If you start getting into the more academic areas of science fiction criticism, then you’re going to have to get used to dealing with essays. Much academic criticism comes in the form of essays (come to think of it, many books are really compilations of essays). Some of these are heavy going (there are always academics who like to use highly technical jargon), but fewer than you’d think, and when you read them on a regular basis you’ll find that very often the more important the essay, the more interesting the thing it has to say, the more clearly it is written.
If you really want to go down this route, you’ll probably subscribe to one or more of the academic journals in the field, like Extrapolation, Foundation, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts or Science Fiction Studies. They appear rather less regularly then they’d like to pretend, but there are usually three or even four issues per year, and each issue will contain a good handful of essays usually concentrating on a specific author or theme, and a bunch of reviews some of which will be long enough to count as essays in their own right.
To give you an idea of the range of ideas and writing styles that you are likely to encounter among essays on science fiction, here are a couple of reprint anthologies, both of which deserve a place on your shelves.
Speculations on Speculation edited by James Gunn and Matthew Candelaria contains 24 essays (the term is employed loosely, it includes extracts from books, introductions to books, talks and other pieces) by some of the best known writers in the field, including Barry N. Malzberg, Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brian Aldiss and Michael Swanwick. Among them you’ll find Darko Suvin on cognitive estrangement (which you’re going to have to deal with if you want to get anything our of academic sf criticism), David Hartwell’s famous “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is Twelve”, Colin Greenland on the New Wave, and so on.
Rob Latham’s more recent anthology, Science Fiction Criticism, is an even larger collection with 36 pieces. The range is more historical, including Hugo Gernsback’s introduction to the first issue of Amazing Stories, Mary Shelley’s account of how she came to write Frankenstein, J.G. Ballard on inner space, Philip K. Dick on androids and Gwyneth Jones on aliens. There are also some of the most famous essays in the academic criticism of sf, including Samuel R. Delany’s “About 5,750 Words”, Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto”, and Joanna Russ’s polemical piece on “The Image of Women in Science Fiction”.
It’s not always plain sailing, and you’re certainly not expected to agree with everything you read, but with these two books on your shelves you’ll have a reasonably good introduction to the history of academic sf criticism.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.