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An invaluable contribution to the serious study of science fiction as well as a highly entertaining collection, Science Fiction contains 27 chronologically-arranged stories and excerpts, ranging from such early classic works as Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Shelley's Frankenstein to recent stories such as Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" and Ursula K. An invaluable contribution to the serious study of science fiction as well as a highly entertaining collection, Science Fiction contains 27 chronologically-arranged stories and excerpts, ranging from such early classic works as Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Shelley's Frankenstein to recent stories such as Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" and Ursula K. Le Guin's "Vaster Than Empires and More Slow." Including brief general essays and a separate introduction to each individual story or excerpt, Rabkin's anthology greatly illuminates the evolution of the genre.


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An invaluable contribution to the serious study of science fiction as well as a highly entertaining collection, Science Fiction contains 27 chronologically-arranged stories and excerpts, ranging from such early classic works as Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Shelley's Frankenstein to recent stories such as Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" and Ursula K. An invaluable contribution to the serious study of science fiction as well as a highly entertaining collection, Science Fiction contains 27 chronologically-arranged stories and excerpts, ranging from such early classic works as Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Shelley's Frankenstein to recent stories such as Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" and Ursula K. Le Guin's "Vaster Than Empires and More Slow." Including brief general essays and a separate introduction to each individual story or excerpt, Rabkin's anthology greatly illuminates the evolution of the genre.

56 review for Science Fiction: A Historical Anthology

  1. 4 out of 5

    Werner

    Note, March 24, 2020: I edited this just now to correct a typo. Though I listed this book as "read" since 1999, there were a few stories I'd skipped, and which I just read this past week. I still did not read the numerous novel excerpts (see below)! My rating, of course, is an overall ranking for the anthology as a whole; some stories would get five stars, and some certainly less than three. Editor Rabkin (English, Univ. of Michigan) is a well-known, longstanding advocate for the academic study of Note, March 24, 2020: I edited this just now to correct a typo. Though I listed this book as "read" since 1999, there were a few stories I'd skipped, and which I just read this past week. I still did not read the numerous novel excerpts (see below)! My rating, of course, is an overall ranking for the anthology as a whole; some stories would get five stars, and some certainly less than three. Editor Rabkin (English, Univ. of Michigan) is a well-known, longstanding advocate for the academic study of science fiction; this anthology may well have been intended to contribute to that study and even to serve as a textbook, though his Introduction doesn't say so. The content of that Introduction, and the general tenor of his other comments and selections, with their chronological arrangement, certainly suggests a serious, historical-scholarly approach. Ironically, some of his deficiencies as an editor and analyst weaken the collection at that level. His six-page Introduction is erudite, sometimes factually informative and occasionally insightful; but he tries to force the narrative into a grand schema of SF evolving from a separate genre to supposed merger with and transformation of the literary mainstream (the wish was probably father to the thought). And (curiously for a literary scholar), he ignores the role of the Neoclassical, Romantic and Realist movements in the history of the genre, dividing it, in the body of the anthology, into periods without regard for these or for the usual periodization that most students of the field have discerned. His Part 1 roughly corresponds to the Renaissance and Neoclassical periods; but he takes the whole 19th century as Part 2, and the years from 1900-1939 as Part 3, "Early 20th Century." (Very few if any other observers would view 1900 as marking a significant break in the history of the genre, or not recognize that the rise of Realism after 1865 or the 1920s emergence of the SF pulps were significant breaks.) Then he idiosyncratically extends "The Golden Years" to 1965, ignoring the tidal changes after World War II, and begins "The Modern Period" in 1966, 17 years before the book was first published. Moreover, he is at times slipshod in arranging selections even in terms of his own schema: Wells' "The Star" (1899) winds up in the "Early 20th Century," whereas we find London's "A Curious Fragment" (1908) in Part 2, "19th Century;" and Pohl's "Earth Eighteen" was published in 1966, the same year as Zelazny's "For a Breath I Tarry," but the former is in "The Golden Years" and the latter in "The Modern Period." Rabkin's short comments introducing each selection tend to be superficial and not outstandingly useful. Selection of material could have been improved in many cases, as well. True, part of his purpose is to show the historical development of the genre, so he can't be faulted because Voltaire's "Micromegas" is dry and tedious --Neoclassical SF in general tends to be dry and tedious. And other editors of fiction anthologies also fall into the trap of using out-of-context excerpts from novels, which do not provide the kind of reading experience the authors intended, and which for the reader are something like food dishes with key ingredients missing. Rabkin uses it more than most, though: five of his 26 authors (Poe is represented twice), or nearly 20%, are represented only by excerpts. In most cases, complete stories to represent the period, or even the individual writer, would have been available; Mary Shelley's "The Mortal Immortal," for instance, would have been preferable to an snippit from Frankenstein. Some short story choices are not felicitous, either. For instance, the partly-epistolary "The Sandman," which is verbose, slow-moving and opaque even by Romantic standards isn't Hoffmann's best SF work, and Poe's "A Descent Into the Maelstrom" isn't SF at all, IMO. And the reason Merritt's "The Last Poet and the Robots" is so hard for the reader to understand is that it was (as the editor does NOT explain) the last installment of a "round robin" serial, in which successive writers wrote installments of a continuing narrative without consulting each other. (Merritt deserved better here.) All that said, though, a number of the stories here are good reading, and some are outstanding. "Flowers for Algernon" and "Vaster Than Empires and More Slow" deserve the status of classics. The Wells and London stories mentioned above are excellent (the latter is set in the same milieu as The Iron Heel); and so is the Pohl story, which showcases that writer's rapier wit. The Zelazny selection, for me, has problems of credibility in both premise and message, but it's a very well-written, perfectly crafted, and moving story. Sheckley's "Can You Feel Anything When I Do This?" (despite its initial publication in Playboy) is emphatically NOT an endorsement of egocentric and exploitative autonomy, carried to the point of total alienation from and objectification of others, but rather a critical depiction of it in terms the reader is expected to recognize as highly negative. And one of my personal favorites among the stories here is Jack Finney's little -known but beautiful "The Third Level." And that list by no means exhausts the roster of worthwhile tales here!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laurence Burke

