Retrospeculative View:1953

Some of the short stories published in 1953:

The Nine Billion Names of God, by Arthur C. Clarke
It’s a Good Life, by Jerome Bixby, which was later adapted for a Twilight Zone episode (I thought it weakened the story)
A Saucer of Loneliness, by Theodore Sturgeon, also later adapted for a Twilight Zone episode
A Case of Conscience (later expanded to a novel), by James Blish
The Seventh Victim, by Robert Sheckley

In film, The War of the Worlds was released by Paramount. The movie was directed by Byron Haskin. The screenplay, based on the classic novel by H.G. Wells, was written by Barré Lyndon.

And now, on to the Speculative novels of 1953…

fahrenheit-451 coverThe ‘Retro’ Hugo Award in 1954 (for a work in 1953) was presented to Ray Bradbury for his novel Fahrenheit 451; and, without further ado, I agree with the selection: Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian science fiction novel, is a well-deserved classic of the genre and gets my nod as the Retrospeculative Novel of 1953. Bradbury initially indicated that  the novel was a response to his fears of censorship (the title is a reference to the temperature at which paper burns), but he later included a wider interpretation and motivation for the novel: he was concerned with control of individuals via technology and mass media. Fahrenheit 451 is an excellent novel — well written, highly readable — and its themes remain relevant

Some other speculative novels from 1953:

More than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon. It was difficult not to choose this as my Retrospeculative Novel: it is a nicely constructed ‘fix-up’ that expands Sturgeon’s brilliant short-fiction piece Baby is Three. Sturgeon was one of the best speculative short fiction writers of his time: some other examples of his excellent short fiction are Microcosmic God (1941), The Man who Lost the Sea (1959), and Slow Sculpture (1970).

The Space Merchants (serialized as Gravity Planet in 1952), by Frederick Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth. A good example of science fiction in the 1950s: entertaining. I haven’t read a lot of C.M. Kornbluth’s fiction (mostly dark, short stories: The Marching Morons, The Little Black Bag, and others), but I’ve read many of Pohl’s works and enjoyed several of his novels (especially Gateway), but prefer his shorter works (The Tunnel under the World, The Gold at the Starbow’s End, Fermi and Frost, and others), which sustain my immersion better.

The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis. I was never drawn into The Chronicles of Narnia, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the books in this series, which has remained popular for decades.

Mission of Gravity, by Hal Clement, first serialized in 1953 (the first hardback edition was published in 1954). I read it, but barely recall the book. Hal Clement was a high school teacher; perhaps I perceived the fact, and it caused my mind to wander into classroom mode, a zombie-like presence.

The Kraken Wakes, by John Wyndham. An apocalyptic science fiction novel by the author of The Chrysalids (1955).

Love Among the Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future, by Evelyn Waugh, the author of several mainstream classics, including: Decline and Fall (1928), A Handful of Dust (1934), and Brideshead Revisited (1945)

Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke (in 1956 revised as The City and the Stars). Easy to read, enjoyable, but not, in my opinion, a classic of the genre. Another Clarke novel, Childhoods End (see below), was published in the same year and I think it has survived with a better claim to the term ‘classic’ (although, IMHO, not in the same class as Fahrenheit 451 or More than Human).

Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke. This novel delves into speculations on paranormal abilities, alien species, and a possible evolutionary leap in humanity’s future. A few decades ago this was probably my favorite novel by Clarke, but I was disappointed when I re-read it recently. The writing is clunkier than I recall, but this novel, and Rendezvous With Rama, were books that truly sparked my imagination. Along with Asimov, Heinlein, and others, I have Arthur C. Clarke to thank for my interest in books. For that reason alone I’ll be forever in debt to him, and there are a handful of his novels that will remain close to my heart, no matter how much of a fiction snob I become.

The Children of the Atom, by Wilmar H. Shiras. This book is an expansion of the themes presented in three of her short fiction stories (In Hiding, Opening Doors, and New Foundations). The novel examines the struggles of  inordinately intelligent children as they try to fit into the world. If you can’t find the novel, I highly recommend her novella In Hiding, which has been reprinted in collections (e.g.: The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two B, Ed. Ben Bova).

the-muleSecond Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. This was the final novel in his famous Foundation trilogy (that was later expanded to connect with his ‘robot’ novels; in particular, the robot R. Daneel Olivaw). Isaac Asimov was a prolific writer, albeit not as sophisticated as some others. I’ve recently re-read some of Asimov’s novels and they haven’t aged well; therefore, I’m reluctant to dip into the original Foundation series…I’d prefer to recall the novels as I first read them.



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