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The Secret History of Science Fiction

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This ingeniously conceived anthology raises the intriguing question, If Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow had won the Nebula award in 1973, would the future distinction between literary fiction and science fiction have been erased? Exploring the possibility of an alternate history of speculative fiction, this literary collection reveals that the lines between genres have This ingeniously conceived anthology raises the intriguing question, If Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow had won the Nebula award in 1973, would the future distinction between literary fiction and science fiction have been erased? Exploring the possibility of an alternate history of speculative fiction, this literary collection reveals that the lines between genres have already been obscured. Don DeLillo’s “Human Moments in World War III” follows the strange detachment of two astronauts who are orbiting in a skylab while a third world war rages on earth. “The Ziggurat” by Gene Wolfe traverses a dissolving marriage, a custody dispute, and the visit of time travelers from the future. T. C. Boyle’s “Descent of Man” is the subversively funny tale of a man who suspects that his primatologist lover is having an affair with one of her charges. In “Schwarzschild Radius,” Connie Willis draws an allegorical parallel between the horrors of trench warfare and the speculative physics of black holes. Artfully crafted and offering a wealth of esteemed authors—from writers within the genre to those normally associated with mainstream fiction, as well as those with a crossover reputation—this volume aptly demonstrates that great science fiction appears in many guises. Contents Introduction by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel “Angouleme” by Thomas M. Disch “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin “Ladies and Gentlemen, This Is Your Crisis” by Kate Wilhelm “Descent of Man” by T. C. Boyle “Human Moments in World War III” by Don DeLillo “Homelanding” by Margaret Atwood “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Carter Scholz “Interlocking Pieces” by Molly Gloss “Salvador” by Lucius Shepard “Schwarzschild Radius” by Connie Willis “Buddha Nostril Bird” by John Kessel “The Ziggurat” by Gene Wolfe “The Hardened Criminals” by Jonathan Lethem “Standing Room Only” by Karen Joy Fowler “10^16 to 1” by James Patrick Kelly “93990” by George Saunders “The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance” by Michael Chabon “Frankenstein’s Daughter” by Maureen F. McHugh “The Wizard of West Orange” by Steven Millhauser


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This ingeniously conceived anthology raises the intriguing question, If Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow had won the Nebula award in 1973, would the future distinction between literary fiction and science fiction have been erased? Exploring the possibility of an alternate history of speculative fiction, this literary collection reveals that the lines between genres have This ingeniously conceived anthology raises the intriguing question, If Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow had won the Nebula award in 1973, would the future distinction between literary fiction and science fiction have been erased? Exploring the possibility of an alternate history of speculative fiction, this literary collection reveals that the lines between genres have already been obscured. Don DeLillo’s “Human Moments in World War III” follows the strange detachment of two astronauts who are orbiting in a skylab while a third world war rages on earth. “The Ziggurat” by Gene Wolfe traverses a dissolving marriage, a custody dispute, and the visit of time travelers from the future. T. C. Boyle’s “Descent of Man” is the subversively funny tale of a man who suspects that his primatologist lover is having an affair with one of her charges. In “Schwarzschild Radius,” Connie Willis draws an allegorical parallel between the horrors of trench warfare and the speculative physics of black holes. Artfully crafted and offering a wealth of esteemed authors—from writers within the genre to those normally associated with mainstream fiction, as well as those with a crossover reputation—this volume aptly demonstrates that great science fiction appears in many guises. Contents Introduction by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel “Angouleme” by Thomas M. Disch “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin “Ladies and Gentlemen, This Is Your Crisis” by Kate Wilhelm “Descent of Man” by T. C. Boyle “Human Moments in World War III” by Don DeLillo “Homelanding” by Margaret Atwood “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Carter Scholz “Interlocking Pieces” by Molly Gloss “Salvador” by Lucius Shepard “Schwarzschild Radius” by Connie Willis “Buddha Nostril Bird” by John Kessel “The Ziggurat” by Gene Wolfe “The Hardened Criminals” by Jonathan Lethem “Standing Room Only” by Karen Joy Fowler “10^16 to 1” by James Patrick Kelly “93990” by George Saunders “The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance” by Michael Chabon “Frankenstein’s Daughter” by Maureen F. McHugh “The Wizard of West Orange” by Steven Millhauser

30 review for The Secret History of Science Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    stormin

