golden Age of Science Fiction writers were concerned about climate change. They were very concerned about the degradation of our planet, the severity of our pollution, and the potential of our world to have a significantly diminished future.

Many of the best science fiction authors also spoke of the end of the human race as we know it. Their imagination allowed them to explore the possible futures that could become a reality.

Asimov, in his Foundations series, stated:

“If you're born in a cubicle and grow up in a corridor, and work in a cell, and vacation in a crowded sun-room, then coming up into the open with nothing but the sky over you might just give you a nervous breakdown.”

This is an accurate observation that was true then, as it is true now. The current psychosis of modern society and mental illness is more apparent to us today than ever before. Today, even science fiction is in a state of desperation and crisis.

Science fiction became ever more complex and fantastical as the end of the human race seemed more and more likely to become a reality. From dark dystopian futures to fantasy worlds that seem almost like something out of the imagination, science fiction has become an increasingly powerful tool for changing the way we see and think.

Beyond the writers' influence, the Golden Age also included a small but notable circle of human pioneers and activists who believed that we could make the changes we needed to push life forward.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction pushed us to dream big about the possibilities of life on our planet. Those people had to face the reality of real-life and what we can endure while reflecting our worst tendencies and fears.

Their generation saw the bitter fruits of a world built on greed, mass-produced consumer goods, and dependence on the existing power structures. Many lived in conditions and were forced to work arduously.

If we have a golden era, what does this suggest for the world in the years ahead? Will there ever be such innovation in the literary landscape again?

These questions have yet to be answered, and only time will tell. In a sense, at least from a grand horizon perspective, we are on the edge of a new age for sci-fi literature. Artificial Intelligence is already becoming integrated into our everyday lives. Cyborgs, robots and machine intelligence are becoming a more realistic possibility. These are not new ideas; they were around in the first golden age. However, writers like myself are excited to explore how this equates to possible futures and apocalyptic scenarios, such as the Singularity, where A.I. becomes self-automating. Of course, we can all learn from the original golden age and many great and essential novels and stories. We are seeing fresh expressions of communication to convey what makes us human and what exactly life is, and the purpose and value of how it expresses itself in whatever form it takes.

© 2022 Emma Kirsten

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