Read Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World: The First Sci-Fi Novel Written By a Woman (1666)

For a vari­ety of rea­sons, sci­ence fic­tion has long been regard­ed as a most­ly male-ori­ent­ed realm of lit­er­a­ture. This is evi­denced, in part, by the eager­ness to cel­e­brate par­tic­u­lar works of sci-fi writ­ten by women, like Ursu­la K. LeGuin’s Earth­sea saga, Octavia But­ler’s Para­ble nov­els, Joan­na Russ’ The Female Man, or Mar­garet Attwood’s The Hand­maid­’s Tale (uneasi­ly though it fits with­in the bound­aries of the genre). But those who pre­fer the ear­ly stuff can go all the way back to the mid-sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, where they’ll find Mar­garet Cavendish’s The Blaz­ing World, read­able and down­load­able in all its strange glo­ry free online.

The Blaz­ing World was first pub­lished in 1666 and is often con­sid­ered a fore­run­ner to both sci­ence fic­tion and the utopi­an nov­el gen­res,” writes book blog­ger Eric Karl Ander­son. “It’s a total­ly bonkers sto­ry of a woman who is stolen away to the North Pole only to find her­self in a strange bejew­eled king­dom of which she becomes the supreme Empress. Here she con­sults with many dif­fer­ent animal/insect peo­ple about philo­soph­i­cal, reli­gious and sci­en­tif­ic ideas. The sec­ond half of the book pulls off a meta-fic­tion­al trick where Cavendish (as the Duchess of New­cas­tle) enters the sto­ry her­self to become the Empress’ scribe and close com­pan­ion.”

In the video just below, Youtu­ber Great Books Prof frames this as not just a work of pro­to-sci­ence fic­tion, but also a pio­neer­ing use of the “mul­ti­verse” con­cept that has under­gird­ed any num­ber of twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry block­busters.

The Blaz­ing World con­tin­ues to inspire: actor-direc­tor Carl­son Young put out a loose cin­e­mat­ic adap­ta­tion just a few years ago. Cavendish her­self described the book as a “her­maph­ro­dit­ic text,” pos­si­bly in ref­er­ence to its engage­ment with top­ics then addressed almost exclu­sive­ly by men. But it also occu­pied two cat­e­gories at once in that she orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished it as a fic­tion­al sec­tion of her book Obser­va­tions upon Exper­i­men­tal Phi­los­o­phy, one of six philo­soph­i­cal vol­umes she wrote. In fact, her work qual­i­fied her as not just philoso­pher and nov­el­ist, but also sci­en­tist, poet, play­wright, and even biog­ra­ph­er. That last she accom­plished by writ­ing The Life of the Thrice Noble, High and Puis­sant Prince William Cavendish, who hap­pened to be her hus­band. Let her life be a les­son to those young girls who simul­ta­ne­ous­ly dream of becom­ing a princess and a writer whose books are read for cen­turies: some­times, you can have it all.

Relat­ed con­tent:

100 Great Sci-Fi Sto­ries by Women Writ­ers (Read 20 for Free Online)

The First Work of Sci­ence Fic­tion: Read Lucian’s 2nd-Cen­tu­ry Space Trav­el­ogue A True Sto­ry

When Astronomer Johannes Kepler Wrote the First Work of Sci­ence Fic­tion, The Dream (1609)

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Every Pos­si­ble Kind of Sci­ence Fic­tion Sto­ry: An Exhaus­tive List Cre­at­ed by Pio­neer­ing 1920s Sci­Fi Writer Clare Winger Har­ris (1931)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Novelist Michael Chabon Digitally Re-Creates the Science Fiction & Fantasy Section of His Favorite 1970s Bookstore

Michael Chabon was born in 1963, which placed him well to be influ­enced by the unpre­dictable, indis­crim­i­nate, and often lurid cul­tur­al cross-cur­rents of the nine­teen-sev­en­ties. He seemed to have received much of that influ­ence at Page One, the local book­store in his home­town of Colum­bia, Mary­land — and it was to Page One that his imag­i­na­tion drift­ed dur­ing the long days of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic spent in his per­son­al library. “As I sat around com­muning with my tat­tered old friends,” he writes, “I dis­cov­ered that I retained a sharp rec­ol­lec­tion — title, author, cov­er design — of what felt like every sin­gle book that had ever appeared on those tall shelves along the left wall of Page One, toward the back, between 1972 and 1980.”

