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Science Fiction: A Very Short Introduction

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Science Fiction has proved notoriously difficult to define. It has been explained as a combination of romance, science and prophecy; as a genre based on an imagined alternative to the reader's environment; and as a form of fantastic fiction and historical literature. It has also been argued that science fiction narratives are the most engaged, socially relevant, and respon Science Fiction has proved notoriously difficult to define. It has been explained as a combination of romance, science and prophecy; as a genre based on an imagined alternative to the reader's environment; and as a form of fantastic fiction and historical literature. It has also been argued that science fiction narratives are the most engaged, socially relevant, and responsive to the modern technological environment. This Very Short Introduction doesn't offer a history of science fiction, but instead ties examples of science fiction to different historical moments, in order to demonstrate how science fiction has evolved over time. David Seed looks not only at literature, but also at drama and poetry, as well as film. Examining recurrent themes in science fiction he looks at voyages into space, the concept of the alien and alternative social identities, the role of technology in science fiction, and its relation to time - in the past, present, and future.


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Science Fiction has proved notoriously difficult to define. It has been explained as a combination of romance, science and prophecy; as a genre based on an imagined alternative to the reader's environment; and as a form of fantastic fiction and historical literature. It has also been argued that science fiction narratives are the most engaged, socially relevant, and respon Science Fiction has proved notoriously difficult to define. It has been explained as a combination of romance, science and prophecy; as a genre based on an imagined alternative to the reader's environment; and as a form of fantastic fiction and historical literature. It has also been argued that science fiction narratives are the most engaged, socially relevant, and responsive to the modern technological environment. This Very Short Introduction doesn't offer a history of science fiction, but instead ties examples of science fiction to different historical moments, in order to demonstrate how science fiction has evolved over time. David Seed looks not only at literature, but also at drama and poetry, as well as film. Examining recurrent themes in science fiction he looks at voyages into space, the concept of the alien and alternative social identities, the role of technology in science fiction, and its relation to time - in the past, present, and future.

30 review for Science Fiction: A Very Short Introduction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Amy Sturgis

    Meh. By the time David Seed eliminates everything he is not going to do in this very short introduction to science fiction -- define science fiction, trace its development chronologically, consider non-Western SF, engage with SF scholarship/criticism, etc. -- all that's left is to pick several topics such as "Time" and offer a short laundry list of a bibliographic essay on SF works addressing this theme. Even then, Seed fails to point out when major works responded to each other or how these work Meh. By the time David Seed eliminates everything he is not going to do in this very short introduction to science fiction -- define science fiction, trace its development chronologically, consider non-Western SF, engage with SF scholarship/criticism, etc. -- all that's left is to pick several topics such as "Time" and offer a short laundry list of a bibliographic essay on SF works addressing this theme. Even then, Seed fails to point out when major works responded to each other or how these works, and SF as a whole, represent a conversation. If you're looking only for a U.S. and U.K.-centric SF reading list, this book could come in handy. But if you're looking to better understand the genre or come away with a broader, more nuanced understanding of how SF developed or why it is important, look elsewhere. There are many better introductions.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Neil Hepworth

    I can't imagine that anyone who picks up this book is expecting to find what's actually inside. The cover reads "Science Fiction" something that, even if everyone has their own personal definition, most people understand - except the author of this book. No one (in my not-so-humble opinion) picks up a book called "Science Fiction" and expects 60% of the book to deal with material written before the turn of the century. No, not the 21st century, the 20th century. I don't pick up a book called "Sc I can't imagine that anyone who picks up this book is expecting to find what's actually inside. The cover reads "Science Fiction" something that, even if everyone has their own personal definition, most people understand - except the author of this book. No one (in my not-so-humble opinion) picks up a book called "Science Fiction" and expects 60% of the book to deal with material written before the turn of the century. No, not the 21st century, the 20th century. I don't pick up a book called "Science Fiction" to read about stuff written in the 1700's. I'm sure there is a niche for whom this book is intended (professors wanting to "expand their horizons," perhaps?), but then the book needs a new title to better relate its inner contents. Everything in this book (for me) fell into one of two categories: 1) it's so old or obscure that I don't care, or 2.) I already knew that. My search for a good, quality overview of science fiction continues...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Curie

