Imagined Nostalgia

In reading the tales in “Amazing Stories” and “Wonder Stories,” I find myself pining for a past which I know only through the recollections of contemporary fiction writers. Although I read a good deal of fantasy, science-fiction, and all manner of ‘wonder stories’ as a child, I dealt almost entirely in full-length books rather than magazines. As I grew older, I began reading earlier, ‘classic’ works by Wells, Dick, Lovecraft, and Moorcock, but these stories came in the form of collected Barnes & Noble editions, or through online archives like pulpmags.org (a resource I’m excited to have for future reading). Why did I seek this earlier material? I believe modern fantasy and sci-fi writers have a tendency to celebrate the long legacy of the genre, frequently dedicating books to noted authors, making oblique references, and paralleling the style of early, ‘pulpy’ stories. So, in reading these stories, I have a strange feeling of familiarity – not for the stories themselves, but for the aesthetic which comes with them. The ads, for instance. The energetic language of opportunity, scientific discovery, and masculine mastery which can come with the purchase of a simple postage stamp is found all over these magazines. My favorite is the ad in the early pages of the Wonder Stories with “Conquest of Gola,” which proclaims excitedly: “LEARN ELECTRICITY without lessons in 90 days BY ACTUAL WORK Great Coyne.” The bold, comic-book-esque emphasis on words and strange, old-fashioned phrasing of technological skill reminds me instantly of nostalgic pastiches by Alan Moore (“The Black Dossier”) and Neil Gaiman (chapter openers for “A Study in Scarlet”), to name a couple. As in the original magazines, this advertising aesthetic is matched by a focus on stories that really are wondrous, amazing, weird, and strange, stories which excite and make one goggle at the page in disbelief (as I found myself doing at various points in “Conquest of Gola” in particular). My point is that despite my lack of familiarity with the magazines of the 20s and 30s, the adoption of the pulp aesthetic by contemporary writers means that the tradition of exciting, optimistic language paired with tales of wonder and excitement which stretch the boundaries of the imagination means that these tales fill me with an enormous degree of nostalgia. Maybe this is not ‘true’ nostalgia, but I suspect that others in the class feel it, that the genre of sci-fi has retained a communal fondness for this early age, and that it still endures in contemporary young readers.

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