Doctorow's brief article/review is based on the work of science fiction historian Joshua Glenn, who defines the "Radium Age" as follows:
One thing that distinguishes Radium Age [1904-1933] from Golden Age science fiction is its faith in the possibility of a post-scarcity, peaceful, tolerant, just social order.
Then Glenn writes:
But the Radium Age wasn’t naive: We find many warnings about dystopian tendencies in the cultural, political, and economic tendencies of the period: Karel Capek and Aldous Huxley worried about the drive towards efficiency in all things that characterized both America and the USSR; Yevgeny Zamyatin and Edgar Rice Burroughs worried about the effects of Soviet-style collectivism on the individual; and Jack London's “The Iron Heel” (1908), which is about fascist plutocrats who take over America, feels particularly relevant right now.Which is it? If anything, Radium Age science fiction is full of dire projections: H.P. Lovecraft, R.E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Capek's War with the Newts... Dire projections indeed. If anything, "Golden Age" science fiction material was the voice of optimism, and it was the late-60s New Wave (embracing Kubrick, as well), that restored the darker view of things (and which, ironically, perhaps, was a midwife to the "utopian" promise of postmodernism...)
That is, if we can generalize about such matters. Suffice it to say that there is optimism and pessimism in all "historical periods" (I am wont to insert a "tra la" here), and that moreover the thing to watch out for is the phenomenon of unrealistic optimism--again as an example, take the utopian song and dance routine that went along with postmodernism when that shiny corrosive began raining down on our Beatles-blasted heads.