Many of us were first exposed to science fiction while watching television or going to the movies. This exposure probably encouraged quite a few of you to explore science fiction in its more sophisticated and literary varieties. In some ways, these two divides have been prevalent for many decades.
On the one hand, there is “hard” science fiction, consisting of very well-written and engaging literary fantasies, many of which explore complex social themes. From H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine to Frank Herbert’s Dune (and beyond), SF authors have used the genre to tell allegorical stories, with strong implications for how we view the present. Meanwhile, the science was clearly discernible from the fantasy. On the other hand, there has always existed a “softer” type of science fiction, meant mostly to entertain the “masses.” From Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon radio dramas to Star Wars (and beyond), these forms of SF offer eye candy, entertainment, and pure moments of thrill, wonder, and awe. Often, science is unnecessary for these tales, which puts them closer to the genre of fantasy.
Arguably some of the best science fiction, like Star Trek, occupied a middle-ground between these extremes. Indeed, in much of the existing literature on Star Trek, many of the actors make claims like: “Everything else was kid’s stuff. Star Trek was the first sophisticated science fiction on television.” These celebrities and other writers often look past the pure camp of a Shatner fight to celebrate “Let that Be Your Last Battlefield.” They also overlook ground-breaking shows like The Twilight Zone or Tom Corbett: Space Cadet.
I’ve never read a history of Trek that acknowledges the Galaxy years, when the majority of young men (and some women) got their SF fix primarily from magazines. This era has been called the “Golden Age” of SF, when over 20 varieties of niche magazines competed for an American (and European) audience, during the 1950s and 1960s. There were certainly many predecessors to Galaxy, such as the variety of Hugo Gernsback publications, like Amazing Stories, Science Wonder Stories, and Air Wonder Stories. Galaxy also had much competition with Astounding Science Fiction (later known as Analog), as well as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.