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The Perversity of Things: How Science Fiction Emerged from an Electrical Parts Catalogue

Thursday Lecture Series

dateOctober 15, 2015 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
Cover of Science and Invention magazine with illustration of person receiving a letter by radio typewriter

Hugo Gernsback is best remembered today for launching the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926. But entirely overlooked has been the context of the genre's birth in Gernsback's earlier electrical experimenter publications, as well as his work as a pioneer in wireless media technologies and activist for amateur broadcast rights. In these electrical supply catalogs and compendiums of amateur designs, one could find a literary treatise on what the genre of "scientifiction" should look like alongside a blueprint for a home-brewed television receiver (in 1914!) as well as projections of what these speculative media would look like in the near future. This talk will look at the emergence of American science fiction out of what began as a mail-order electrical parts catalogue.