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Paperback to the Future: Best of British science-fiction covers from the 1950s

The back story of Britain in the fifties reads like the checklist for a Star Wars script. The war is over, the Empire is dying and the New World Colonies are slowly taking over. Many British pulp sci-fi writers had only to look out of their windows at the bomb-torn urban landscape to find inspiration. Just like George Orwell who used his knowledge of the everyday world of rationing, deprivation, and squalor in 1948 and a little of his time working at the BBC in Room 101 to color his novel 1984.

There were—to put it simply—two schools of thought in sci-fi at the time: write about what you know (or more likely your obsessions) as seen thru the prism of science-fiction, or write space age fantasies about exploration of the stars and seeking out new worlds and life forms as a topical metaphor for contemporary tropes about empire, war, and civilization. 

Both of these were pretty much the mainstay of a whole range of short-lived British science-fiction magazines that flourished between 1950-56. These wonderfully lurid-covered magazines featured work by John Rackham (aka John T. Phillifent), Volsted Gridban (aka E. C. Tubb) and Vargo Statten whose name became the masthead for one popular sci-fi magazine of the day later retitled to the British Science Fiction Magazine. Statten was just one of the many pseudonyms used by the prolific writer and editor John Russell Fearn, who together with Tubb and Phillifent produced the bulk of work for Britain’s golden years of science-fiction magazines before these ‘zines were sadly snuffed out by the flood of comics, movies, and television programs from the USA.

Afterwards, Fearn continued to write sci-fi and crime novels. Tubb became famous for his space opera Dumarest of Terra and writing a series of novels based on Gerry Anderson’s Space 1999. Phillifent went onto write a library of sci-fi novels and a few novelizations for The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Most of the covers featured below from Vargo Statten, Tit-Bits Science Fiction and Scion publishing are the work of the brilliant artist and illustrator Ron Turner who supplied artwork, illustrations and comicstrips for Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Daleks.
More gorgeous British sci-fi covers, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
10:50 am