A set of six stamps issued by Royal Mail on April 15 celebrated Classic Science Fiction, roughly coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the death of H G Wells and the 70th anniversary of the publication of The Day of the Triffids.

The term ‘science fiction’ came into use at the end of the 1920s, for a style of literature which engaged with the rapid technological change of the day, and encouraged readers to imagine where it might lead. Some of what are now considered classics of the genre, however, were written long before then.

British writers have always been at the forefront of science fiction, and the stamps feature visual interpretations of six different books. Specially commissioned from six different artists, they take contrasting approaches, from the illustrative to the abstract.

Coordinated by Webb & Webb Design, the issue was printed in litho by International Security Printers in sheets of 60, divided into two panes of 30. The stamps are available in three horizonal se-tenant pairs.

 

1st class FRANKENSTEIN BY MARY SHELLEY

Published in 1818, and considered by many to be the first science fiction novel, this is the story of a doctor who creates a living creature through galvanism (appying an electic current to dead biological organisms). He comes to regret what he has done, as he and his family are haunted by the unhappy monster.

Illustration by Sabina Šinko.

1st class THE TIME MACHINE BY H G WELLS

Published in 1895, Wells’ first novella is credited with popularising the concept of time travel. Its vision of the distant future includes a satirical comment on class division, with the prospect that it might lead to the evolution of separate species, and a portent of the death of the planet.

Illustration by Francisco Rodríguez.

£1.70 BRAVE NEW WORLD BY ALDOUS HUXLEY

Published in 1932, this novel diverged from utopian visions of the future and described a dystopia, a world state in which people are engineered in artificial wombs, indoctrinated as children and controlled by drugs, suffocating the human spirit. Those who rebel are exiled to reservations outside the state, where life can be savage and cruel.

Illustration by Thomas Danthony.

£1.70 THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS BY JOHN WYNDHAM

Published in 1951, this work of post-apocalyptic fiction features a bioengineered species of plant which is venomous and carnivorous, and can move around. Triffids are carefully and safely cultivated as a source of oil, until most humans are blinded by something resembling a meteor shower and the plants escape from their farms to terrorise the world.

Illustration by Mick Brownfield.

£2.55 CHILDHOOD’S END BY ARTHUR C CLARKE

Published in 1953, this novel describes the Earth being taken under the long-term control of aliens, a benign regime but one in which culture stagnates. Several generations later, children begin to develop special mental powers and group consciousness, becoming a new type of human ready to leave the Earth and join a cosmic amalgamation of civilisations.

Illustration by Matt Murphy.

£2.55 SHIKASTA BY DORIS LESSING

Published in 1979, this novel is in the genre of ‘soft science fiction’, with its focus on moral and cultural issues rather than science and technology. Full of religious allegory, it recounts a history of a planet (the Earth under a different name) driven almost to destruction by a struggle between good and evil, amid the colonial influences of three galactic empires.

Illustration by Sarah Jones.

OTHER PRODUCTS

Written by writer and academic Roger Luckhurst, the presentation pack relives some key moments in the evolution of the science fiction genre. 

The illustrations feature interpretations of the subgenres of the six books featured on the stamps.

 

PRICES

Set of 6 stamps £10.20

Presentation pack   £11.10

First day cover   £12.90

Stamp cards   £2.70

 

VERDICT

COMMEMORATIVE WORTH   4/5

British sci-fi writing has had worldwide influence and deserves to be celebrated

QUALITY OF DESIGN   4/5

Commissioned artwork is much more intruguing than images of book covers

WOW FACTOR   3/5

Most of these designs would catch the eye on your incoming mail