FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #534: THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION: A JOURNEY INTO SPACE WITH 1950s RADIO, TV, FILMS, COMICS AND BOOKS By John Wade


The Golden Age of Science Fiction according to John Wade is the 1950s. And this fun book makes the case for Wade’s beliefs with plenty of photos and artwork reproductions. Science Fiction had an impressive presence on the radio with programs like Journey Into Space and Operation Luna. If you don’t remember these radio programs, it might be because they were on the BBC. Wade grew up in England and The Golden Age of Science Fiction has a definite British skewing. Wade includes some wonderful graphics to capture the essence and feel of the radio programs.

Wade really hits his stride in his “Science Fiction on Television” chapter. He spends several pages on The Quatermass Experiment and its sequels. Wade praises the U.S. TV program Superman although he calls the robot in one of the episodes “unconvincing.” There was also Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

As for SF movies, Godzilla showed up in 1954 and defined a new genre of Science Fiction. Forbidden Planet (1956) created a sensation with its Robby the Robot. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) had a different kind of robot and a different message. Wade also praises Destination Moon (1950)–based on Robert A. Heinlein’s Rocketship Galileo–for being as scientifically accurate as was possible in the 1950s. The movie that most affected me in the 1950s was War of the Worlds (1953). Wade includes the iconic movie poster in his presentation. Also discussed is the 3-D SF film, It Came From Outer Space (1953) (a movie I’ve never seen). Wade is also fond of This Island, Earth (1955). Perhaps the scariest SF movie of the 1950s was Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). I also remember seeing The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) as a kid and loving it. Years later, I did see The Fly (1958). Wade even analyzes one of the worst movies ever made: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).

In the “Science Fiction in Books” chapter, John Wyndham–who wrote the classic The Day of the Triffids–leads off a series of 1950s writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, and Eric Frank Russell. I love the covers on the British paperbacks!

“Science Fiction Comics and Magazines” is the weakest chapter in the book. Wade writes about Astounding Science Fiction, Galaxy, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but there were dozens of SF and fantasy magazines (some short-lived) in the 1950s. But, the cover reproductions are eye-popping!

If you’re a fan of Science Fiction, this book will take you on a delightful trip down Memory Lane! GRADE: B+
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Introduction p. vii
Chapter 1 Science Fiction on Radio p. 1
Chapter 2 Science Fiction on Television p. 29
Chapter 3 Science Fiction on Film p. 57
Chapter 4 Science Fiction in Books p. 101
Chapter 5 Science Fiction Comics and Magazines p. 151
Picture Credits p. 200
Index p. 204

33 thoughts on “FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #534: THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION: A JOURNEY INTO SPACE WITH 1950s RADIO, TV, FILMS, COMICS AND BOOKS By John Wade

  1. Dan

    Perfect for Father’s Day!

    Now I gotta go out & adopt some kids.

    Preferable successful, healthy ones, in their 30s, with good jobs and comfortable financial situations.

    Reply
  2. Michael Padgett

    I don’t recall listening to radio that much in the 50s except for music, but I was really into the SF/horror movies of the period and saw most of the ones you mentioned at one time or another. You mention “It Came From Outer Space”, and I’m pretty sure that was the first of the 50s classics I saw in a theater. It’s quite good, and still holds up pretty well. Its director, Jack Arnold, went on to direct several of the better movies of this kind, including “Tarantula”, “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, “Creature From the Black Lagoon” , and the lesser sequel “Revenge of the Creature”. All of these show up now and then on TCM.

    Reply
    1. george Post author

      Michael, the 1950s saw the explosion of movies, books, and magazines about space travel and alien monsters. As you point out, many of these works hold up today.

      Reply
  3. Jeff Meyerson

    Sounds great! I did not listen to radio drama (and we didn’t get the BBC!), but I definitely saw all of the movies. The one that scared me as a kid (years before I saw INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) was the original INVADERS FROM MARS (1953), where a kid sees a flying saucer land in a sand pit, and everyone who comes in contact with it (starting with his father) is “changed” much as the people in BODY SNATCHERS a few years later.

    Reply
    1. Todd Mason

      INVADERS FROM MARS was a lovely film. I didn’t even hate the remake, even though it was clearly a lesser production. And, of course, THE BODY SNATCHERS has been filmed so many times, four I think “legitimately”, that it would take a small festival to screen them all.

      Reply
      1. george Post author

        Todd, the 1950s zeitgeist was perfect for films like THE BLOB, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and FORBIDDEN PLANET.

      2. Todd Mason

        Though I will suggest that the robots in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and FORBIDDEN PLANET were rather more similar than different…except perhaps in terms of locomotion.

    2. Art Scott

      The films most memorable to the kid me were THEM, BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, & INVADERS FROM MARS. I’ll happily re-watch the first two anytime (THEM on Turner just a few months ago), but, viewed as an adult, the evident cheapness of INVADERS took the shine off it. I used to think well of THIS ISLAND EARTH, but MST3K’s version restored me to sanity.

