Worlds of Tomorrow
The Amazing Universe of Science Fiction Art
By Forrest J. Ackerman with Brad Linaweaver
Portland: Collectors Press, 2004
176 pages. $39.95
ISBN: 188805493X

The Golden Age of Science Fiction spanned the middle of the twentieth century, roughly 1920–1970, give or take a decade and a few heated arguments among fans. The groundwork was laid in the science romances of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, and the genre came of age in magazines and anthologies with hyperbolic titles like Amazing Stories, Super Science and Fantastic Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Uncanny Tales. To lure the reader of “scientifiction,” usually young and male, publishers adorned their rags with eye-catching artwork, combining outlandish images with garish colors and suggestions of overheated narratives. I remember rooting through old copies of these magazines as a kid, finding them in old bookstores and in the back of garages and basements.
Worlds of Tomorrow is a lavish cornucopia of these imaginative and colorful creations. Ackerman and Linaweaver have collected and assembled covers from pulp magazines and paperback books, starting in the late 1920s and finishing in the early 1960s, just as the world was catching up with the old scientifiction dreams of the space race and computer technology. Many of the titles come from the prolific Hugo Gernsback, the publisher who promulgated the most famous golden age periodicals and whose name graces one of sci-fi literature’s most prestigious awards (the Hugo). Other covers are more obscure and exotic: B- thru Z-grade titles from vanished American and European publishers. Many authors will be familiar to collectors (Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov) while others (Volsted Gridban?) are as unknown as the strange worlds they portray.
The book is divided into chapters organized around four major visual themes depicted in sci-fi cover art: the world of tomorrow, spaceships, robots, and aliens. Ackerman and Linaweaver celebrate the overlooked accomplishments of genre artists such as Frank R. Paul, Robert Schulz, Leo Morey, and Elliott Dold, who imagined and rendered the first popular images of rocket ships, space planes, robots, and alien life forms. Linaweaver points out the difference between the sleek single-stage rockets (usually atomic powered) that graced these covers and the multiple-stage rockets eventually used by NASA. “There is no reason that something like the 1950s super-atomic rocket ship couldn’t exist,” Linaweaver speculates. “All that is required is repealing all environmental laws, scrapping all test ban treaties…and busting the budget!”
The covers reflected narratives and values inherited from pulp adventures and serials by Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard and their manly colonialism. Aliens were often BEM (bug-eyed monsters), little more than untamed savages who needed to be vanquished by the fair-haired hero and his buxom heroine. But many artists pushed the envelope, realizing images of interstellar harmony, even romance between humans and aliens. Their cover illustrations highlighted the complexities and hypocrisies in technological advancement—is mankind ready for these new wonders?—sometimes with subtlety unexpected for the genre.
Worlds of Tomorrow is a beautifully designed and assembled book. The reproductions vividly capture the original cover colors. Kudos to Collectors Press for the quality of printing and good graphic design that enhances reading: typically two or three covers spaciously arranged on each page. After a few readings, contemporary book covers seem tame by comparison. Perhaps they’re reigned in by marketing algorithms that pigeonhole these early sci-fi images as primitive and infantile. This is a gross misrepresentation. The covers often incorporate elements of the artistic movements of their day, such as Expressionism and Surrealism, and many prefigure Pop Art in the late twentieth century.
Author Forrest Ackerman is affectionately known among sci-fi collectors and aficionados as “Mr. Science Fiction.” That moniker isn’t as hyperbolic as the magazine titles in his collection. A lifelong resident of Los Angeles, Ackerman has been collecting science fiction movie and literary memorabilia for over seventy years, at one point amassing 300,000 artifacts that he displayed in his house. He allegedly coined the term “sci-fi” around 1958.
This book is as much a celebration of Ackerman’s influence on writers and generations of fans as of the covers themselves. Therein is the book’s Achilles’s heel. The accompanying text is more celebratory than explanatory. Ackerman and Linaweaver are citizens of the golden age, and their enthusiasm is as unbridled and upbeat as the visions they’ve assembled. They are good boosters, and Ackerman’s name should be more widely known outside genre circles than it is, but the writing frequently turns tongue-in-cheek and veers into exhortations that could have come from a 1950s horror movie. I expected more insight and revelation. In Worlds of Tomorrow, the text, written by enthusiasts for enthusiasts, is a bystander–the eye feasts on the fantastic candy around it.
The future predicted in the golden age didn’t materialize the way its authors and artists anticipated. We have weapons of mass destruction, cell phones, space planes (the space shuttle), and computers, but we didn’t get flying cars or jet packs (darn). Undelivered prophecies aside, golden age sci-fi had an incalculable influence on movies, art and architecture, science, and technology. Many of its fans became the scientists, technologists, and dreamers who continue to pioneer new wonders in the twenty-first century. A serious re-appraisal of science fiction artwork is due, and I hope Worlds of Tomorrow inspires this effort, as well as the dreams of future writers and achievers. Maybe we’ll get those flying cars someday.

Essays on Books and Bibliophiles
Aspects on the History of Books and Book-Collecting in America
By Robert A. Shaddy
Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2003
162 pages. $99.95
ISBN: 0773466428

Old Books Are Best” reads the title of Beverly Chew’s poem, one of the many examples of booklore Robert Shaddy collects in Essays on Books and Bibliophiles. Chew, a founding member of the Grolier Club, continues with verse touching on his true love, “What though the prints be not so bright, / The paper dark, the binding slight? / Our author, be he dull or sage, / Returning from that distant age / So lives again, we say of right: / Old Books are best.”
Shaddy, Librarian and Chair of Special and Area Studies Collections at the University of Florida, illustrates his study of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century bookmen with similarly amusing anecdotes; he augments his research on what he calls the Golden Age of Collecting with a profile of Randolph Greenfield Adams and the rise of the bibliophile-librarian, a regional study of three prominent Missouri collectors, and extensive bibliographic resources. As the title suggests, the book is very much an academic study, and true to form, its only weakness is the lack of a strong narrative carrying the reader forward. While this perhaps betrays the likely origins in academic conference papers, the richness of the material he has gathered makes Essays worthwhile and informative.
The book’s most fascinating scholarship concerns the distinction between the “delicious fever” of the bibliophile and the “delirium” of the bibliomaniac. The “malady” of the bibliomaniac, Shaddy writes, “can be likened to the book world’s equivalent of the social drinker turned alcoholic.” The problem for these men (and they are all men here) is their somewhat unnatural attachment to the physical object. Reading Alexander Ireland’s anthology, The Book-Lover’s Enchiridion, Shaddy repeatedly uncovers “the themes of books as friends, as being alive, undying, immortal entities,” as in English essayist and poet Leigh Hunt’s description of “how natural it was for his friend Charles Lamb, who felt as he did about books, ‘to give a kiss to an old folio.’”
Some readers may recognize themselves with embarrassment in these pages, since bibliomania’s symptoms apparently include “an excessive regard for books, an obsession or inordinate passion for a great many books, and an obsession for books as an end in and of itself.” Does any of this sound familiar? “One chose books while the other amassed them,” writes influential French author and Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal librarian Charles Nodier on the distinction between the bibliophile and the bibliomaniac. Unfortunately, sagging shelves and frustrated spouses will usually fail to distinguish between the two. Shaddy’s book may inspire some self-analysis among acquisitive types, but in presenting his insightful research, peppered with original and amusing bits of prominent collectors’ reflections, Essays ultimately justifies continued book love and is a good match for any deliciously fevered or delirious collector.