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Science Fiction: The Academy Awakening edited by Willis E. McNelly

01/10/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Science Fiction The Academy Awakening in the USA - or Buy Science Fiction The Academy Awakening in the UK

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pub: The College English Association Inc, 1974. 59 page booklet. Price: depends on where you look).

It's inevitable that when you look at the bibliographies in books on Science Fiction that you want to look at some of the books noted or is that just me? Anyway, with the access the Internet can give you to second hand books, you can be intrigued or puzzled at the variable price which probably tells more about the number of copies available than the content. With reviews, I can at least give an appreciation of what's inside, when I can afford to go after any, let alone fit them in my reading schedule. If you get the same inkling, keep a list of books you're interested in and be patient. Some nice bookseller will sell at a reasonable price and if the others watch them cheaper copies go and theirs languish wherever they are, then they might reappraise their prices to something that will actually sell and not be deadweight stock.

The academic books on Science Fiction give insight into our genre. Back in the middle of the last century, it also gives insight from the SF authors from that time as well. This book, 'Science Fiction: The Academy Awakening' is from the time when universities were opening up and giving courses on SF, which has now become a little more commonplace. The main question then was to find a definition for the subject, presumably to keep out the subjects that it wasn't. In that respect, I'm not entirely sure if this book succeeds mostly because no answer is the same. When you have the likes of luminaries like Jack Williamson, Gregory Benford, Brian Aldiss, Harry Harrison, Harlan Ellison and Philip Dick not agreeing in their short articles, not to mention quotes from many other SF authors, confusion as much as insight entails.

The easy solution is to say that Science Fiction encases a wide definition that can't be locked down into a few words. From my own personal experience, I tend to define SF as being a story that stays within a particular rule structure created by its author unlike most fantasy which doesn't. Anything else, like how people cope with a situation or incredible scientific wonders is secondary to that. No doubt my definition alone will give you pause to ponder and debate which just goes to show the answer to what SF actually is hasn't really gone away.

Considering this booklet was used as an introductory to some SF courses, especially as it has a bibliography and an overview of Science Fiction at time, I suspect it was left to the tutors to debate this problem in the classes. Will you get any insight from this book? Some I expect, although it depends on what you're looking for. Should it be lost to the annuls of time? Definitely not! People need to be reminded about how much SF encompasses and even those who practice within the subject have in defining it. Considering its original sale price back in 1974 was $2.00, then I wouldn't go too mad paying over the odds for it.

GF Willmetts

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