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Hugo Gernsback: L’uomo che prevedeva la fantascienza

Hugo Gernsback (Lussemburgo, 16 agosto 1884 – New York, 19 agosto 1967) è stato un inventore, editore e scrittore lussemburghese naturalizzato statunitense.
Le sue pubblicazioni comprendono la prima rivista di fantascienza, Amazing Stories; il suo contributo a questo genere narrativo fu tanto importante che, insieme a H. G. Wells e Jules Verne, è ricordato come il padre della fantascienza. Ha coniato il termine science-fiction (fantascienza). Dal 1953 (eccezion fatta per il 1954), viene annualmente assegnato in suo onore il Premio Hugo per lavori di fantascienza e fantasy, durante lo svolgimento della WorldCon (World Science Fiction Convention).

Gernsback emigrò negli Stati Uniti nel 1905 e venne naturalizzato americano. Si sposò tre volte: con Rose Harvey nel 1906, con Dorothy Kantrowitz nel 1921 e con Mary Hancher nel 1951. Nel 1925, Hugo fondò l’emittente radiofonica WRNY e fu coinvolto nella prima trasmissione televisiva; fu anche un pioniere del radiantismo amatoriale.
Pur se Gernsback non creò dal nulla il genere fantascientifico, egli fondò nel 1926 la rivista Amazing Stories, in cui per la prima volta si identificava il genere fantascientifico come è concepito oggi; Amazing Stories pubblicava solo e specificamente racconti di “scientifiction”, come la definiva allora Gernsback. Il suo interesse per questo tipo di storie veniva dalla sua infanzia: il piccolo Hugo aveva letto i racconti di Percival Lowell restandone affascinato. Ebbe anche un ruolo importante nella nascita del fandom, il mondo degli appassionati di fantascienza, perché la rivista pubblicava, oltre alle lettere dei lettori, anche i loro indirizzi.
Nel 1929 perse il controllo della rivista dopo una causa legale per bancarotta; alcuni nutrono dei dubbi sulla correttezza del procedimento, pensando che sia stato influenzato dall’editore Bernarr Macfadden o che sia stato un espediente di Gernsback stesso per fondare una nuova azienda. Successivamente infatti Gernsback fondò due nuove riviste, Science Wonder Stories e Air Wonder Stories, che dopo il 1929 si fusero in una sola, Wonder Stories. Hugo Gernsback diresse la sua creatura fino al 1936, quando la vendette alla Thrilling Publications, che ne cambiò il nome in Thrilling Wonder Stories.
Oltre che per la sua passione fantascientifica Gernsback era noto anche per le sue pratiche commerciali al limite del lecito, e per pagare molto poco i suoi autori: H.P.Lovecraft e Clark Ashton Smith lo chiamavano “Hugo the Rat”, Hugo il sorcio. Fu anche autore lui stesso: scrisse diversi racconti di fantascienza, fra cui Ralph 124C 41+, un omofono della frase inglese “one to foresee for one”. Le sue opere, in generale piuttosto superficiali e di scarso valore letterario, contenevano però un gran numero di spunti ed ebbero una forte influenza sugli scrittori del genere.
Prima ancora di essere un editore di fantascienza Gernsback fu un pioniere dell’elettronica, importando componenti dall’Europa e promuovendo l’attività radioamatoriale. Nel 1908 fondò Modern Electrics, la prima rivista al mondo di elettronica, e successivamente la Wireless Association of America, che raccolse 10.000 membri nel giro di un anno. Nel 1913, stimando in circa 400.000 il numero di radioamatori americani, fondò the Electric Experimenter, una seconda rivista di elettronica in cui cominciò per la prima volta a pubblicare racconti di fantascienza insieme agli articoli di giornalismo scientifico.
Alla sua morte, avvenuta a New York il 19 agosto 1967, deteneva 80 brevetti.

Di seguito le opere di Gernsback che hanno avuto un’edizione italiana.
##Ralph 124C 41+ (Ralph 124C 41+)
##Come vengono costruiti i canali di Marte (How the Martian Canals Are Built)
##La tempesta magnetica (The Magnetic Storm)

In una missione del videogioco Mass Effect 2 il giocatore dovrà indagare nel luogo di schianto di un’astronave terrestre, la MSV Hugo Gernsback.

