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Pioneers Of Wonder - Conversations with the Founders of Science Fiction
Eric Leif Davin
Prometheus hardcover £27

review by Steve Sneyd

This is a book that definitely 'does what it says on the tin', and for anyone with even a passing interest in the extraordinary growth of the genre in 1930s' America, this chance to hear the story in their own words from many of the remarkable people who made it possible is unmissable.
   Here are people who were there when Hugo Gernsback launched the first SF pulp magazine, wrote for him, edited for him, and often got around him (one of the few advantages, it becomes clear, of Gernsback's traditional tardiness in paying employees and contributors was that in return they could often get freedom to do it their way).
   There are most unexpected insights, from those who know because they were witnesses or participants. That, for example, it was the rise of comic books that really killed the pulps, or that SF can be directly blamed for the Bomb - scientist Leo Szilard came up with the key concept of nuclear chain reaction, which made the weapon possible, as a direct result of reading about a future atomic war in H.G. Wells' 1914 story The World Set Free.
   Frank K. Kelly, who in his teens sold SF stories galore, tells how the snobbery of his English lecturer at college about science fiction put him off the field; Kurt Neumann and Curt (Wolfman) Siodmak (who comes up with my favourite quote from the book - "In your life, you are merely the echo of your own energies" - now that really is an science fictional concept!) provide clear pictures of the early days of Hollywood SF; David Lasser reveals how the left-wing politics that influenced his choice of tales for Wonder Stories also meant years of congressional harassment and blacklisting, the truth behind the infamous Scott Meredith 'plot skeleton' is disclosed - and those are just a handful of the fascinating discoveries to be made.
   Many of these interviews first appeared individually in Fantasy Commentator, which ever since the 1940s has been a focus for SF's rediscovery of its own history; giant of SF history Sam Moskowitz, as well as FC editor A. Langley Searles, encouraged Davin in the project throughout. In turn, the publishers (and it's appropriate that they're based on a street named for an early astronaut) have produced a handsome volume with clean, clear, exceptionally legible type and a notable freedom from typographical errors. My only tiny cavil would be that the photos of the interview subjects are few, and mainly static studio/ passport-type at that, but this may well be an availability problem. A book I would highly recommend.
Pioneers of Wonder
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