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Book Note: Larry Steckler, Hugo Gernsback

I read this book about 9-Nov-2007. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2007. This note was last modified Sunday, 25-Nov-2007 19:37:04 PST.

This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.

I'm still in the process of reading this book.

Edited by Larry Steckler; apparently from an autobiographical manuscript he found in the papers from Gernsback's publishing operations. Steckler worked for Gernsback, and ended up eventually owning the company much later.

This is an extremely bizarre book, when one remembers it's an autobiography. Because Gernsback wrote it in the first person, and he had a lot of nice things to say about himself. The sorts of things that one really shouldn't say about oneself; that claim to the be the plaudits of a disinterested outside observer. Things like "It is the humble opinion of this writer that this stands as the most amazing prediction ever made." Really far over the top. (And predicting the "atomic cannon" in 1915 isn't that amazing, and it was never important anyway.)

There has been no mention of John W. Campbell by name so far, but Gernsback must have hated it when Campbell took over the helm of the ship of science fiction. Gernsback was solidly of the hard science school (though he published some rather florid space opera, notably including Doc Smith), and he talks about it's importance a lot. Yes, his concept of "hard" was much harder than Campbell's. Campbell was mostly famous for introducing more literary or at least story values, remember. (Oh, and there's a B&W picture of the cover of Amazing that had the first installment of The Skylark of Space.)

There's a very early-20th-century progressive feel to this; he thinks that "sexology" will be very important, for example, and that the high divorce rate is largely because of ignorance about sex.

He talks a lot about correct predictions; but he credits references to ideas, with no concept how they might be implememented, as relevant to patent claims, too. He's into the idea of 3-dimensional television, and aircars, and automated tube delivery systems under cities. This is definitely the source of the future we got cheated out of :-). He also talks about things like a "translation filter" for telephones, as if it was some kind of simple electronic circuit, and he talks about people reading brain printouts and associates that with what the EEG does. It's like he had no clue how far from understanding the problem we were in many of the cases he discusses.

There's a picture of his 1952 Hugo as "father" of the field, but no indication it was one of an ongoing award series, mostly for fiction. I wonder if he thought that was so obvious everybody would know? I'd have thought he would take the time to crow over its being named after him, which he doesn't even mention.

He's a big enthusiast for nuclear energy, but he seems to have no understanding of the problem of radiation. He's right there with the people planning nuclear airplans and locomotives (both of which were planned, neither of which were built). He makes one reference to fixing the "shielding problem" but gives no suggestion of how to do it (as Heinlein says in The RollingStones, neutrons are slippery customers), and doesn't consider the problem of plane crashes scattering "hot" stuff around promiscuously. Even though he mentions the "activation" of water in underwater bomb explosions as one of the problems contributing significantly to recovery from the "inundation attack".

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David Dyer-Bennet