    The editor, Eric Rabkin, has collected a variety of short stories and excerpts from longer tales for this book. In the preface, he states that "This anthology is intended to make available a full spectrum of science fiction materials and to place them in both a literary and a cultural context." Thus, this is not a collection of "greatest" stories, but rather a selection of representative stories from different time periods. As Rabkin is a Professor of English at the University of Michigan, it se The editor, Eric Rabkin, has collected a variety of short stories and excerpts from longer tales for this book. In the preface, he states that "This anthology is intended to make available a full spectrum of science fiction materials and to place them in both a literary and a cultural context." Thus, this is not a collection of "greatest" stories, but rather a selection of representative stories from different time periods. As Rabkin is a Professor of English at the University of Michigan, it seems likely that he assembled these stories to serve as a textbook for a course on science fiction as a literary form. To this end, he has collected stories and excerpts from as early as the 17th century. Cyrano de Bergerac, Jonathan Swift, and Voltaire do not immediately spring to mind as authors of science fiction, but Rabkin has selected tales that do demonstrate some reliance on science as it was conceived of in the era that Rabkin labels "The Emergence of Modern Science." Likewise, though "Frankenstein" and Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward" (excerpts from both are included here) are recognized as early examples of the genre, Rabkin has also chosen stories from E.T.A. Hoffman, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Jack London that demonstrate emergent themes of science fiction in the 19th century. Moving into the early 20th century, Rabkin gives us samples from recognizable science fiction authors like John W. Campbell and H.G. Wells, as well as others better known within the S.F. community than without: Hugo Gernsback, Abraham Merritt, and Olaf Stapledon. Moving into "the Golden Years" (with acknowledgement of how difficult it is to define their start and end, assuming the period actually existed), the names become more recognizable to the general reader: Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Frederick Pohl, Clifford D. Simak, Jack Finney, and Daniel Keyes. Keyes' contribution is the short story "Flowers for Algernon," which he later expanded into a novel of the same name. When I read the novel in high school, it was never identified as "science fiction," despite the obvious reliance on science for its narrative. Rabkin's "Modern Period" is fairly limited in time, going only from Roger Zelazny's 1966 story "For a Breath I Tarry" to Ursula K. Leguin's 1971 "Vaster than Empires and More Slow." Between are contributions from Harlan Ellison and Robert Sheckley. Though there are several good stories in this anthology, Rabkin's intention is clearly to show different developments of S.F. storytelling over time, rather than provide a good read. For example: Hugo Gernsback (for whom S.F.'s "Hugo Award" is named) was the first of the "pulp" S.F. magazine editors. He included stories of his own in his publications as well as featuring stories from other authors, making him a pioneer writer as well as editor. Perhaps his most famous story is titled "Ralph 124C 41+." Rabkin has excerpted it here, which is a mercy. I had never read any of the story before encountering it in this volume, but Rabkin gives us enough of the story to see Gernsback's "prediction" of radar in this 1911 tale while sparing us most of the melodramatic, purple prose that undoubtedly gave science fiction such a bad reputation among my high school English teachers and, probably, the parents of those kids reading such magazines as "Astounding" and "Amazing Stories" in the 1950's and 60's. But Rabkin's purpose is to give a sense of how S.F. as a genre has developed, and in this sense, "Ralph 124C 41+" is an important tale. For a similar reason (as Rabkin explains in the preface to the story), Pohl's contribution here is chosen not because it is the best short story he wrote (it is not), but because it illustrates something about the emergent community of "outsiders" (i.e., outside of mainstream society) that formed the core of S.F. fans during the "golden years." That said, the stories from many of the "big names" (Wells, Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Ellison, LeGuin) ARE also good stories in and of themselves. They are, happily, well-salted throughout the book to help keep you reading after some of the flatter tales. This may be intentional or it may be mere coincidence, since the tales are all ordered by year of publication. In either case, this distribution keeps the volume from becoming too dry/pedantic/academic. Do not buy this book simply to read for the stories. If you are looking only for entertainment, there are better anthologies out there. But this IS a valuable book if you seek to understand the development of science fiction writing. Rabkin, as he promised, does place each story in its literary and cultural contexts, which makes even the flatter stories more interesting to the reader wishing to understand more of the history of S.F. than if the stories had stood on their own.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    This anthology is an excellent collection of short stories spanning the decades of science fiction writing. It spans early selections from authors such as Cyrano de Bergerac, Jonathan Swift, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar A. Poe, to authors more commonly thought of as science fiction writers such as H. G. Well, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein. The textbook is divided into 5 parts: The Emergence of Modern Science, Nineteenth Century, Twentieth Century, The Golden Years (1940-1965 This anthology is an excellent collection of short stories spanning the decades of science fiction writing. It spans early selections from authors such as Cyrano de Bergerac, Jonathan Swift, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar A. Poe, to authors more commonly thought of as science fiction writers such as H. G. Well, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein. The textbook is divided into 5 parts: The Emergence of Modern Science, Nineteenth Century, Twentieth Century, The Golden Years (1940-1965), and The Modern Period. Each part has a concise and well-written scholarly introduction and explanation. Each short story is placed in the historical context of the development of science fiction as a genre. The four authors featured in Part 5: The Modern Period are Roger Zelazny, Harlan Ellison, Robert Sheckley, and Ursula K. Le Guin. For this anthology published in 1983, Ursula K. Le Guin would have been "modern". I purchased my copy as a college student and it was used as one of my textbooks in a course entitled "The Literature of Science Fiction". Rating 5 stars.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Frida Andreasson

