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REVIEW: Voices from the Radium Age

Voices from the Radium Age

Before I started reading this, I was expecting a collection of mostly scholarly interest: a look at proto-sf short stories, mostly literary work which weren’t really SFF as we know it e.g. during the Golden Age, but with some light speculative elements.

Obviously I’d heard of The Machine Stops before, but many of the other tales were new to me. Some of them were very surprising works indeed. It’s a cool look at how diverse the early speculative scene was already, and I enjoyed most of them more than I was expecting.

I would recommend this anthology to all fans of proto-sf.

SULTANA’S DREAM (4/5)

An early feminist piece of light SF. Nothing particularly special, although it’s interesting as a female utopia. Kind of insane that this was written in a time when most women in this country had no access to education. Some parts of its message (people of any sex are equal) are still “progressive” in many areas… The longer I think about it, the more impressive it becomes, despite being rather unimpressed on my first reading.

THE VOICE IN THE NIGHT (3.5/5)

This is a fun little fungal monster story. It’s a clear precursor to many current-day stories, though this one never feels like real “horror”- it’s more of a travelogue-esque description of an encounter.

THE MACHINE STOPS (4/5)

Definitely a highlight of proto-SF. Not only in how it predicted technologies, but especially in how it anticipated some major problems of our current and near-future age, such as our addiction to and overreliance on technology. It’s surprisingly readable, too, a visionary work, only making me wish Forster had written a proper dystopia-themed novel. He had the right ideas, that’s for sure.

THE HORROR OF THE HEIGHTS (3.5/5)

The concept of this short story is kind of ridiculous yet strangely fun. It’s kind of like the Zones of Thought/Fermi Paradox but for air travel: some mysterious monster in “air jungles” prevents people from going over 30,000ft in the air. You get the gist of the story fairly quickly, but it’s a cool (if super dated) idea for its time.

THE RED ONE (3.5/5)

What an interesting tale of an alien message lost in the wilderness! Sure, much of this story feels a bit yikes now (sexism, racial stereotypes, classic “primitives” and “civilized” scientists), but it’s the type of idea I still like to read today.

THE COMET (3/5)

Don’t read this short story for its sci-fi aspect, because that’s not the focus here. It’s all background, some disaster scenario which creates the situation in which a person of color rescues a white woman in the 1920s, and the shock it causes. Obvious themes of racial and social justice, this story is a kind of proto-afrofuturist work, lacking in depth maybe, but probably a great story at the time.

THE JAMESON SATELLITE (4/5)

What a joy! It’s clear how influential this story was. You’ve got cryopreservation, cyborgs, dying earth, deep time… all in one single short story from the 1930s. Reads like the kind of stuff Olaf Stapledon wrote around the same time but actually fun to read. It’s a great initial vision of the sad death of our world. This one definitely felt Golden Age.

Average rating per story: 3.65, rounded up to 4.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC for this book in exchange for an honest review. (less)

G. Lowie
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Goran Lowie is an avid reader of all kinds of speculative fiction and poetry. For years, he's been rotting away in some rural hellhole in Belgium, but luckily he has literature to keep him going!

His real obsession with the genre sparked with the incomporable works of Ursula K. Le Guin, and his heart stayed there forever. Other favourite authors include Patricia A. McKillip, Mary Soon Lee, John Wiswell, Robert Silverberg and Italo Calvino.

When Goran isn't reading books, he's either editing this very magazine or creating lesson plans for his day-job as a high school teacher! You can find him on Twitter: @GoranLowie

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