RADIUM AGE x BSFA
July 10, 2022
HILOBROW’s Josh Glenn is the founding editor of the MIT Press’s Radium Age series of reissued proto-sf novels and stories from the overlooked 1900–1935 era.
The first two titles in the series — Voices from the Radium Age, a collection of stories by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, William Hope Hodgson, E.M. Forster, W.E.B. DuBois, and others, selected and introduced by Joshua Glenn; and J.D. Beresford’s A World of Women (1913, with a new introduction by Astra Taylor) — were published in March.
We’re pleased to announce that both titles received in-depth write-ups in the Spring 2022 (issue #17) BSFA Review — which is to say, the review periodical of the venerable British Science Fiction Association. Excerpt from one these writeups below.
Excerpt from Duncan Lawie’s essay on Voices from the Radium Age.
I am deeply grateful to this volume for presenting me with ‘The Machine Stops’ by E. M. Forster. Yes, the author of those Edwardian classics adapted in the late twentieth century into gorgeous films. I have been hearing, ever since those movies were released, that he had also written a prescient piece of science fiction. It seems even more prescient now. The story describes an atomised society, each person interacting through virtual connections, isolated from every other in their own space and awkward when forced into physical interaction. How of the moment can a setting get? The story centres on a mother who is totally at home in this world and her son, living far away, who wants to break free. Their interactions and the increasing strictures of “the Machine” are used to build a detailed picture of an all too believable future.
‘The Comet’ by W. E. B. Du Bois is the other key story in this collection. It mentions the eponymous comet in the opening paragraphs, before switching to a narrative of a menial being sent to the dankest depths of a bank. The deep vault saves his life; when he emerges, everyone he finds is dead. The search for other survivors is the primary plot driver, whilst the key theme is of how deeply racism is embedded in society. Can a poor black man, and a wealthy white woman come to think of themselves as two equal, fellow humans?
Bringing such stories to wider attention is Joshua Glenn’s mission of re-discovery. The introduction to the collection clarifies the “radium age” as the period from 1900 to 1935 — a slight rounding of the time from Marie Curie’s discovery of radium to her death. 1900 overlaps the end of Jules Verne’s life and of H. G. Wells’ focus on SF, whilst 1935 blends into the new pulps, which soon gave way to the “golden age of SF”. That, in conventional chronology, is dated to the start of John W. Campbell’s editorship of Astounding Stories in 1938. Looking back from a later era to the 1930s, those who saw only the mediocre pulps believed that SF arose from the ‘clumsy, primitive, naive’ — as Isaac Asimov is quoted. Perhaps those Campbellians did not look beyond the pulps to see further into the origins of their field. Joshua Glenn 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.
Altogether, many of the ideas of SF in the subsequent century are recognisable here — well formed, in neatly constructed tales which, the last story [“The Jameson Satellite, by Neil R. Jones] excepted, are effectively written. The result is an entertaining survey of the SF of the first third of the twentieth century.
Great to see the BSFA taking notice of this series!
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’ THE WORLD SET FREE | Pauline Hopkins’ 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 | William Hope Hodgson’s THE NIGHT LAND | MORE VOICES FROM THE RADIUM AGE, ed. Joshua Glenn | MORE TBA.
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.