gadget story n.

a story in which the primary focus is on inventions or the process of inventing

SF Criticism

  • 1942 ‘H. H. Holmes’ Rocket to Morgue 51 page image Anthony Boucher

    The gadget stories were more interesting. They frequently made honest attempts at forecasting scientific developments. Atomic power, stratosphere exploration, the rocket flight that so absorbs Chantrelle, all the features that may revolutionize the second half of this century as thoroughly as radio and the airplane have transformed this half—all these became familiar, workable things. But the writers stopped there. Interest lay in the gadget itself. And science fiction was headed for a blind alley until the realization came that even science fiction must remain fiction, and fiction is basically about people, not subatomic blasters nor time warps.

  • 1948 M. Zimmer Letter in Startling Stories Sept. 126/1 Marion Zimmer Bradley

    May I leave you with a plea for more fantasy, more space-and-interplanetary tales, more humor and less ‘gadget’ and ‘surprise twist’ stories.

  • 1951 G. Conklin Galaxy’s 5 Star Shelf in Galaxy Science Fiction July 119/1 Groff Conklin

    Ted Sturgeon’s well-done but minor Memory, very much a gadget story of a sort I did not know T. S. ever wrote; Sam Merwin’s Exiled from Earth, dug from his earliest literary strata; Leigh Brackett’s Retreat to the Stars, one of those Adam and Eve re-creations that I find unconvincing whenever they turn up; and Henry Kutner’s funny but drastically unimportant and non-science fiction Voice of the Lobster.

  • 1953 L. S. de Camp Science-Fiction Handbook 225 L. Sprague de Camp

    Several people have undertaken to classify imaginative stories. Heinlein did so on the basis of the story’s interest into gadget-stories and human-interest stories, and then further subdivided the latter into three plot-types: Boy-meets-Girl, the Little Tailor, and the Man Who Learned Better.

  • 1959 R. Heinlein Science Fiction in Science Fiction Novel 20 Robert A. Heinlein

    This indispensable three-fold awareness does not limit the science fiction author to stories about science—he need not write a gadget story; indeed a gadget story would not be science fiction under this definition if the author failed in this three-fold awareness.

  • 1982 J. Vance Lost Moons 11 Jack Vance

    Specifically, in regard to the stories: THE WORLD-THINKER is my first published story. DREAM CASTLES, SABOTAGE ON SULFUR PLANET, POTTERS OF FIRSK (with its smarmy ending) came while I was trying to produce gadget stories.

  • 1990 R. Terra Science Fiction from China (review) in New York Review of Science Fiction (#22) June 17/1 page image Richard Terra bibliography

    Wang Xiaoda’s ‘The Mysterious Wave’ is a gadget story par excellence. It includes all the standard elements: a virtuous military-type hero, a ridiculous but nifty-sounding psuedo-scientific [sic] apparatus (‘information waves’ which create false perceptions of sight, sound and smell), a brilliant elderly scientist and his obligatory beautiful daughter, and a nasty enemy spy. Aside from its left-leaning politics Wang’s story could have appeared in any American sf pulp magazine from 1920 to 1950 or so.

  • 2013 L. Watt-Evans How to Write Like Stan Lee in Mind Candy 62 Lawrence Watt-Evans bibliography

    The second category of story was the gadget story, epitomized by Iron Man vs. Titanium Man, where each character, instead of punching the other through a wall, keeps pulling new gadgets out of his hat. ‘What? You withstood the full blast of my Bifurcated Invertebrator! Well, it will do you no good, because I have yet in reserve my dreaded Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum!’

Research requirements

antedating 1942

Earliest cite

'H.H. Holmes', 'Rocket to the Morgue'

Research History
Fred Galvin submitted a 1959 cite from Robert A. Heinlein in "The Science Fiction Novel".
Fred Galvin submitted a 1948 cite from a letter by Marion "Astra" Zimmer in Startling Stories.
Fred Galvin submitted a cite from a 1975 reprint of "H. H. Holmes's" "Rocket to the Morgue"; Steve & Denise Hight verified this in the 1942 first edition (H.H Holmes was a pseudonym of William Anthony Parker White aka 'Anthony Boucher')
Fred Galvin submitted a 1982 cite from Jack Vance's "Lost Moons".
Fred Galvin submitted a 1953 cite from L. Sprague de Camp's "Science-Fiction Handbook".
Fred Galvin submitted a 1951 cite from a review by Groff Conklin in Galaxy.
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a 2013 cite from Lawrence Watt-Evans.
Ben Ostrowsky submitted a 1990 cite from Richard Terra.

Last modified 2021-12-01 18:04:13
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.