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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Just Finished Reading: Science Fiction – A Very Short Introduction by David Seed

It may seem strange that, after almost 40 years of reading SF I read an introduction to the genre. I picked this book up (actually from Amazon) for several reasons but primarily, I suppose, to see if my interpretation of SF tallied with someone who has studied it academically. Now I certainly regard myself as widely read in SF (if not widely read overall) as I am familiar with many of the classics as well as both individual books and authors deemed by many to be seminal. Most of these I read in my teens and twenties decades before I started this Blog so you’ll see precious little reference here to Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Harrison or any of the greats of SF (oddly I was discussing the relative merits of E E ‘Doc’ Smith today with a fellow SF buff at work) but nevertheless I have read them (and in many cases still have the paperbacks on my shelves.

But, as always, I digress. As most such things do, this 130 page introduction began with the thorny issues of definition – only to sidestep the issue completely! I’m not entirely sure if this was a good start or not! He then basically dived into discussions of various sub-genres – Space Voyages (where it arguably all started), encounters with aliens, the use and abuse of technology, utopias and dystopias and finishing off with time-travel. As you can imagine in such a short volume much was glossed over and even more was missed out. On the whole, with a few notable exceptions, the author concentrated very much on the early examples of each sub-genre and then jumped to the much more modern – jumping from pulp to movies in the process. As a professor of American literature he also expended much more time and words on the American side of things – which is largely understandable as SF is pretty much a US field of endeavour. The few notable mistakes I noticed – regarding the Alien movie franchise mostly – might have been due to my relative ignorance of the American pulp scene but did make me wonder if experts in that filed would have taken him to task there too. He also, which seems to be expected these days, spent a great deal of time, mostly in the last section fortunately, looking at things from post-modern, feminist and Marxist perspectives which I found mostly to be twaddle, but maybe that’s just me….. Overall this wasn’t a bad little book and quite probably would encourage someone with a vague interest in the subject to dig a little deeper. Reasonable. 

2 comments:

dbackdad said...

While I agree it is largely an American field, some of my favorites came from over there ... Clarke early in my life, Banks now.

I just went to the big used book sale that we go to every year and found several classics by Cherryh and Kim Stanley Robinson, two authors I had not read before. Plus a cool illustrated encyclopedia of the history of Science Fiction. I'll write up a blog post with a few more details of my haul.

I have never read EE Smith, but am well aware of his importance. I need to read something of his. I'm pretty proud of the fact that when I was researching the top "classic" sci-fi books before going to the sale, I had read a surprisingly high number of them.

CyberKitten said...

dbackdad said: some of my favorites came from over there ... Clarke early in my life, Banks now.

There's definitely some great British & European SF authors. Clarke, Wells & Banks are certainly among them.

dbackdad said: I'll write up a blog post with a few more details of my haul.

I'll look out for it.

dbackdad said: I have never read EE Smith, but am well aware of his importance. I need to read something of his.

I read him in my mid-teens and he blew me away. Not sure how he would read now after I've read so much more sophisticated stuff since then.

dbackdad said: I'm pretty proud of the fact that when I was researching the top "classic" sci-fi books before going to the sale, I had read a surprisingly high number of them.

I'll have to post a list of my classics at some point so we can compare notes. [grin]