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Back in 1926 Hugo Gernsback was a successful publisher, inventor and broadcaster with a passion for sharing his passions, which in his case was science in all its forms. In his day, radio was new, the light bulb wasn’t all that old and Edison and Tesla were astonishing the world on nearly a daily basis.
For Hugo the future possibilities were endless. The only thing missing was a public that was equally as excited. Hugo believed that this wasn’t because they didn’t care about the wonderful technologies springing up all around them, it was because they simply weren’t educated and knowledgeable enough to appreciate the fact that they were living in a golden age of technological advancement and creativity.
Gernsback believed that one sure way to create that excitement was through the written word and he set out to prove his theory by frequently offering prototypical or scientifiction stories in the pages of his Electrical Experimenter magazine (later to become Science & Invention magazine).
He even went so far as to publish two “All Scientifiction” issues of that magazine.
The results justified his hypothesis: those issues were well received and a significant portion of his readership wrote in requesting more of the same. After a few fits and starts, Hugo honored their requests and dropped the first issue of a magazine devoted to the “candy-coating of science” onto the world’s head.
The world would never be the same.
Science Fiction – however you define it – had been born. While not yet quite science fiction in 1926, the seeds were sown, the clones decanted, the homonculi re-invigorated.
Science Fiction would soon escape from the cage that Hugo had hoped to keep it in: he saw it largely as a vehicle for enticing an interest in the sciences rather than a new form of fantasy literature. The concept was far bigger than that. SF would find itself not only introducing the sciences and not only entertaining with the fantastic, it would go on to create an entirely new world view and would bring into being the concept that our species could actually shape the very future that it would go on to inhabit.
We live in that world today, a world in which every single one of the gosh-wow technologies that we (almost) take for granted were first imagined within the pages of a science fiction story. Perhaps not in specific, working detail (though that has happened on a number of famous occasions), but sufficiently enough to make them seem real. Authors, stretching their minds in an effort to entertain inspired readers who wanted to inhabit those fantastical worlds they were being entertained by. Fictional worlds weren’t enough for the readers of SF and many would go on to become the scientists, researchers and engineers who harnessed atomic energy, took us to the Moon, introduced cloning and genetic engineering, the integrated circuit, lasers, masers, ion drives, robots, nanotech and all the rest of it.
Gernsback lost Amazing Stories to bankruptcy shortly after getting it started (it would continue in publication until 1995, nearly 70 years in continuous publication: it would be revived several times from 1998 thru 2005), and shortly after beginning to create the other wonderful gift he gave us – science fiction fandom.
Certainly his efforts were born from commercial and business interests – he realized that he could use the letter column of his magazine to put together clubs of like-minded individuals and that he could then use the clubs to support and increase circulation – but fandom had a mind of its own just like the new genre did. Both seem to have a major issue with boundaries.
In many respects, Gernsback was a man well before his time; substitute the internet for the letter columns of his magazines and you’ll be looking at nothing less than the world’s first social network.
It is now some 86 years since the world we live in was given birth and over seven years since the magazine ceased publication. The world of this latest version is far different from the world of 1926, but not all that different from the worlds that were created within its pages.
Hugo charted the path; authors and artists, editors and fans populated and embellished it, readers turned it into reality. Now that we are all truly living in a science fiction world it is time for a magazine that celebrates and illuminates that world in ways that no other publication can.
Welcome to the new Amazing Stories!
(In the future there is no doubt in my mind that we’ll all have polarizing lenses in our eyes thanks to nanotech.)