Golden Age science fiction, written in the late 1930’s through the mid-1940’s, was written during a time of tremendous science and technology excitement in the world. Physics had just discovered atomic power, quantum mechanics, and relativity; astronomy was discovering what the planets were composed of and how really big the universe is; Sigmund Freud was revolutionizing psychology; Henry Ford was demonstrating how real the miracle of mass production could become, and the totalitarians and socialists were showing that liberal ideals were not the only way to lead mankind into industry and out of misery. These were exciting times, full of change. (much as we experience today)
Possibilities in space travel and social control resonated strongly with the emotions of readers. Pre-Golden Age writers Jules Verne and H. G. Wells could only imagine people being shot into space from cannons, and that never sounded pleasant or terribly real. Newly invented liquid-fueled rockets, on the other hand, opened up wondrous possibilities. That, combined with the possibilities that nearby Mars harbored ancient civilizations and Venus was a jungle planet, fired the imaginations of writers and readers.
Likewise, Freud was bringing science to the study of the mind, and the totalitarians were demonstrating that new communications technologies such as weekly news reels in movie theaters and radio really could mobilize people to do great works. This was the time of colorful Nazi political rallies that became fodder for those news reels and FDR’s Fireside Chats which became memorable on the table-size radio that was becoming a living room fixture in American households. Science fiction writers were exploring how practical psychology could be used for diagnosing and mind control.
What changed in the fifties and sixties was increased knowledge in those areas that had been fun mystery. Space travel actually happened, and it turned out to be more expensive and slower than was imagined. Venus turned from possible jungle planet into super-hot hellhole. Mars got cold and empty, the canals indicating civilization were an optical illusion. The stars got really far away — rocketry was not a solution — they became accessible only by clearly imaginary propulsion systems such as warp drives. Socialism and totalitarianism transformed into the gloomy USSR and the Cold War.
In short, the cheap and easy science thrills were gone. <sigh> And what has replaced them are cheap and easy fantasy thrills.
What I am attempting with Child Champs and my other Tales of Technofiction stories is to move on: To reveal what the next generation science and technology-related thrilling stories can be about.
They won’t be the same. The tools have changed so the stories will be different. But that’s exactly what makes them exciting.