    I got this book for my birthday in May, 2013 but I set it aside initially because I had expected it to be an non-fiction historical account of the literary development of science fiction. Instead, it's a collection of short stories that bridge the gap between science fiction and literary fiction. Which, actually, is a really cool collection. So pretty soon I picked it up and gave it a read. Now, I'm an avid defender of genre fiction as a general rule. Part of this reflects weakness of character o I got this book for my birthday in May, 2013 but I set it aside initially because I had expected it to be an non-fiction historical account of the literary development of science fiction. Instead, it's a collection of short stories that bridge the gap between science fiction and literary fiction. Which, actually, is a really cool collection. So pretty soon I picked it up and gave it a read. Now, I'm an avid defender of genre fiction as a general rule. Part of this reflects weakness of character on my part: a lot of the great works strike me as incredibly nourishing to my soul on a page-by-page basis, but don't have enough novelty to attract my attention. That's been true ever since I was a kid: I crave escapism in my fiction. Part of this, however, reflects what I think is an accurate perception that "art" has become to some extent sterilized as a result of snobbery and specialization. I believe that a lot of works of genre fiction are also works of legitimate artistic merit, such as Dune or Ender's Game. So what about the stories in this collection? Well, they run the gamut. This was the first time that I'd actually had a chance to read Ursula K. Le Guin's legendary "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas". It was brutal to read, and just as powerful as its reputation suggests. Others, like "The Hardened Criminals" (by Jonathan Lethem) struck me as more of a miss than a hit but--and this is important--even the misses were ineresting misses. It's been a couple of months since I finished the book (I'm catching up on my Goodreads reviews), but some others that stuck with me are: Descent of Man, by T. C. Boyle This is the second sci-fi story I've read about the convergence of chimpanzees and humans. In the other one (title escapes me) a scientist moves the consciousness of his dead child into a chimp. In this one, a man finds that he is suddenly unable to compete for the affections of his girl-friend with a hyper-intelligent chimpanzee. It sounds like the stuff of farce, but is told with unrelenting grimness, such as when the viewpoint character eats the brain of a small, live monkey with the his girlfriend and another couple on a double date. Fun? No, but--like I said--it sticks with you. The Zigguraut, by Gene Wolfe This was an incredibly odd story about a man living in an isolated cabin when he is visited by his ex-wife, their two children, and--soon thereafter--mysterious, stranded time-travelers. There are heavy undertones of gender relationships and the plot is just slightly surreal, but I haven't thought through it enough to have a coherent idea of what I think it is about. Salvador, by Lucius Shepard I think the only reason I remember this one is that I had read it before: it's the story of a young American soldier who is traumatized by combat experiences and hallucinogenic drug use in a fictional near-future war in El Salvador. It's historically interesting, given that it was written in 1984 and so clearly references Vietnam when, in 2013, readers are more likely to pair it with images of Iraq or Afghanistan. Schwarzschild Radius, by Connie Willis This was probably my favorite story, and it reminds me very much of Pamela Zoline's legendary 1967 short story "Heat Death of the Universe", in that it contrasts an apparently normal narrative of everyday events (the daily activities of a housewife in "Heat Death" vs. trench warfare from World War I in "Schwarzschild Radius") with a meditation on science (entropy in "Heat Death" and black holes in "Schwarzchild Radius"). There's something existentially satisfying and richly creative in the act of identifying the events of particular individual lives with the abstractions of ultimate scientific reality. I would really encourage everyone to read both short stories. In any case, I don't recommend this as a "fun" book because (like a lot of the sci-fi that I love) it's not very accessible. But if you're at all interested in science fiction as literature, then this is basically an absolute must-read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    pax

    This is one wonderful anthology. If you are into science fiction: read it. If you are not into sf but into literary fiction: read it. It stands exactly on the edge there, show-casting all the things that New Wave and its heirs have introduced into sf and let slip from sf into mainstream, navigating the sea gate between genre and literary, where the most interesting things grow, though often either overlooked (because people who read literary will not read anything with an sf label and keep insist This is one wonderful anthology. If you are into science fiction: read it. If you are not into sf but into literary fiction: read it. It stands exactly on the edge there, show-casting all the things that New Wave and its heirs have introduced into sf and let slip from sf into mainstream, navigating the sea gate between genre and literary, where the most interesting things grow, though often either overlooked (because people who read literary will not read anything with an sf label and keep insisting that Margaret Atwood does not write SF) or discarded (because a lot of hardcore sf fans are guarding their little corner against the stink of what they think to be literary pretence). But if you are willing to open the door just a bit and let the other in or, like me, honestly enjoy this mixture most of all, you'll love this book. I knew only one of of the stories before - Ursula K LeGuin's classic "The One Who Walk Away from Omelas" - and the rest is well chosen. Chabon's and Millhauser's are too much Steampunk for me and were slower reads (but then again, Steampunk is just not mine, being more fantasy than sf to my physicists' eyes, and the stories are definitely needed to be in the anthology as a whole), but the rest I could not stop reading. Books by George Saunders and Carter Scholz are not my reading list now; I definitely need to finally read Gene Wolfe, even though - or perhaps because? - I had to google up some reviews of his story to come up with a proper interpretation that would satisfy me. Added to the 19 actual stories is a wonderful introductory essay and, before each story, a few citations, usually juxtaposed opinions on the role and rules of science fiction, both as a genre or as something that can facilitate or ruin a writer's career. I would like to cite pretty much all of them, but I'll go for one only: For my generation, the New Wave people, the big disappointment is that they did not find an audience large enough to sustain their work and their careers. -- Thomas M. Disch -- This is true and this is still one of my biggest disappointments in sf. Certainly, pearls like this anthology would have been more often otherwise ...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Drunken_orangetree

    Kelly, and John Kessel, pull together a collection of stories by both writers associated with SF--Kelly and Kessel for instance--with other writers more associated with the mainstream--T. C. Boyle or Margaret Atwood. The ordering is more or less chronological and I would consider the selection very good. I think the hard and fast division between the literary ghetto and the mainstream has been breaking down for some time anyway. Writers like Michael Chabon or Joy Williams, widely respected, use Kelly, and John Kessel, pull together a collection of stories by both writers associated with SF--Kelly and Kessel for instance--with other writers more associated with the mainstream--T. C. Boyle or Margaret Atwood. The ordering is more or less chronological and I would consider the selection very good. I think the hard and fast division between the literary ghetto and the mainstream has been breaking down for some time anyway. Writers like Michael Chabon or Joy Williams, widely respected, use tropes and images far removed from the realist novel, the novel that dominates the pages of the NYTimes Book Review. Best stories by my lights: Maureen McHugh's "Frankenstein's Daughter," Jonathan Letham's "The Hardened Criminals," Don Delillo's "Human Moments in World War III."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Philipp

    A collection of short stories with a unique twist - in 1974, science-fiction as a niche, as a group of people, had a chance to break out of its tropes and merge with the wider literary world. Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow was nominated for a Hugo! But instead, Rendezvous with Rama won. The chance was gone. But what if? This here collection unites SF-writers forays into 'regular' literature and 'regular' writers forays into literature, a world where SF isn't a weirdo genre with its own conventions a A collection of short stories with a unique twist - in 1974, science-fiction as a niche, as a group of people, had a chance to break out of its tropes and merge with the wider literary world. Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow was nominated for a Hugo! But instead, Rendezvous with Rama won. The chance was gone. But what if? This here collection unites SF-writers forays into 'regular' literature and 'regular' writers forays into literature, a world where SF isn't a weirdo genre with its own conventions and tropes, but where SF is instead merged into the mainstream. Favorite stories: Le Guin's The Ones Who Walk Away From Omela, on a perfect society that needs to rest on a terrible open secret, Lethem's The Hardened Criminals, on a future-prison where the walls are made out of the reanimated corpses of past prisoners as if it's the Greek mythology's underworld, McHugh's Frankenstein's Daughter, on a mother coming to terms living with a disabled clone of her dead daughter. Weirdest story: Wolfe's The Ziggurat. I expected Wolfe-typical dense, layered text that needs rereading to understand, but I got a relatively straightforward 'modern' story with some SF-elements thrown in, with an engineer-main-character who behaves in the weirdest, nonsensical way ("You killed my son and I don't understand your language? Guess I'll marry you and kiss you while you sleep" wat) Since the 70s, the borders between SF and regular writing have indeed been falling. The introduction points out Chabon winning the Nebula for Yiddish Policemen's Union. Nowadays we're lucky to have writers like Ted Chiang who blur the boundaries between genre-SF and 'literature' nowadays, alternative-1974 is happening now. Good times!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    This is a collection interesting short fiction. The co-editors created it to illustrate how SF might have been seen had the genre been "absorbed" into the mainstream - at least for literary critics, reviewers, and devotees. To that end, most of these tales are different from the "classic" space opera, hard science, and even the SF-fantasy crossover stories that are so common. Personally, I liked the individual tales and the snippets of interviews with authors (cut up and scattered throughout the This is a collection interesting short fiction. The co-editors created it to illustrate how SF might have been seen had the genre been "absorbed" into the mainstream - at least for literary critics, reviewers, and devotees. To that end, most of these tales are different from the "classic" space opera, hard science, and even the SF-fantasy crossover stories that are so common. Personally, I liked the individual tales and the snippets of interviews with authors (cut up and scattered throughout the book). I think that the caliber of work included is quite high. Where I disagree with the editors is in their title. This is no "history" of the genre, or its practitioners, or even a series of stories showing how authors develop from concepts and plots of earlier works. So, if you like the title, be forewarned. In a sideways sort of way, the tales in this anthology remind me of stories from "The Twilight Zone" series. While there is far less overt "SF" in the collection, there is the same elevation of plot, character development, and drama over techno mumbo-jumbo and BEMs. Not that there isn't a bit of science/technology or aliens scattered here and there. But these elements take a 2nd priority to rich story-telling and ultimately that is the point of the collection: SF could have (should have?) grown past the "traditional" at a moment in time when new authors were trying to bring it back into "respectable" literature. This sounds so reasonable and yet it is flawed, too. Yes, publishers and rabid fans and critics pigeonhole authors who write genre types of fiction. But, the strength and size of such publishing has also done good for the niche. The late Issac Asimov was brashly unapologetic about how SF and SF fans were like any other mainstream activity. True he was a larger-than-life presence within the community, but he made the point even without needing to. While we may never lose the taint of the "pulp" past of SF we can and should embrace all of its facets. I for one like a good space opera now and then along with more intricate and nuanced fiction.

