For science fiction the 1970s were a time of significant change. John W. Campbell, whose editorial policy for Analog (previously Astounding Science Fiction ) had shaped the genre since 1937, died in July 1971. His passing appeared emblematic of the science fiction magazine industry as sales fell against the rising popularity of the paperback.
Nevertheless, as Mike Ashley argues in Gateways to Forever , the third of his four-volume history of the science-fiction magazine, the 1970s were not characterised simply by decline. Rather, it was a decade of transition and diversification.
Gateways reflects this transformation in its subject matter. Like previous volumes, it provides a definitive history of the established American periodicals, yet it also investigates emergent publications, fanzines, academic journals, anthology series and the impact of the paperback. Ashley also explores the effects of other media on literary science fiction. As he suggests, science fiction television and cinema, exemplified by Star Trek and Star Wars , were attracting new fans while simultaneously broadening the divide between visual and literary science fiction.
Such pressures meant tumultuous times for the magazine industry. Contraction and competition impelled a "burgeoning of new ideas and a diversity of expression". Literary science fiction was changing, a fact most evident in the magazines, which tapped "into the energy of new writers, new editors and new freedom". Campbell's death marked a significant break with the past; his rigid definition of the genre was dissolved and his legacy contested.
The repercussions of Campbell's death provide merely one context for Ashley's study, which addresses all the major influences on the genre. As such, it is both extraordinary in scope and meticulous in detail, given the range of magazines and stories described. Despite Ashley's own occasionally subjective assertions and the sometimes partisan opinions of cited writers and critics, Gateways is relentlessly informative.
Ashley's talent lies not in literary analyses, which are necessarily minimal, but in synopsis. His ability to provide a sense of each title as he charts their various fortunes and lists the early stories of now-renowned writers is matched only by his skill at conveying an impression of the material characterising each publication. Through its frequently inspiring depictions of editors poring over manuscripts and bringing, sometimes against adversity, the latest fiction to print, Gateways whets the appetite for speculation. Although the science fiction of the 1970s was not always successful either in literary or imaginative terms, it was consistently thought-provoking. At a time when we are encouraged to be less meditative, Ashley's book reminds us of a period when science fiction stimulated us, in its most affective stories, to question our social and political contexts. This is most apparent in Ashley's account of feminist science fiction. Excelling at representing and questioning notions of otherness, science fiction became a productive mode for feminist writers drawn increasingly to the genre's metaphorical and speculative potential as a political form. Their fiction remains some of the most accomplished, both in literary and cultural terms, of the 1970s.
The controversy sparked by the feminist appropriation of science fiction's tropes was matched only by the consternation felt at growing scholarly interest in the genre. Ashley documents the science fiction community's distaste for academic scrutiny. This makes informative reading, and it is a credit to those who founded the Science Fiction Research Association, the Science Fiction Foundation and the journals Extrapolation , Science Fiction Studies and Foundation that the intellectual examination of the genre has gained acceptance within both academe and the genre itself.
Gateways is, then, an important text for those interested in the development of science fiction. The centrality of the genre magazine is not overstated and, while Ashley's is not the only history of the science fiction periodical, its breadth and comprehensive appendices make it an essential work for scholars. Even though non-English-language magazines are marginalised, Ashley should be congratulated for his achievement. He has rendered material that might have read like a list into a rich and vibrant history. Indeed, his engaging style reawakens the very essence of science fiction: the sense of wonder.
Jennifer Woodward is lecturer in English literature and film studies, Edge Hill University.
Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980
Author - Mike Ashley
Publisher - Liverpool University Press
Pages - 507
Price - £50.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 97818463100 and 10034