Back to the Futurians

During the recent kerfuffle over the Hugo Awards being gamed by a group of hard-core regressive readers of science fiction, one constant cry was their desire to return sf to its “purer” days of simple, action-adventure storytelling, unencumbered by progressive politics, or social commentary, or challenges to the dominant narrative.  Oh, sad, silly puppies!

As Sean Guynes-Vishniac details in the LA Review of Books, science fiction in America, right from the start, was all about the Struggle.  What struggle?  The struggle to inject politics into science fiction, to keep it from becoming “devoid of a purpose beyond mere entertainment.”  “The Science Fiction Age is … over!”, declaimed John Michel, complaining that it had died of “intellectual bankruptcy”.  And the sf revolutionaries were making this proclamation in 1937, all of 11 years after Hugo Gernsback (he of the Award) started publishing the first commercial sf magazine, Amazing Stories, and 2 years before the first World Science Fiction Convention.

Would you buy a dead genre from these guys?
Left to right: Cyril Kornbluth, Chester Cohen, John Michel, Robert A.W. Lowndes, Donald A. Wollheim.
Photo Credit: Jack Robins (1939)

Who were the revolutionaries in question?  They were the Futurians, a social organization of writers, editors, and fans who would go on to establish American sf as a significant niche within publishing, people like Frederik Pohl, Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Damon Knight (after whom the SFWA Grandmaster Award is named), Donald Wollheim (DAW Books), and Virginia Kidd (agent for Ursula Le Guin, Ann McCaffrey, Gene Wolfe).  Though the Futurians only stayed together until 1945, breaking up during the post-WW2 backlash on all things left-progressive, their influence on American sf was deep.

And their struggle to make a progressive, social justice movement within science fiction faced much of the same opposition that tries to drag sf backwards today (looking at you, Puppies!)  So, the Futurians may be gone, but it would be good for us to remember and honor their memories, as well as to carry on their program of challenging our complacency with the status quo and making a future “hospitable to the downtrodden.”


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