There Is Never A Golden Age

Innovative in its day. That day is not the present.
Innovative in its day. That day is not the present.

If someone tells you about a golden age in some genre, and suggests you should read, watch, or play content from said golden age, you should politely say no and back away slowly. As Peter Graham once said about science fiction, “The golden age of science fiction is twelve.”

At age 12, I spent hundreds of hours ripping through the science fiction section of the US Army base library in Bamberg, (then) West Germany. I read the greats and near-greats of SF’s golden age, including Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Clifford D. Simak, Eric Frank Russel, and many, many more. I suppose my roots as a huge science and tech nerd began in that base library in my own private golden age.

You can replace “science fiction” with board games, video games, television shows, movies, and more. Media do have golden ages, usually marked by periods of rapid exploration and growth, as the creators of a particular medium push the limits of something new. The very newness of the genre or medium facilitates experimentation, and creates a heady sense of being on the cutting edge. It never lasts, though. As a medium becomes mainstream, it also becomes polished, more accessible, and often simply better.

I’m not detracting from the innovation of any creators. Building something from scratch, whether it was science fiction in the era from the 1920s to 1950s, board games in the 1960s to 1980s, or video gaming in the 90s, takes courage, creativity, and a willingness to pursue the new passion tirelessly. Participating in any new creation as a consumer of those creations gives you a heady sense of being part of something special. That sense of the special always remains with you.

I’ve returned to fondly remembered literature or games from times distant and have, almost without exceptionbeen disappointed. Once, on the urging of a friend, I went back to reread Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny. I had fond memories of reading Zelazny’s Amber series. Instead, I found sparse character development, thin descriptions, and hard-to-follow action sequences. Zelazny’s Amber series was an amazing creative endeavor in its time, but probably wouldn’t see the light of day today.

Knights of the Old Republic should have remained in my memories.
Knights of the Old Republic should have remained in my memories.

Similarly, when EA released a Windows-friendly version of Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi a few years back as a free download, I installed it and fired it up. I quit before finishing the first mission, horrified by the pixelated graphics and twitchy gameplay. More recently, Steam released an updated, supposedly Windows-friendly version of Knights of the Old Republic, a seminal Bioware RPG. Screechy sound glitches and unresponsive controls saw me make a rapid exit.

Nostalgia can be a kind of drug. It makes you forget that the past wasn’t always wonderful and dulls your appreciation of the present. Nostalgia’s place should remain firmly in your memory; revisiting the stuff you loved as a kid rarely pays off. Plus, we’re in a new golden age of geek media, gaming, and literature. Why risk revisiting the things you used to enjoy, and risk destroying those fond memories when there’s so much good, new riches to consume?

Oh, and I just discovered one of my favorite TV shows from the 60s is now on DVD. Wouldn’t it be cool…

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