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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Collection
Overall, I'm impressed by The Secret History of Science Fiction. The editors have done a good job of selecting stories that touch on the border between genre science fiction and "literary" fiction. Of the nineteen stories included, five were truly impressive works of brilliance, ten were well written and entertaining, two were confusing, and two were disappointing. I...
Published on March 2, 2010 by Douglas

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 'Let tambourines be struck above the copulations'
This is a battle that didn't need to be fought. The editors want 'SF' (for some reason they have a downer on the more user-friendly term scifi) to be accorded the same respect they think is given (unfairly, by implication) to 'literary' fiction. Crime fiction doesn't have this problem - John Le Carré is rated with the best - and struggling straight novelists would...
Published 16 months ago by Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso'


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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Collection, March 2, 2010
By 
Douglas (Charleston, South Carolina) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret History of Science Fiction (Paperback)
Overall, I'm impressed by The Secret History of Science Fiction. The editors have done a good job of selecting stories that touch on the border between genre science fiction and "literary" fiction. Of the nineteen stories included, five were truly impressive works of brilliance, ten were well written and entertaining, two were confusing, and two were disappointing. I should add that the ten I describe as "entertaining" would appear more impressive in a more common collection. Their light is only dimmed slightly by the incredible creativity of the five standouts in the collection.

The most impressive in the collection:
"The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", by Ursula K. Le Guin, is a story set in a utopia with a dark secret. Le Guin draws us to question the price of our happiness.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Your Crisis", by Kate Wilhelm, presents the future of "reality" television and the role it and other media may (or has) come to play in shaping human interaction in our safely cushioned civilization.

"The Nine Billion Names of God", by Carter Scholz, is a game of symbol and meaning played between a "writer" and an editor.

"Interlocking Pieces", by Molly Gloss, is a beautiful story about personal disaster, understanding, and acceptance.

"Buddha Nostril Bird", by John Kessel, is an adventure and a koan on identify and what it means to know.

I should add that I've only just finished the collection so it is more than likely that my understanding of these stories will grow as they continue to unfold in my mind. Several stories in this collection are truly works of genius and I probably don't do them justice with the descriptions above. I hope I've said enough that you'll give the collection a chance. If you're looking for stories that take risks and follow creativity wherever it leads, you won't be disappointed.

Two stories I found to be confusing:
"Standing Room Only", by Karen Joy Fowler, seems to be a simple story centering on a background character to Lincoln's assassination. I don't see anything in it that would cause me to label it "science fiction". It's well written but I just don't understand its inclusion in the collection. If you can tell me what I've missed I would be very grateful.

"93990", by George Saunders, is also well told but also left me suspecting I'd missed something. The author definitely succeeds at making me feel something and I think I understand the comment he's making about certain kinds of experiments. I'm just wondering if there's more to it, maybe something I'm missing.

The rest:
Most of the other stories in the collection are very well written but seem to lack that indescribable element that elevates the merely creative and clever to something more meaningful. For instance, "1016 to 1", by James Patrick Kelly, is well written and fun but reminds me too much of a childhood fantasy. Don't get me wrong, my interest did not waiver for a second as I read it. It's just that the ending left me wanting the something more that I found in the stories listed above. It's a fun story but looks less impressive beside "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" and "Interlocking Pieces".

I hope you'll get yourself a copy of this wonderful collection of some of the best fiction I've read in quite a while. I also hope Kelly and Kessel put together a second volume (they could start with something by Nancy Kress and go from there).
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The High Road to Science Fiction, February 14, 2011
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James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel want us to know about the respectable, literary side of science fiction. Although by no means ashamed of the hard science fiction, space opera, and center-of-genre stories of prototypical science fiction, they feel we should acknowledge the "li-fi" or literary efforts that blur the field's boundaries. To educate our reading palates, they have assembled these nineteen stories. They all qualify as science fiction, but that isn't the most important thing about any of them.

My favorite five of the nineteen:

Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" reminds us of the almost-hidden price we pay for our happy lives. We have choices about accepting the unacceptable.

Kate Wilhem's "Ladies and Gentleman, This is Your Crisis" is a Russian-doll story in which we watch two people spend a weekend watching a reality show. What could be less interesting?