    "It is helpful to think of an SF narrative as an embodied thought experiment whereby aspects of our familiar reality are transformed or suspended." I'm not entirely sure what the aim of this little one was: it neither conveyed a great passion for the genre, nor did it provide a great quantity of information for those already in possession of that passion. In a somewhat sober tone, David Seed picks some examples to elaborate the historical moments leading to their creation and demonstrates thro "It is helpful to think of an SF narrative as an embodied thought experiment whereby aspects of our familiar reality are transformed or suspended." I'm not entirely sure what the aim of this little one was: it neither conveyed a great passion for the genre, nor did it provide a great quantity of information for those already in possession of that passion. In a somewhat sober tone, David Seed picks some examples to elaborate the historical moments leading to their creation and demonstrates through that how hard it is to grasp science fiction as a genre. As this was meant to be A Very Short Introduction, I think I would have preferred a more linear overview instead of different plots' summaries. He does leave you with some – frankly, obvious – points to remember about science fiction, though. Science fiction in its form we enjoy it today has been around since the 20th century and is a genre constantly evolving and changing. Not afraid to interrogate the limits of human nature, identity and difference. Aliens for example are so predominate in the genre as to encourage readers / watchers to re-examine their self-perception through confrontation with The Other. I can't say I truly enjoyed reading this, but this has been my first read of this series, too, so maybe I'm just not sure enough of what their aim truly is and who they are targeted at. The curious, the knowledgable? Either way, this was a quick read and did leave me with one or two interesting thoughts, so I also wouldn't go as far as calling this a waste of time.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alysson Oliveira

    2,5 to be honest.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bojan Tunguz

    I am a big fan of science fiction, and like most other fans consider myself fairly knowledgeable about this genre. Nonetheless, I have not thought deeply and systematically about science fiction, and this very short introduction was very informative and enlightening. This book presents a good short overview of some of the most important Sci-fi writers of all time: H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, and many others. This is I am a big fan of science fiction, and like most other fans consider myself fairly knowledgeable about this genre. Nonetheless, I have not thought deeply and systematically about science fiction, and this very short introduction was very informative and enlightening. This book presents a good short overview of some of the most important Sci-fi writers of all time: H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, and many others. This is a very nice and historically well-researched introduction, with plenty of references to some of the most influential works of science fiction. The book is structured thematically along the main subgenres of science fiction: voyages into space, alien encounters, science fiction and technology, utopias and dystopias, and fictions of time. I would have also liked to see a dedicated genetic manipulation and biotechnology chapter. This has become one of the most significant science fiction themes in recent years. The last chapter deals with the field of science fiction as such, and it takes a bird’s view of science fiction literature. One slight issue that I have with this introduction is its overwhelming emphasis on science fiction literature. A few notable movies are mentioned, but only as book tie-ins. The fact is that the most successful movie of all time (Avatar), as well as many others on the top-grossing list, are all very much science fiction works. Far from being a fringe, science fiction is one of the most dominant forms of the cinematic arts. Hence an introductory book like this one should have given it much more space. Another minor annoyance are the several attempts throughout the book to raise the issues that are very dominant in the academic literature departments, but are very far from the concerns of most science fiction readers. I feel that these attempts were made in order to make science fiction seem more important from the point of view of “serious” literary studies, but I find these concerns somewhat artificial. Fortunately these digressions are few and far between. Overall, this is a very well written book that would be of a lot of interest to all the science fiction fans, as well as to people who want to learn more about this fascinating genre.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Wright

    Abrogating any attempt at defining science fiction, the author of this book simply takes a list of things that get called by that name, loosely organized, and says, 'It's something like this!' The overwhelming focus of the book is on novels, with other media only mentioned as asides or alluded to briefly. This seems to me at least to be a rather bizarre approach, given that the whole genre of SF (as the author admits) is very much defined by the fact that it has come about contemporary to various Abrogating any attempt at defining science fiction, the author of this book simply takes a list of things that get called by that name, loosely organized, and says, 'It's something like this!' The overwhelming focus of the book is on novels, with other media only mentioned as asides or alluded to briefly. This seems to me at least to be a rather bizarre approach, given that the whole genre of SF (as the author admits) is very much defined by the fact that it has come about contemporary to various new media - be it film, TV series, or comic book. This last one, perversely, is not even mentioned as far as I noticed, which is probably this book's biggest failure. But for my money, the unifying factor behind SF is not its nature as a genre at all, but as a subculture - it is a group of people who like That Kind Of Thing. This book does get around to mentioning this in the last chapter, but only in passing. I feel that a sociological study of this phenomenon would be far more interesting. Chapter 1: Voyages into space Chapter 2: Alien encounters Chapter 3: Science fiction and technology Chapter 4: Utopias and dystopias Chapter 5: Fictions of time Chapter 6: The field of science fiction

