3 Reasons Why It’s Time for a Rebirth of 1950s Sci-Fi

Posted by on Jan 6, 2014 in Apex Publications Blog: Matters of SF, Fantasy, and Horror | 7 comments

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Science fiction from the fifties is its own special flower. World War II was over, the Atomic Age was at its height, and the Space Age was just beginning. Writers like Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke were envisioning strange new worlds where space travel was commonplace and robots were important everyday tools.

I, RobotThose dreams slowly crumbled, however, as the world lost interest in the space race, nuclear energy grew increasingly unpopular, and we settled into a war that, instead of being won relatively quickly, had become a quagmire. Science fiction got darker, and within a few years, cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic stories became the norm instead.

But I think we’re due another surge of fifties style sci-fi. That unbridled enthusiasm and endless imagination that permeated the science fiction in the past needs another round, and I’ll tell you why…

3) Robots Are an Actual Thing Now

Our everyday technology has started to quickly catch up with that of 1950s science fiction. Look, we don’t have humanoid robots doing our chores yet (though we do have Roombas), but it’s not far off, either. Google has been slowly grabbing up robotics companies (most notably Boston Dynamics, the creators of Big Dog) for a few years now, and they’ve already widely demonstrated self-driving cars and head-mounted computers. Tell me that’s not straight out of Asimov.

We can talk to our devices, communicate instantly with anyone worldwide, and we have Star Trek-esque tablet computers. Soon enough we’ll all be wearing one-piece space suits everywhere we go. Okay, maybe not, but we could if we wanted to.

2) We’re Getting Our Lust for Space Travel Back

EarthriseFor the first time in decades, we’re getting interested in space again. China just landed on the moon for the first time, the first country to do so (unmanned) since the U.S. and Russia quit bothering to do it back in the seventies. This has led to talk of the space race reigniting, although presumably without all that cold war stuff along with it. We’ve also got private spaceflight companies doing things like docking their craft to the ISS, the first time such a thing has ever happened.

Even pop culture is getting into the act. Cosmos, the TV series of legendary astronomer Carl Sagan, is making a comeback with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as the host. If that doesn’t make you excited, then, well, you’re not as nerdy as I am, I guess.

And speaking of nerds…

1) Retro Nerdism is at its Height

The stereotypical “nerd”, with pocket protector and thick framed glasses, was born in the fifties, but it’s far from dead. It’s straight-up chic now (er, minus the pocket protector). Not only that, but love of all things retro is at an all-time high, and we’re slowly working our way backward. Eighties and nineties music, film, and video game influences are common, and some media is reaching back into the sixties and seventies as well. And then there’s the force working from the opposite end: retrofuturist fantasy. Take steampunk, which gets its inspiration from the Victorian era on up through the Roaring Twenties. And it’s now showing some signs of giving way to dieselpunk, a World War II styled take on the World of Tomorrow.

Assuming we continue in both directions equally, we’ll hopefully see a convergence right in the middle of the twentieth century: The golden age of science fiction. No hokey spaceships or terrifying alien abduction stories, but honest-to-goodness hope for the future and a love for technology. Maybe all we need is the people willing to create it.

M. Asher CantrellM. Asher Cantrell is the pen name of M. Asher Cantrell because he doesn’t understand how pseudonyms work.

Ashe was born in Nashville, TN and received a B.A. in English/Writing from Middle Tennessee State University. He now lives near Nashville in an apartment that is smaller than the inside of many automobiles. He has been featured on sites like Cracked and Mental Floss, and his first book, The Book of Word Records, is available now from Adams Media and can be found in all fine (and coarse) bookstores.

You can contact him (work offers welcome) by e-mailing weirdshitblog@gmail.com or, if you’re lucky and within about a 100 yard radius, you can try shouting his name loudly.

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  1. I certainly hope you’re right about 50′s sci-fi coming back into fashion. I grew up in the 50′s and 60′s and literally found solace from a horrible family life in the sci-fi of that era. Matter of fact I find it hard to write any other way in my own stories and have really had a hard time selling it to pro-paying ezines, despite the fact that some (maybe even many) of the stories they do publish are truly crappy – in my opinion, of course. It seems these days you can hardly get anything published if it doesn’t center around perverts or employ the liberal use of obscene and/or sexually explicit language, which I refuse to incorporate into my own works.

  2. I love this. Let’s make it happen. I think the dystopian stuff is getting too much attention. Why can’t we believe that we’re not going to hell in a handbasket!? Let’s jump in our ships and fly off to other worlds, make discoveries, bring stuff back! *digging out my jetpack*

  3. Excellent! Amazing Stories salutes your call! But that’s only because we love it all, regardless of what decade it was written in!

