The Radium Age science fiction library


31 Responses to “The Radium Age science fiction library”

  1. Sounds cool.  I’ve not read The Scarlet Plague, but I’m a big fan of MP Sheil’s The Purple Cloud.  There’s a lot of good, under-read stuff from that period.

  2. Doug Black says:

    One classic that’s frequently anthologized is E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops,(1909).  My favorite of the era is Kapek’s “The Absolute at Large“.

    • buddy66 says:

       wow. It never occurred to me that Forster’s classic was that old. It kicked off a whole genre of utopian collapse.

    • Jorpho says:

       Everyone should read The Machine Stops.  Including you.  Yes, you!  It is astonishingly prescient and relevant to this day and age.

  3. YamaraTheGod says:


    The period isn’t wholly forgotten, what with John Carter of Mars suddenly shewing up for his first movie at long last.

    The problem is, one stumbles over all that overt racism every other paragraph. Not really sure you can do utopias without destroying a selection of human beings. But, there you go. A challenge!

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I was just reading a bunch of Lovecraft and Lovecraftian stories.  Most of them seemed to be on the theme of ‘insufferably smug, wealthy white male pedants almost get killed while doing Very Important Work’.  It wasn’t until I got to Robert Bloch’s Notebook Found in a Deserted House that I stopped rooting for the soul-sucking other-dimensional entities to kill the humans.

    • bwcbwc says:

      The preview lost me when he looks up at the sky and sees Earth and Moon as gibbous disks visible to the naked eye in the night sky and proclaims “I’m on Mars!”

      Way too scientifically illiterate.

      • YamaraTheGod says:

        Ah, I see you’ve been spoiled by the Star Trek reboot…

        No, those were Mars’ moons, Phobos and Deimos. …Which in the real world aren’t spherical, but are basically large asteroids…

        John Carter takes place in the universe where Earth is hollow and has an inverse pattern of the continents on the inside, with the core floating in the center as an undying sun, and Africa is filled with cities which are remnants from intact ancient Mediterranean cultures which can only be accessed by a British earl who was adopted by apes and taught their spoken language. But you can totally access the hollow center through the 500-mile-deep hole in the North Pole.

        Plus the guns they’re firing on Mars are shooting genuine radium bullets. Go Radium Age!!

        • bwcbwc says:

          D’oh. Phobos+Deimos make much more sense.  I’m certainly not going to expect complete scientific literacy out of ERB, let alone Hollywood, after that little gaffe. Looks like I’ve again demonstrated that “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I’ve forgotten.”

  4. Doug Black says:

    I don’t know if I would classify Lovecraft as SF. 

    • Actually, I think SF is suits him somewhat better than horror, but Weird is probably the best generic classification for Lovecraft.

    • Jonathan Badger says:

      Remember that none of the Lovecraftian “gods” are strictly speaking supernatural; they are just horrible aliens that don’t care if their actions doom humanity.

      • Doug Black says:

        Ah.  I confess I haven’t read a lot of Lovecraft, but I remember it being … suffused with dread somehow.  I guess that’s what made it seem more horror than SF.

        • Jonathan Badger says:

           Oh, it’s definitely horrific — he created the idea of “cosmic horror” — the idea that the truth about how the universe works is so foreign to the human mind that to even get a dim knowledge of it is to court insanity.

    • petronius says:

      HP was a fairly prolific writer, in a couple of areas. Some of his SF, like “Howard West, Reanimator” or “At the Mountains of Madness” are heavily tinged with horror, but not all. I would suggest “In the Walls of Eryx” as a straight SF problem solving story, not too far from what Jospeh Campbell would be printing 15 years later.

  5. Erik Hogstrom says:

    Well done! I love that you’re promoting an overlooked era of science fiction.

  6. Dark Avenger says:

    My first play in High School I acted in was Kapek’s R.U.R., which introduced the word “Robot” into the English language.

  7. Radium wants to be free! Many of these books are available for $0 @ Project Goodyborg or Amazoni Krinkle store. Don’t forget to tip your proofreader on the way out, folks!

  8. Martin Cohen says:

    I remember reading Stapledon’s “Last and First Men” , “Starmaker”, and “Odd John and Sirius” in, iirc, a Dover edition as a teenager around 1960. I enjoyed it, and was impressed by his vision.

  9. Roy Trumbull says:

    Science fiction is a big umbrella. For example Ray Bradbury would define it as meaning something that could possibly happen. He called his Martian Chronicles a fantasy. About 99.99% of writing classified as sci-fi is actually fantasy. Anytime you have a space ship accelerate to a high speed or deaccelerate quickly without having the ship and its occupants crushed to nano-particles, you’re dealing with fantasy. There are a lot of commonly used conventions  in stories that suspend the laws of physics in order to tell a tale.
    In the 1930s story writing paid about 1 to 2 cents a word.

    • niktemadur says:

      About 99.99% of writing classified as sci-fi is actually fantasy.

      Even though I’ve read a ton of science fiction, please indulge my use of only cinematic examples with my reply.

      My oldest brother defines science fiction as “begin with an outlandish premise, then develop logically from there”.  I guess that’s true, but it’s an incomplete, unsatisfying definition.