That was the store’s “Sci­ence Fic­tion & Fan­ta­sy” sec­tion, which in that peri­od was well-stocked with titles by such stars of those gen­res as Ray Brad­bury, Ursu­la K. LeGuin, Arthur C. Clarke, J. G. Bal­lard, C. J. Cher­ryh, Michael Moor­cock, and Philip K. Dick.

Or at least it did if Chabon’s dig­i­tal re-cre­ation “The Shelves of Time” is any­thing to go by. Down­load­able here in “small” (96 MB), “large” (283 MB) and “very large” (950 MB) for­mats, the lav­ish image func­tions as what Chabon calls a “time tele­scope,” offer­ing “a look back at the visu­als that embod­ied and accom­pa­nied my ear­ly aspi­ra­tions as a writer, and at the mass-mar­ket splen­dor of paper­back sf and fan­ta­sy in those days.”

“I’m the same age as Chabon, and I was also a book­store rat, star­ing at these exact same cov­ers and ago­niz­ing over which one I’d lay down my $1.25 for,” writes Ruben Bolling at Boing Boing. “Just look at those beau­ti­ful John Carter of Mars cov­ers. I col­lect­ed and cher­ished these, and the Tarzan series.” Bolling also high­lights the adap­ta­tions Chabon includes on these re-imag­ined shelves: there’s “the James Blish Star Trek series, just as I remem­ber it,” and also the nov­el­iza­tion of Star Wars, which he read before the open­ing of the film itself.  “So instead of expe­ri­enc­ing the movie as it should have been — as campy movie fun — I expe­ri­enced it as an adap­ta­tion of a lit­er­ary work.”

Despite being a cou­ple of decades younger, I, too, remem­ber these cov­ers vivid­ly. My own sci-fi-and-fan­ta­sy peri­od occurred in the late nineties, by which time these very same mass-mar­ket paper­backs from the sev­en­ties were turn­ing up in quan­ti­ty at used book­stores. For me, few images from these gen­res of that era could trig­ger read­ing mem­o­ries as rich as those Bal­lan­tine cov­ers of The Sheep Look Up, The Shock­wave Rid­er, and Stand on Zanz­ibar by John Brun­ner, a British spe­cial­ist in social and envi­ron­men­tal cat­a­stro­phe. Like many read­ers, I put this sort of thing aside after a few years, but Chabon has proven infi­nite­ly more ded­i­cat­ed: half a cen­tu­ry after his days haunt­ing Page One, his mis­sion to “drag the decay­ing corpse of genre fic­tion out of the shal­low grave where writ­ers of seri­ous lit­er­a­ture aban­doned it,” as crit­ic Ruth Franklin once described it, con­tin­ues apace.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Art of Sci-Fi Book Cov­ers: From the Fan­tas­ti­cal 1920s to the Psy­che­del­ic 1960s & Beyond

Nov­el­ist Michael Chabon Sang in a Punk Band Dur­ing the ’80s: New­ly Released Audio Gives Proof

600+ Cov­ers of Philip K. Dick Nov­els from Around the World: Greece, Japan, Poland & Beyond

The Dune Ency­clo­pe­dia: The Con­tro­ver­sial, Defin­i­tive Guide to the World of Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi Mas­ter­piece (1984)

The Amaz­ing Adven­tures of Kava­lier and Clay: Ani­ma­tion Con­cepts

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Take Virtual Tours of Every Star Trek Enterprise Bridge: A New Interactive Web Portal Created by The Roddenberry Archive

