Bewildering Stories

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History of Science Fiction:
Some Recommended Works

by Gerardo Brandariz

In addition to the consideration of Pangborn in issue 63, Gerardo recommends some works important to the history of science fiction. Again, excerpted from the Asimov’s forum.

There is a third Asimov autobiographical volume, I. Asimov: a Memoir. Published posthumously by his wife Janet, it’s a much more personal and less elaborate work. Like Heinlein’s Grumbles From The Grave, it doesn’t make for easy, light reading, but you get to know the man like you never did before. Lots of documents, too.

Isaac Asimov has a volume called Asimov on Science Fiction (1981, based on a series of articles). Theme-oriented, very personal as usual, it’s full of little details and anecdotes.

A must no one seems to recall these days is Seekers of Tomorrow, by anthologist and essayist Sam Moskowitz. Not entirely accurate, and rather outdated (1967), but it has excellent and very interesting chapters on most major writers of the first half of the 20th century, including some that are still with us, like Jack Williamson and Frederik Pohl.

Another author you mustn’t miss is Mike Ashley. His three-part The History of the Science Fiction Magazine, for example, not only anthologizes some of the best stories of the time (they cover from 1926 to 1955) but also many good ones that have been all but forgotten. And his historical essays (he calls them Prefaces!) take up half of each volume. Incredible detail, and as far as I can tell, very accurate and unbiased.

There are many books that focus on specific subjects and are worth a look. For example, the Clarke/Kubrick film 2001 has three companion volumes: the original novelization, The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, by Jerome Agel (full of technical details, and also how wild ideas coalesced into a solid movie), and Clarke’s The Lost Worlds of 2001 (where he recounts all the alternate characters, situations and endings he considered as the script evolved. It includes a lot of never-used text).

Finally, there’s a curious book that also needs reading: New Maps of Hell, by Kingsley Amis (funny that nowadays you have to explain that he was the father of Martin Amis). It is a literary critic’s work, even political at times. Expect more opinion than fact. Some of it is controversial, some outdated (published 1960). You can hate the man all you want, but he loved SF and wanted it to become better, not to sweep it away as many literati do.

In fact, he does a great job at pointing out good stories and writers, bringing them to the attention of the general public (“Look what you’re missing!”). And, alone among his peers, he remarks how necessary SF is for our culture, the constant search and examination of present and futures, the encouragement and the warnings it can give. That attitude alone justifies reading him.

Copyright © 2003 by Gerardo Brandariz

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