    I've read pages 1-313 Old school Sci-fi is definitly not my thing. Everything is very sensational. The science in here is more often than not wrong and it's hardly even the focus of the story. Everything is very uniform. Almost all of these older stories are written in first person, and it's someone just telling and telling either what they've lived through or what a scociety is like. It's fairly boring and does not conform to the modern concept of what a story should be like with an introduction, a I've read pages 1-313 Old school Sci-fi is definitly not my thing. Everything is very sensational. The science in here is more often than not wrong and it's hardly even the focus of the story. Everything is very uniform. Almost all of these older stories are written in first person, and it's someone just telling and telling either what they've lived through or what a scociety is like. It's fairly boring and does not conform to the modern concept of what a story should be like with an introduction, a rising climax and a ressolution to a central conflict. It just - is. It feels like history writing in style, more than fiction. Also - didn't people in the eighteenth and nineteenth century believe in having dialouge in prose fiction? These texts make it seem like they didn't.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

    By far, the best collection on the market before the millennials appeared on the shelves. If you are looking for a good starter reader begin here and then move into either Bradbury, Heinlein, or Asimov next. They are all in the anthology with good core pieces to read. This was the core text of my SciFi lit class at Marshall. Really opened me view up beyond the 1990s pulp SciFi that I had been reading.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jon Sayer

    I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (finished 3/8/2011): I bought this anthology so I could read this short story. It was worth it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Paradoxhorizon

    Solid collection of stories with good introductions to each era by the editor.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Walters

    Robert A. Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” is the best ;)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anya

  10. 4 out of 5

    Richard Gombert

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rita

  12. 5 out of 5

    Martha

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dan

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brad Thompson

  15. 5 out of 5

    Marissa

  16. 4 out of 5

    Terryben

  17. 4 out of 5

    Charlee

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Pramik

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cavaleman

  21. 5 out of 5

    SAMYUGYA JAIN

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lilliam Rivera

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hilliary

  24. 4 out of 5

    Constructionv4

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mythie

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Schlegel

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ihor Kolesnyk

  29. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

  30. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  31. 4 out of 5

    Allison

  32. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

  33. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  34. 5 out of 5

    Netanella

  35. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  36. 4 out of 5

    Karen Harper

  37. 4 out of 5

    Ianmhunt

  38. 5 out of 5

    Judy

  39. 5 out of 5

    Charles Clark

  40. 5 out of 5

    Dan Payment

  41. 4 out of 5

    Erica

  42. 4 out of 5

    John Ervin

  43. 5 out of 5

    Charles

  44. 5 out of 5

    Ca53buckeye

  45. 4 out of 5

    Abbi

  46. 4 out of 5

    Angela Randall

  47. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  48. 4 out of 5

    Thom Dunn

  49. 5 out of 5

    erolyn em balaan

  50. 4 out of 5

    Samanthaleigh

  51. 5 out of 5

    Anne

  52. 4 out of 5

    Johnnyh73

  53. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

  54. 4 out of 5

    Robyn Bradshaw

  55. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  56. 5 out of 5

    K

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