Sci Fi Fan? or Sci Fi Curious? Either Way, This Book’s for You

14 Aug

A few years ago, while attending a conference at the Center for Science Fiction Studies in Lawrence, Kansas, I found myself sitting next to Arthur B. Evans at lunch. I had never met him before and wasn’t familiar with his work, but we soon began comparing notes on teaching science fiction–myself at Fullerton College in California and Evans at DePauw University. He mentioned that he was working on a science fiction anthology, which I found intriguing. There are a lot of good science fiction anthologies out there, but most of them are pretty limited to just the twentieth century or to just one type of SF or another. Some combine SF with fantasy. James Gunn’s The Road to Science Fiction is impressive, but encyclopedic (more than 5 volumes, I think) and so not practical for classroom use. The anthology I needed for my classes had to be broad in its coverage but not so huge that I couldn’t justify making students pay for a book they’d only read a piece of. So far, I hadn’t found one, and I was hopeful that Evans’ project would get off the ground.

When it was time to order books for my most recent science fiction class, I was pleased to find the Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, edited by Arthur Evans and others. At 792 pages, the book includes SF from the early 1800s through 2008 and provides excellent coverage of the development of the genre–from the period long before it was called science fiction, through the pulp era, and into the more complex and sophisticated writing of the New Wave and more recent developments.

Fans of SF who think they know the genre because they’ve been reading what’s hip for the last twenty years or so will likely get a pleasant surprise from some of the earlier stories–pieces by Alfred Bester, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Sheckley, and others. Fans of Star Wars will likely see an uncanny connection between Han Solo and the hero of C.L. Moore’s “Shambleau” (1933). And I challenge anyone to read E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” (1909) and still think the same way about the internet and their Facebook page.

Sure, there are some stories left out–most notably Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations,” Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” and Asimov’s “Nightfall,” but those are the kinds of things you’ll find in just about any general SF anthology. What you’re not likely to find, though, are pieces like Frederik Pohl’s “Day Million” or Robert Silverberg’s “Passengers” or James Tiptree Jr.’s “And I Awoke and Found Me Here On the Cold Hill’s Side”–all worthy of the attention they got when they were first published, and now waiting for new fans to discover them.

And isn’t that what a good collection should do–expose readers to things they didn’t already know, hadn’t already read, maybe hadn’t even heard of? Pick this one up. You won’t regret it.

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