“When Was the Golden Age of Science Fiction?” “Twelve”

Peter Graham? Terry Carr? Avram Davidson? Barry N. Malzberg? Baird Searles? L. Sprague de Camp? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and H. G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” were milestones in the genesis and evolution of the science fiction (SF) genre. This imaginative category of literature built upon technological and other-worldly speculation makes a strong impression on young readers and viewers.

Adherents of the genre debate whether a Golden Age of creativity and exploration occurred during the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, or 1960’s. A fan who was asked to name the years of the magnificent era responded by cleverly reinterpreting the query and presenting the age of a child experiencing SF with fresh directness:

The Golden Age of science fiction is twelve.

Variant statements use the age thirteen or fourteen. Would you please explore the origin of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence located by QI appeared in editor Terry Carr’s introduction to the anthology “Universe 3”. The introduction was dated June 9, 1972, and the book was released in 1973: Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Years ago a friend of mine, Pete Graham, tersely answered the question “When was the golden age of science fiction?” by saying, “Twelve.” He didn’t have to explain further; we knew what he meant.

Carr’s comment suggested that the remark was in circulation before 1972. Shown further below is a February 1978 citation in which Carr stated that Graham made the remark circa 1960. In addition, further below is an August 1997 citation from fan Gary Farber containing the unverified claim that the saying appeared in the fanzine “VOID” circa 1957. A co-editor of the fanzine presented a dissenting viewpoint in 2020.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “When Was the Golden Age of Science Fiction?” “Twelve”

Notes:

  1. 1973, Universe 3, Edited by Terry Carr, Section: Introduction by Terry Carr, Date of Introduction: June 9, 1972, Start Page vii, Quote Page viii, Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)