Best Books About Science Fiction

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Our crowd ranked version of the Best Books About Science Fiction list on the main site. These are NON-FICTION works about Science Fiction: autobiographies, essays, and other works that are not SF but ABOUT SF in some way.
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1

H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life

by Michael Sherborne

An unlikely lothario, one of the most successful writers of his time, a figure at the heart of the age's political and artistic debates—H. G. Wells' life is a great story in its own right
 
When H. G. Wells left school in 1880 at 13 he seemed destined for obscurity—yet he defied expectations, becoming one of the most famous writers in the world. He wrote classic science-fiction tales such as The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds; reinvented the Dickensian novel in Kipps and The History of Mr Polly; pioneered postmodernism in experimental fiction; and harangued his contemporaries in polemics which included two bestselling histories of the world. He brought equal energy to his outrageously promiscuous love life—a series of affairs embraced distinguished authors such as Dorothy Richardson and Rebecca West, the gun-toting travel writer Odette Keun, and Russian spy Moura Budberg. Until his death in 1946 Wells had artistic and ideological confrontations with everyone from Henry James to George Orwell, from Churchill to Stalin. He remains a controversial figure, attacked by some as a philistine, sexist, and racist, praised by others as a great writer, a prophet of globalization, and a pioneer of human rights. Setting the record straight, this authoritative biography is the first full-scale account to include material from the long-suppressed skeleton correspondence with his mistresses and illegitimate daughter. 
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The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction

by Justine Larbalestier

3 avg rating
The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction is a lively account of the role of women and feminism in the development of American science fiction during its formative years, the mid-20th century. Beginning in 1926, with the publication of the first issue of Amazing Stories, Justine Larbalestier examines science fiction's engagement with questions of femininity, masculinity, sex and sexuality. She traces the debates over the place of women and feminism in science fiction as it emerged in stories, letters and articles in science fiction magazines and fanzines. The book culminates in the story of James Tiptree, Jr. and the eponymous Award. Tiptree was a successful science fiction writer of the 1970s who was later discovered to be a woman. Tiptree's easy acceptance by the male-dominated publishing arena of the time proved that there was no necessary difference in the way men and women wrote, but that there was a real difference in the way they were read.
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Benchmarks: Galaxy Bookshelf

by Algis Budrys

Over the years since 1965, Algis Budrys has emerged as the leading critic of mod­ern speculative fiction: insightful, ec­lectic, and notoriously uninhibited. Benchmarks collects the material that started it—all 54 Galaxy Bookshelf book-review columns Budrys created for the now-vanished Galaxy Magazine. Writ­ten for what was then the world’s leading SF periodical, these legendary summa­tions and summary judgments coincided with the period when newsstand-borne science fiction and fantasy were evolving from pulp toward literature. Budrys’ Galaxy reviews trace an incisive, some­times wickedly acerb path through that sparsely charted literary territory.

 

Budrys defines his standards and his function in his own words: “A book should he good. A bird should fly.

 

“Writers of imperfect, tousled books should be made aware that standards of breeding and grooming exist. I strive to fulfill that function.”

 

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In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction

by Sarah LeFanu

eBook publication of the book which was awarded the prestigious MLA Emily Toth Award (1990).

The title of this book comes from a line of dialogue in ‘The Women Men Don’t See’, a short story by the late great James Tiptree Jr (aka Alice Sheldon and Raccoona Sheldon): ‘What women do is survive. We live by ones and twos in the chinks of your world-machine.’

So you thought science fiction was a boys’ own zone? Think again! In this classic work of science fiction criticism – winner, when it was first published, of a prestigious MLA award – Sarah LeFanu looks at the work of a whole range of science fiction writers and explores the fusion of a feminist political worldview with the myriad possibilities of science fictional otherworlds. With individual chapters on the work of Suzy McKee Charnas, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and Tiptree herself, and a new preface from the author.

