01/10/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Garland Publishing, 1980. 416 page hardback. Price: varies a lot, you'll have to search around on the second hand book websites like www.abebooks.com and www.albris.com for the best deal. ISBN: 0-8240-1446-4.
When I was reading 'Pioneers Of Wonder: Conversations With The Founders Of Science Fiction' by Eric Leif Davin last month, I came across a reference to 'The World Of Science Fiction, 1926-1976' by Lester Del Rey. With a little poking around, I managed to get a copy at a reasonable price. Just over £12 with a bit more for postage. The cover illustrated doesn't mean that's what you'll get by the way.
For a subject that is discussed a lot, Science Fiction doesn't have that many books about the subject. The number of books in my own collection barely fills a cupboard shelf and these are the well-known ones like those put together by Reginald Bretnor, which are also recommended reading.
Lester Del Rey's book about the first fifty years of Science Fiction, specifically that of America, is an important read. Mostly because he was there and involved so it's first hand experience and its combined with the knowledge of the magazines and books released as well as its developing fandom. Reading his story summaries, I was amazed by how many of them I'd actually read as a youngster when they were released in paperback or Doubleday editions at the library. The early SF conventions were hardly big affairs but it shows their growth and development.
His last few chapters drew some very interesting conclusions which I also mostly agreed with. Del Rey compared other genres of fiction to Science Fiction and observes that other than maybe an update in dialogue and social behaviour, the stories would work in any era. SF, on the other hand, is the fiction of tomorrow and needs to look at how technology and change affects us. His statement from 1980 still holds sway some thirty years later. It should certainly be something publishers' editors need to read and remind themselves why SF shouldn't be drawn into the general genres but allowed to develop in its own way on the edge of what we're developing today. Indeed, a lot of what we have today has its roots in Science Fiction. Editor John Campbell might have been a little wacky towards the end on some subjects but the magazines he edited also featured a lot of science articles that encouraged the upcoming generation to make a career of science. These days, with science mags having their own foothold, it's no wonder that those with an interest in both camps are seen as a little odd.
Although we are perceived as denizens looking towards the future, I also think it important that we keep our eyes on the past as well and remember our own origins. With books such as these no longer in print, copies should be kept amongst us, read and remembered and passed onto the next generation. Without a history, our own roots would be shallow indeed.
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