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When we think of science fiction, we think primarily of movies and television shows, but this assumption belies the fact that the genre’s initial rise to prominence came in pulp magazines. With lurid covers and titles like Galaxy, If, and Thrilling Wonder Stories, the science fiction pulp magazines created the visual and thematic vocabulary that continues to animate today’s science fiction blockbusters.
In Transformations, the second volume in his acclaimed three-volume history of science fiction magazines, science fiction historian Mike Ashley brings his unparalleled knowledge to bear on the period from the beginning of the Cold War through the end of the 1960s, an era of tremendous change in the writing of and the marketplace for science fiction.
Ashley begins his story with the decline of the pulp magazines at the end of the 1940s and their replacement by new digest-sized and glossy magazines. That switch, and the increased respectability that came with it, coincided with a true golden age of science fiction writing in the early 1950s, with such giants of the genre as Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, and Harlan Ellison all publishing regularly in a wide range of such magazines.
As Ashley shows, by the end of the decade, sales had slumped, all but six of the science fiction magazines had folded, and the future looked bleak—until the surprising rebirth of the genre through the work of British writers Michael Moorcock and J. G. Ballard. Ashley also considers how the popularity of Star Trek and the movie version of 2001: A Space Odyssey influenced the future of the science fiction magazine.
For fans of science fiction seeking to understand how their favorite genre evolved from Amazing Stories to Babylon 5, Transformations will be essential reading.