Reviews



"Astute and searching."
Sunday Times

"It is a classic, a milestone work which puts women back into the history from which we've been scored out, and is essential for anyone interested in writing, in the canon, in women, in genre and in history."
www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

"Ranges widely with great intelligence…LeFanu has done something important for us, whoever we may be, male or female."
Locus

"Highly readable, containing much valuable comment, not only on the four writers who figure in Part Two (Tiptree, Charnas, Le Guin and Russ) but also on many other women writers and, indeed, on the nature of SF itself."
Paperback Inferno
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Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction

by John Rieder

This is the first full-length study of emerging Anglo-American science fiction’s relation to the history, discourses, and ideologies of colonialism and imperialism. Nearly all scholars and critics of early science fiction acknowledge that colonialism is an important and relevant part of its historical context, and recent scholarship has emphasized imperialism’s impact on late Victorian Gothic and adventure fiction and on Anglo-American popular and literary culture in general. John Rieder argues that colonial history and ideology are crucial components of science fiction’s displaced references to history and its engagement in ideological production. He proposes that the profound ambivalence that pervades colonial accounts of the exotic “other” establishes the basic texture of much science fiction, in particular its vacillation between fantasies of discovery and visions of disaster. Combining original scholarship and theoretical sophistication with a clearly written presentation suitable for students as well as professional scholars, this study offers new and innovative readings of both acknowledged classics and rediscovered gems.

Includes discussion of works by Edwin A. Abbott, Edward Bellamy, Edgar Rice Burroughs, John W. Campbell, George Tomkyns Chesney, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, Edmond Hamilton, W. H. Hudson, Richard Jefferies, Henry Kuttner, Alun Llewellyn, Jack London, A. Merritt, Catherine L. Moore, William Morris, Garrett P. Serviss, Mary Shelley, Olaf Stapledon, and H. G. Wells.
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Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction

by Gary Westfahl

This is a sustained argument about the idea of science fiction by a renowned critic. Overturning many received opinions, it is both controversial and stimulating
 
Much of the controversy arises from Westfahl's resurrection of Hugo Gernsback - for decades a largely derided figure - as the true creator of science fiction. Following an initial demolition of earlier critics, Westfahl argues for Gernsback's importance. His argument is fully documented, showing a much greater familiarity with early American science fiction, particularly magazine fiction, than previous academic critics or historians. After his initial chapters on Gernsback, he examines the way in which the Gernsback tradition was adopted and modified by later magazine editors and early critics. This involves a re-evaluation of the importance of John W. Campbell to the history of science fiction as well as a very interesting critique of Robert Heinlein's Beyond the Horizon, one the seminal texts of American science fiction. In conclusion, Westfahl uses the theories of Gernsback and Campbell to develop a descriptive definition of science fiction and he explores the ramifications of that definition.
 
The Mechanics of Wonder will arouse debate and force the questioning of presuppositions. No other book so closely examines the origins and development of the idea of science fiction, and it will stand among a small number of crucial texts with which every science fiction scholar or prospective science fiction scholar will have to read.
10
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The Country You Have Never Seen: Essays and Reviews

by Joanna Russ

3 avg rating
In 1959, at the age of 22, Joanna Russ published her first science fiction story, "Nor Custom Stale," in The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. In the forty-five years since, Russ has continued to write some of the most popular, creative, and important novels and stories in science fiction. She was a central figure, along with contemporaries Ursula K. Le Guin and James Tiptree, in revolutionizing science fiction in the 1960s and 1970s, and her 1970 novel, The Female Man, is widely regarded as one of the most successful and influential depictions of a feminist utopia in the entire genre.

The Country You Have Never Seen gathers Joanna Russ's most important essays and reviews, revealing the vital part she played over the years in the never-ending conversation among writers and fans about the roles, boundaries, and potential of science fiction. Spanning her entire career, the collection shines a light on Russ's role in the development of new wave science fiction and feminist science fiction, while at the same time providing fascinating insight into her own development as a writer.

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The Pattern of Expectation, 1644-2001

by I. F Clarke

First U.S. edition. Book is fine, dj has light fading to the upper edges else fine.
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Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction

by Mark Bould

Science fiction and socialism have always had a close relationship. Many science fiction novelists and filmmakers have used the genre to examine explicit or implicit Marxist concerns. Red Planets is an accessible and lively account, which makes an ideal introduction to anyone interested in the politics of science fiction. The volume covers a rich variety of examples from Weimar cinema to mainstream Hollywood films, and novelists from Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Philip K. Dick, and Thomas Disch to Ursula K. Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken MacLeod, and Charles Stross. Contributors include Matthew Beaumont, William J. Burling, Carl Freedman, Darren Jorgensen, Rob Latham, Iris Luppa, Andrew Milner, John Rieder, Steven Shaviro, Sherryl Vint, and Phillip Wegner.
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The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction

by Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delany’s The Jewel-Hinged Jaw appeared originally in 1977, and is now long out of print and hard to find. The impact of its demonstration that science fiction was a special language, rather than just gadgets and green-skinned aliens, began reverberations still felt in science fiction criticism. This edition includes two new essays, one written at the time and one written about those times, as well as an introduction by writer and teacher Matthew Cheney, placing Delany’s work in historical context. Close textual analyses of Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, and Joanna Russ read as brilliantly today as when they first appeared. Essays such as “About 5,750 Words” and “To Read The Dispossessed” first made the book a classic; they assure it will remain one.
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The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction

by Edited By Rob Latham

The excitement of possible futures found in science fiction has long fired the human imagination, but the genre's acceptance by academe is relatively recent. No longer marginalized and fighting for respectability, science-fictional works are now studied alongside more traditional art forms. Tracing the capacious genre's birth, evolution, and impact across nations, time periods, subgenres, and media, The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction offers an in-depth, comprehensive assessment of this robust area of scholarly inquiry and considers the future directions that will dictate the terms of the scholarly discourse.

The Handbook begins with a focus on questions of genre, covering topics such as critical history, keywords, narrative, the fantastic, and fandom. A subsequent section on media engages with film, television, comics, architecture, music, video games, and more. The genre's role in the convergence of art and everyday life animates a third section, which addresses topics such as UFOs, the Atomic Era, the Space Race between the US and USSR, organized religion, automation, the military, sexuality, steampunk, and retrofuturism. The final section on worldviews features perspectives on SF's relationship to the gothic, evolution, colonialism, feminism, afrofuturism, utopianism, and posthumanism. Along the way, the Handbook's forty-four original essays cover novels by the likes of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Philip K. Dick, and Octavia Butler; horror-tinged pulp magazines like Weird Tales; B-movies and classic films that include 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Wars; mind-bending TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Dr. Who; and popular video games such as Eve Online.

Showing how science fiction's unique history and subcultural identity have been constructed in ongoing dialogue with popular discourses of science and technology, The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction acknowledges the full range of texts and modalities that make science fiction today less a genre than a way of being in the world.
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The History of Science Fiction

by Adam Roberts

The first comprehensive critical history of SF for thirty years, this book traces the origin and development of science fiction from Ancient Greece, via its rebirth in the seventeenth century, up to the present day. Concentrating on literary SF and (in the later chapters) cinema and TV, it also discusses the myriad forms this genre takes in the contemporary world, including a chapter on graphic novels, SF pop music, visual art and ufology. The author is ideally placed to write it: both an academic literary critic and also an acclaimed creative writer of science fiction, with five novels and many short stories to his credit. Written in lively, accessible prose, this study is specifically designed to bridge the worlds of academic criticism and the SF fandom.

The History of Science Fiction argues that, even today, this flourishing cultural idiom is shaped by the forces that determined its rise to prominence in the 1600s: the dialogue between Protestant and Catholic worldviews, the emerging technologies of the industrial age, and the cultural anxieties and excitements of a rapidly changing world. Now available in paperback, it will be of interest to all students, researchers and fans of SF.
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James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon

by Julie Phillips

James Tiptree, Jr., burst onto the science fiction scene in the late 1960s with a series of hard-edged, provocative stories. He redefined the genre with such classics as Houston, Houston, Do You Read? and The Women Men Don't See. For nearly ten years he wrote and carried on intimate correspondences with other writers--Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin, though none of them knew his true identity. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego: "he" was actually a sixty-one-year-old woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon. A feminist, she took a male name as a joke--and found the voice to write her stories.

Based on extensive research, exclusive interviews, and full access to Alice Sheldon's papers, Julie Phillips has penned a biography of a profoundly original writer and a woman far ahead of her time.

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Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley

4.47 avg rating

"Aldous Huxley is the greatest 20th century writer in English." —Chicago Tribune

Aldous Huxley is rightly considered a prophetic genius and one of the most important literary and philosophical voices of the 20th Century, and Brave New World is his masterpiece. From the author of The Doors of Perception, Island, and countless other works of fiction, non-fiction, philosophy, and poetry, comes this powerful work of speculative fiction that has enthralled and terrified readers for generations. Brave New World remains absolutely relevant to this day as both a cautionary dystopian tale in the vein of the George Orwell classic 1984, and as thought-provoking, thoroughly satisfying entertainment.

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