  7. 5 out of 5

    Debora H

    This book was a required read for a class I was taking: Teaching Science Fiction in the Classroom. I found this tome information dense, necessitating a re-reading of some sections. The overview that Seed created was direct and to the point and will be a valuable resource in my professional library.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fredagsmys1

    I think this was a pretty good introduction to the subject! A crazy amount of names of authors, books and movies, but this has given me a fair starting point to dive deeper into the fascinating world of science fiction.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Warren

    A solid overview that hits the high points. I may disagree with some of those high points, but alas--Oxford didn't ask me to write it. A solid overview that hits the high points. I may disagree with some of those high points, but alas--Oxford didn't ask me to write it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Steve Scott

    What I'm learning about the "Very Short Introduction" series is that they can be excellent, but dry in an audiobook format. They're "sit down and park your butt" books that require reading digitally or in paper form. In the latter instances one can re-read a paragraph and take the time to absorb the content and take notes. One can't do that when listening to an audiobook on the way to work. These books are short, but intellectually meaty. They need to be digested. This particular book within the What I'm learning about the "Very Short Introduction" series is that they can be excellent, but dry in an audiobook format. They're "sit down and park your butt" books that require reading digitally or in paper form. In the latter instances one can re-read a paragraph and take the time to absorb the content and take notes. One can't do that when listening to an audiobook on the way to work. These books are short, but intellectually meaty. They need to be digested. This particular book within the series is commendable for treating science fiction as a legitimate literary genre, something that has been overlooked in the academy. In this work the author frames his analysis thematically, looking at various themes within science fiction such as utopian fiction, cyberpunk, steampunk, etc., and working forward historically from the first examples to the most recent. The book includes mention of science fiction films as well. The enthusiastic reader is going to get a huge list of "Gee, I gotta have these" books that the author introduces throughout the work, along with brief (sometimes too brief) descriptions in their role in contributing to the themes within which they're found. So this may be yet another I have to buy for my shelf.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    When you want a little context and history for those tales of utopias/dystopias, the imperialist drive of the space operas, the switch to technology as the driving factor rather than conquest, types of reality or the changing form of aliens over time, then this is a succinct little guide. Revelling in the new acceptance of SF, this book traces lines from the late 19th century to the present day, establishing the types of concerns that have interested each generation of SF writers. There are some When you want a little context and history for those tales of utopias/dystopias, the imperialist drive of the space operas, the switch to technology as the driving factor rather than conquest, types of reality or the changing form of aliens over time, then this is a succinct little guide. Revelling in the new acceptance of SF, this book traces lines from the late 19th century to the present day, establishing the types of concerns that have interested each generation of SF writers. There are some eye-opening points which have been rather lost over time, such as whether we see aliens as groups to conquer or deadly rivals for a different prize, and a look at how our view of our place in the universe has been changed by scientific advances of the last 100 years. A good kick-off point from which to gain that overview that starts to perceive context by itself.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    A solid short introduction to science fiction, largely by theme. There are no great insights in this book but it provides a good basic starting point for anyone not well versed in the genre and wanting an up-to-date guide to where they might put some time into learning more. As one expects nowadays, obeisance is made to the small but highly respectable contribution of feminist writers and to the tiny group of self-consciously black authors in the genre. There is a respectful slight nod to Marxism A solid short introduction to science fiction, largely by theme. There are no great insights in this book but it provides a good basic starting point for anyone not well versed in the genre and wanting an up-to-date guide to where they might put some time into learning more. As one expects nowadays, obeisance is made to the small but highly respectable contribution of feminist writers and to the tiny group of self-consciously black authors in the genre. There is a respectful slight nod to Marxism so the text clearly comes from the modern academy. There are around 15 decent illustrations.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Raphael Lysander