It’s a rare young Star Trek fan indeed who does­n’t fan­ta­size about sit­ting on the bridge of the star­ship Enter­prise. That has gone for every gen­er­a­tion of fan, every Star Trek series, and every Enter­prise, whose bridges you can see in the new video above from the Rod­den­ber­ry Archive. It begins, nat­u­ral­ly, with the orig­i­nal Star Trek, the show with which cre­ator Gene Rod­den­ber­ry start­ed it all — and for which art direc­tor Matt Jef­feries designed a bridge that would become a mod­el not just for all sub­se­quent Enter­pris­es, but real-life com­mand cen­ters as well. As the nar­ra­tor says, “Jef­feries’ bridge made such an impres­sion that engi­neers from NASA, the U.S. Navy, and pri­vate indus­try have stud­ied it as a mod­el for an advanced, effi­cient con­trol room.”

That nar­ra­tor hap­pens to be John de Lan­cie, whom view­ers of Star Trek: The Next Gen­er­a­tion and sub­se­quent series will know as the all-pow­er­ful extra-dimen­sion­al being Q. He’s not the only famil­iar per­former to par­tic­i­pate in this ret­ro­spec­tive project: in the video above appears a cer­tain William Shat­ner, who as James Tiberius Kirk occu­pied the cap­tain’s chair of the very first Enter­prise.

Even those who pre­fer the lat­er, more com­plex Star Treks have sure­ly won­dered what that posi­tion would feel like, and now they can get a vir­tu­al sense of it at the Rod­den­bery Archive’s web site, which is now offer­ing vir­tu­al tours of the bridge of every series’ cen­tral ship.

The site fea­tures 360-degree, 3D mod­els of the var­i­ous ver­sions of the Enter­prise, as well as a time­line of the ship’s evo­lu­tion through­out the franchise’s his­to­ry,” writes Smithsonian.com’s Sarah Kuta. “Fans of the show can also read detailed infor­ma­tion about each ver­sion of the ship’s design, its sig­nif­i­cance to the Star Trek sto­ry­line and its pro­duc­tion back­sto­ry.” All this comes online to mark the end of Star Trek: Picard, the recent series built around Patrick Stew­art’s Enter­prise cap­tain from The Next Gen­er­a­tion, whose final episode went up last month on the stream­ing ser­vice Para­mount+. For that grand finale, pro­duc­tion design­er Dave Blass “recre­at­ed the bridge of the Enter­prise D,” and “Picard’s tri­umphant return to his beloved ship brought nos­tal­gic tears to the eyes of more than a few fans,” no doubt regard­less of gen­er­a­tion. Take the vir­tu­al tours here.

via Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch Star Trek Con­tin­ues: The Crit­i­cal­ly-Acclaimed, Fan-Made Sequel to the Orig­i­nal TV Series

Watch Star Trek: New Voy­ages: The Orig­i­nal Fan-Made Sequel to the 1960s TV Series

How Isaac Asi­mov Went from Star Trek Crit­ic to Star Trek Fan & Advi­sor

William Shat­ner Nar­rates Space Shut­tle Doc­u­men­tary

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Star Trek: World-Build­ing Over Gen­er­a­tions — Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #42

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Pulp Magazine Archive Lets You Read Thousands of Digitized Issues of Classic Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Detective Fiction

Pulp Fic­tion will like­ly hold up gen­er­a­tions from now, but the res­o­nance of its title may already be lost to his­to­ry. Pulp mag­a­zines, or “the pulps,” as they were called, once held spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for lovers of adven­ture sto­ries, detec­tive and sci­ence fic­tion, and hor­ror and fan­ta­sy. Acquir­ing the name from the cheap paper on which they were print­ed, pulp mag­a­zines might be said, in large part, to have shaped the pop cul­ture of our con­tem­po­rary world, pub­lish­ing respect­ed authors like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and many an unknown new­com­er, some of whom became house­hold names (in cer­tain hous­es), like Isaac Asi­mov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Philip K. Dick.

