Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Handling the Handbook

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Handling the Handbook

Article excerpt

Hubble, Nick, and Aris Mousoutzanis, eds. The Science Fiction Handbook. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. xx + 265 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-4411-7096-5. $29.95.

Latham, Rob, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. xv + 620 pp. Hardcover. ISBN 978-0-19-983884-4. $135.00.

Author of her own overview, Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed (Bloomsbury, 2014), Sherryl Vint observes "SF's move from the margins to the centre of humanities scholarship" (238) in her contribution to Nick Hubble and Aris Mousoutzanis's The Science Fiction Handbook. Evidence for such an assertion of the genre's increasing legitimacy appears in the recent spate of reference works dedicated to science fiction and related genres like fantasy. In 2003, Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James appeared ahead of the curve with their Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction; Mark Bould and Andrew M. Butler answered with the Routledge Companion to Science Fiction in 2009. More recently, Sonja Fritzsche's Liverpool Companion to World Science Fiction Film (2014) and Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link's Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction (2015) have contributed to specific aspects of the field. This review looks at the related genre of the "handbook," partially answering the question: What is the difference between a "companion" and a "handbook," anyway? A superficial glance at most of these works' Table of Contents suggests the quick answer: "Not much!" But a more nuanced examination, based on a comparison of the two very different works reviewed here, reveals that the handbook remains a nebulous concept. Whereas Bloomsbury's The Science Fiction Handbook aims to be a handy and accessible resource marketed as a potential course text, The Oxford Companion to Science Fiction, a rigorous and eminently serious tome to be consulted by tyros and scholars alike, provides a definitive overview of the field by leading scholars.

As Nick Hubble asserts in his introduction to Bloomsbury's The Science Fiction Handbook (henceforth SFH), "this book provides a framework of support for studying SF, or individual works of SF, on a university course" (xvii). Comprised of eleven fifteen-page chapters, on the surface it appears no different than the "companions" already mentioned above; a thorough examination, however, reveals its hybrid format that combines very straightforward reference material with a few in-depth essays. For example, chapter two, Joseph Norman's "An Annotated Science Fiction Timeline," is precisely that: a chronology not just of key works of literature, film, and tv, but also criticism and scientific discoveries that impacted the genre's development since Thomas More's Utopia (1516). The next chapter compiled by Hubble, Norman, and Emma Fitness offers twenty-one wiki-like entries on "Major Science Fiction Authors," and in chapter six David M. Higgins and Roby Duncan perform a similar task for "Key Critical Concepts, Topics and Critics." They define nineteen terms such as "Alien," "Cyborg," and "Megatext," and provide brief overviews of eleven critics: Aldiss, Amis, Delany, Freedman, Haraway, Jameson, Lefanu, Le Guin, Rieder, Russ, and Suvin.

Since much of that material can readily be found online, of greater interest to instructors and students in a course on sf are the "Case Studies in Reading" provided in the fourth and fifth chapters. The first of these looks at "Key Primary Literary Texts" and aims, as contributor Christopher Daley says, to "provide a comprehensive introduction to five literary texts that have played significant roles in the ongoing evolution of ... SF" (75): Wells's The Time Machine; Ballard's Drowned World; Russ's "When It Changed"; Butler's Kindred; and Gibson's Neuromancer. In corollary, Jessica Langer surveys "Key Theoretical and Critical Texts in Science Fiction Studies," works that "have been cited so much that each has become a foundational text" (101). …

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