March 8, 2022

Today marks the publication of Voices From the Radium Age, a collection of proto-sf stories from the genre’s Radium Age (c. 1900–1935). Hooray!

The book — the first of several story collections to come, one hopes — is edited and introduced by HILOBROW’s own Joshua Glenn, who is the founding editor of the MIT Press’s brand-new Radium Age imprint.

“For early SF buffs, this will be a substantial delight.” — Publisher’s Weekly

Josh’s exhumation of Radium Age proto-sf showcases how “lively and diverse the SF scene was before the 1930s,” according to Annalee Newitz, and also how today’s sf “tropes were just being invented. People were already writing post-apocalyptic stories and thinking about cyborg consciousness back then. They were imagining feminist societies, and criticizing racism. All these themes that strike us as incredibly modern today were also modern back then.”

Glenn has “made a huge effort to help define a new era of science fiction,” says Andrew Liptak of Transfer Orbit, in an essay (also published today) on the series.

In addition to this first story collection, during 2022 the MIT Press will reissue six proto-sf novels with new introductions and afterwords, not to mention thrilling cover art by the celebrated cartoonist Seth. The 2023 lineup is also sorted out.

The Radium Age series kicks off today! Here we go….


Introduction by JOSHUA GLENN
(March 8, 2022)

This collection of science fiction stories from the early twentieth century features work by the famous (Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes), the no-longer famous (“weird fiction pioneer” William Hope Hodgson), and the should-be-more famous (Bengali feminist Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain). It offers stories by writers known for concerns other than science fiction (W. E. Du Bois, author of The Souls of Black Folk) and by writers known only for pulp science fiction (the prolific Neil R. Jones). These stories represent what volume and series editor Joshua Glenn has dubbed “the Radium Age” — the period when science fiction as we know it emerged as a genre. The collection shows that nascent science fiction from this era was prescient, provocative, and well written.

Readers will discover, among other delights, a feminist utopia predating Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland by a decade in Hossain’s story, “Sultana’s Dream”; a world in which the human population has retreated underground, in E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops”; an early entry in the Afrofuturist subgenre in Du Bois’s last-man-on-Earth tale, “The Comet”; and the first appearance of Jones’s cryopreserved Professor Jameson, who despairs at Earth’s wreckage but perseveres — in a metal body — to appear in thirty-odd more stories.

ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE (1859–1930) was a Scottish physician and author best known today as creator of the detective Sherlock Holmes, about whom he would write four novels and dozens of short stories. He also penned historical novels, including The White Company (1891), and short stories including a series about Brigadier Gerard. His Professor Challenger proto-sf adventures include The Lost World (1912), The Poison Belt (1913), and The Land of Mist (1926).

W.E.B. DU BOIS (1868–1963) was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, and public intellectual. He cofounded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and edited The Crisis, its magazine, for twenty years. His 1903 collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), is a landmark of African American literature. He wrote several novels and literary works, including “The Comet” (1920).

E.M. FORSTER (1879–1970) was an English author best known for A Room with a View (1908), Howards End (1910), and A Passage to India (1924), the latter two of which explore the irreconcilability of class differences. Although his 1911 collection The Celestial Omnibus contains several fantasy stories, Forster’s importance to science fiction lies entirely in his 1909 novella “The Machine Stops” — which was a key influence on the 2008 Pixar movie WALL•E.

WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON (1877–1918) was an English poet, sailor, bodybuilder, and author of horror, fantastic, and proto-sf novels including The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” (1907), The House on the Borderland (1908), The Ghost Pirates (1909), and The Night Land (1912). He also wrote many stories, including the Sargasso Sea series, the Captain Gault series, and a series about Carnacki the Ghost Finder — one of the very first true “occult detectives” in fiction.

ROKEYA SAKHAWAT HOSSAIN (c. 1880–1932), commonly known as Begum Rokeya, was a Bengali feminist thinker, writer, educator and political activist from what today is Bangladesh. A pioneer of women’s liberation in South Asia, her major works include the two-volume essay collection Matichur (1904 and 1922), “Sultana’s Dream” (1908), Padmarag (1924), and Abarodhbasini (1931). To commemorate her legacy, Bangladesh observes Rokeya Day every December 9th.

NEIL R. JONES (1909–1988) wrote over thirty Professor Jameson stories, beginning in 1931, for pulp sf magazines including Amazing Stories, Astonishing Stories, and Super Science Stories. He was inspired by H.G. Wells’s Martian invaders, from The War of the Worlds, to invent the Zoromes — whose fragile brains are encased in fearsome machines. Jones’s 1930 story “The Death’s Head Meteor” is thought to be the first to use the word “astronaut” in fiction.

JACK LONDON (1876–1916) was an American author, journalist, and social activist passionate about unionization, worker’s rights, socialism, and eugenics. He is best known today for his novels The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906), both of which are set in the Klondike Gold Rush, as well as for The Sea-Wolf (1904) and Martin Eden (1909). His proto-sf writing includes The Iron Heel (1908), The Scarlet Plague (1912), and The Star Rover (1914).


The RADIUM AGE series launched in March 2022. Here’s a Q&A with Josh about the series. The series has received some nice coverage — including the following comments:

“Joshua Glenn’s admirable Radium Age series [is] devoted to early- 20th-century science fiction and fantasy.” — Michael Dirda, Washington Post | “Neglected classics of early 20th-century sci-fi in spiffily designed paperback editions.” — The Financial Times | “New editions of a host of under-discussed classics of the genre.” — Tor.com | “Long live the Radium Age.” — Scott Bradfield, Los Angeles Times | “Shows that ‘proto-sf’ was being published much more widely, alongside other kinds of fiction, in a world before it emerged as a genre and became ghettoised.” — BSFA Review. | “A huge effort to help define a new era of science fiction.” — Transfer Orbit | “An excellent start at showcasing the strange wonders offered by the Radium Age.” — Maximum Shelf | “It’s an attractive crusade. […] Glenn’s project is well suited to providing an organizing principle for an SF reprint line, to the point where I’m a little surprised that I can’t think of other similarly high-profile examples of reprint-as-critical-advocacy.” — The Los Angeles Review of Books | “Fascinating.” — First Things 


RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF FROM THE MIT PRESS: VOICES FROM THE RADIUM AGE, ed. Joshua Glenn | J.D. Beresford’s A WORLD OF WOMEN | E.V. Odle’s THE CLOCKWORK MAN | H.G Wells’s THE WORLD SET FREE | Pauline Hopkins’s OF ONE BLOOD | J.J. Connington’s NORDENHOLT’S MILLION | Rose Macaulay’s WHAT NOT | Cicely Hamilton’s THEODORE SAVAGE | Arthur Conan Doyle’s THE LOST WORLD & THE POISON BELT | G.K. Chesterton’s THE NAPOLEON OF NOTTING HILL | MORE VOICES FROM THE RADIUM AGE, ed. Joshua Glenn | William Hope Hodgson’s THE NIGHT LAND | Hemendrakumar Roy’s THE INHUMANS | Charlotte Haldane’s MAN’S WORLD | Francis Stevens’s THE HEADS OF CERBERUS & OTHER STORIES | Edward Shanks’s THE PEOPLE OF THE RUINS | J.D. Beresford’s THE HAMPDENSHIRE WONDER | John Taine’s THE GREATEST ADVENTURE | Marietta Shaginyan’s MESS-MEND | & more to come.


RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.


Kudos, Radium Age SF