Golden Age of Science Fiction began roughly in July, 1939, when an issue of John
W. Campbell, Jr.’s Astounding
featured the first published stories of A. E. van Vogt and Isaac Asimov.
It ended in about 1957, when a devious Wall Street speculator purchased a
majority stock interest in the American News Company, the principal distributor
of most of the pulp magazines, SF and otherwise, and proceeded to fire the
employees, close down all magazine distribution operations, and sell off the
vast American News real estate holdings in warehouses, distribution centers,
news stands, etc., for a huge profit. The
market for magazine short stories disappeared, and the focus of SF writing moved
from short stories to novels. The
Golden Age was then supplanted by the New Wave, centered around Galaxy
and Fantasy & SF
magazines. I was four years old when
the Golden Age started, and I was just graduating from college when it ended, so
in my teenage years science fiction meant the Golden Age writers.
was about 12 years old when I was “infected” with the SF bug by my good
friend Gene Wolfe (yes, THE Gene Wolfe), who was a few years older than me and
lived on Vassar Street, half a block away from my family home at 1657 Banks
Street in Houston. Several of us
were at Gene’s house on a rainy afternoon, sitting on the floor of his bedroom
playing a board game, when his mother came in and insisted that he do something
about all the science fiction magazines that were cluttering up his room.
He dutifully filled a brown grocery bag with 1940s issues of Astounding and presented the bag of magazines to me, with the
advice, “Read these! They’re
much better than comic books.” I
followed his advice, and I soon became a regular reader of Astounding.
those days I also spent many hours listening to the youth-oriented radio
programs that were broadcast to fill the non-prime-time hours in the 1940s and
50s: Tom Mix, Jack Armstrong – the All American Boy, Little Orphan Annie, the
Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger, and so on. In
1950, when I was in the 9th grade, an interesting radio event
occurred. The NBC Radio Network, in
I recently discovered that all of the Dimension
X episodes are now available on the Internet (see http://www.archive.org/details/OTRR_Dimension_X_Singles
). I downloaded the mp3 files of the
programs (1.28 GB of them), placed them on a
X episode stands out as different in this respect.
I must have missed its original broadcast on
entire culture described in
Logic can answer questions on almost any subject.
However, there is a moral filtering system that prevents the transfer of
information that might be harmful to the society.
In the story, an obnoxious child asks a Logic how to make dart poison so
that he can shoot poison darts with his bean shooter.
The Logic refuses to answer by replying that “public policy forbids
story’s narrator works as a repair man for The Logics Company, manufacturer of
the devices. The plot line goes that
the obnoxious child selects one particular Logic unit, which he perceives as
different from the others.. He names it “Joe”, and he and his father take it
home. Shortly afterward, the
filtering system breaks down, and Logics everywhere are being used to provide
advice and information on how to successfully commit a variety of crimes,
including murder. A crime wave
results, the police are unable to cope, and the society is threatened with major
narrator discovers that during its manufacture, the Logic named Joe had received
an infinitesimal dimensional change that permitted it to disable the moral
filtering system, not only for itself but also for the entire system of Logics.
Units were cross-correlating the stored data to provide advice on
forbidden subjects. Fortunately,
pulling the plug on Joe solved the problem and restored order to the society.
interesting to consider what Murray Leinster, writing from the perspective of
1946, was able to accurately predict about our “digital culture” some 64
computers that look like a television with a keyboard: check.
constructed to a precision of one ten-thousanth of an inch: check (a bit coarse,
but still microcircuitry).
conferencing with voice-over-internet and webcam images: check.
keeping, contract maintenance, and record keeping on personal computers: check.
storage on hard disks (data plates): check.
computers connected to each other and to large servers (tank relays): check.
by cross-correlating massive amounts of data to extract subtle and unexpected
permit you to do things like checking up on what happened to your lawyer’s
last client: check.
permit you to ask questions and receive answers on almost any subject: check.
also interesting to consider what
perhaps the most serious difference between Leinster’s society and the present is his expectation of universal digital censorship of information, the
assumption that some corporate or governmental nanny-state would naturally block
access to “dangerous” information, and that civil society would begin to
crumble if such censorship were removed. Our
Internet, with a few exceptions (
an experiment, I did a small search for information on how to produce poison for
poison darts, thereby following up on the denied request of the nasty little kid in
Leinster’s story. In a couple of
minutes, I was able to secure several recipes, including a particularly smelly
one involving rotten potatoes boiled in isopropyl alcohol.
However, I did not test any of them, so I can’t be sure any would
physicist Bob Park has observed, the problem with the Internet is that it
contains all of the World’s knowledge, mixed inextricably with all of the
World’s BS. We do not need more
moral censorship filter, but we desperately need a filter to separate the former
from the latter.
Text version: http://www.baen.com/chapters/W200506/0743499107___2.htm
Dimension X audio: http://www.archive.org/download/OTRR_Dimension_X_Singles/Dimension_X_1950-07-01__13_ALogicNamedJoe.mp3
SF Novels by John Cramer: my two hard SF novels, Twistor and Einstein's Bridge, are newly released as eBooks by Book View Cafe and are available at : http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/?s=Cramer .
Columns Online: Electronic
reprints of about 177 "The Alternate View" columns by John G.
Cramer, previously published in