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Reading Science Fiction edited by James Gunn, Marleen S. Barr & Matthew Candelaria

01/12/2008. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Reading Science Fiction in the USA - or Buy Reading Science Fiction in the UK

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pub: Palgrave Macmillan. 265 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: 16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-230-52718-8.

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The title of this book, 'Reading Science Fiction', must be some sort of give-away about the content. I mean, does it provide a reading list of books you should read. Yep! Is it comprehensive? Nope! So obviously something else is going on here from the start. As Tom Goodwin's 'The Cold Equation' short story is mentioned a lot by the different authors, if you haven't read it, I would earnestly suggest you find an anthology containing it. It's a popular short story choice so shouldn't be hard to find a copy.

Those of us who are into Science Fiction take its tropes or subjects pretty much in its stride. To those who don't, it can look confusing which might explain why SF readers look like something apart and why there is a gulf between us and them that can be hard for them to accept.

Although I doubt if them reading this book will provide greater understanding, much of the emphasis in the twenty chapters here is in how SF can be used as a learning subject. Probably the best example comes from Gregory Benford's chapter in giving engineering students a problem from an SF novel and see them working through the reality of it.

Interestingly, Benford also acknowledges how many SF authors do a 'cheat' to ensure the science works in a fictional reality. Part of me isn't quite so sure on that bit though. My definition of Science Fiction is based on authors adhering to a set of rules they create for their own reality and providing they don't violate their own rule structure then they aren't really cheating the reader.

The main topic running throughout this book is that Science Fiction is not fulfilling itself to the media and why there is such a gulf between its prose and interpretation in films and television where its brought down to western variation and chase. That one really gave me something to think about. By gum, they are right, aren't they? Look at how many of those plots are brought down to that in what you've watched. There's been much discussion on what makes SF Science Fiction but in the media, it can still be brought down to that with the SF element still being more a backdrop than its real intent.

It might be interesting to see if you can come up with SF films or TV SF series that is not dependent on either of those two themes. Of course, it could make its original prose look a little more highfalutin which it shouldn't because the real point depends on what the authors are about in their stories. Thankfully, this book side-steps going the arty-farty interpretation of analysis in any particular way. What it does do is showing the benefits of SF for particular groups of people. Be it in the classroom, in politics, the real sciences and general problem-solving. Unlike all the other genres, Science Fiction is the one area where the reader can go away and have a think and discuss various aspects of what is read than merely the social interaction of, say, in the soaps.

At this point, you should be saying, 'Here, here.' It is something that we already know because we read Science Fiction. What this book does is provide you with the ammunition to convince others to have a look-see as to whether it can also help their profession. If this book doesn't convince you to try then at the very least you're in for a very enlightening read.

GF Willmetts

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