Long shadow of Pulp Science Fiction: Popular culture for promoting science and imagination

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Presentation jointly by Nalaka Gunawardene, science writer, and S M Banduseela, science fiction translator, to Amazing Science Exhibition & Event in Colombo as part of the French Spring Festival. ‘Pulp magazines’ is a generic term for inexpensive magazines published in the United States from 1896 to the 1950s. They provided popular entertainment, especially before broadcast television became well established, and carried illustrated short stories and serialized stories in categories like adventure, travel, detective and science fiction. This illustrated presentation will look at the role pulp magazines played in promoting science fiction writing and reading as part of 20th century popular culture. Many who later became mainstream writers, such as Robert A Heinlein, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury first established themselves by writing to such publications. In this talk, we look at how pulp science fiction inspired scientific discovery and innovation in areas as diverse as space exploration, computer science, robotics, evolution and materials science. We will also show part of a 2010 documentary titled ‘PULP FICTION: The Golden Age of Sci Fi, Fantasy and Advent’.

Text of Long shadow of Pulp Science Fiction: Popular culture for promoting science and imagination

  • Long shadow of Pulp Science Fiction: Pop culture promoting science & imagination By Nalaka Gunawardene & S M Banduseela Amazing Science Colombo: 4 July 2014
  • Coming Up What is Science Fiction? What were Pulp Magazines? Why were pulps important? Long shadow of pulp science fiction mags: On global pop culture (comics, films, games, etc.) On Lankan pop culture (books, comics) Why nurture IMAGINATION? Whos Afraid of Popular Culture?
  • What is Science Fiction? This is the way
  • SF Universe is vase, diverse & still expanding
  • Science Fiction: Fathered (mostly) by a Frenchman & Englishman Jules Verne (L) and H G Wells
  • A Tale of Two Worlds? This is the way
  • - H G Wells (1866 - 1946)
  • Science Fiction is SF = Imagination + Scientific Knowledge Much more than spaceships & aliens So many other elements, e.g. Alternate histories Utopias or dystopias Travelling through time Macro (universe) to micro (sub-atomic) scales Concerns the future but not always so Playing with a basic premise: WHAT IF? Entertainment first, info value next!
  • Entertain, Entertain, Entertain! The primary function of any story is to entertain -- not to instruct or to preach. Promoting a particular scientific concept or technology or a utopian worldview should only be the secondary aim of a story. - Arthur C Clarke (1917 - 2008)
  • Science Fiction or Fantasy? Somewhere in the literary landscape, science fiction merges into fantasy, but the frontier between the two is fuzzy. I have suggested an operational demarcation: Science fiction is something that could happen - but usually you wouldnt want it to. Fantasy is something that couldnt happen - though often you wish it would. - Arthur C Clarke
  • Science fiction in Pulp Magazines: 1900 - 1950
  • Science fiction in Pulp Magazines: 1900 - 1950 Printed on low quality paper, sold cheap Many genres: detective, Western, romance, adventure, etc. Initially, SF incl in general pulp mags 1920s: Rise of all-SF mags Pre-TV, post-WW1, Depression eras: provided hope & escapism for Americans Launch pads of writing & illustrator talent
  • Excerpt from 2010 documentary: Online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzlbRjmWEQ8
  • Amazing Stories Launched: April 1926 Founder Ed: Hugo Gernsback first magazine devoted solely to science fiction (SF) Writers whose 1st story was published in this magazine incl: Isaac Asimov, Howard Fast, Ursula K. Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, Thomas M. Disch
  • Wonder Stories First published: July 1929 Founder ed: Hugo Gernsback (after he lost Amazing Stories) Same formula: Bright, colourful covers B&W line drawings inside Short stories or serialised novels Ceased publication 1955
  • Pulp SF magazines: Covers projected mysterious and fantastic
  • Astounding Stories First published: Jan 1930 Founder ed: Harry Bates First to publish: Lester del Rey, Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, Robert Heinlein Still in publication, as: Analog Science Fiction & Fact www.analogsf.com
