Mid-Century Modern


Public domain photography rocks.

See this house?  The one there on the right?  Yeah, that’s a pretty awesome house, designed in a style called mid-century modern.  Specifically it’s the Stahl House, which I have picked as an exemplar of mid-century modern because…well, it was the first picture that I could find that typified mid-century modern architecture that had also been released into the public domain.  Thanks, Wikipedian Ovs.  It’s a style of architecture that I live with on a daily basis as I drive past a neighborhood built in the height of mid-century modern.  It’s a design ethos that grew out of the arts and crafts movement, making it the grandchild of art deco, and eventually morphed into the concrete palaces of brutalism.

Unlike brutalism, which is almost entirely an architectural style, mid-century modern describes not just houses built with a certain style in the 1930s-1960s, but also incorporated both graphic design and furniture design, which have a lot of the smooth lines and flair of the earlier art deco and less of the visible craftsmanship of arts and crafts.  Look, this is probably all entirely wrong, but I’m going to go with it because it’s leading me to my next point.  If you want a blog that discusses the history of architectural design, oh boy are you in the wrong place.

What I’m trying to get to is the surging popularity of mid-century modern design.  There is a renewed appreciation of the architecture, and prices for furniture and poster art from the era are as high as they’ve ever been.  This has led me to a rather interesting realization.

Out you three pixies go, through the door or out the airlock.

See this book?  The one there on the left?  Yes, the cover that I’ve posted on this blog at least twice before.  It’s also the screensaver on my smartphone, because I just love that cover, and wish I hadn’t put that fold in it.  Ace published The Sun Saboteurs in 1961, right at the tail end of mid-century modern, at least according to most people who determine such things as when art movements begin and end.  If magazine published the original Earth Quarter stories in 1955.  It occurred to me that what I was reading was not pulp science fiction, because even though “pulp” has become an ethos that people strive for in writing, I’ve never liked the word when applied to old books.  Something about it denotes disposability.  And I’m uncomfortable with the notion of disposing of books.  It just…gives me the creeps, though I can’t explain why.

One time I was picking my wife (then girlfriend) up at the airport.  She pulled the book read on the plane out of her backpack, and chucked it in the closest trashcan.  Something about aliens showing up about 80% of the way into a book that had very clearly not been about aliens before that point.  Which would be a spoiler if I had the slightest notion what book it was.  I must have visibly tweaked when I did that, because she knew something about the action made me uncomfortable.  This story serves no purpose other than me being uncomfortable about the destruction of books.

So I love these old books from the 50s and 60s, love that someone saved them, loved that I now get to carry on protecting them.  And, even better, reading them.  Something dawned on me.  That shelf that is now nearly full of these Ace Doubles?  That’s not pulp science fiction.  That’s mid-century modern science fiction.

Why shouldn’t it be?  Mid-century modern was an ethic that spread through all arts, from architecture, to graphic design, to furniture design, why shouldn’t writing be included under that umbrella.  So call it pulp.  Call the revitalization of that style of story telling modern or neo-pulp.  I’d be glad to have my stories influenced by these doubles called either.  But when I’m sitting down with one of these classics, I’ll just be enjoying my mid-century modern sci-fi.

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