Science Fiction in Old San Francisco: History of the Movement from 1854 to 1890

Sam Moskowitz showed up in some of my reading lately, so I thought I’d post reviews of a couple of his books I mentioned in passing in my Bitter Bierce series.
While I’m a bit leery of a book that mentions the Black Hills of North Dakota and Rod Steiger’s The Twilight Zone, this was still an interesting book. I took away a few things from it.

First, further information on the role that newspaper hoaxes played in early American sf or proto-sf.

Second, that there really was a community of San Francisco writers who published in numerous San Francisco publications and mostly set their stories, not surprisingly, in Frisco. The constant referrals to each others’ works shows a clear beginning of the genre awareness necessary to say that sf existed as an “invitation to form” then. There was also a generous helping of foreign sf and fantasy, including Jules Verne, published in these same magazines and newspapers. I found it interesting that many writers, foreign and American, referenced to Edgar Allan Poe as the father of the new genre that was to become sf. He certainly inspired Verne if not Wells. Poe, as a writer (and I never noticed this point) created stories of the fantastic without the supernatural. Poe, under the “invitation to form” definition of sf, may have a pretty strong claim to founding sf.

The Frisco writers may have influenced Wells since their work was sometimes reprinted over seas. William C. Morrow may have been the inspiration for the idea and eponymous character of Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Moskowitz’s main emphasis is on the career of Robert Duncan Milne, a Scottish-American (a very well-educated remittance man and drunk) who, from 1881 to about 1899, has a very good claim to being the world’s first full time sf writer.

He did some of the earliest sf stories on sf themes on things like matter transmission and genetic manipulation. He started out with newspaper hoaxes then moved to gadget stories and then graduated to full stories (though the gadget story is a perfectly respectable sub-genre of sf).
Unfortunately, for Milne, his reputation was soon forgotten because he published in ephemeral venues and blew $2,000 his rich Scottish uncle sent to publish his work in hardcover. His work was never collected in hardcover until the companion volume to this book was put out in 1980. It was interesting to see the public hunger, in newspaper format, for sf and how publishers like William Randolph Hearst, Jr. encouraged and fed it.
More reviews of titles related to fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.
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One thought on “Science Fiction in Old San Francisco: History of the Movement from 1854 to 1890

  1. Pingback: Science Fiction in Old San Francisco: Into the Sun & Other Stories | MarzAat

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