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The History of Science Fiction (Palgrave Histories of Literature) Paperback – August 22, 2016
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Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2006
'As a professor of 19th-century literature as well as a prolific science fiction writer, Roberts is eminently qualified to write a history of the genre. This impressive tome is ambitious in its scope, tracing SF's origins back to the fantastic voyages of the ancient Greek novel - the original Vernean voyages extraordinaires.' - The Guardian
'Adam Roberts' 'History' is the most significant history of the genre since The Trillion Year Spree by Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove, published nearly two decades ago, and demonstrates the most original thinking about science fiction since Kingsley Amis's New Maps of Hell more than forty years ago. This isn't merely an excellent historical survey but a narrative, showing compellingly how modern science fiction has roots in the fantastic-voyage tales of antiquity, and has been shaped by a dialectic between magic and materialism that dates back to the Reformation...Adam Roberts is already a proven author of high-quality science fiction. With 'History' he establishes himself as the most important critical voice in modern science fiction studies.' - Stephen Baxter, Current Vice President, The British Science Fiction Association and Author of Timelike Infinity and Voyage
'[A] refreshingly irreverent attempt to look at science fiction without blinkers.' - Strange Horizons
'The History of Science Fiction is a necessary and important book. It will get people talking, discussing and - dare I say it? - arguing about all manner of things relevant to science fiction, its history and its future.' - Green Man Review
'...the lasting impressions left by this History of Science Fiction are of the author's eye for detail, his understanding of the pervasiveness of the science fiction in contemporary culture, and his astonishing critical energy.' - Patrick Parrinder, The British Society for Literature and Science--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“This immensely readable critical survey combines a strong thesis with engaged, provocative and often highly original accounts of an astonishing range and variety of texts. Now thoroughly revised and updated, it makes an indispensable contribution to literary history.” (Patrick Parrinder, Emeritus Professor, University of Reading, UK)
“The revised edition of Professor Roberts's History of Science Fiction is a truly comprehensive history of European and American SF. The second edition preserves most of the major arguments and interpretations from the first, and adds a wealth of new material. This is likely to become the standard work in the field.” (Lewis W. Call, author of “BDSM in American Science Fiction and Fantasy”)
“Roberts’s deft anatomisation of the evolution of science fiction, from deep roots in Ancient Greek literature to its present preeminence in popular culture, is remarkably wide-ranging and marvellously detailed. A meticulous, entertaining, essential critical resource.” (Paul McAuley, author of “Fairyland, The Quiet War, and Into Everywhere”)
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Roberts goes through the entire history of writing into the present day, covering everything like a research paper, with footnotes and works cited. Luckily, it's not a dry encyclopedia. Roberts assigns context and meaning as he writes. For example, he argues that Star Trek and Doctor Who led the entire science fiction genre away from text and into primarily a visual medium. That's worth thought and discussion, and much more of that is herein.
The amount of sheer data that is assembled in less than 500 pages is astonishing, and it's well worth sifting through. You might need to take breaks in between eras.
The best thing that this book will do is lead you to explore works you have not seen before or maybe even heard of.
This book is a second edition, and adds relatively recent stuff such as "Lost" and Marvel movies. I would recommend this to someone who doesn't know anything about science fiction as a means to know EVERYTHING about science fiction. Irritating your friends with vast realms of knowledge is highly underrated. (reviewed by Joe Crowe, [...])
Roberts' book is generally effective at mediating the line between popular and academic literature, though in a few places that becomes difficult. Starting around chapter 8 and in earnest with chapter 11 there is a lot of discussion post-modernism, Derrida, and reading "meta-texts". It can be hard to follow unless you happen to be one of his students. But on the whole the book is accessible to a wide audience of people who would usually be locked out of books assuming an academic quality. That accessibility of tone is mirrored in his extension of science fiction in diverse mediums including taking seriously what is produced by science fiction fandom itself.
Another reviewer used the phrase "even-handed" when describing Roberts' discussion of opinions that differ from his own. I found that to be an apt description. He presents his thesis clearly and presents, at least in my mind, a credible and well reasoned defense based on evidence in science fiction literature. In addition he is also very clear about what it is he is arguing for and what his opinions are biases are. I find that kind of honesty refreshing because it gives the reader a wide latitude to disagree and ways to articulate disagreement. In that sense, the book is almost conversational in a way many academic books are not. Also there is a great deal of dry humor mixed in with some of this critical judgements that liven up the text.
So in short, I heartily recommend this book. Not because you will be persuaded necessarily of its premise, but because it is engaging, thought provoking, and amusing. You will think a lot and probably disagree much, but ultimately I believe it will be time well spent whether you are an academic or a fan.
While being an excellent survey of the history and also an introduction to the genre, it can also be used as a reference if someone wants to find new and interesting authors to read. Roberts has read a truly astonishing amount of SF, including non-English works (although his most obvious weakness is in that area; for instance, even though he praises Stanislaw Lem as the greatest European SF author of the late 20th century, I suspect he's never read anything by him except Solaris, which is a big miss), and he gives more than a laundry list of titles, making his preferences and recommendations clear.
All in all, a book well worth its price!
Yes, there is some good information here, but like trying to find treasure with a metal detector, it is just too much work. Since it is a gift I will have to keep it, but alas, it will gather dust in my library.