The Golden Age Greats

I’ve noticed a few comments around the Web (for example, on Peter David’s blog) that with Arthur C. Clarke’s passing the last of the great SF authors of the golden age are gone and this marks the end of an era.

Although Clarke was the last of the “Big Three” to die, the label of the Big Three always seemed rather arbitrary to me, and there are in fact several popular, acclaimed and beloved science fiction writers still alive who were contemporaries of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke in the 1940s:

  • Ray Bradbury, born 1920, first published 1941.
  • Jack Vance, born 1916, first published 1945.
  • Frederick Pohl, born 1919, worked as an editor and agent in the industry starting in 1939.

I think placing these gentlemen on a lower tier or in a later generation than the Big Three is splitting hairs – or, at most, a matter of opinion. The era of the golden age greats may be nearing an end, but it’s not there yet.

3 thoughts on “The Golden Age Greats”

  1. I think most people don’t think of Pohl as a golden age writer because he was primarily an editor and agent during the golden age. The books he’s best known for (to me, anyway) are the Gateway/Heechee books, which came out in the 70s/80s.

    I would guess that most people think of Bradbury and Vance as writers, rather than SF writers or futurists. Bradbury writes, well, everything – my 8th grade English class actually read Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He’s not an “SF author” if you think of that as a “constraint” i.e. an author who primarily or only writes SF.

    Vance is similar; he’s not best known for SF per se, but for his lush, wildly evocative writing style. People might think of him as a fantasy author rather than an SF author.

    None of which is to say that they’re not ridiculously good, towering, influential talents who made their mark on the golden age of SF – Bradbury is on my short list of favorite authors – just that people might be focused on the name rather than the concept.

  2. Why are the Big Three called the Big Three? (I’ve never heard the term used until now.) I would suspect it’s because Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke were popular not just among fans, but also — to some degree — among readers at large. My wife knows who Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke are. So does my mother. They don’t know who Vance and Pohl are. (They do know who Bradbury is, and I think a case could be made for including him in The Big Three, er, Four.) I’ve been an avid science fiction reader all my life. I’ve read lots of Asimov (for good or ill — I’m not a huge fan), lots of Asimov, and much Clarke. I’ve read a fair share of Bradbury and a little Pohl. I’ve never read anything by Vance. I’m only aware of one of my SF-reading friends who has read Vance. I’m not saying he’s not a good writer (I have no basis for judgment), I’m just saying there’s a clear reason he’s not included with the others. Same with Pohl. Bradbury, I don’t know.

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