    Nicole – we ‘are’ going to hell in a handbasket. The only real question is: are we going to be mopey – or have some fun along the way?

    • I vote for the having fun…let’s do it!

  4. 3 Reasons Why It Is NOT Time for a Rebirth of 1950s Sci-Fi:

    3) Because we live in the 21st Century now. Back in the 50s, women and people of color were considered second class citizens at best, legalized gay marriage was a concept not even Philip K. Dick dared think of, anti-communist paranoia ran rife, and the world was on the constant brink of annihilation (Mutually Assured Self-Destruction: MAD indeed). And all of this was reflected in the Sci-Fi of the days.

    Cherry-picking the nice parts of the 50s is easy: but nothing exists in a vacuum and the love of robots, space travel and a misguided kind of retro-nerdism did go hand in hand with a lot of negative things, of which I merely mention a few.

    2) Our insights have evolved considerably in 60 years.

    In a typical 50s Sci-Fi story, a lone scientist would invent something miraculous that changed everything almost overnight in his backyard. Problem is: it doesn’t happen that way: scientific and technological progress happen through large groups of researchers, over a multiplicity of fields. On top of that, production processes have become ever more elaborate, intricate and complex: we develop machines that make the machines that make microprocessors (see: ASML). So while back in the 70s Steve Wozniak developed the Apple I in the garage of Steve Jobs’s parents, nowadays nobody will believe that the next iPhone-like gadget can be built by a single geek at home.

    In short: the world has become immensely more complex, and straightforward 50s-type solutions simply don’t apply.

    1) Because Sci-Fi (or at least science fiction or SF) is supposed to be a forward-looking genre. At its best it can provide a glimpse into a future where things are so dazzingly different, so beautifully strange that it, through shifting the paradigm, evokes a breathless sense of wonder in its readers.

    It won’t be able to do so by looking to the past (no matter what the retrofuturists, steam- and dieselpunk might say), but by squarely facing the future with the best tools of today. Kill nostalgia and face the future!

    (PS: was the New Wave in vain?)

    (PS 2: I do appreciate the notion that Sci-Fi should offer hope for the future — after all, I edited SHINE — and that it should embrace technology and not hate it. But going back to the 50s is not the way forward, IMHO of course.)

    • @jetse: Science fiction is not necessarily something that has to happen a particular way. And as in most fiction, just how do you narrative a story in a 250 page novel or 90 minute movie involving a large group of researchers, much less a large groups of researchers? You’re talking about science fact, not science fiction. Fifties type solutions were immensely complex, if you’re not sure that isn’t so just exam the early space program or even go back to the “diesel” era and peruse the Manhattan project.

      I think what the blogger is suggesting is creating a genre with its conceit located in 1950s era zeitgeist when science fiction was not in the mainstream and much more subversive than it is now. And I’m sure that “[c]herry-picking the nice parts of the 50s” does not go necessarily “go hand in hand with a lot of negative things” if within the genre those things are addressed as the undesirable things they were indeed were.

  5. Jetse,

    do you really think Mr. Cantrell was advocating for the inclusion of those negative aspects – or do you think he was concentrating on the positives – the sense of wonder, excitement, discovery and above all positive, forward thinking embrace of the future that was inherent in much of that decade’s SF?
    I think it possible (positivism) to extract the good parts and filter them into today’s fiction.
    Some (forward thinking) 50′s SF actually did address the negative aspects of the 50s – Sturgeon’s Affair With A Green Monkey comes immediately to mind. And I’m pretty sure PKD could easily imagine a future in which gay marriage was becoming accepted world wide.
    Yes, 50s lone scientist – which followed the 30s & 40s team of scientists and engineers and is followed itself by the 2010′s lone billionaires who command teams of scientists and engineers and labs and research facilities and this is different how?
    And an accompanying question? Which is better for a frontier environment? Technology that requires a long tail of support, or technology that one lone individual can evaluate and repair on the fly, our of local resources, should that become necessary? If we are really going to get out into space in any meaningful way, we are eventually going to have to cut the umbilical cords….maybe the idea of the backyard spaceship built with nuts and bolts and hardwired electrical connections wasn’t such a bad idea after all…

    SF is supposed to be forward looking and you CAN figure out where to go by looking to the past – seeing the mistakes, the roads that led somewhere, the ones that panned out. You can take today’s advanced tech to those ideas and see where it might lead: nuclear powered spaceships are in the sky right now – made possible by tech originally developed in the 50s.
    We need the “can do” attitude of 50s SF back modified and filtered and enhanced by everything we’ve learned over the past 60 years.


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