It is almost the most magical time of the year: Vintage Science Fiction Month! By “almost,” I mean more than three months away, because January is Vintage Science Fiction Month, but it is never too early to start plotting what you will read and discuss. Today I am pleased to facilitate thinking about Vintage Science Fiction Month by hosting a guest blog by Andrea from The Little Red Reviewer. And I love this topic.
Have you ever asked your grandparents what their childhood was like? What did they do for fun, what did they want to be when they grew up, how did people meet up back then, what did they think the future was going to be like? Did they think we’d be vacationing on the moon in year 2020? Did they think we’d all be living in arcologies? Did they wonder when we’d finally meet aliens and talk to them?
It’s neat to see how much things have changed, hasn’t it? We’re using dating apps, our grandparents went to dances to meet people. We send texts, they sent letters. How many web-enabled devices are in one room of your house? How many families shared one phone line once upon a time?
Your favorite brand new science fiction and fantasy books have grandparents too.
What book are you reading right now? Go find some interviews with that author, and look where they are being asked “what are your literary influences?”, and notice what authors or books or music or life events the author says influenced their writing. Maybe they loved LeCarre, or Agatha Christie, or Frank Herbert, or C.L. Moore, or Fritz Leiber, or Dostoevsky. Maybe the author (or whoever influenced them) watched an atomic bomb fall, maybe they fled a war, maybe they were just the right age when we went to the moon. Those are that book’s grandparents. And I bet that if you were to read one of those books or about those events, you’d find weird and unexpected echos of the book you’re reading right now.
That’s one of the major reasons I enjoy reading older science fiction. It’s like reading through the family trees of my favorite contemporary titles. It’s like meeting that book’s grandparents. Voyage of the Space Beagle by A.E. Van Vogt is the great-grandma of everyone’s favorite Xenomorph. Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories are the great uncle of our favorite Gentleman Bastards. Brienne is everyone’s favorite kick-ass woman, and I’ll bet her godmother is C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry. And speaking of C.L. Moore, her Northwest Smith was the original Han Solo DNA.
What I’m getting at is that everything comes from somewhere, and all authors started as readers and fans. Reading older books gives me what feels like a secret look into the genealogy of my favorite contemporary titles.
I get a kick out of reading the same stories my grandpa read in the 1960s, I get a kick out of those author’s predictions for the future. I wonder if people’s worldview in the 50s and 60s was as optimistic as the books they wrote? I’m sure someone who studies this could tell me about the marked change in the tone of fiction, during and after Vietnam.
And just like that one uncle of yours who always says something problematic at Thanksgiving, be warned that Vintage Science Fiction isn’t all happy fun times. To be polite, there are problematic uncles, old fashioned grandpa’s, aunties who will nag you to have a baby already (have two, they’re small!). This stuff is old fashioned, literally by default. You will run into ideas you don’t agree with, you will run into all manner of shockingly out of date concepts and societal expectations.
Vintage science fiction can’t help but be a product of it’s time, just like the social dance your grandparents met at, or the party phone line, or the concept of going to college to get an M.R.S., or anything else that it’s so easy for us to label “old fashioned.” And hey, if your grandparents hadn’t met some old fashioned way, would you be here today? If your favorite brand new science fiction book’s grandparents had never been written 80 years ago, would the book that you love so much be here today?