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Golden Age SF: Tales of a Bygone Future
edited by Eric T. Reynolds
Hadley Rille Books, 292 pages

Golden Age SF: Tales of a Bygone Future
Eric T. Reynolds
Eric T. Reynolds's first anthology as editor is Golden Age SF: Tales of a Bygone Future. Forthcoming books include Ruins, featuring stories with an archaeological theme, and Desolate Places. His next anthology is Visual Journeys, subtitled A Tribute to Space Artists.

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A review by Steven H Silver

Peter Graham once noted that the golden age of science fiction is twelve. While it may be true that age is the one at which science fiction is most likely to grab hold of a reader's imagination, it is also true that there was a period in the 40s and 50s when there was something magical about science fiction. Names like Isaac Asimov, Murray Leinster, Jack Williamson, Reobert A. Heinlein, A.E. van Vogt, and Lester del Rey graced the pages of the magazines. Lurid covers by William Timmins, Hubert Rogers, and Chesley Bonestell promised adventure and thrills. In Golden Age SF: Tales of a Bygone Era, Eric Reynolds has selected stories that will remind our internal twelve-year-olds of the adventure of that other golden age.

Many of the stories pay direct homage to the period in question. Trent Walters's "Waiting for the Pointer to Stop" is not only set in the 40s, but also uses story titles from the period as its four chapter headings and the story's own title is a reference to work by Murray Leinster. Alan Puresteem's "Marching in Place" is a look at C.M. Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons" from the other side of the coin, while Mike Resnick's "Catastrophe Baker and the Cold Equations" is a humorous, and slightly bawdy, response to Tom Godwin's seminal story.

Other stories, such as Stephen Baxter's "Harvest Time," are a reminder that the golden age of science fiction had its dark side as well. The ease with which Baxter's character reflects on the genocide committed by the human race in the name of expansion is chilling. While this sort of attitude is recreated in some of the other stories as well, nowhere else is it so evident and disturbing.

To offer a direct comparison to the stories of the period, Reynolds has elected to include James Gunn's "These Things Are Sirius," a story first published in 1951 in Thrilling Wonder Stories. This story is a look at human ingenuity in the face of alien technology and apparent superiority.

One aspect of the writing of the period which seems to go overlooked by many is how the commonplace can be applied to the sense of wonder. Tom DuPre treats the appearance of a new computer as a community event in "Installation Day" while Will McDermott looks at life working on a space station diner in "On the Off-Ramp of the Intergalactic Superhighway." Paul E. Martens similarly places his story in the distinct realm of the commonplace in "Almost," about a very typical in many ways girl, Midlredd Ker, who yearns for something more even as she apparently has almost the perfect life.

Perhaps the strongest story in the book is Rudy Rucker's "Inertia," which begins with Harry Gerber inventing an "inertia-winder" in Joe Fletcher's basement, the sort of super-science so prevalent in an earlier period of science fiction. Of course, Fletcher and Gerber aren't able to control the device which takes on a life of its own. This being a retro-science fiction story, the inventors are, of course, the ones who work out the solutions necessary, and Rucker follows them from Fletcher's home, to the Pentagon, and eventually to outer space as they work to avoid the damage caused by Gerber's invention.

Reynolds's aim in Golden Age SF is to recreate the sort of story that hooked so many of us when we were twelve with the sorts of stories which were published as science fiction was making a name for itself. While not all of the stories in the book will ping a reader's sense of wonder, many of them are reminiscent of the period which Reynolds was aiming for.

Copyright © 2007 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a five-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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