Ufficiale dell’Ordine della Corona di Quercia – nastrino per uniforme ordinaria Ufficiale dell’Ordine della Corona di Quercia.[sc:BR]

The man who foresaw science fiction

The first centennial of one of the worst science fiction novels in history is…
It is September 1, 2660, and a genius sits in his study, resting up prior to a remarkable display of his scientific prowess. Tomorrow he will demonstrate to scientists that a dog three years technically dead, but preserved with rare elements, can be resuscitated back to life by a simple blood transfusion. He stretches, revealing a huge frame, much taller than the average human, his height approaching that of extraterrestrials.
“His physical superiority, however, was as nothing compared to his gigantic mind,” explained his biographer. “He was Ralph 124C 41+, one of the greatest living scientists and one of the ten men on the whole planet earth permitted to use the Plus sign after his name.”
So begins Hugo Gernsback’s nearly century-old novel, Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660. First published in serial form in April 1911 in his magazine Modern Electrics, it was the magnum opus of the man who popularized the term “science fiction,” and in whose name the Hugo Awards are given to writers to this day.
And romantic it is. No sooner does Gernsback introduce us to Ralph than he has his hero rescuing the girl of his dreams, Alice 212B423 of Switzerland, from a snow avalanche via high powered radio signals—she pleading for his help over a wireless video screen from 4,000 miles away. The novel ends (spoiler alert) with the scientist jetting around the solar system to save her from a lovesick Martian named Llysanohr’ (that apostrophe is not a typo). She revives following the application of his blood transfusion technique to her traumatized body.
“Dearest,” Alice declares upon awakening. “I have just found out what your name really means… ONE TO FORESEE FOR ONE.”
Indeed, Ralph’s creator took it upon himself to foresee for everyone. Gernsback’s novel is a gradually exhausting cavalcade of canny technological predictions—among them video conferencing, social networking, electrical cars, radar, solar power, and microfilm. Add to the list some that thankfully haven’t been attempted, the “subatlantic tube” among them: “a 3,470-mile underground train system that connects New York and Brest, France, in a direct line through the earth’s crust.”
Despite all this, few sci-fi fans take Ralph 124C 41+ seriously today. “Thoroughly deficient as fiction,” Gernsback’s entry in American National Biography categorically declares. And that is one of the kinder remembrances. “One of the worst disasters ever to hit the science fiction field,” acclaimed novelist Brian W. Aldiss wrote of Gernsback in 1973. “He created dangerous precedents which many later editors in the field followed.”
But as the scholar Gary Westfahl points out, Gernsback, for all his flaws, was one of, if not the first writer to pointedly ponder a question relevant to this day. What is science fiction for?

Smitten by Mars
He was born Hugo Gernsbacher in 1884, the son of a Luxembourg wine wholesaler who hired private tutors to educate the boy. At the age of nine, somebody gave Hugo a copy of the American astronomer Percival Lowell’s controversial book Mars as the Abode of Life. Apparently it made quite an impression. “He was immediately sent home, where he lapsed into delirium,” writes science fiction historian Sam Moskowitz, “raving about strange creatures, fantastic cities, and masterly engineered canals of Mars for two full days and nights while a doctor remained in almost constant attendance.”
No surprise then that, upon recovery, the boy glommed onto the burgeoning field of electronics. By his late teens he was applying for patents on his own inventions, most notably a battery for electrical devices. When government offices in Germany and France turned his applications down, he migrated to the United States, where Hugo now-Gernsback blundered through a series of engineering jobs and startups, all of which quickly collapsed.
Finally he made a splash with what Moskowitz calls “the first home radio set in history.” Gernsback’s “Telimco Wireless” didn’t receive the signals of any broadcast radio stations, since there were almost none before 1920. But it did ring a bell in an adjacent room without any connecting wires. Such was the sensation the device made that local police demanded a demonstration, following up on a fraud complaint. Satisfied that it worked, the Telimco was subsequently sold in many department stores—that is, until the first World War, when the government banned amateur wireless transmission. This reduced its inventor to marketing the gadget as a kit for electrical experiments.
In the end, none of Gernsback’s mechanical innovations got very far. But the magazines he launched to promote them did. The first of these was Modern Electrics, begun as a catalogue of his products in 1908. This was followed by Amazing Stories in 1926, and a slew of others that came and went, among them Air Wonder Stories, Science Wonder Stories, and Scientific Detective Monthly.

