American Science Fiction of the Mid-Fifties


The novellas covered in our SDG are "a sublime reading experience," in the words of Junot Díaz. "These novels testify to the extraordinary range, profound intelligence, and indefatigable weirdness of '50s American science fiction." Jonathan Lethem adds, "Here's the heart of the heart of where those who take American science fiction would want to begin--the genre's equivalent of Hollywood's classical period, and the books [that] subsequent creators like Thomas Pynchon and Stanley Kubrick used to bend their brains . . ."

 In Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human (1953), for example, a group of damaged individuals finds a strange new fulfillment in what may be the next stage of evolution. One of the first women to make her mark as a science fiction novelist, Leigh Brackett in The Long Tomorrow (1955) pits anti-urban technophobes against the remnants of a civilization that destroyed itself through nuclear war. 

We include one ringer: a dazzling novella by Rachel Ingalls from the 1980s that changed the B.E.M. [bug-eyed monster] paradigm.

Weekly Topics

1. Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human. pp. 157 - 366. [210 pp.]

2. Ingalls, Mrs. Caliban.111 pp.

3. Leigh Brackett, The Long Tomorrow, pp. 367 - 480. [103 pp.]

4. The Long Tomorrow, pp. 480 - 584. [104 pp.]

5. James Blish, A Case of Conscience, pp. 459 - 584. [181 pp.]

6. Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination, pp. 153 - 266 [103 pp.]

7. The Stars My Destination, pp. 266 - 371. [105 pp.]


Gary K. Wolfe, ed., American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels, 1953 - 1956. (NY: Library of America, 2012). NOTE: The Wolfe anthology comes in two volumes. 

Rachel Ingalls, Mrs. Caliban. (New Directions, 1983/2017), Ingalls' book inspired The Shape of Water, directed in 2018 by Guillermo del Toro. It won four Oscars.

Some extras, in case you haven't got enough to read . . . 

Lidja Haas, "The Hallucinatory Realism of Rachel Ingalls," New Yorker (March 4, 2019), 7 pp. [to be supplied by coordinators]

Lisa Yaszek, ed., The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin. Library of America. 2018. This is FYI—worth being aware of, but we won't draw on the book in the current SDG. Similarly, in the fall of 2019, the Library of America is scheduled to release another anthology edited by Gary Wolfe, devoted to American science of the 1960s.

Nicole Rudick, "A Universe of One's Own," review of The Future is Female! New York Review of Books  (July 18, 2019), 6 pp. [to be supplied by coordinators]