American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels 1953–1956
The Space Merchants, Frederik Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth
More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
The Long Tomorrow, Leigh Brackett
The Shrinking Man, Richard Matheson
“Here’s the heart of the heart of where those who take American science fiction seriously would want to begin—the genre’s equivalent of Hollywood’s classical period, and the books subsequent creators like Thomas Pynchon and Stanley Kubrick used to bend their brains—as well as a selection of novels as fresh and evocative as any hungry reader could hope to discover.” —Jonathan Lethem
Modern science fiction came of age in the 1950s, and it was in America that the genre broke most exuberantly free from convention. Moving beyond the pulp magazines, science fiction writers stretched their imaginations at novel length, ushering in an era of stylistic experiment and freewheeling speculation that responded in wildly inventive ways to the challenges and perplexities of an era of global threat and rapid technological change. Long unnoticed or dismissed by the literary establishment, these “outsider” novels are now recognized as American classics.
This, the first of two volumes surveying the decade’s peaks, presents four very different visions of uncertain futures and malleable selves. Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (1953), acclaimed in its day by Kingsley Amis as “the best science fiction novel so far,” brought a ferocious, satiric edge to its depiction of a future world dominated by multinational advertising agencies. In Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human (1953), a group of damaged individuals finds a strange new fulfillment in what may be the next stage of evolution.
Leigh Brackett was one of the first women to make her mark as a science fiction novelist. In The Long Tomorrow (1955), she pits anti-urban technophobes against the remnants of a civilization that destroyed itself through nuclear war. The hero of Richard Matheson’s fable-like The Shrinking Man (1956), condemned to grow ever smaller by a mysterious cloud, moves through humiliations and perils toward what Peter Straub calls “a real surprise . . . a fresh, wide-eyed step into a world both beautiful and new.”
Here are four classic novels that, each in a different way, open fresh territory, broaching untried possibilities and brimming with the energies of an age fearfully conscious of standing on the brink of the unknown.
Gary K. Wolfe, editor, is Professor of Humanities in Roosevelt University’s Evelyn T. Stone College of Professional Studies and the author, most recently, of Evaporating Genres: Essays on Fantastic Literature and Sightings: Reviews 2002–2006.
Visit the companion website for more on 1950s science fiction and these works and writers, including jacket art and photographs, additional stories, author interviews, and new appreciations by Michael Dirda, Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, Nicola Griffith, James Morrow, Tim Powers, Kit Reed, Peter Straub, and Connie Willis.
Also of interest:
Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s
H. P. Lovecraft: Tales
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