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The Perversity of Things

Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction (Posthumanities #52)

Hugo Gernsback, Grant Wythoff (Editor)


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Paperback (11/21/2016)


In 1905, a young Jewish immigrant from Luxembourg founded an electrical supply shop in New York. This inventor, writer, and publisher Hugo Gernsback would later become famous for launching the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926. But while science fiction’s annual Hugo Awards were named in his honor, there has been surprisingly little understanding of how the genre began among a community of tinkerers all drawn to Gernsback’s vision of comprehending the future of media through making. In The Perversity of Things, Grant Wythoff makes available texts by Hugo Gernsback that were foundational both for science fiction and the emergence of media studies.

Wythoff argues that Gernsback developed a means of describing and assessing the cultural impact of emerging media long before media studies became an academic discipline. From editorials and blueprints to media histories, critical essays, and short fiction, Wythoff has collected a wide range of Gernsback’s writings that have been out of print since their magazine debut in the early 1900s. These articles cover such topics as television; the regulation of wireless/radio; war and technology; speculative futures; media-archaeological curiosities like the dynamophone and hypnobioscope; and more. All together, this collection shows how Gernsback’s publications evolved from an electrical parts catalog to a full-fledged literary genre.

The Perversity of Things aims to reverse the widespread misunderstanding of Gernsback within the history of science fiction criticism. Through painstaking research and extensive annotations and commentary, Wythoff reintroduces us to Gernsback and the origins of science fiction.

Praise For The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction (Posthumanities #52)

"Grant Wythoff's splendid work of scholarship dispels the dank, historic mists of a literary subculture with starkly factual archival research. An amazing vista of electronic media struggle is revealed here, every bit as colorful and cranky as Hugo Gernsback's pulp magazines—even the illustrations and footnotes are fascinating. I'm truly grateful for this work and will never think of American science fiction in the same way again."—Bruce Sterling, author, journalist, and critic

"Hugo Gernsback was one of the strangest and most weirdly influential minds of the twentieth century, and his story has never before been fully told. Grant Wythoff’s The Perversity of Things is brilliant and beautiful—indispensible for anyone who wants to understand the collision of technology and culture in which science fiction was born."—James Gleick, author of Time Travel

"Each page is a small feast for the intellect."—Paul Levinson’s Infinite Regress

"The quality of Wythoff's editorial work is outstanding, and it is well served by the clever typographical presentation of the book, pleasant to read, well indexed, and nicely illustrated. Thanks to this work, it should be possible to reframe the figure of Gernsback."—Leonardo Reviews

"Wythoff's indispensable account of Gernsback's understanding of the power of media is remarkable in many ways and is expected to reset people's understanding of SF. Wythoff uses examples of Gernsback's writing – fiction stories, essays, articles, editorials…even the inventor's own blueprints – to show how a tinkerer launched a new era in written science fiction."—Kirkus Reviews

"If I have one complaint about The Perversity of Things, it is that I did not want it to end—or, at least, I wanted more. Wythoff invites his audience members to become engaged critical readers who contribute to the development of science fiction and media history through our own intellectual tinkering and innovation. I cannot help but think that Gernsback would be proud. Highly recommended."—Science Fiction Studies

Univ Of Minnesota Press, 9781517900847, 444pp.

Publication Date: November 21, 2016

About the Author

Hugo Gernsback (1884–1967) was a Luxembourgish— American inventor, writer, editor, and magazine publisher who founded the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926. The annual Hugo Awards for the best works of science fiction and fantasy are named in his honor.

Grant Wythoff is a postdoctoral fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities and a lecturer in the department of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.