Rejoice for Utopia is Nigh!

GernsbackProspero in The Economist:

ONE hundred years ago an American immigrant invented science fiction.

Okay, that’s not true. Not even close. People have been building fantastic narratives out of scientific gobbledygook since the days of the Greeks. Lucian of Samosata imagined a trip to the moon over 17 centuries before Jules Verne took a whack at it. And decades before 1911 Verne and H.G. Wells wrote the stories that established the contours of the genre: fantastic voyages in space and time, alien encounters, technology run amok, and so forth. The term “science fiction” wouldn’t even be invented until 1929.

But the genre as a coherent field of literary endeavour—as the thing that takes up a whole wall at your local Barnes & Noble or Waterstone’s—might not have come to be if it weren’t for a failed inventor-turned-publisher with aesthetic ambitions. Naive, utopian and romantic, a man named Hugo Gernsback ended up establishing a new strand of science fiction, one that helped shape (and was shaped by) the American century.

Gernsback had come to America in 1904 with the common immigrant dream of striking it rich. He planned to revolutionise battery technology, but when that didn’t pan out he turned to scientific-magazine publishing. He started out with mail-order catalogues for his imported radio-equipment business, but, as the years went on, his efforts took a more explicitly literary turn. Amazing Stories, which he founded in 1926, has a fair claim to being the first magazine dedicated solely to what he called “scientifiction”. It would go on to help define the genre, publishing the debuts of some of its greatest authors.