Explorers of the Infinite
Shapers of Science Fiction
by Sam Moskowitz

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

World: Cleveland & New York, 1963
353 pages

July 2009

Shapers of science fiction

In Explorers of the Infinite, Sam Moskowitz moves beyond providing the premier fan history of science-fiction fandom in The Immortal Storm, to a professional overview of the early days of science fiction itself. It's an important history in and of the field, knowledgeable and engagingly readable.

Although Explorers of the Infinite certainly is self-contained, it's part of a set of four books: two volumes of short literary biographies, companioned by a pair of anthologies of fiction of the respective writers:

  • Explorers of the Infinite
  • Seekers of Tomorrow
  • Masterpieces of Science Fiction
  • Modern Masterpieces of Science Fiction

The pioneering authors covered in a chapter each are Cyrano de Bergerac, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Fitz-James O'Brien,Jules Verne, Luis P. Senarens, H. G. Wells, M. P. Shiel, A. Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, Karel Capek, H. P. Lovecraft, Olaf Stapledon, Philip Wylie, and finally, harbinger of the Campbell era of SF, Stanley G. Weinbaum.

The pioneering editor Hugo Gernsback, "the father of science fiction", has an important chapter to himself. Another fascinating chapter, "The Real Earth Satellite Story", sketches the creative contributions to that concept by Edward Everett Hale, Luis P. Senarens, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Kurd Lasswitz, and Hermann Oberth. "How Science Fiction Got Its Name" relates how there's considerably more behind the name than appears at first glance: more about Hugh Gernsback, and the pulp magazines Argosy and Science and Invention, Weird Tales and Amazing. A final chapter glances at a number of SF writers of the Campbell era.

Science-fictional imperialism

Perhaps the most distinctive trait of Sam Moskowitz's outlook we may call science-fictional imperialism: that is, a tendency to presume that anything resembling science fiction, of any era, not only is science fiction, but is good. The theoretical result of this is that Moskowitz may annex antecedents and outliers to the field that other commentators and readers may not label as SF, or marginally SF at best. For myself, I don't worry much about the definitional borders.

The practical result of science-fictional imperialism for us, is that although Moskowitz may make a case that a particular author or story is creative and significant, it doesn't always follow that this author or story is entertaining reading. That's for the reader to discover in the companion anthologies or elsewhere. Certainly Explorers of the Infinite is itself quite enjoyable literary history.


© 2009 Robert Wilfred Franson


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