Ever since the first humans turned their eyes to the heavens and wondered who or what might share the vast universe with them, mankind has been fascinated with the question of life on other worlds. Although in recent years scientists have expended considerable resources to answer the question once and for all, science fiction writers have traditionally led the way in positing the state of life beyond our own small planet.
Although many credit Jules Verne with being the "father" of science fiction and there is no doubt that his contribution was significant, through books like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1869), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), and The Mysterious Island (1875), that does not mean that he was the first to venture into that milieu. The first known scifi story appears to be True History, an account of a fascinating journey that includes a trip to the Moon and a war between the King of the Moon and the King of the Sun, each side employing vast armies, including the Puppycorns, 'five thousand dog faced men who fight on the back of winged acorns,' cloud centaurs, and warriors who use mushrooms for shields and asparagus stalks for spears.
The rest of the story - written in the second century CE by Lucian of Samosata - recounts equally bizarre adventures on Earth, including the discovery of an entire city in the belly of an enormous whale "fully one hundred and fifty miles long." Travel to the moon was also a part of the now-lost story entitled Of the Wonderful Things Beyond Thule, by Antonius Diogenes, which was roughly contemporary with True History. Of course, some would suggest that the Book of Revelations, with its descriptions of a massive apocalypse and "wheels within wheels is a proto-science fiction text. But that is a controversy better left on the table for now.
As for science fiction writing, the floodgates truly opened in the 1920s, with the publication of the pulp magazines. Cheaply printed on wood-pulp paper, these publications provided fast paced, outrageous fiction to a public hungry for adventure. Of all the genres covered by these dime novels, none was more popular than science fiction, which could transport the reader across time and space for the bargain price of ten cents. Edgar Rice Burroughs explored Mars and Venus in the pages of his John Carter and his Carson of Venus stories, Paul Ernst took us to the 'Red Hell of Jupiter,' while Murray Leinster revealed the secret of the 'Pipeline to Pluto,' to name just a few.
But scifi writers weren't confined to the nine planets that make up our home solar system. The best of them felt free to create strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no writer had gone before.
Foremost among those who saw the universe as their playground was prolific fictioneer L. Ron Hubbard, who, although he wrote in virtually every pulp genre imaginable, is particularly remembered for his classic tales of science fiction. One of Hubbard's most intriguing and thought-provoking tales, 'The Great Secret,' tells the story of Fanner Marston, an explorer on a far-flung world who has gambled everything to find The Great Secret that he believes will make him the ruler of the universe. Of course, the problem with a secret is that you can't know what it is until it's revealed, and then it's too late.
Hubbard returned to the theme of interplanetary travel and life on other worlds again and again. In 'A Matter of Matter,' Chuck Lambert doesn't want to discover a new planet, he wants to buy one. Unfortunately, he quickly discovers that crooked real estate dealers exist everywhere, and that his new purchase isn't all it was cracked up to be. 'The Planet Makers' tells the story of a terra forming crew working on a world set for colonization, and the sabotage efforts that threaten to derail their project permanently.
All of these tales, and so many others, show Hubbards incredible skill with language and depth of characterization. Far from being mere fantasy stories, Hubbard breathes life into each and every one of his characters, proving that, no matter how far from home they may be, people are people wherever and whenever they are.
Now, years after their initial publication, these stories from the golden age are available online as audio books on cd's.
Science fiction fans will covet the many stories in that genre, but don't miss Hubbards Westerns, air adventures, jungle epics, tales from the Orient, and all the rest as well. If you want to ensure receipt of each and every volume, Galaxy offers a convenient subscription service. Truly, this is the best of times for pulp fiction fans!