    This book was like listening to Sheldon Cooper. Too much names and information, and less focus about the essence of the subject. I expected to read a book that discuss, through a few well known examples of fiction and movies, the meaning, philosophy, necessity, and the joy of sci-fiction but it went through unnecessary listing of endless novel titles like it was a showoff.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jaq Greenspon

    Really nice overview of the genre. Marked down for typos and unclear academic writing at points. Sometimes Seed will assume the reader knows who he is talking about and will drop references without clarification.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen O'Neal

    Like all of the best VSIs, this book points the reader in the direction of other great resources on the topic too. Recommended.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brittany Veltkamp

    Informative I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. Also, found some new books for my reading list from many of the books the author referenced.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Russ

    This short survey of the development of science fiction is organized by broad subjects (aliens, time, utopias and dystopias), with a short chapter about the development of special science fiction media (magazines, cinema). For its size, it covers a surprising amount of material and presents a good overview of the history of science fiction and its major works and figures. Worth a read, even if you’re just looking for the important books you may have missed. Like any critical work, it must choose This short survey of the development of science fiction is organized by broad subjects (aliens, time, utopias and dystopias), with a short chapter about the development of special science fiction media (magazines, cinema). For its size, it covers a surprising amount of material and presents a good overview of the history of science fiction and its major works and figures. Worth a read, even if you’re just looking for the important books you may have missed. Like any critical work, it must choose what it covers and decide what is most important - more-so given its short format.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kyra Boisseree

    I don't really know how to review a book like this. I learned a lot about books I'd never heard of, and I definitely got a few things to look up for my Qual from reading this. It was probably one of the most enjoyable nonfiction books I've read because it wasn't very dense and it was about something I really enjoy. However, there were some very basic mistakes (calling the 20th century the 19th, calling Michel Foucault Henri, etc) that I plan to email the publisher about. I don't really know how to review a book like this. I learned a lot about books I'd never heard of, and I definitely got a few things to look up for my Qual from reading this. It was probably one of the most enjoyable nonfiction books I've read because it wasn't very dense and it was about something I really enjoy. However, there were some very basic mistakes (calling the 20th century the 19th, calling Michel Foucault Henri, etc) that I plan to email the publisher about.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    Well, it was very short, but it wasn’t much of an introduction. Kind of a series of buzzfeed listicles based on standard SF themes. Not sure who the ideal audience would be—maybe someone designing a syllabus?

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    A very interesting book, which has given me some more ideas for other SF novels to read. I have read a few, but only a small percentage of what's out there, really! Also, the genre covers such a diverse range of books! A very interesting book, which has given me some more ideas for other SF novels to read. I have read a few, but only a small percentage of what's out there, really! Also, the genre covers such a diverse range of books!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jordan B

    For such a small book, I think that it gets the job done. It briefly discusses the fundamentals of science fiction, but I feel that there could/should be more. It is a nice quick reference guide, but if you are looking for something more in depth, I wouldn't use this. For such a small book, I think that it gets the job done. It briefly discusses the fundamentals of science fiction, but I feel that there could/should be more. It is a nice quick reference guide, but if you are looking for something more in depth, I wouldn't use this.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sky

    Another piece I had to read for work, I enjoyed reading through this VSI. This book is a great short introduction to science fiction and has some great title mentions that are now part of my reading list (and some are easily found on the Project Gutenberg list). Great read!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    great for reference. not great for sitting and reading and analyzing.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Crystal ✬ Lost in Storyland

    Goo

  25. 5 out of 5

    Leijin

    It reads like a current state of research, an overview of the most important works and themes more or less; which it presents fairly well. The book doesn't offer much more than that though. It reads like a current state of research, an overview of the most important works and themes more or less; which it presents fairly well. The book doesn't offer much more than that though.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Emily Gilbow

    thorough but where's The Twilight Zone? thorough but where's The Twilight Zone?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sue Davis

    Very Basic and outdated but some interesting points.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Justin Lynn

    I realize that it wouldn't be a work of literary criticism if it wasn't unnecessarily abstruse and tedious, but slipping an interesting sentence in every few pages is just downright cruel. I realize that it wouldn't be a work of literary criticism if it wasn't unnecessarily abstruse and tedious, but slipping an interesting sentence in every few pages is just downright cruel.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Grace S.

    Very good insights on the genre! My reading list grew quite a bit after this.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    This is a struggle to read, with very inaccessible language.

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