Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction

Article excerpt

Rob Latham, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. 640pp. US$135.00 (hbk).

The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction offers another assessment of the current landscape of sf. It joins such collections as Edward James and Farah Mendelsohn's The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (2003), David Seed's A Companion to Science Fiction (2005) and Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts and Sherryl Vint's The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (2009). Given the many reference works already on the market, the publication of the Oxford Handbook prompts questions about its relative utility and whether or not its approach updates, revitalises or reorients sf scholarship in any significant way. It attempts to frame sf as a mode, and even more loosely as a way of thinking, an orientation, perhaps even an attitude and a way of life. Latham's striking introductory discussion of the necessary exclusions that the collection had to make asserts that such disciplines as human-animal studies is science fictional in its discourse and so could have been included in the collection. Latham makes bold claims for how the book expands upon prior coverage of sf to include critically neglected media such as 'Video Games', 'Theme Parks' and 'Advertising and Design', which are explored in chapters by Pawel Frelik, Leonie Cooper and Jonathan M. Woodham, respectively. This view of sf offers exciting possibilities for extending the critical scope of sf scholarship as much as it threatens to evacuate any sense of a clearly demarcated field of enquiry. Indeed, Latham explains that the collection is an attempt to convey 'how deeply science-fictional ideas and attitudes have permeated the social fabric during the past two centuries, making SF today less a fixed and coherent genre than a diverse and distributed ensemble of phenomena that resists totalization or even ready summary' (17).

The 44 chapters of this collection are split into four parts. Rather than the historical approach that opens many other companions, Latham organises the sections into a sequence of analytical units based on generic categories and issues, medium, culture (which partly repeals the periodising approach that opens the Cambridge and Routledge companions) and worldview (which combines critical approaches, influential ideas and historical periods such as Adam Roberts's chapter on the influence of the 'Enlightenment' on sf ). The Oxford Handbook responds to the same need to explore the diversifying specialisms of sf that two recent companions undertake: Sonja Fritzsche's The Liverpool Companion to World Science Fiction Film (2014) and Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link 's The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction (2015). The Oxford Handbook, however, attempts to address as many areas as it can, rather than exploring in greater detail an identifiable and manageable subset of the mode. It de-prioritises literature in favour of a large array of topics, themes and forms, thus introducing tension between this movement toward specialisation on the one hand and a broadening of the remit that sf scholarship should encompass on the other. Given the many critical surveys of the field, the chapters of the Oxford Handbook tend toward a consideration of exemplary works rather than opting for a more comprehensive survey of sf. The historicalcritical background that the text offers is succinct and useful, although the frameworks explored in each chapter are contingent on specific media and approaches and do not always apply outside of the context established by the chapter in which it appears. The book's chapters, taken as a whole, give a sense of the points of contention around which debates over sf have been conducted. Many of these articles attempt to decouple critical analysis from the print basis from which sf criticism has often been conceptualised. The Oxford Handbook thus introduces readers unfamiliar with sf to the variety of the sometimes conflicting approaches that have dominated sf scholarship. …

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