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Entry updated 12 August 2018. Tagged: Theme.

This entry deals with sf-based toys; for discussion of fictional toys, see Toys in SF.

From a commercial point of view, sf toys used to be traditionally more important than sf Games, and they have at least as long a history. They continue to be of greater commercial significance than Role Playing Games, WarGames or Gamebooks, but were outstripped by the popularity of the growing Videogame industry at some point during the 1990s.

Wind-up toy Robots had become popular by the mid-1950s, but they can be regarded as simply the latest incarnation of the "automata" that were being built as toys as early as the eighteenth century and celebrated in Proto-SF stories such as "Der Sandmann" ["The Sandman"] (comprising volume one of Nachtstücke, 1816) by E T A Hoffmann and "The Artist of the Beautiful" (June 1844 United States Magazine and Democratic Review) by Nathaniel Hawthorne. A late example is Gerald Kersh's "The King Who Collected Clocks" (3 May 1947 Saturday Evening Post).

An early example of merchandising based on Television sf was the spinoff of toys from the series Tom Corbett: Space Cadet (1950-1955). Marketing campaigns for toys connected to hit movies like the Star Wars sequence made many millions of dollars and became the target of angry opposition from parents and educators when, in the 1980s, they became connected to the sort of television shows often viewed by children on a Saturday morning – usually animated cartoons or animated puppet programmes. Three notable offenders were the sf television programmes Transformers (see Mecha), He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all of which, whatever their virtues as entertainment, could be seen as 25-minute advertisements designed to encourage children to put pressure on their parents to buy toys which would enable them, in play, to reproduce the on-screen adventures. All three programmes spawned feature-length films: The Transformers – The Movie (1986), Masters of the Universe (1987) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990).

An additional criticism, perhaps less securely based, is that many such programmes, including these three, encourage children to indulge in fantasies of violence. The commercial clout of these product-advertising programmes – not all of them sf (Care Bears is a non-sf example) – can be enormous, spawning major industries. The USA and Australia are among the worst offenders; the UK has some regulations designed to minimize this sort of advertising-masquerading-as-entertainment to a captive audience of children, and some European countries have banned such programmes altogether.

Toys, models and action figures, not invariably aimed at children, continue to spin off from Cinema, Comics and Television franchises. The magazine SFX has often included a relevant review feature, under such titles as "Collectables: Objects of Desire", which shows and appraises model characters, vehicles and gadgetry based on Doctor Who, Judge Dredd, Star Trek, Star Wars, Superman and other Superheroes, and the currently popular sf/fantasy films and series. [PN/MR/DRL/NT]

see also: Collectibles.

further reading

  • Leslie Singer. Zap! Ray Gun Classics (San Francisco, California: Chronicle Books, 1991) [nonfiction: chap: with many photographs of toys: pb/photographic]

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