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The Secret History Of Science Fiction edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

01/11/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Secret History Of Science Fiction in the USA - or Buy The Secret History Of Science Fiction in the UK

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pub: Tachyon. 381 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-892391-93-3.

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The lengthy introduction explores what happened in 1973 when instead of Arthur C. Clarke's 'Rendezvous With Rama' winning the Nebula Award, Thomas Pynchon's 'Gravity's Rainbow' wins instead. Nope! I've never heard of it until now neither. As Pynchon is supposed to be a mainstream rather than SF author, the consequences are that Science Fiction merges into mainstream and SF authors are accepted as being capable of writing mainstream stories. The consequences of that is this book, 'The Secret History Of Science Fiction' and a chance for nineteen authors to switch genres. In a way, its sorta like the situation we have today where mainstream authors do a Science Fiction story but deny its SF, just speculative as they don't wish to be clogged by genre definitions. Personally, if any author wants to tackle a different genre I think it's up to them and their publishers to see if they're capable, not the other way around. If there's a problem with name linked to genre, then pseudonyms is a solution. Good stories will out as witnessed by Stephen King as Richard Bachman and he didn't even switch genres, just wanted a different name on the horror shelf. If anything, King compounded his own problem for a while.

Anyway, if you want to see a selection of SF authors writing more in the mainstream light than this book should have some appeal to you.

The depiction of a reality survival TV show is seen through the eyes of an American couple in Kate Wilhem's 'Ladies And Gentlemen, This Is Your Crisis'. I'm not a fan of reality shows and this American couple's habits are far worse than whatever is on the box by the looks of things.

T.C. Boyle's 'Descent Of Man' approaches a more SF theme where an intelligent sign-speaking chimp breaks up a relationship after being invited to dinner.

A pair of very short stories are actually very funny. Margaret Atwood's 'Homelanding' looks at humans and their physiology and sociology from an extract point of view and actually gets away with doing it as a list. Carter Scholz' 'The Nine Billion Names Of God' is the correspondence between a SF writer and an editor where the former is trying to convince the latter that he hasn't copied the Arthur C. Clarke story verbatim and the appendium explains a different meaning to the words. Exasperating desperate and not one to try yourselves, kiddies.

Molly Glass' 'Interlocking Pieces' is set in the future where people need replacement surgery from those who are shortly going to die. Nothing different here, except this is a government minister determined to meet her donor before he dies of natural causes. The atmosphere here is truly emotional but not for the reasons you suppose.

'1016 To 1' by James Patrick Kelly is set in the 60s with a twelve year-old SF fan befriends an apparent time traveller. Nicely placed out as an SF story, it does beggar the question as to whether SF fans of any age will accept the fantastic to be true first before any other option unless Kelly is suggesting that gullibility might go hand in hand with our interest. Nice story but I'm not sure it needs deep analysis. His quote at the beginning about SF realities looking too complex for new readers will be examined elsewhere.

Another number story is '93990' by George Saunders watching with scientific detachment of experimental drugs used on some colobus monkeys. Definitely not for the squeamish.

Looking at all these stories collectively, it looks like I've concentrated solely on SF stories in the volume. For the record, I tend to focus first on story, if I liked it and then at who wrote it. If anything, the SF authors fared badly with mainstream and the mainstream authors didn't do too badly with SF. Is this a vindication that anyone can write SF or purely good storytelling will win out? It could also be that some writers were just trying too hard and did what they thought was right for a particular genre and threw away their rulebook as to how to tell a story. With short stories that's especially true when they just treat it as a small novel and forget the strength of a sharp ending. If anything, the verdict is still out. Likewise, I doubt it will influence mainstream readers to accept Science Fiction until they understand its more about bigger concepts than rockets and aliens.

GF Willmetts

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