So, that’s the first volume done, and I’m even now cracking on with volume two.
I’ve also found some of these texts online. I’ll add links to the separate entries in the fullness of time (it’s getting late here), but for now, here’s a list:
My main interest here has been to review the themes in these early stories, so that I can make a judgement later on if contpemporary SF has got anything new to say. Let’s just take a quick look at the the themes we’ve found so far.
Vastness - the depths of the ocean, the gulfs of time (x6), the subatomic world (x2)
The frontier/colonial spirit (x3)
Lost technology (x3)
The destructive power of science (x2)
Decadent Mars (x2)
The terrible (unforseen) price of science (x2)
Power that humanity cannot be trusted with (x2)
Dystopia (technological and left wing) (x2)
The natural kinship of rational beings
Plucky but doomed explorers
Dinosaurs vs aliens
Devolved technological cargo cult
Adam and eve
The colonial spirit
The last man on Earth
I think most telling are the many references to the general vastness of the universe. I think that’s one of the main consequences of scientific thought that began making its way into the popular consciousness.
After this, most significant is the pedgogical nature of so many of the stories. Clearly that has its roots in the Gernsbackian Popular Mechanics-style magazines from which the SF pulps sprang. Gernsback explicitly saw ‘scientifiction’ as a way of communicating scientific ideas, so it’s not surprising to find that here.
Cautionary tales – either powers that men shouldn’t possess, some horrible or dystopic consequence of progress – is surprisingly common. The idea that early SF was all optimistic scientific triumphalism isn’t born out by the selection here.
And I’m also intrigued to see early examples of what I’d consider rcent trends, like biotechnology, transhumanism and the singularity.
We’ll see how the themes change as the decade go on.