I’ve recently become addicted to reading io9, an online magazine that covers all aspects of speculative fiction along with news, discoveries, and random facts in the different sciences. The articles and discussions are all rather interesting. I always thought grasshoppers and locusts were cousins, but I’ve since learned that under certain conditions the grasshoppers’ brains grow larger, their bodies become smaller, and they begin swarming in waves as locusts.
Biology aside, io9 recently asked which year was the best in sci-fi and posted data relevant to 1912, 1931, 1954, 1968, 1977, 1982, and 1999. Taken into account were the forerunners, hurdles, popular releases, and the times. Tired of flipping pages and wanting to save the information for future reference, I took notes and added a few of my own:
1912: The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle helped popularize live dinosaurs. Going beyond the jungle, Edgar Rice Burrough’s writes one of the first planetary romances, A Princess of Mars. Dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels by George Allan England, Garrett Serviss, and William Hope Hodson were published. Set in the future, Rudyard Kipling’s As Easy as A.B.C. portrays anti-imperialism. In Le Mystérieux Docteur Cornelius by Gustave le Rouge, a heroic alliance goes against a mad-scientist’s criminal empire. Chinese master criminal Fu Manchu first appears in “the Zayat Kiss” by Sax Rohmer. Hugo Gernsback’s first novel, Ralph 124C41+: A Romance of the Year 2660, is serialized in Modern Electrics for which he was editor. His scientific imagination predicted handy items like television and radar and he later became a publisher of sci-fi magazine Amazing Stories. The namesake of the Hugo awards is also considered one of science-fiction’s fathers.
1931: This was the beginning of classic monster movies with Frankenstein, Dracula, and Mr. Hyde. Following the human-monster theme were Fritz Lang’s movie M and William Falkner’s novel Sanctuary. H.P. Lovecraft’s alien-themed tales “At The Mountains of Madness” and “the Whisperer in Darkness” came out, the latter also fitting as cyberpunk. Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World, but it was published the following year to much acclaim.
1954: Ray Bradbury received a Hugo award for Fahrenheit 451. Isaac Asimov’s Robot protagonists make their first appearance in the Caves of Steel. Richard Matheson’s viral-undead thriller I Am Legend is published. Robert Heinlein was writing about stranded boys and survival in Tunnel in the Sky. It was published in 1955, just after William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. On the silver screen were Godzilla: King of the Monsters and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. There was also Them!, the first nuclear monster and giant insect film.
1968: Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is published. Ursula Le Guin was writing the Left Hand of Darkness, which was one of the first major feminist works in sci-fi and received a Nebula award in 1969 and a Hugo in 1970- the first woman to do so for a novel. Le Guin was also one of the first women to break into the men’s world. Computers rebel against humans on the big screen in Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream and Stanley Kubrick Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey was published after the film. Pierre Boulle’s novel Planet of the Apes and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead featured on the silver screen. Flowers for Algernon by David Keyes was transformed into the movie Charly. Tony Stark’s comic book the Invincible Iron Man 1 also comes out.
1977: Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind brought back the popularity of alien adventures and space operas, but left behind the cheap, cheesy effects and robots. Movies, television, and literature were taken to new heights and interest in sci-fi renewed. Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly and Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer were published. Orson Scott Card’s short story “Ender’s Game” was published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and British comic book, 2000 AD, launched.
1982: The Dark Tower by Stephen King kicked off his long-running Dark Tower series. Battle Field Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 by the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, was published, as was Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two. The third book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was also published. Steven Spielberg’s portrayal of a friendly alien in E.T. is still a family favourite. Switching to cyberpunk, Blade Runner and Tron were released on the silver screen. TV shows Knight Rider and Danger Mouse premiered. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs was transformed from book to animation for the holidays.
1999: Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Shadow were published. The release of Star Wars: Episode I- the Phantom Menace made Obi Wan Kenobi and Skywalker popular among a new generation. The Wachowskis merged sci-fi and action in the Matrix. The Iron Man by Ted Hughes was animated into Iron Giant. Also on the screen were Wing Commander and the Star Trek-inspired parody, Galaxy Quest. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ended, TV brought about Farscape, Batman Beyond, Roswell, and Futurama.
I’ve been tossing the years around in my mind and it’s hard to choose. On one hand there are several ground-breakers while on the other, a bunch of fantastic stuff that came out. Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 were my high school forays into sci-fi and I still think them incredible. Although the early years laid the foundation, I am a child of the eighties and opt for 1977. I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, but I appreciate what it did and like the original movies enough that I had to see them when they were re-released in theatres. Getting a chance to see those on the big screen? I mean c’mon! Besides, they did what Lord of the Rings did for fantasy- created a resurgence of popularity among the younger (and older) generations. Born in ’77, Ender Wiggen matured in 1985 with the publication of Ender’s Game. Plus, the prolific masters, Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov, were still doing what they did best- feed minds and the realm of speculative fiction.
Speaking of the Left Hand of Darkness, thanks to an in depth review on io9 I’d like to re-read what is one Ursula Le Guin’s most acclaimed works. I read the novel about a decade ago so many of the minute details are fuzzy, but it and the Lathe of Heaven are my favourites by Le Guin.
So that’s my difficult choice for the best year in sci-fi. Which would you pick? If it’s impossible to pinpoint a single year, what about a decade?