There are millions of science fiction fans, but how many of those readers love to read about science fiction? Especially, about the history of science fiction way before they were born. I do, but maybe I’m an extreme outlier.

Back in the 1960s, I discovered Sam Moskowitz and loved reading his books about the history of science fiction. I also enjoyed his magazine columns profiling science fiction writers. Over the years I’ve read and collected several shelves of books about our genre. In the 1990s, I subscribed to a fanzine titled Futures Past. It was quarterly, and each issue covered one year in science fiction starting with 1926. It died after four issues and I was greatly disappointed.

Now the creator of that fanzine, Jim Emerson is back. He’s starting over again with 1926, but this time each issue has been expanded into a book (pdf, trade paper, and hardback). To keep costs down, Emerson doesn’t sell through Amazon or bookstores. He sells direct. I bought the first two volumes, 1926 and 1927 with Paypal, but there are other purchasing options. Order from this website. Emerson offers the first volume on pdf for free to give readers an idea of what the books will be like. However, the first volume is only 64 pages, and volume 2 is 144 pages, a much more impressive entry in the series. If you want to give the series a try after looking at the pdf of 1926, I’d buy the 1927 volume first. I plan to collect them all. The home page for Futures Past is here.

Emerson is still working full-time and figures he can only produce one volume a year. He writes all the content and does all the graphic layouts. Jim hopes when he retires to produce two or more volumes per year, and eventually cover 50 years of science fiction history (1926-1975). However, this time he plans to jump around and not go year by year after 1928. I’m glad to hear that. As much as I like reading about science fiction in the 1920s and 1930s, I really want to read about the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. I vote for 1941, 1953, and 1968.

I’m very curious how many science fiction fans will be interested in these books. Each volume covers the science fiction magazines, books, and movies that came out during that year. What makes these books so much better than the old fanzines is the use of color printing. I’ve always loved the art on magazine and book covers and still photos and posters from movies. (I’m showing images below from 1927 because you can download the pdf to 1926 and look at it for yourself.)

Each book is a visual history, but there is also a great deal of reading content. Emerson is quite the historian of science fiction’s history, reminding me of Sam Moskowitz, Brian Stableford, and Mike Ashley. Pages 58-93 of the 1927 volume is devoted to the silent film Metropolis which I’ve seen three times over my lifetime, and look forward to seeing it again. About 80 pages of the 1927 volume are devoted to science fiction in silent films.

Both volumes spend many of their pages on science fiction in silent films, a topic I knew little about. I’ve seen fewer than 40 silent films and assumed there was just a handful of science fiction titles. Of course, Emerson includes fantasy and horror, but the number is far greater than I imagined. In one article he lists six pages of lost films.

My favorite section is Science Fiction Books of 1927 (pp.116-133). And my second favorite section is Magazines of 1927 (pp. 94-115. I especially love all the photos of the covers, but there is quite a lot to read about these forgotten books and magazines.

Here’s the table of contents for the 1927 volume.

The original fanzine covering 1926 inspired my interest in Lady Dorothy Mills, a forgotten travel writer from the 1920s who also wrote novels, including one science fiction title. I read about her SF novel Phoenix in the 1926 issue and spent years tracking down a copy. The one mention of a book has inspired thirty years of chasing her books and creating a website devoted to Lady Dorothy Mills. So thanks, Jim Emerson.

Like I said, I love reading about the history of the genre, but I wonder how many science fiction fans are like me? If you like to read about science fiction, leave a comment. I’ve been thinking about profiling some of my other history books on the subject.

James Wallace Harris, 2/9/22

3 thoughts on “Futures Past – Jim Emerson

  1. I like reading about the history of SF, but selectively, as it were–I don’t devour book after book on the subject. Two books I have and like are The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, ed. Brian Ash, and David G. Hartwell’s Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction. I also love The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. I have a copy of what must have been the last print edition in 1995 or so.

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