Begin­ning in the late 19th cen­tu­ry, the pulps opened up the pub­lish­ing space that became flood­ed with com­ic books and pop­u­lar nov­els like those of Stephen King and Michael Crich­ton in the lat­ter half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.

They var­ied wide­ly in qual­i­ty and sub­ject mat­ter but all share cer­tain pre­oc­cu­pa­tions. Sex­u­al taboos are explored in their naked essence or through var­i­ous genre devices. Mon­sters, aliens, and oth­er fea­tures of the “weird” pre­dom­i­nate, as do the fore­run­ners of DC and Marvel’s super­hero empires in char­ac­ters like the Shad­ow and the Phan­tom Detec­tive.

Unlike high­er-rent “slicks” or “glossies,” pulp mag­a­zines had license to go places respectable pub­li­ca­tions feared to tread. Genre fic­tion now spawns mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar fran­chis­es, one after anoth­er, purged of much of the pulps’ sala­cious con­tent. But pag­ing through the thou­sands of back issues avail­able at the Pulp Mag­a­zine Archive will give you a sense of just how out­ré such mag­a­zines once were—a qual­i­ty that sur­vived in the under­ground comics and zines of the 60s and beyond and in genre tabloids like Scream Queens.

The enor­mous archive con­tains thou­sands of dig­i­tized issues of such titles as If, True Detec­tive Mys­ter­ies, Witch­craft and Sor­cery, Weird Tales, Uncen­sored Detec­tive, Cap­tain Billy’s Whiz Bang, and Adven­ture (“Amer­i­ca’s most excit­ing fic­tion for men!”). It also fea­tures ear­ly celebri­ty rags like Movie Pic­to­r­i­al and Hush Hush, and ret­ro­spec­tives like Dirty Pic­tures, a 1990s com­ic reprint­ing the often quite misog­y­nist pulp art of the 30s.

There’s great sci­ence fic­tion, no small amount of creepy teen boy wish-ful­fill­ment, and lots of lurid, noir appeals to fan­tasies of sex and vio­lence. Swords and sor­cery, guns and trussed-up pin-ups, and plen­ty of crea­ture fea­tures. The pulps were once mass culture’s id, we might say, and they have now become its ego.

Enter the Pulp Mag­a­zine Archive here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load Issues of “Weird Tales” (1923–1954): The Pio­neer­ing Pulp Hor­ror Mag­a­zine Fea­tures Orig­i­nal Sto­ries by Love­craft, Brad­bury & Many More

Enter a Huge Archive of Amaz­ing Sto­ries, the World’s First Sci­ence Fic­tion Mag­a­zine, Launched in 1926

Clas­sic Radio­head Songs Re-Imag­ined as a Sci-Fi Book, Pulp Fic­tion Mag­a­zine & Oth­er Nos­tal­gic Arti­facts

Free: 355 Issues of Galaxy, the Ground­break­ing 1950s Sci­ence Fic­tion Mag­a­zine

Isaac Asi­mov Recalls the Gold­en Age of Sci­ence Fic­tion (1937–1950)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

When a UFO Came to Japan in 1803: Discover the Legend of Utsuro-bune

For the enthu­si­ast of uniden­ti­fied fly­ing objects, we live in inter­est­ing times indeed. Back in 2021, as we pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, the CIA declas­si­fied and pub­lished thou­sands of pages of UFO-relat­ed doc­u­ments. In just the past few weeks, three UFOs were shot down over North Amer­i­ca. In the span of time between those events, much else has also occurred to stim­u­late the imag­i­na­tion of those who’ve kept watch­ing the skies. Fas­ci­na­tion with UFOs may have strong cul­tur­al asso­ci­a­tions with twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca — and the sub­ject can now feel a bit passé for that rea­son — but it knows few­er cul­tur­al or tem­po­ral bound­aries than we may think: wit­ness, for exam­ple, the Japan­ese folk­tale of Utsuro-bune.

