Sniffing Out Science Fiction

Science fiction is now making it big in the pop culture field. But there was a time when scifi fans were closet believers, carefully covering their science-fiction treasures with the dust covers of more reputable volumes.

The current popularity didn’t happen overnight. It has been growing for some time. Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain may have contributed to bringing scifi out of the closet. Crichton placed the action of the novel in the near enough future to avoid the fantastic ethos that has usually been a part of this genre.

The most visible evidence of the new popularity of science fiction is the continual replaying of the television series “Star Trek.” It has gathered a group of fanatical fans among the young.

Defining science fiction is as difficult as analyzing it. Brentano’s Washington store in a shoulder-shrugging gesture has simply put all fantasy and science fiction together. There sit H. G. Wells and Charles Williams comfortably side by side. That would probably disturb neither author as much as the fantasy devotees. A scifi fan who has graduated to fantasy freak is as intolerant of his past as a reformed alcoholic. Perhaps it will suffice to call science fiction technological fantasy.

My own on-and-off infatuation with the genre began in my teens when my father presented me with a small anthology of science fiction short stories. Among them was a gem by William Rose Benet entitled “By the Waters of Babylon.” If you can find it, read it! Written in the thirties, it describes the return of humanity to stone-age culture following an undescribed disaster and the rediscovery of an automated New York City by a stone-age youth. The city is deserted, but the lights still go on automatically ...

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