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seven Frontiers in Space My title is borrowed from a 1955 paperback science fiction anthology, edited by Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty, which bears on its back cover the claim that science fiction has ‘‘opened new frontiers to the pioneer hero, given him new worlds to conquer and marvellous means to conquer them.’’ Such claims were endemic among science fiction publications of the period, as publishers sought to position the recently emergent science fiction book market in the context of other, more-established genres such as Westerns or mysteries (a similar strategy involved describing the genre as ‘‘a di√erent kind of mystery thrill,’’ in the words of another paperback cover).∞ A few years later, another paperback advertised, ‘‘Centuries have passed since man first set out across the uncharted seas of his own World. But the same urgent spirit that drove men on journeys from which they knew they might never return is still tugging and pushing. And now the restless questing of mankind has sent him out across the unknown seas of space.’’≤ Such comments might fairly be said to represent the marketing of science fiction rather than the fiction itself, but they do serve to illustrate a widely held popular belief concerning the relationship of science fiction with the concept of the frontier, a belief that often has been expressed by science fiction writers and fans, and has even been the subject of a number of academic studies.≥ The basic tenets of this belief are as follows: For centuries, such genres of fantastic literature as the imaginary voyage and the utopia had thrived upon people’s fascination with the uncharted regions of the globe. In America, this fascination became focused upon the Western frontier—not quite uncharted or even unsettled, but still an arena for the kind of heroic individualism that increasingly seemed to be disappearing in the urbanized and industrialized East. With the closing of that frontier, the popular audience sought promises of yetnew areas to explore, and science fiction gained popularity as a kind of literature 122 GENRES that not only o√ered new frontiers but did so without sacrificing the technological idealism that equally had come to characterize industrial America. Science fiction o√ered its audience both the machine and the wilderness—in fact made them interdependent—and thus opened for exploration the Moon, other planets, and finally other stars. Popular culture had found itself an infinite frontier, or ‘‘the final frontier,’’ as tv’s Star Trek had it. According to this view, science fiction was almost inevitably an outgrowth of frontier fiction. Indeed, the growth of popular science fiction did coincide to some extent with the closing of the American frontier, and a great many science fiction works portray frontier societies as arenas for individual heroism. The term ‘‘space opera,’’ coined by science fiction fan and writer Wilson Tucker in 1941 to describe the hackneyed cosmic adventure epics of pulp magazines in the 1930s, seems to insist on a relationship between such stories and the ‘‘horse operas’’ of the same period.∂ But even before Tucker, the connection seemed evident to even a casual reader of the pulps. Bernard De Voto, himself a widely respected historian of the West, clearly made the connection in what was surely one of the first accounts of pulp science fiction to appear in a literary magazine (Harper’s, September 1939): The science thus discussed is idiotic beyond any possibility of exaggeration, but the point is that in this kind of fiction the bending of light or Heisenberg’s formula is equivalent to the sheri√ of the horse opera fanning his gun, the heroine of the sex pulp taking o√ her dress. . . . These stories are more maturely written than those in the cowboy pulps, for example, if only in that they use longer words and more involved sentences. Their conventions and narrative formulas are also less primitive than the chase-with-sixshooters of the horse operas. Some of them are, to be sure, just that chase rephrased in terms of death rays, with heroic earthmen overcoming malign Venusians on the last page, but the majority of them forgo melodrama in favor of exegesis. They fulfill the hopeless dream of detective-story writers: they are a kind of fiction in which explanation is action.∑ As if to demonstrate this relationship once and for all, a little-known pulp writer named Guy Archette (pseudonym of Chester S. Geier) was able to transform a Western into a science...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780819571045
Related ISBN
9780819569363
MARC Record
OCLC
726747951
Pages
280
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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