“In 1803, a round ves­sel drift­ed ashore on the Japan­ese coast and a beau­ti­ful woman emerged, wear­ing strange cloth­ing and car­ry­ing a box. She was unable to com­mu­ni­cate with the locals, and her craft was marked with mys­te­ri­ous writ­ing.” Such is the premise of the leg­end as retold at Nippon.com, which also offers an analy­sis by Gifu Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus Tana­ka Kazuo.

“Long before the Amer­i­can UFO sto­ries, the craft depict­ed in Edo-peri­od Japan­ese doc­u­ments for some rea­son looked like a fly­ing saucer,” he says. Nor have schol­ars traced Utsuro-bune (虚舟, which means “hol­low ship”) back to only one source: to date, Tana­ka “has found eleven doc­u­ments relat­ing to the Hitachi Utsuro-bune leg­end, of which the most inter­est­ing are thought to date from 1803, the same year that the craft was said to have come to shore.”

What exact­ly hap­pened in Hitachi, a small city on Japan’s east coast, in 1803? Why do near con­tem­po­rary depic­tions of the Utsuro-bune itself (espe­cial­ly in the 1835 Hyōryū kishū or “records of cast­aways,” as seen at the top of the post) so close­ly resem­ble mod­ern-day visions of fly­ing saucers? Giv­en that the inci­dent is held to have tak­en place dur­ing the coun­try’s 265-year-long sakoku peri­od of nation­al iso­la­tion, no for­eign­er is like­ly to have crossed over to Japan­ese shores with­out caus­ing a major inci­dent. Unable to com­mu­ni­cate with this mys­te­ri­ous woman, the fish­er­men of Hitachi are said sim­ply to have returned her — box and all — to the hol­low ship, which drift­ed back out to sea, nev­er to be seen again. It was her good luck, some ufol­o­gists might say, to have turned up on Earth a cen­tu­ry and a half before the open­ing of Area 51.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Japan­ese Fairy Tale Series: The Illus­trat­ed Books That Intro­duced West­ern Read­ers to Japan­ese Tales (1885–1922)

The First Muse­um Ded­i­cat­ed to Japan­ese Folk­lore Mon­sters Is Now Open

The Ghosts and Mon­sters of Hoku­sai: See the Famed Wood­block Artist’s Fear­some & Amus­ing Visions of Strange Appari­tions

The CIA Has Declas­si­fied 2,780 Pages of UFO-Relat­ed Doc­u­ments, and They’re Now Free to Down­load

What Do Aliens Look Like? Oxford Astro­bi­ol­o­gists Draw a Pic­ture, Based on Dar­win­ian The­o­ries of Evo­lu­tion

The Appeal of UFO Nar­ra­tives: Inves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ist Paul Beban Vis­its Pret­ty Much Pop #14

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Do Movie Androids Want to Love Us or Kill Us? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #144

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Your Pret­ty Much Pop hosts Mark Lin­sen­may­er, Lawrence Ware, Sarahlyn Bruck, and Al Bak­er talk through var­i­ous eth­i­cal and nar­ra­tive prob­lems hav­ing to do with the cre­ation of arti­fi­cial life.

We all watched M3GAN and Steve Spielberg’s A.I., and also touch on After YangEx Machi­naBicen­ten­ni­al Man, the BBC show Humans, and of course this is an ele­ment in clas­sic sci-fi prop­er­ties like AlienBlade Run­nerStar Trek, etc.

We also go on a tan­gent about A.I. writ­ing aca­d­e­m­ic papers.

We men­tion the short sto­ries E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” and Roger Zelazny’s “For a Breath I Tar­ry.”

Fol­low us @law_writes@sarahlynbruck@ixisnox@MarkLinsenmayer.

Hear more Pret­ty Much Pop. Sup­port the show and hear bonus talk­ing for this and near­ly every oth­er episode at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choos­ing a paid sub­scrip­tion through Apple Pod­casts. This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts.

