Looking for a book on the history of science fiction literature.
January 31, 2011 11:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm working with an English teacher that has a speculative fiction class for seniors in high school. He’s looking for a book (possibly something he would use as a supplement in class but also for his own personal reading) on the history of science fiction literature. He’s looking for something that is a retrospective and contains some literary criticism (optional). It can be a textbook but doesn’t necessarily need to be. There seems to be quite a few on Amazon but if I could get it narrowed down that would be great.
posted by crios to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think Adam Roberts's book Science Fiction from the New Critical Idiom series might be good for that age group. I've used it with college freshmen in a first-year writing course. Roberts cites a lot of different approaches and has pretty good coverage. (He's got a longer version, too, helpfully called The History of Science Fiction. Those are your best bets, I think.
posted by gerryblog at 12:04 PM on January 31, 2011

It's been many years since I read it, but I thought it was good at the time and it's close to what you describe: Carl Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction
posted by oddman at 12:05 PM on January 31, 2011

I haven't found a great book-length history of SF for my teaching, so I'll be watching this thread with interest in case I've missed one, but here are some other things that might help.

Web resources: The Wikipedia article on History of science fiction is actually pretty good, and at least will give you a strong sense of how many different debatable "precursors" and starting-points are always coming up in such discussions. SFS, the chief SF-centered scholarly journal, has a lot of good material online; taking a look over their Chronologies and Bibliographies will help, as might this interesting article on the historical boundaries of the genre by seminal SF scholar Darko Suvin.

Books: The best critical readers are Speculations on Speculation and The Cambridge Companion to SF. The Cambridge volume has better-organized historical overviews and more complete coverage, but Speculations is a more interesting overall critical selection in my opinion. There are also some great historical articles, though not chronologically organized, in the Clute/Nicholls Encyclopedia of SF.
posted by RogerB at 12:13 PM on January 31, 2011

Ditto RogerB: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (John Clute with Peter Nicholls).
posted by media_itoku at 1:09 PM on January 31, 2011

My husband took a class in in African American Science Fiction and one of the books they had for the class was Dark Matter, Reading the Bones which contains an introduction and then a Transcription of a Panel at the 1997 Black Speculative Fiction Writers Conference which includes the ideas of several science fiction writers.
posted by aetg at 1:48 PM on January 31, 2011

I don't think a book is really going to do it--I can't think of a general history that adequately covers SF by women, for example. (The Secret Feminist Cabal is great on women's SF, but it's not a general history of SF.) And I can't think of a book at all that really focuses on SF by writers of color.

I know it's really easy to write/teach a history of SF that centers white men writing in English (and there's tons of great SF by white men writing in English to choose from...it's not like this approach leaves you bereft of material) but I don't think SF is complete without at least gesturing towards the long-time importance of women writers and the (ever-present, currently increasing) role of writers of color.

There's an anthology of African-American SF called Dark Matter that goes back to the 20s and contains some short but good critical notes.

I also really like the Norton Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ursula Le Guin (except for the absolutely inexplicable inclusion of the really, really racist "We See Things Differently") because it gives a great sense of some of the currents in science fiction from the 50s through the present. I'd say that although it is all short stories and very little critical material, reading it (the stories are all dated and given in chronological order) tremendously increased my understanding of what in fifties SF gave rise to the New Wave stuff of the sixties.

Darko Suvin is widely considered to be among the best theorists of science fiction. I've read very little of his work, so I wouldn't know, though.

Has your friend ever looked at Paradoxa or the Journal of Science Fiction Studies?

Boy, I wish I got to teach a HS science fiction class.
posted by Frowner at 1:52 PM on January 31, 2011

Should have previewed! I think Dark Matter, Reading the Bones is a companion to Dark Matter, which focuses on the US.
posted by Frowner at 1:54 PM on January 31, 2011

You may want to also take a look at The Dreams our Stuff is Made Of, which covers some history of SF as well as delving into some critical thought on the SF genre. It's not written for a strictly academic audience, though that may be a plus for a high school class.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:48 PM on January 31, 2011

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