Sunday, September 13, 2009

1957 Hugo - er....

The only Hugos given out in 1957 went to magazines, not specific novels or stories. I really don’t know why and haven’t seen an explanation anywhere on the internet tubes.

I’m unilaterally giving the award to Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun. This is the sequel to The Caves of Steel, the robot detective story I’ve raved about a couple of times already. If you like ‘50s sci-fi or Isaac Asimov and you haven’t read these, you should go do that. I’ll stop talking about them now.


On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite into space. It emitted a repetitive beeping noise to scare the crap out of Americans for the next 22 days. In less than four years, Yuri Gagarin would become the first man in space.

Obviously, this is an important moment in world history. But, it’s also an important moment in the history of sci-fi. There are three main ways that I think we can see this event impacting science fiction for the next generation and longer.

  1. It was a big step in the humanity’s movement into space. When you think about the fact that a dozen or so years after the first rocket launches, we’re launching satellites into space, Heinlein’s 50-years-to-Jupiter timeframe is a bit more understandable. Things were moving fast (especially compared to post-1969), and that translates to a lot of the ideas flying around in these novels.
  2. It increased interest in space and space travel. In some ways, the ‘50s is a heyday for science fiction, and I think the immediacy of technological developments played a key role in that. The government also begins to invest massive amounts of money into science education (the National Defense Education Act of 1958), increasing scientific literacy among American students, and perhaps increasing the number interested in science fiction…
  3. It was part of a period of rising tensions in the Cold War. Sputnik by no means caused deteriorating relations, but it was symptomatic of them. The Space Race was really all about showing how far and accurately you could launch a missile payload and thus demonstrating your strategic edge. Sputnik and Gagarin made it seem like the Soviets were winning and nuclear annihilation was becoming more imminent. Post-apocalyptic sci-fi is right around the corner….

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