How Futurists Envisioned the Future in the 1920s: Moving Walkways, Personal Helicopters, Glass-Domed Cities, Dream Recorders & More

Many of us now in adult­hood first came to know the nine­teen-twen­ties as the decade our grand­par­ents were born. It may thus give us pause to con­sid­er that it began over a cen­tu­ry ago — and even more pause to con­sid­er the ques­tion of why its visions of the future seem more excit­ing than our own. You can behold a vari­ety of such visions in the videos above and below, which come from The 1920s Chan­nel on Youtube. Using a col­lec­tion of print-media clip­pings, it offers an expe­ri­ence of the “futur­ism” of the nine­teen-twen­ties, which has now inspired a dis­tinct type of “retro-futur­ism,” between the “steam­punk” of the Vic­to­ri­an era and the “atom­punk” of Amer­i­ca after the Sec­ond World War.

“Being in the mod­ern age, futur­ism of the nine­teen-twen­ties leans more towards atom­punk,” says the video’s nar­ra­tor. But it also has a some­what dieselpunk fla­vor,” the lat­ter being a kind of futur­ism from the nine­teen-for­ties. “In Amer­i­ca, the nine­teen-twen­ties were sim­i­lar to the nine­teen-fifties, in that they took place in the imme­di­ate after­math of a mas­sive, destruc­tive war, and both car­ried an opti­mism for the future. The only dif­fer­ence was that sci­ence fic­tion was not as main­stream in the twen­ties as it was in the fifties, so it did­n’t quite ful­ly devel­op a unique look that per­me­at­ed soci­ety.” This gave twen­ties futur­ism a look and feel all its own — as well as a pre­pon­der­ance of diri­gi­bles.

Apart from those heli­um-filled air­ships, which “only rose to promi­nence after the Vic­to­ri­an era, and their pop­u­lar­i­ty end­ed in the nine­teen-thir­ties,” its oth­er ele­ments of sci­ence fic­tion and (even­tu­al) fact include mov­ing walk­ways, per­son­al heli­copters, cities enclosed by glass domes and webbed by sky bridges, high­ways stacked ten lev­els deep, zero-grav­i­ty cham­bers, dream recorders, theremins, “light-beam pianos,” a tun­nel under the Eng­lish Chan­nel, “aer­i­al mail tor­pe­does,” and a curi­ous tech­nol­o­gy called tele­vi­sion. Long­time Open Cul­ture read­ers may also spot the Iso­la­tor, a dis­trac­tion-elim­i­nat­ing hel­met invent­ed by sci-fi pub­lish­er Hugo Gerns­back — whose own mag­a­zine Sci­ence and Inven­tion, the nar­ra­tor notes, orig­i­nal­ly ran many of these images. Per­haps what our own decade lacks isn’t excit­ing visions of the future, but a Gerns­back to com­mis­sion them.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Iso­la­tor: A 1925 Hel­met Designed to Elim­i­nate Dis­trac­tions & Increase Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty (Cre­at­ed by Sci­Fi Pio­neer Hugo Gerns­back)

The Word “Robot” Orig­i­nat­ed in a Czech Play in 1921: Dis­cov­er Karel Čapek’s Sci-Fi Play R.U.R. (a.k.a. Rossum’s Uni­ver­sal Robots)

Futur­ist Makes Weird­ly Accu­rate Pre­dic­tions in 1922 About What the World Will Look Like in 2022: Wire­less Tele­phones, 8‑Hour Flights to Europe & More

In 1922, a Nov­el­ist Pre­dicts What the World Will Look Like in 2022: Wire­less Tele­phones, 8‑Hour Flights to Europe & More

Sci-Fi Pio­neer Hugo Gerns­back Pre­dicts Telemed­i­cine in 1925

In 1926, Niko­la Tes­la Pre­dicts the World of 2026

“When We All Have Pock­et Tele­phones”: A 1920s Com­ic Accu­rate­ly Pre­dicts Our Cell­phone-Dom­i­nat­ed Lives

