Friday, December 8, 2023

Casual Shorts & the ISFdb Top Short Fiction # 35: The Gernsback Continuum by William Gibson

Gibson, William. "The Gernsback Continuum." Universe 11, edited by Terry Carr. New York: Doubleday, June 1981.

This article is part of my attempt to read all the 155 stories currently (as of 1 November 2022) on the ISFdb's Top Short Fiction list. Please see the introduction and list of stories hereI am encouraging readers to rate the stories and books they have read on the ISFdb.

ISFdb Rating:   8.83/10
My Rating:        7/10

"Mercifully, the whole thing started to fade, to become an episode."

An American photographer in London photographing shoes for a series of ads, is hired by a British publisher to photograph 1930s American architecture. The idea is that American architecture of the 1930s reveals what western society at the time believed was in store for the future--the future through the perspective of the past. The photographer returns to the U.S. and, in Los Angeles, begins work on the project. As he is immersed in canvasing and documenting buildings and other constructs of the past, he begins to catch glimpses of future engineering from the perspective of the '30s, images evoked from old science fiction film, H. G. Wells, pulp magazines and the naïve hopefulness of an America that was unaware of the damages created by striving to achieve a technologically driven future.

"The Gernsback Continuum" is an essay disguised as a short story. In terms of plot, there really isn't much: a photographer is assigned to take specific photos, becomes immersed and starts to hallucinate, gains perspective from a friend and the hallucinations begin to dissipate. He reflects, and the end. It is the thesis that makes the story interesting, and it could have been quite a good essay, but would not have found as many readers as the short story did.

Gibson is essentially looking at how westerners used to view the future half a century in the pre-World War II past, with a hopefulness that longed for the technology proposed by the early pulps, led by pulp pioneer Hugo Gernsback. We could have had large flying machines with fins or advanced dirigibles, oversized road vehicles, underwater civilizations, eighty-lane highways, nutrition pills, and so forth. Yet the reality fifty years later is the cost of technological development, the environmental and health problems derived in order to get to where we are in 1980. The future we received is one of global threats, illness. strife and pollution. He wonders which of these options is the preferred world?

No comments:

free counters

As of 24 December 2015