The Best Year in Science Fiction: 1954

We're getting to the end of our survey, but 1954 is a ridiculously robust year, with Ray Bradbury delivering Fahrenheit 451, Richard Matheson offering I Am Legend, and Japan unleashing Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Cinematic science fiction had yet to develop the technical wizardry to compete with the mind's eye, so this year belongs to the written word. Storied scifi editor John W. Campbell once claimed that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres — and Isaac Asimov set out to disprove that statement with The Caves of Steel, his first book to feature R. Daneel Olivaw and Elijah Baley, the protagonists of his Robot novels.

The Best Year in Science Fiction: 1954

Ray Bradbury's incendiary Fahrenheit 451 was serialized in Playboy magazine, beginning Hugh Hefner's long tradition of publishing groundbreaking fiction right next to his titillating centerfolds. (Though 451 was officially published in 1953, it also won the 1954 Hugo for best novel.) Richard Matheson jump-started our fixation with the undead with I Am Legend, his oft-adapted viral-contagion thriller that sees Robert Neville as the last man alive in an empty Los Angeles.

Even though I said that movies' effects weren't yet of age, that didn't stop filmmakers from unspooling works like the insectified Them! and Disney's underwater odyssey, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But the film with the most broad-ranging impact was Toho's Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Japan, the only nation to ever be the victims of nuclear fire, gave the world a monstrosity borne of that fire — and, like Frankenstein's Monster, Godzilla was neither hero nor villain. He was more like fate, come back to bite humanity on the ass for its atomic transgressions.