      Reply
      1. george Post author

        Art, I have to view those 1950s films you mention with a large dose of “sense of wonder” in order to ignore the crude Special Effects.

      2. Art Scott

        George, I’m much happier with “crude” ’50s effects and Sense Of Wonder, than with 21st Century CGI effects and Sense Of Overkill.

      3. Jeff Meyerson

        I hate to say it, but I agree. A few years ago, we put on INVADERS FROM MARS and it didn’t live up to my memories, not that I expected it to.

  4. Todd Mason

    I’m not sure GODZILLA broke that much ground, except perhaps literally. Seeing, as a young teen, the second Gojira film as it was released in the US was pretty impressive, even in that chopped up format…it was grim, relatively quick and unrelenting, and didn’t have anything like the clumsy Raymond Burr inserts of GODZILLA nor the campiness of most the later films. But I believe the likes of THEM as well as such non-atomic era giant monster films as KING KONG helped make most of the relevant points between them.

    Sounds like the author wasn’t too much in touch with the UK sf magazines, either…and, certainly, there was no lack of UK sfnal comics in the ’50s.

    There are a number of aficionados who will agree that the 1950s was truly the first Golden Age of SF…the writers were mostly coming in with the knowledge of how to write well, as did most of the veterans whose careers thrived in the ’50s. The worst of sf publishing in the ’50s was as bad as anything before or since, but the efflorescence of the literature as a literature became the way to play it in the ’50s.

    And US radio didn’t do Too badly, either, between DIMENSION X and X MINUS 1, the sfnal excursions of the likes of QUIET PLEASE and even SUSPENSE, and such lesser series as BEYOND 2000. TALES OF TOMORROW and a few other tv series did some good work, even such now-obscure programs as STUDIO 57, a Heinz-sponsered anthology series, first on Dumont and then in first-run syndication, which offered a good adaptation of Richard Matheson’s “Young Couples Only” in 1955.

    Reply
      1. george Post author

        Todd, John Wade displays a lot of enthusiasm for his subject. The early chapters are stronger than the later ones.

    1. george Post author

      Todd, in addition to GODZILLA movies, I was a big fan of MOTHRA and the other Japanese super-monsters. They were crude, but effective when I was 9-years-old!

      Reply
      1. Jeff Meyerson

        True. I remember my father taking me and my brother to see RODAN when it came out in 1957 (unusual for him), and me being freaked out by the mine scene in the beginning.

    1. george Post author

      Rick, you’re right about the scariness of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. I can’t recall any films based on Heinlein’s PUPPET MASTERS.

      Reply
    2. wolf

      .
      My thinking too -Triffids was really something special – and it was translated into German for me to read, until 1963 I couldn’t really read English books.
      What I found especially interesting about the 50s:
      There were many stories and novels on invasion from outer space, especially in the USA – a kind of political effect after McCarthy?
      And many ESP stories also – or was that a bit later?
      Maybe a bit OT:
      One of the strongest books was the story of most of the whole population dying – the novel’s hero survives because he’s been bitten by a snake, giving him immunity. I just forgot the title and the name of the female (?) author – surely someone here knows which book I mean. Might have appeared in the 50s too.

      Reply
  5. Jerry House

    George, THE PUPPET MASTERS was made into a film in 1994. It sank.

    In 1958, Roger Corman’s THE BRAIN EATERS ripped off parts of Heinlein’s novel; a lawsuit against Corman was settled out of court

    For me, most of the Fifties were about westerns. It was only late in the decade that science fiction in its various forms raised its oh-so-lovely head. In 1957, a drive-in theater opened in my town, about a mile from our house as the crow flies. The first feature shown there? RODAN. Every teenager were attended the first night must have turned their speaker on full blast because Rodan’s patented scream could be heard at my house (scaring the dog).

    Off topic, y computer was down for about a week, so I missed your birthday. My apologies and belated well wishes for many, many more. (I was told that I had better your entry into your eighth decade you might gather a bunch of your rapscallion companions to toilet paper my house.)

    Reply
    1. george Post author

      Jerry, we missed you! Glad your computer is fixed and you’re back with us online. I watched westerns in the 1950s, too, but most of them were on TV: BAT MASTERSON, SUGARFOOT, GUNSMOKE, MAVERICK, and HAVE GUN–WILL TRAVEL were just some of the Westerns I watched. Thanks for filling us in on THE PUPPET MASTERS!

      Reply
      1. george Post author

        Todd, along with Westerns in the 1950s and 1960s, there were War Stories: COMBAT!, MCHALE’S NAVY, THE GALANT MEN, HOGAN’S HEROES, MISTER ROBERTS, WACKIEST SHIP IN THE ARMY, GARRISON’S GORILLAS, THE RAT PATROL, and CONVOY. All gone now from the Networks…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *