The World of Science Fiction, 1926-76: The History of a Subculture by Lester del Rey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The World of Science Fiction by Lester del Rey
Though I would agree that this is not a good source of in-depth analysis of the writing of science fiction I think that it does do what it set out to do and expecting any more is truly expecting too much. The History of a Subculture does not imply that it means to analyze the books or the work of that history in great depth; and if it had the book would have had to have taken up much more room on the shelve by the time the ten volumes were finished.
This is a generalized history of the first fifty years of science fiction starting with the age of magazines and short stories. I highly recommend this book when I run across people bemoaning the fact that short stories have slipped in quality, because they seem to be abandoned by many of the authors that were the backbone of science fiction.
The close analysis and the author's own participation in much of the process lends to a comprehensive examination of what happened in the industry throughout that fifty years and how it gradually led to the acceptance of more novels in science fiction; which in fact did draw many authors away from the short story venue. But far from outright abandonment, this book helps detail many of the problems and struggles of the magazine industry to try to create a proper demand and retain that demand while the growing industry became a hydra-like creature that then falls upon itself like an Ouroborus. More than anything; the industry itself, with its ups and downs was the largest factor in losing the more skilled and prolific authors.
If I have one disappointment about this book it would be that it may have failed in recognizing some of the most prodigious works that stand out as milestones in the industry. In particular I can cite a novel that did not get a mention in this history. That novel was important enough that I felt the possibility exists that, because of the omission, even some pivotal short stories might have been missed. I might have let the novel slide if the whole work were devoted entirely to short stories; but the second half does go into detail concerning novels.
What was conspicuously missing was Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. This is a book that many say was Philip's greatest achievement and it even garnered a Hugo. Had this been mentioned only, though there were others that had brief summaries and sometimes a limited analysis, I would have been happy. But this wasn't even mentioned despite the mention of Philip K. Dick in the short story section. Because of that I realized there might be several other works by other short story writers that could bear mentioning and were passed up. I'm not sure why that is; but that still makes me wonder about whether all the more important short stories were covered, since short stories are not something I ever read in large amounts.
Still this book, despite that one misgiving, stands well as a window into the industry and the people (editors) who figured prominently in creating the consistent feel and encouraged writers to hone their writing skills. It also shows how in the boom times they had to deal with other less stringent publishers and editors who were trying to get a piece of the pie without the work. It carefully details how these late comers consistently destroyed themselves and often a few of the established magazines in the process before recovery was possible.
This book goes on the shelf right next to my two volumes Robert Heinlein biography.
This is a great reference piece that might even have a few good suggestions in reading for die hard SFF fans.
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