There should be nothing significant about the turn of a decade. After all, years that end in zero are a completely artificial construction. Yet, there is a powerful reductive element to the human psyche that demands that decades be put into descriptive boxes. Perhaps we even shape events to create self-fulfilling prophecies.
Thus, the ’30s are the years of Depression (which started in October 1929). The ’40s are the War Years, starting with Hitler’s September 1939 invasion of Poland. While I cannot think of a single dramatic event that sparked the prosperous and reactionary decade of the 50’s, the triggers for the next decade have already sprung. I can already guess the word that will describe the 60’s in years to come:
Abroad, the last bastions of colonialism are falling to what British Prime Minister calls “The Winds of Change.” In Kenya, for instance, the black majority has just been fully enfranchised, and independence cannot be far away. Talks are underway to allow the Congo to break away from Belgian rule. Independence is scheduled this year for the countries of French West Africa.
In this nation, the “racial problem” is coming to a head; Democratic hopeful Jack Kennedy has called the issue resolved, but this resolution has yet to graduate from the theoretical to the actual. If the ’50s was the “Beat” decade, the ’60s will be the decade that Beat goes mainstream in a backlash to straight-jacketing conformity.
As a species, we are approaching an even bigger sort of emancipation. This year, or perhaps the next at the latest, the first person will be break free from the prison of the Earth, catapulted into orbit on a tower of flame.
Thus, the ’60s will be starkly different from preceding decades. This can’t help but have an effect on our science fiction and fantasy.
We can already see the trends: The pulps have died, replaced by more substantial venues—digests and novels. The major magazines have had significant editorial changes (Campbell’s Astounding is the rule-proving exception). Women have been allowed into the Men’s Club, and several have become luminaries (Katherine MacLean, Judith Merril, Zenna Henderson). As science advances, science fiction must race ahead to make wilder predictions, and the prognosticators will not all be familiar faces. Per Galaxy editor Horace Gold, writers tend to have a 5-10 year lifespan in this business, and that means an influx of new blood, mostly from the ranks of fandom.
This all adds up to a whole new literary ball game with the shackles of convention cast to the wind. Stories will be more nuanced, with more varied characters and more departures from the “gotcha” ending. Its writers will be far more diverse, lending fresh perspectives to the genre. The focus may shift from simple technological problems to broader sociological issues; I imagine much of the writing may prove downright subversive.
Many of the fans and writers have lamented that our genre is not taken seriously enough. As science ficton and fantasy matures, I think we’re going to see some truly groundbreaking stories that transcend into the mainstream consciousness. Ours may even someday become the preferred literary genre, the only one equipped to express the hopes and fears of a society whose rate of change continues to accelerate.
Change is scary. Change is exciting. Enjoy the ride.
Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!
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