  • Astounding Stories: Still going strong Jan 1930 issue (left) & Sep 2014 issue
  • Astounding: First issue - Jan 1930 now online (full text)! From first editorial: To-morrow, more astounding things are going to happen. Your childrenor their children are going to take a trip to the moon. They will be able to render themselves invisiblea problem that has already been partly solved Astounding? Indeed, yes. Impossible? Welltelevision would have been impossible, almost unthinkable, 10 years ago... http://www.gutenberg.org/files/41481/4 1481-h/41481-h.htm
  • First Encounters: Arthur Clarke I must have seen Amazing Stories for November 1928 about a year after it had been shipped across to England- so rumor has it, as ships ballast- and sold at Woolworths for 3p. How I used to haunt that once-famous store during my lunch hour, in search of issues of Amazing, Wonder, and Astounding, buried like jewels in the junk-pile of detective and western pulps! - Arthur C Clarke
  • First Encounters: Fred Pohl At some point in 1930, I came across a magazine named Science Wonder Stories Quarterly, with a picture of a scaly green monster on the cover. I opened it up. The irremediable virus entered my veins . . . That first issue of Science Wonder was heavenWhen another science fiction magazine came my way, a few months later, it was like Christmas. - Frederik Pohl
  • SF fans come together for first time (All male gathering, 1937) Delegates to world's first science fiction convention - 3 Jan 1937 at Theosophical Hall, Queens Square, Leeds (young Arthur C Clarke is second from left!)
  • Arthur C Clarke (1917 - 2008) Avid pulp SF reader from 11 yrs Letters to editor from 15 yrs Wrote early SF for Huishs Grammar School magazine Joined first SF convention in Leeds, 1937 (age 19) Indefatigable SF writer First pulp stories pub 1946 Cover billing given in 1950s
  • First SF story Clarke sold, Astounding Apr 1946 http://lakdiva.org/clarke/pulp
  • A Tale of Two Worlds? Another early Clarke story, Astounding 1946 May
  • Clarke paid tribute to pulp SF in ASTOUNDING DAYS: his own science fictional autobiography in 1990
  • I was hooked on science fiction by the fantastic tales that appeared in the pulp magazines of the early Twentieth Century, and it was in that genre that I acquired my writing skills in the 1930s and 1940s.
  • "Sentinel of Eternity" by Arthur C Clarke, 1951
  • Brains behind 2001: A Space Odyssey at Borehamwood Studios, UK, circa 1965: It all started with a short story first published in a pulp SF magazine in 1951!
  • Frederick Ira Ordway III (April 4, 1927 July 1, 2014) Space scientist and author of visionary books on spaceflight Science & technical consultant to Kubrick & Clarke on 2001: A Space Odyssey Tasked by Kubrick to research near future scenarios
  • Long Shadow: On Sri Lanka? First image of India and Sri Lanka from space by Gemini XI astronauts in 1966
  • Long Shadow: On Sri Lanka? Lanka never had pulp magazine industry (market too small?) US pulps & comics sold in secondhand bookstores Impacted some readers, writers & illustrators in 1940s onwards Likely influence in: chitra katha (Lankan comics in Sinhala) and maraka katha (crime fiction)
  • Sinhala Chitra Katha (comics) 1951 Oct: Lankadeepa started Neela by artist G S Fernando Modelled on Tarzan stories 1952: Susil Premaratne starts another Lankadeepa comic 1954: Lake House Group follows with their own Chita Katha By mid 1950s: most newspapers 1970s: all-comic newspapers Source: Chitra Kathawe Wansa Kathawa by Sunil Ariyaratne, 2007
  • G S Fernando (1904 1990) http://lankacomics.com/cartoon-artists/g-s-fernando/ Best known as political cartoonist, he also drew book covers, comics and paintings
  • Susil Premaratne (1925 2010) Illustrator, singer, creator of several early Sinhala chitra katha series
  • Lankan comic collection covers: Pulp art influence clearly visible?
  • Ran Dupatha (Golden Island): First Sinhala Chitra Katha in book form
  • Maraka Katha: Deeman Ananda (1933 2007) Real name: Dilie Weerakoon Introduced a simple detective & thriller narrative in Sinhlala Known as 'Maraka Katha' Low cost books, sold cheap Wrote over 1,000 novels Ridiculed & condemned by literary mainstream as trash Banned by teachers, parents!
  • Deeman Ananda Books First Book - Gangthera Holmana ( ) - Mineemaru Javarama ( ) - Pav Paladima () - Me Kandulu Kag