Carter Scholz's retelling of "The Nine Billion Names of God" makes me even more tired of parlor-trick postmodernism than I was already. Impressive...

Molly Glass' "Interlocking Pieces" takes place just before an organ transplant. Despite legal restrictions, the recipient is driven to know the mind of the donor.

George Saunders' "93990" objectively reports a ten-day drug trial conducted using disposable lab animals. Such studies are necessary before drugs are used to alleviate the suffering of human beings.

The collection is recommended to science fiction fans and mainstream fans of good, thought-provoking stories. Although I like most of the stories, there are a couple that leave me cold. After a second reading, I still wonder why Gene Wolfe's "The Ziggurat" is so widely praised. Perhaps another reader will educate my sensibilities about this story--I am willing to admit I am missing something. Perhaps such a collection should contain a story or two that readers have to worry over. It's worth the time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Hey, you got literary fiction in my SF!" -- "You got SF in my literary fiction!", April 15, 2013
This review is from: The Secret History of Science Fiction (Paperback)
What if there was no boundary between the lands of literary fiction and science fiction? The premise of this anthology is to collect stories that straddle that frontier, and that perhaps stand as evidence that the line separating the two lands is fading out of existence. Thus, some of the authors in the volume are mainstream writers who have ventured into science fiction, while others are generally identified as SF writers even though their work has those qualities more often found in literary fiction: concentration on character and a graceful, sophisticated writing style.

This isn't an altogether new idea. Judith Merril's Year's Best SF series, which ran (under varying titles) from 1956 to 1968, was noted for including stories from writers outside traditional SF circles: John Steinbeck, Bernard Malamud, James T. Farrell, Isaac Bashevis Singer, to name a few.

Likewise, the hope that "the walls that separate the mainstream from science fiction are, in fact, crumbling" (to quote this book's introduction), is a hope with a long lineage. But whether or not that hope is finally coming true, the real "point" of this anthology is simply that it contains some darned-well-written SF.

Some notes on a few selected stories:

"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. LeGuin is something of a classic, and has been reprinted in high profile mainstream collections such as The Art of the Short Story. And it's deservedly a classic; bold in style and chilling in content.

"Ladies and Gentlemen This Is Your Crisis" by Kate Wilhelm presents an interesting question: Can absolutely stellar writing -- up to the best standards of any literary fiction -- make a good story out of a tired old SF idea? The tired old idea here is reality TV in which contestants fight for their lives, and for me, the answer to the question is a reluctant "no".

"Standing Room Only" by Karen Joy Fowler is a story about some of the people involved in the assasination of Abraham Lincoln, with whisper-subtle hints of time-traveling tourists. So that's an example of one way that literary fiction can blend with SF: turn down the volume on the SF elements and let the human story come to the foreground. It's a workable plan, though in this case I found the human story rather unengaging.

George Saunders (recently a resident of best-seller lists with his Tenth of December) is a mainstream literary writer whose short stories are often unabashed SF. "93990" is one such story, and is typical for him in its excellent writing and its brutal, even repellent, darkness.

"Frankenstein's Daughter" by Maureen F. McHugh was the real "find" in this anthology for me. A story that at first seems a straightforward piece of modern SF, as it goes along it soars into realms of sensitivity and hard-hitting emotional honesty that are rarely, if ever, seen in the work of any other SF writer. After reading this I sought out more of McHugh's work, and my opinion of her has only increased.

"Schwarzschild Radius" by Connie Willis is, on the surface, simply a piece of historical fiction, obliquely touching on a few moments in the life of the physicist of the title. But in reality it's a work of intelligence, power, and stunning artistry; a story of gem-like perfection.

"The Ziggurat" by Gene Wolfe strikes me as an example of how mixing SF and literary fiction can go wrong. A man is going through an acrimonious divorce when his life is further complicated by some trigger-happy time travelers. Thanks to clumsy writing, the "mix" works out something like stirring paint into cake batter -- the two things have nothing to do with each other and the result is a mess.

