Voices from the Radium Age

Voices from the Radium Age
Ed. by Joshua Glenn

Defining genres and literary periods can be a tricky business. As an example, in this new series from MIT Press Joshua Glenn looks to brand the science fiction written between 1900 and 1935 as the Radium Age, which he sees as an interregnum between the scientific romances of the nineteenth century and the golden age of the American SF pulps that took off in the 1930s.

Whatever you think of the Radium Age as a label, this first volume is a great launch, containing a good mix of stories from some big names (E. M. Forster, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, W. E. B. Du Bois) and a few that should be better known (Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, William Hope Hodgson and Neil R. Jones). The nature of the Radium Age, and whether these works can or should be read as proto-SF or something else, is a matter fans can debate. But even if you’re just looking for old-school adventure mixed with still trenchant social allegory this is a line-up full of winners. The rest of the series promises to be a just as big a treat, and with cover designs by Guelph artist Seth they’re nice to look at too.

9 thoughts on “Voices from the Radium Age

    1. Yeah, Glenn says Curie inspired the choice of name. I don’t know if I’m totally on board with the proto-SF line though. I don’t see the genre as being so much in flux during these years, or any more so than it’s always been.

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      1. Glenn sees it as “a genre that was still getting its feet and finding its way in the dark that didn’t quite have solidified boundaries that would later define science fiction.” Chronologically he has it as coming after earlier (European) “scientific romance” and the later (American) golden age of the pulps.

        It’s an attempt at periodization, which is something that a lot of literary scholars do, and it’s helpful, but like I say I’m not totally on board with it. People often try to make scientific romance into a label that means something different than science fiction, but originally I think it was just an alternative name for what was the same thing. H. G. Wells called his work scientific romance, but if you look at The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds (both pre-Radium Age) then you’ve got what I would identify as classic or full-blown SF already. The work of the period 1900-1935 was experimental, but literary genres always evolve. I like this series a lot, but I’m not convinced these years have a distinct identity, even of the shifty kind.

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  1. Glad you enjoyed it buuuuuut….
    when random guys like this (not that I’m an Authority on authors, but I’ve never heard of him) try to decide what is X and what isn’t X, it always gets my back up. Especially when they’re trying to make up New X to exploit for themselves :-/

    On the other hand, I AM a big fan of older stories getting new releases and getting younger fans as new fans. So more power to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a nice collection, with an odd flavour. A number of stories are sort of fringe SF, but I guess they fit with his idea of a genre just finding its feet. I think you might enjoy some of the later books in the series more though.

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