Hugo Gernsback, A Derided Sci-Fi Visionary Who Predicted Google Glass and Social Networks
Hugo Gernsback may be one of the greatest science fiction visionaries of all time, but his rise to prominence was turbulent at best. Gernsback's 'Ralph 124C41+' is one of the most influential sci-fi novels of all time, and one of the most derided. It follows a brilliant scientist as he attempts to rescue his lover from the grips of an evil, lovesick alien. Using his "space flyer," he saves her life by directing energy towards an avalanche and then giving her a blood transfusion when she's gravely injured. Because no work of sci-fi cheese is complete without a blood transfusion.
The writing of the novel is (understandably) almost universally panned; it has even been cited as the "worst science fiction novel of all time." But even Gernsback's harshest critics can't deny that his novel was visionary.He correctly predicted a myriad of modern technologies, including television, video conferencing, social networking, electrical cars, synthetic foods, radar, solar energy, microfilm, and, of course, space travel. Can any writer possibly match the accuracy of vision that Gernsback possessed?
In 1963, Gernsback also built a mock-up of an invention called "television goggles" (pictured above), which he believed would be invented in the near future. And he was once again correct, as this technology functioned very much like Google Glass, and Google's recently released virtual reality headset.
Gernsback is credited with popularizing the genre of science fiction, and with introducing the sci-fi community to the notion that the purpose of science fiction is to mix literature with credible science and predictions of future advancements. He called it "scientifiction," and described it as "charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision." This idea was met with fierce opposition; Brian Aldiss, who wrote the short story that was the basis for the Steven Spielberg film A.I., once said, "Science fiction is no more written for scientists than ghost stories are written for ghosts." He asserted that Gernsback's philosophy about science fiction had "the effect of introducing a deadening literalism into the fiction. 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."
Gernsback may have had an ego larger than the scope of his works and his treatment of employment ethics may have been called into question more than once, but to the majority of science fiction fans he will be known forever as the man who gave us the first examples of 'hard science fiction' and for that, we are ever thankful.