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Revisit Vintage Issues of Astounding Stories, the 1930s Magazine that Gave Rise to Science Fiction as We Know It

Hav­ing been putting out issues for 92 years now, Ana­log Sci­ence Fic­tion and Fact stands as the longest con­tin­u­ous­ly pub­lished mag­a­zine of its genre. It also lays claim to hav­ing devel­oped or at least pop­u­lar­ized that genre in the form we know it today. When it orig­i­nal­ly launched in Decem­ber of 1929, it did so under the much more whiz-bang title of Astound­ing Sto­ries of Super-Sci­ence. But only three years lat­er, after a change of own­er­ship and the instal­la­tion as edi­tor of F. Orlin Tremaine, did the mag­a­zine begin pub­lish­ing work by writ­ers remem­bered today as the defin­ing minds of sci­ence fic­tion.

Under Tremaine’s edi­tor­ship, Astound­ing Sto­ries pulled itself above its pulp-fic­tion ori­gins with sto­ries like Jack Williamson’s “Legion of Space” and John W. Camp­bel­l’s “Twi­light.” The lat­ter inspired the strik­ing illus­tra­tion above by artist Elliott Dold. “Dold’s work was deeply influ­enced by Art Deco, which lends its geo­met­ric forms to the city of machines in ‘Twi­light,’ ” writes the New York Times’ Alec Nevala-Lee, which “inau­gu­rat­ed the mod­ern era of sci­ence fic­tion.”

In the case of a gold­en-age sci­ence-fic­tion mag­a­zine like Astound­ing Sto­ries, Nevala-Lee argues“its most imme­di­ate impact came through its illus­tra­tions,” which “may turn out to be the genre’s most last­ing con­tri­bu­tion to our col­lec­tive vision of the future.”

None of the imagery print­ed inside Astound­ing Sto­ries was as strik­ing as its cov­ers, full-col­or pro­duc­tions on which “artists could let their imag­i­na­tions run wild.” Some­times they adhered close­ly to the visu­al descrip­tions in a sto­ry’s text — per­haps too close­ly, in the case the June 1936’s issue with H. P. Love­craft’s “The Shad­ow Out of Time” — and some­times they depart­ed from and even com­pet­ed with the mag­a­zine’s actu­al con­tent. But after Camp­bell took over as edi­tor in 1937, that con­tent became even stronger: fea­tured writ­ers includ­ed Robert Hein­lein, A. E. van Vogt, and Isaac Asi­mov.

Now, here in the once sci­ence-fic­tion­al-sound­ing twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, you can not only behold the cov­ers but read the pages of hun­dreds of issues of Astound­ing Sto­ries from the thir­ties, for­ties, and fifties online. The ear­li­est vol­umes are avail­able to down­load at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­ni­a’s web site, by way of Project Guten­berg, and there are even more of them free to read at the Inter­net Archive. Though it may not always have faith­ful­ly reflect­ed the mate­r­i­al with­in, Astound­ing Sto­ries’ cov­er imagery did rep­re­sent the pub­li­ca­tion as a whole. It could be thought-pro­vok­ing and haunt­ing, but it also deliv­ered no small amount of cheap thrills — and the gold­en age of sci­ence fic­tion still shows us how thin a line real­ly sep­a­rates the two.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Enter a Huge Archive of Amaz­ing Sto­ries, the World’s First Sci­ence Fic­tion Mag­a­zine, Launched in 1926

Free: 355 Issues of Galaxy, the Ground­break­ing 1950s Sci­ence Fic­tion Mag­a­zine

Down­load Issues of Weird Tales (1923–1954): The Pio­neer­ing Pulp Hor­ror Mag­a­zine Fea­tures Orig­i­nal Sto­ries by Love­craft, Brad­bury & Many More

Enter the Pulp Mag­a­zine Archive, Fea­tur­ing Over 11,000 Dig­i­tized Issues of Clas­sic Sci-Fi, Fan­ta­sy & Detec­tive Fic­tion

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.