After leaving the Paleozoic introduction our first stop is the Triassic — an age of beginnings and change.
For the deep past, this was a hot and dry period with a single supercontinent dominating the world. In science-fiction it is an era of classic magazines such as Astounding Science Fiction.
The World Science Fiction Convention (aka Worldcon) had been held since 1939 but beginning in the advent of World War 2 made the ‘world’ aspect of Worldcon more aspirational than actual. By 1948, the convention had a foray northward with the 6th Worldcon being held in Canada. It would not be until 1957 that the convention would go overseas for the first time with Loncon 1 in London.
The first Hugo Awards (not their official name at the time) were presented in 1953 in Philadelphia at the 11th Worldcon. The guest of honour for the convention was Willy Ley. Ley is less well known these days but was a German-American science writer and something of an evangelist for the science of rocketry. Along side his work and writing on rocketry and space was a fascination with dinosaurs and cryptozoology.
Ley’s 1949 article “Do Prehistoric Monsters Still Exist?” helped popularise cryptozoology and the romantic notion of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s “Lost World” as genuine possibility. The article leads with “DINOSAURS may roam the unexplored jungles of Africa!” and finishes with:
“Reliable sources have been hinting to us for generations that there are creatures existing which we have never seen. Will they be dreadful throwbacks to another age or inconceivable monsters of the future? “
Although the world was widely explored by this point, there space of possibility was still great enough to entertain that there maybe exotic mysteries yet to be encountered. Conceptually this was mirrored in science fiction of the day, where it was still plausible to imagine Mars or Venus as inhabited planets.
After a shaky start (no Hugo Awards in 1954 and a less than stellar winner of best novel in 1955, and no Best Novel category in 1957) the Hugo Awards grew in strength. While Best Novel has been the centrepiece, these were awards that celebrated short fiction and it was in science-fiction magazines that fans were looking for the dominant stories of the day.
The time period I’m covering was a period of change. New writers and a greater variety of styles of works were nominated. Voices like Samuel Delany and Ursula Le Guin changed perceptions of the stereotypical science fiction writer and established ‘greats’ such as Robert Heinlein pushed their own boundaries with works like “Stranger in a Strange Land”.
So why call this the Triassic, when it is a period of clear and visible generational shifts? Well, such is the way of a dinography. The shifts visible in the works I picked out looking for dinosaurs, tap into a more conservative under-current. Worldcon is above all fans and the Hugo Awards represent fan choices. As well reflecting changes in fashion, the Hugo Awards also reflect nostalgia and continuing love for past favourites. The cutting edge and the traditional are sometimes conflicting currents in the Hugo Awards and sometimes complimentary aspects but they are always present.
The names that bubbled up from my search for dinosaur fiction and which are covered in this period all have one thing in common. The authors we all adults by 1939 (in some cases only just). Also, they each had established careers before the start of the Hugo Awards and as such were authors who, at least initially, were not shaped by the awards.
The generational change began long before 1971 and didn’t end after that but for my sample, 1971 is a clear demarcation.
But I’m going to start just before the first Hugo Awards, in 1952. Partly this is because the choices of that first set of awards would have drawn on works including some from the previous year (originally the award had the previous 12 months as the eligibility period). It is also because I wanted to include two classic dinosaur themed stories from an author widely celebrated but often overlooked by the Hugo Awards…
…Next time: 2.1 Ray Bradbury’s The Fog Horn and The Sound of Thunder.