I’m sharing a review for another of Pen & Sword’s books today, one that I think will delight many of you.
The Golden Age of Science Fiction: A Journey into Space with 1950s Radio, TV, Films, Comics and Books by John Wade. Wonderful illustrations, gloriously nostalgic and charming.
John Wade grew up in the 1950s, a decade that has since been dubbed the ‘golden age of science fiction’. It was a wonderful decade for science fiction, but not so great for young fans. With early television broadcasts being advertised for the first time as ‘unsuitable for children’ and the inescapable barrier of the ‘X’ certificate in the cinema barring anyone under the age of sixteen, the author had only the radio to fall back on – and that turned out to be more fertile for the budding SF fan than might otherwise have been thought. Which is probably why, as he grew older, rediscovering those old TV broadcasts and films that had been out of bounds when he was a kid took on a lure that soon became an obsession. For him, the super-accuracy and amazing technical quality of today’s science fiction films pale into insignificance beside the radio, early TV and B-picture films about people who built rockets in their back gardens and flew them to lost planets, or tales of aliens who wanted to take over, if not our entire world, then at least our bodies. This book is a personal account of John Wade’s fascination with the genre across all the entertainment media in which it appeared – the sort of stuff he revelled in as a young boy – and still enjoys today.
About the Author
John Wade is a freelance writer and photographer, with more than forty years’ experience in both fields. He has written, illustrated, edited and contributed to more than thirty books, plus numerous magazine articles, for book and magazine publishers in the UK, US and Australia. His specialities are photographic history and techniques, as well as social history. His most recent books include The Ingenious Victorians (Pen & Sword, 2016), and London Curiosities (Pen & Sword, 2017).
My thanks to Rosie Croft and to Pen & Sword for sending me a hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review, and I recommend to fans of the genre (the illustrations alone are a delight and worth recommending).
This is a book at very personal for the author (Wade explains early on why he chose the 1950s in particular, and although I agree with him, I am sure many might not) and at the same time packed with information that will delight casual readers and also those looking for anecdotes and a quick and easy catalogue of resources about the science-fiction genre in the 1950s. I am not an expert in science-fiction, and although I suspect that those who are might not find anything truly new here, there are nuggets of information and also the personal details and anecdotes collected by the author that help bring to life some of the lesser known facts about the individuals who played an important part in making the genre important and popular, especially in the UK in the 1950s.
The book is divided into five chapters that delve into science-fiction in different popular media: radio, television, films, books, and comics and magazines. As I have already mentioned, the book’s focus is on the UK, although it also includes the USA, but I felt the amount of detail included about British radio and TV programmes is one of the strong points of the book. Not having been around in the 1950s and growing up elsewhere, I was fascinated by the information about how the radio programmes came to be (I am a radio fan, and I’m always keen on learning more about it) and also how British television worked in its early years. Imagining trying to broadcast a science-fiction story life in a studio (in black-and-white, of course) makes one’s mind boggle in this era of computer-generated special effects and high-tech, and I loved the anecdotes and the pictures about it. It felt like travelling back in time.
I was more familiar with the information about films (although there are many mentioned I’ve never watched, and I’ll be on the lookout for in the future), and books (Wade chooses to talk in more detail about John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury, with mentions of many other writers as well), but even within those subjects I discovered things I didn’t know and kept writing down the titles of books and stories to try and get hold of. The chapter on comics and magazines talks more about the genre in the USA, the differences with the British scene (and the difficulties some of the magazines had due to the somewhat “lurid” covers, at least to the British taste of the time), and also the crossover from one medium to another (already evident when magazine serials moved onto the radio, or popular radio programmes ended up on the telly).
I’ve mentioned the illustrations, and as you can guess from the cover, these are wonderful. There are pictures, drawings, movie posters, book and magazine covers, comic strips… Although there isn’t a full bibliography (I suspect much of the information comes from the author’s own archives), there is detailed information about most of the illustrations, in case readers want to use them in their own research.
Wade has a conversational and easy writing style, and he is happy to share his own opinions and memories of programmes, books, comics, and his personal experiences with those involved as well, and it can easily and quickly be read from cover to cover, it would also work perfectly well as a book to pick up, look at the illustrations, and read about whatever piques the curiosity, or simply enjoy the imagination of the artists of the era and compare some of the images with later reality.
This is a book that will bring joy to many people, and not only to those who are into science-fiction, but also readers who want to relive their memories of the time, or who have become attached to the programmes or the stories in later years (Quartermass, Dan Dare, The Lost Planet, Superman, The Day of the Triffids, The Eagle and many others). And anybody who might be looking for a source of casual information (writers, for example) will also enjoy this easy-to-read resource. I am not sure everybody will finish the book convinced that the Fifties were the golden age of science fiction, but I bet anybody reading it will be delighted.
And I leave you with the dedication:
For everyone who understands the true significance of the words ‘Klaatu barada nikto’.
Thanks to Rosie and to the author for the book, thanks to all you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!