So as you can see, there were some hits and some misses in this anthology for me. But overall I thought the book was an eminently worthwhile read. It provides a fascinating view of this mingling-point between two branches of literature, and it contains some darn good stories too.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Intro to Sci Fi Authors, Very Good, November 13, 2014
This review is from: The Secret History of Science Fiction (Paperback)
I received this book as a gift, did not know anything about it before picking it up. I am an avid reader, but science fiction is one of the areas I have read the least in. This collection convinced me to change that . . .

Some things I really like about this collection:

Before each story, there are two quotes talking about science fiction and genre. These were really great insights into the writers. In many collections, these quotes are worthless throwaways. Not so here, much of it was thought provoking and new to me.

Out of the 19 stories, I've read works by only one of the authors before - so a true newcomer. This is a great introduction to works of authors. Here are my two favorites, by far:

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, Le Guin: By far, my favorite. Worth the price of the book, the shortest story of the bunch. Can't wait to put this in front of more people, just a great take on life, storytelling, and layers of truth. Stands out as one of my favorite short stories ever now and one that I will return to.

The Ziggurat, Wolfe: This is an odd story involving a custody dispute and . . . some science fiction. I'm not sure if I can point to exactly what it is, but its awesome. Some of the best writing and storytelling I have come across. Many Gene Wolfe books are now on their way to my house . . .

One more of honorable mention: Angouleme, Disch: Bizarre, interesting, mysterious. I didn't love this story, the first in the collection, but I think might eventually. It's stuck with me and there is definitely more beneath the surface.

All in all, a great collection, a great intro to some modern science fiction authors. Highly Recommended.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 'Let tambourines be struck above the copulations', September 25, 2013
This review is from: The Secret History of Science Fiction (Paperback)
This is a battle that didn't need to be fought. The editors want 'SF' (for some reason they have a downer on the more user-friendly term scifi) to be accorded the same respect they think is given (unfairly, by implication) to 'literary' fiction. Crime fiction doesn't have this problem - John Le Carré is rated with the best - and struggling straight novelists would surely disagree when they survey the cosy niche that is genre. There's a reason popular culture is called popular! Mainstream genre is a contradiction in terms, a category error or simple fantasy. It is individual works that pass into the wider consciousness - and, yes, then they lose that confining tag

This collection of scifi with literary aspirations consists in practice of writers in other fields who've dipped a toe into genre or of genre writers either piching for intellectual respectability, sometimes embarrassingly so, or whom the editors deem to be doing so. By confining themselves to (what one must presume to be) living, though mainly quite elderly, North American writers, the editors exclude JG Ballard, on two counts. But the literati must be presumed to have discovered him on their own

For the record, the two best-written stories here (sadly, not otherwise memorable) are by women, Molly Gloss, misprinted Glass(!), and Connie Willis. For the rest, stylistically the stories are pitifully thin and several galaxies away from serious writing; I confess I was bored out of my skull. But honestly, well-written genre? It stands tall on its own terms - we don't read it for its prose but precisely for its generic qualities, which strictly literary values have a tendency anyway to neutralise

Not convinced? Peter Swirski's tawdry polemic From Lowbrow to Nobrow might persuade you. But given these underlying editorial assumptions, were the moral concerns of Carol Emshwiller insufficiently literary to merit her inclusion? (I have just discovered her. She is a Tachyon author. And she writes like an angel.) More pertinently still, maverick - self-styled 'crossgenred' - Kit Reed, 'too fantastical for most literati and too literary for most fans of the fantastic' (Financial Times) is, surely, a prima facie a perfect fit for a collection such as this. Would Connie Willis not agree?
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing., April 9, 2013
By 
Louisa Lu (St. Louis, MO) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Secret History of Science Fiction (Paperback)
Instead of truly crossing genres, the stories are mostly not science fiction at all. They are stories with small fantastical elements to them. The bulk of these are mired in descriptive imagery with little plot or character development or any redeeming qualities. Basically, a bunch of flowery fluff and no meat to the story. "Short" stories isn't supposed to mean underdeveloped. There are many famous authors in this book, but none of these are on par with their more famous work. Skip this collection.
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The Secret History of Science Fiction
The Secret History of Science Fiction by James Patrick Kelly (Paperback - October 1, 2009)
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