      The way I see it and at the risk of laying an oxymoronic egg here, at its’ best, sci-fi becomes a bona fide scientific mythology for the twentieth century and beyond, free of the trappings of farmboys, samurais and cowboys in space.  My go-to example of this is also my favorite film, “Space Odyssey”, curious and ironic that the word “odyssey” is in there, I think.  Another true beauty is “The Man From Earth”.  Or the final, mesmerizing scene from Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”, yowza!

      If I want or need a rousing, operatic fantasy, and I often do, I’ll put on “Empire Strikes Back” or “Excalibur”.

      For the record, I’m in the process of reading Iain Banks’ “The Player Of Games”, I’m starting to plow my way through The Culture in chronological order.

    • sean says:

       Sorry, but that definition doesn’t work for me. “Fantasy” stories would constantly be updated to “science fiction” as new things are learned, and what we know of the physics of how the universe works expands and changes. String theory, alternate universes, an item being in two places at one time- all of these would have been “fantasy” a few years ago. It seems limiting to say a story must adhere to the rules of physics (as we know them at this moment) to be science fiction.
           Now just don’t ask me MY definition of SF vs fantasy- I don’t really care what box it gets put in. Maybe we should have gone with “fantastifiction science stories”” or “Sientifantastic fiction” or one of those funny names for it they came up with back in Gernsbach’s day.

  10. Vanwall Green says:

    The Tumithak stories aren’t much different than a lot of dystopian films and lit nowadays. I kinda like Weinbaum’s “Parasite Planet”, it has a nifty ecosystem that’s somewhat logical, and it’s a fun read.

  11. Neuron says:

    Tomorrow the Science Channel(?) is running some episodes of something called “Prophets of Science Fiction” with hourlong bios on Dick, Clarke, Asimov, Wells. Repeats Thurs night. Next week there’s one on Verne.

  12. Timothy Krause says:

    Wells’s Tono-Bungay (1909) has that whole part about the radioactive “quap” that Ponderevo finds on Mordet Island off the coast of Africa, and how it’s poisonous and makes the men’s skin hurt and even rots the timbers of the ship that carries it back to England. Ponderevo opines on radioactivity’s likeness to cancer and decay (the decay of Old England under the onslaught of modernity, industrialism, and commerce being a major theme of the book):

    To my mind radio-activity is a real disease of matter. Moreover, it is a contagious disease. It spreads. You bring those debased and crumbling atoms near others and those too presently catch the trick of swinging themselves out of coherent existence. It is in matter exactly what the decay of our old culture is in society, a loss of traditions and distinctions and assured reactions. When I think of these inexplicable dissolvent centres that have come into being in our globe—these quap heaps are surely by far the largest that have yet been found in the world; the rest as yet mere specks in grains and crystals—I am haunted by a grotesque fancy of the ultimate eating away and dry-rotting and dispersal of all our world. So that while man still struggles and dreams his very substance will change and crumble from beneath him. I mention this here as a queer persistent fancy. Suppose, indeed, that is to be the end of our planet; no splendid climax and finale, no towering accumulation of achievements, but just—atomic decay! I add that to the ideas of the suffocating comet, the dark body out of space, the burning out of the sun, the distorted orbit, as a new and far more possible end—as Science can see ends—to this strange by-play of matter that we call human life. I do not believe this can be the end; no human soul can believe in such an end and go on living, but to it science points as a possible thing, science and reason alike. If single human beings—if one single ricketty infant—can be born as it were by accident and die futile, why not the whole race? These are questions I have never answered, that now I never attempt to answer, but the thought of quap and its mysteries brings them back to me.

    Sort of the tone of the latter parts of The Time Machine, despairing, apocalyptic, posthuman. Fun guy, that Wells.

  13. signed into my work account by mistake. can you not delete disqus comments?

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      If you want to delete a comment, just edit it to say something like ‘delete me’ and I’ll take it out when I’m passing through.

  14. Loved London’s _Scarlet Plague_ when I read it as a kid.  Great fall of civilization story and still relevant today as news of antibiotic-resistant TB in India unfolds.

  15. niktemadur says:

    Asimov notes that pre-Golden Age science fiction “seems, to anyone who has experienced the Campbell Revolution, to be clumsy, primitive, naive.”
    (quote edited for the sake of brevity)

    Granted that invading martians and ancient demons may be quaint artifacts of the pre-atom bomb era.
    If I want to have the living daylights scared outta me, I’ll take Harlan Ellison over Lovecraft anytime, as an example “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” holds up extraordinarily well almost fifty years later.
    Asimov’s short story “Nightfall” and the subsequent collaborative novel with Silverberg exemplify why science fiction became a true literature of ideas.  Off the top of my head, I could many more by name.

    However, in any genre and era, including Golden Age or even contemporary science fiction, there’s mostly competent material and a few true jewels scattered here and there, and it seems odd and out of character for Asimov to make a dismissive blanket statement like that.

    • bwcbwc says:

      Most of the golden age authors were magazine authors. So their standard of comparison was Gernsback. The “Radium Age” SF (love that term BTW) that stands up over time appears to be books that were marketed not as SF, but as literature or at least popular fiction.

  16. liquidstar says:

    I m glad that there is someone sticking up for this period in SF history; I have become quite interested some of these works,  in particular, Voyage to Arcturus is one of my all time favorites, quite a unique work and well respected.  

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