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New York Review of Books: The Making of Future Man

By James Gleick
New York Review of Books

The Perversity of Things (Hugo Gernsback)The annual awards for best science fiction are called “Hugos.” A futuristic story by William Gibson in 1981 was called “The Gernsback Continuum.” But except for a few markers like these, Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967) has mostly vanished from our cultural memory, which is a pity, because he was an extraordinary man, and his influence on our modern age—electrical, science-permeated, and full of wonders—was outsized.

Gernsback is sometimes called the father of science fiction, though not because of any he wrote himself.⁠  (He did self-publish one novel, Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660, which Martin Gardner called “surely the worst SF novel ever written.”) He gave the new genre its name in the 1920s, when he published “pulp” magazines like Amazing Stories and Science Wonder Stories in which eager writers could ply their trade for pennies a word (when he paid them at all). “By ‘scientifiction,’” he declared, “I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe type of story—a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.”

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