The Golden Age Of Science Fiction by John Wade (book review).

For the book title ‘The Golden Age Of Science Fiction’, author John Wade is referring to the UK from the 1950s to the very early 1960s, with references beyond. Essentially, you are seeing a time period that you might not have grown up in and I was nearly a decade later. There are also loads of photos to back it up here.

Back in the day, outside of books, Science Fiction was slowly dragged into radio and even struggled to get on the BBC, mostly because its head wasn’t keen on the subject until the viewing figures came in. In fact, for the radio, if it hadn’t been for Charles Chilton’s ‘Journey Into Space’, Science Fiction would not have had its initial leg-up. It’s rather interesting how Wade meets his heroes over time, showing Chilton’s autograph. With TV, it was Nigel Kneale’s ‘Quatermass’ TV series that progressed into films that gave us a serious look at Science Fiction here bringing in people who wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

I would correct something as I have watched the 1958 series of ‘The Invisible Man’ on DVD and actor Tim Turner was the only voice for Peter Brady.

Of course, SF films took off in the 1950s as Wade rightly points out in the post-WW2 world and atomic radiation being seen for all manners of fears and aliens as an allegory for the Russians in the Cold War.

Having used the 3-D anaglyph cardboard glasses in the cinema, they were used far more for horror films like ‘The Mask’ (1961) than SF films. Mind you, the week after I saw that one in the late 1960s, there was supposed to a porn 3D film the week after and I decided I’d rather not see what they would throw in my face. They all suffered from poor stories simply because the budget went into the twin camera system.

In provincial cinemas, we were spared the cinema doorman but soon as my voice broke, I started paying as an adult and saw a lot of X-rated films and wondered what the fuss was about.

Wade goes through 9 out of 186 1950s movies lists from the period. I would correct on some things. ‘With ‘This Island Earth’ (1955), the mutant on Exeter’s spaceship wasn’t a Zagon as we never saw their enemies, but one of their own mutated Metalunans. With ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956), Robbie the Robot was built after the colony ship crashed not before although, I admit, it is a grey area. With ‘The Fly’ (1958), it seems a shame that Wade mentions the late actor David ‘Al’ Hedison’s only significant role was in a Bond film and missed out on ‘Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea’ TV series.

Oddly, I don’t think the fly version was squatted in the film. It was at this point that I did wonder just how much Wade was depending on memory than double-checking information. We SF fans do pay attention. Going back to the list, I do think he put far too many films under the word ‘The’.

With books, Wade focuses on John Wyndham, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury out of 9 writers, although the latter would profess he was more a fantasy writer. It’s rather interesting seeing how plain the Penguin book covers were back in the 1950s but more of a shock that the covers of some book covers were from the 1970s than from the time period being covered. It’s not as though these things can’t be checked or not available on the likes of Google and other search engines.

I would add one detail about Wyndham’s ‘The Chrysalids’ as it was done as an audio serial on Radio 2’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ back in the mid-1960s as I was ill in bed and listened avidly for a week to it. Wade’s extensive look at Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ trilogy and he doesn’t once mention the keyword ‘psychohistory’. There are times when I read these books that I wonder why the text isn’t given a pass over by someone else familiar with SF to make sure they aren’t missing anything.

The same with Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Childhood’s End’ (1953) and not noting Jan Rodricks was one of the first black lead characters in SF novels. An anomaly of Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1953) is if books are being burnt on a regular basis, then how did Montag learn how to read in an illiterate world? Wade also can’t spell Clifford Simak’s name spelling it as ‘Simack’ and A.E. Van Vogt is misspelt as ‘Voigt’ although this could be an editing mistake as its spelt correctly further in. When mistakes are being made, you do tune in on them.

Of course, when it comes to British 1950s comics, we have ‘The Eagle’ and there are a lot of photos to accompany this section, including designs and large models of the Mekon. There’s also a briefer look at ‘The Dandy’ and ‘The Boy’s Own Paper’s SF output and the newspaper strips, ‘Jeff Hawke’ and ‘Garth’, where another error pops up. Frank Bellamy wasn’t ‘Garth’s creator because he only started drawing him in 1971. ‘Garth’ was created by Steve Dowling and Gordon Boshell in 1943.

Seeing the long list of American SF magazines that were out there in the 1950s would have made it an impossible task to collect them all in the UK.

Although I’ve pointed out the errors above, don’t let this make you miss this book. There really is a lot of good stuff in here, especially from the photo section and general knowledge is mostly correct that will make this an interesting book for your shelves.

GF Willmetts

July 2019

(pub: Pen And Sword. 208 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: £25.00 (UK). $42.95 (US). ISBM: 978-1-52672-925-5)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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