Today’s factismal: Hugo Gernsback was born 132 years ago today.
If you are the average person, odds are you’ve never heard of Hugo Gernsback. Then again, if you are the average person, odds are that you aren’t reading this right now so why am I bothering to talk to you? Instead, let me talk to the people who are reading this – the u when hugnusual suspects who have a nagging feeling that they should know who that Gernsback guy is.
Back in 1884 when Hugo was born, radio was just getting started and Marconi and Tesla were still arguing over who invented it (Tesla did the heavy lifting but Marconi got most of the credit). At that time, most radios were simple affairs built by hand by home hobbyists. And little had changed in 1908 when Hugo created the magazine Modern Electrics. In every issue, he presented circuits and diagrams and helpful advice on building and maintaining your own radio. Now, even though there was a lot to say about radio and other electrics (the word electronics wouldn’t be invented for another four decades), every once in a while the magazine had some empty space to fill. So in April 1911 Hugo decided to fill some of that empty space between the pages (and in his reader’s heads) with a “fantasy” novel that he called Ralph 124C 41+. Hugo had invented the science fiction magazine.
His work was an immediate success and he kept the tradition alive in both Modern Electrics and The Electrical Experimenter until he finally created a magazine with nothing but those science fictions in it. He called the magazine Amazing Stories and coined the terms “science fiction” and “scientifiction” (his favorite) for the new genre. He also published the names and addresses of the folks who wrote in to his magazine. They then started corresponding directly with each other and so Hugo indirectly invented science fiction fandom.
In 1953, the 11th Annual World Con (a convention of science fiction fans and those that endure them) gave out awards for the best novel, best short story, and so forth. And in his honor, the awards were called Hugos. It is now 132 years after Hugo was born and 63 years after the Hugos were born and that time of year is upon us once more. So if you have the chance, head to the WorldCon at MidAmericaCon II in Kansas City, MO, and watch this year’s Hugos get awarded. Or just pick up one of his stories and enjoy. Either way, you’ll come out ahead.