Cold facts
It was in Amazing Stories that Gernsback first tried to nail down the science fiction idea. “Scientifiction” he initially called it—”charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.” The magazine’s masthead went further: “Extravagant Fiction Today—Cold Fact Tomorrow.” Gernsback even boasted that he had researchers fact check the technical validity of the stories he published. So many readers wrote into Amazing Stories that he reserved a large “discussions” section of his magazine for comments—the first of the many thousands of forums that empower the science fiction community to this day.
But the notion that sci-fi’s purpose was to predict the technological future eventually drew passionate opposition from some of the genre’s greatest pens. Six years after Gernsback’s death in 1967, Brian Aldiss went after the entrepreneur’s emphasis on scientism with a vengeance. “Science fiction is no more written for scientists than ghost stories are written for ghosts,” remains one of Aldiss’ most famous quotes. As for Gernsback’s philosophy, it had “the effect of introducing a deadening literalism into the fiction,” he charged in his history of the genre, Billion Year Spree. “As long as the stories were built like diagrams, and made clear like diagrams, and stripped of atmosphere and sensibility, then it did not seem to matter how silly the ‘science’ or the psychology was.”

Hugo Gernsback watching a 1.5 inch square television in August 1928. Image from his magazine, Radio News.

This seems a little unfair to the author of Ralph 124C 41+, but taking Gernsback more seriously as a philosopher also has its risks. There’s something a bit scary about Ralph’s future, with its world government, scientist-as-god overtones. It’s unclear why in Gernsback’s vision Martians and humans are forbidden to marry, but the notion fits in with one of the less attractive aspects of the Progressive Era: its faith in segregation and “scientific” racism. As late as 1963, one of Gernsback’s last publications, Forecast, argued that “chemi-geneticists” could alter the enzymes of African-Americans, allowing them to have white children.
Of course anyone wanting contemporary assumptions from a writer who was born in 1884 is asking for a lot. But the public today expects a very different kind of science fiction than the kind that Gernsback delivered. We’re less interested in fiction writers who can augur what’s looming over the technological horizon—there’s a veritable army of nonfiction “futurists” who do that now. We’re much more interested in sci-fi as literature, offering compelling visions of imaginary times and places as metaphors for our own, or just as fun cosmologies to enjoy.
Still, our greatest contemporary writers pay homage to Gernsback’s vision. An early William Gibson story titled “The Gernsback Continuum” remembers the substance and style of his world, albeit with irony.

“…as I made the stations of her convoluted socioarchitectural cross in my red Toyota as I gradually tuned in to her image of a shadowy America-that-wasn’t, of Coca-Cola plants like beached submarines, and fifth-run movie houses like the temples of some lost sect that had worshiped blue mirrors and geometry. And as I moved among these secret ruins, I found myself wondering what the inhabitants of that lost future would think of the world I lived in. The Thirties dreamed white marble and slipstream chrome, immortal crystal and burnished bronze, but the rockets on the covers of the Gernsback pulps had fallen on London in the dead of night, screaming. After the war, everyone had a car—no wings for it—and the promised superhighway to drive it down, so that the sky itself darkened, and the fumes ate the marble and pitted the miracle crystal.”

In Gibson’s novels, the perfect technological future which Gernsback foresaw is long abandoned. Yet as the first centennial of Ralph 124C 41+ approaches, the literary form that its author championed thrives, perhaps even beyond Gernsback’s own dreams.
Hugo Gernsback “originated the idea” of sci-fi, Gary Westfahl writes. “He uniquely realized that various and present works were in fact part of a single genre.” He named that genre, Westfahl adds, and persuaded the world to accept its existence. “It is for those accomplishments, not any innovative qualities in the stories he published, that Gernsback should be celebrated as the founder of science fiction.” Source: wikipedia, arstechnica


Written by Luca

Membro orgoglioso di Dracia.com

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La tenda isolapensieri da ufficio. Ronf ronf.

The Isolator: l’elmo che stimola la concentrazione by Hugo Gernsback