Very few science fiction fans read science fiction from the 1930s anymore. Back in 1974, Isaac Asimov edited a wonderful anthology, Before the Golden Age, where he collected the stories he fondly remembered from that decade during his adolescence. Unfortunately, that anthology is long out-of-print. That’s a shame. The trouble with great anthologies is they are seldom reprinted. I assume because the editors only buy rights to reprint for a specific length of time. I’d love if Audible.com could do an audio book edition of Before the Golden Age (or other classic SF anthologies), but I think that would be impossible.
My online science fiction book club has decided to read one story a week from Before the Golden Age. A handful of us owns the anthology. A couple of people said they would try and get it from the library. But to encourage the other members to read the stories, we’re trying to find online reprints of the stories. Back in 2010, Johnny Pez found 7 of the 25 online. His blog post inspires me to see how many are available in 2017. Several of his links no longer work. I found 12.
Below is the table of contents for Before the Golden Age. I’m going to hyperlink the short story title to information about the story. I’ll link the author’s name to information about the author. In the last column, I’ll give links to any online reprints of the story first, second, a link to ISFDB to see where the story has been anthologized over the decades, or third will be a link to the cheapest edition I can find if there’s no free edition.
In the last few years, websites reprinting whole issues of old pulp magazines have been popping up. I think that’s a wonderful service. I assume anything I find in the first few pages of Google returns is legal. If not, let me know and I’ll take down the link.
Many stories from the early 1930s are out of copyright, which is why we see whole pulps from that era online. But that doesn’t explain all the pulps that are online from the 1950s. I hope those sites are legal and stay up because they are becoming the only way to read old science fiction stories. They are also cultural artifacts showing a history of a subculture.
If you look at the ISFDB links you’ll see most of these stories have not been reprinted often. Some only appeared in their original pulp magazine and Before the Golden Age.
Most of these stories are crudely told, which probably explains why modern readers don’t read them. However, they do have a vitality for science fictional ideas. I imagine back in the 1930s there were few Americans thinking about these concepts. Now, most of these ideas are mundane even for children’s books and television shows.
I enjoy reading these old stories because they give me a sense of how science fiction evolved. I’m reading New Atlantis, a four-volume history of the scientific romance by Brian Stableford, which chronicles science fiction older than that found in Before the Golden Age. Stableford is reviewing writers that inspired the writers that inspired Asimov. When you look at a bigger history of science fiction, these 1930s stories are important, even though most SF fans would find them unreadable today. Sure, the writing is clunky, and the storytelling unsophisticated, but give them a try. You might be surprised.
— James Wallace Harris (Auxiliary Memory)