15 October 2015

A Travesty

The Science Fiction Handbook
Edited by Nick Hubble & Aris Mousoutzanis

This book is a travesty, an act of politically-correct academic deceit.

Published by Bloomsbury as part of its Literature & Culture Handbooks series, it is intended as a textbook for use by people following ‘science fiction studies’ courses at university level. However, it completely misrepresents the history, ethos and spirit of science fiction.

The history and content of SF makes it a largely male literature. Its conventional subject matter — new technology, space exploration, electronic brains, future societies — was of the kind that attracts more male than female interest. SF began as, and largely continues to be, a thoroughly male-dominated field, though with increasing female participation since the late Sixties. To this day, most science-fiction writers (including most of the best ones) and most science-fiction readers are male.

Maybe this is unfair. Maybe science fiction would be much better if it were written by women as often and as successfully as men, or was read by as many women as men. I don't know and, for the purposes of this review, I don't care.

What I care about is that a book claiming to provide ‘a comprehensive guide to the genre and how to study it for students new to the field’ (I'm quoting the publisher's introduction on the back cover) should provide an accurate and representative survey of the field. This The Science Fiction Handbook conspicuously fails to do, because its editors have fallen down before the baleful academic idol of Political Correctness and done obeisance.

On Page 31, they offer a list of 21 'major science fiction authors', whose works are discussed later in the book. Eight of them, or nearly two-fifths of the number, are women. Among them are 
  • Margaret Atwood and Doris Lessing, two conventional literary authors who have dabbled in science-fiction tropes (future societies, alien visitations) without actually doing justice either to science (Lessing, in particular, was a scientific illiterate) or the conventions of the genre;
  • Naomi Mitchison, the author of one great SF novel, Memoirs of A Spacewoman, but far better known as an author of general fiction, with over 70 books in various genres and styles to her credit; 
  • Gwynneth Jones, best known as a fantasy writer; 
  • Octavia E. Butler, a moderately successful SF writer who happens to be not only female, but black.

None of them would make most readers' lists of 21 great SF writers. They have been chosen only in order to flesh out the feminine side of the list. Because female representation at the top table of SF is so scanty, the editors chose to pick this bunch of also-rans over male authors who were true giants in the field.

Here are some of the authors the book leaves out.:

– Isaac Asimov
– Greg Bear
– Orson Scott Card
– Arthur C. Clarke
– Frank Herbert
– Larry Niven
– Frederik Pohl
– Gene Wolfe

I could go on in that vein for several pages, but you get the idea.

You can see what's happening here: authors of hard, ie technical SF and authors whose politics don't conform to the prevailing left-wing orthodoxy of nonscientific academia have been discriminated against. There is also an excess of British representation, doubtless because the editors are British academics.

Students unfamiliar with SF (the stated target audience) will receive a completely distorted idea of the field from this book. I need not say that the feminist/left-wing/arts over science bias continues throughout; every page drips with it. As a lifelong SF aficionado, I call it a travesty.

The editors, Nick Hubble and Aris Moustoutzanis, have Ph.D's and all, but they are mountebanks and deceivers nonetheless. Spurn them.

If you want to read a good book about science fiction, I recommend Brian W. Aldiss's Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction.

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