The Fun They Had

The Fun They Had Science Fiction in the Mid-20th Century

Isaac Asimov wrote science fiction at a turbulent time in global history. His most famous book series, Foundations, was predicated on the invention of a fictional science called pyschohistory, in which practitioners predicted the exact patterns of future history. Pyschohistory struck a nerve in an American populace deeply rattled by the rise of fascism in Europe and by the violence of a second world war. Even after the war ended, the threat of the atomic bomb kept science and technology present in the drama of Cold War history.

Indeed, beyond the specific inventions of Foundations, science fiction in general was aptly suited to a time of scientific expansion. During this era, technology played a significant role in the fighting of World War II; electronic home appliances transformed the everyday lives of many Americans; and throughout it all, science fiction was gaining in popularity. This period, from the 1930s to the 1950s, is known as the Golden Age of science fiction in the United States. Originating in pulp magazines, science fiction was long a popular genre. But in 1937, scientist John W. Campbell Jr. took over as editor of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. Under Campbell, Astounding published Asimov's earlier stories, as well as an influx of new stories from science fiction writers.

At the same time, scholars have critiqued the genre's conservative values and its problems with racism and misogyny. Most of the prominent science fiction writers of the time were white and male. Campbell himself was known for his racist and sexist views, many of which reportedly alarmed Asimov. In later decades of the 20th century, younger generations of scientific writers took on new and alternative ways of imagining scientific futures, addressing many of these ideological critiques in new forms of the science fiction genre.