  6. 5 out of 5

    John

    Despite the awful title, this collection is full of great short stories. One of the goals of the collection is to question our conventional understandings of science fiction as a "genre," challenging the traditional division between literature, mainstream fiction, and science fiction, and many of the stories do an exemplary job of demonstrating the power and artistry of well-written science fiction. The introductory essay is also one of the best I have read about the status of science fiction as Despite the awful title, this collection is full of great short stories. One of the goals of the collection is to question our conventional understandings of science fiction as a "genre," challenging the traditional division between literature, mainstream fiction, and science fiction, and many of the stories do an exemplary job of demonstrating the power and artistry of well-written science fiction. The introductory essay is also one of the best I have read about the status of science fiction as a genre, a question that has become increasingly important for many authors writing within this tradition. It is an illuminating read for those interested in the politics of genre labels, and the stories are great fun for those who enjoy not just good science fiction, but great fiction.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Whyte

    http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2696038.html This is an anthology of stories and writers which supposedly straddle the boundary between mainstream fiction and sf. I confess that I didn't really see the point of the question ("What if sf didn't exist as a genre, but was being written anyway?") but I did enjoy most of the stories. One or two I already knew ("The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", "Salvador") but the one I particularly enjoyed, contra my own expectations (also contra other reviewers who http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2696038.html This is an anthology of stories and writers which supposedly straddle the boundary between mainstream fiction and sf. I confess that I didn't really see the point of the question ("What if sf didn't exist as a genre, but was being written anyway?") but I did enjoy most of the stories. One or two I already knew ("The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", "Salvador") but the one I particularly enjoyed, contra my own expectations (also contra other reviewers who I've read) was "Ziggurat", an interesting and convoluted short by Gene Wolfe, who I've tended to bounce off in the past.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Justpassingby

    I had forgotten about the Short Story. I studied English as a 3rd language at school. My teachers loved short stories and poetry because they fitted into the sparse hours allotted to them more easily than novels. Therefore the blame is entirely on me: nearly all the fiction I have ever read since school consists of book-length stories. One notable exception that should have woken me up but didn't, is the marvellous bundle Vizio di forma by Primo Levi. The Secret History of Science Fiction is an an I had forgotten about the Short Story. I studied English as a 3rd language at school. My teachers loved short stories and poetry because they fitted into the sparse hours allotted to them more easily than novels. Therefore the blame is entirely on me: nearly all the fiction I have ever read since school consists of book-length stories. One notable exception that should have woken me up but didn't, is the marvellous bundle Vizio di forma by Primo Levi. The Secret History of Science Fiction is an anthology of unusual science fiction short stories. In their introduction the editors convincingly argue that science fiction deserves to be shed of its pulp fiction image among the mainstream literary audience. The selection is highly varied, the only apparent linking theme being negative: they do not represent the traditional 1930s fare of spaceships, distant planets and aliens, as reinforced by the Star Trek TV series and the Star Wars film franchise. My current favourite, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", reflects on poverty and responsibility. I may one day revisit this review to discuss the individual stories in more detail. For now, I solemnly pledge to start paying more attention to short stories, a form particularly well suited for imaginative fiction.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    Originally posted on Short Story Review: After reading John Kessel and Jim Kelly’s The Slipstream Anthology, I was sold on their taste in stories, so when I found The Secret History of Science Fiction, I picked it up with the expectation that their taste in science fiction would also mesh well with mine. I was mostly right. There are nineteen stories included in this collection as well as an introduction by the editors in which they discuss the “genrefication” of science fiction and its status as Originally posted on Short Story Review: After reading John Kessel and Jim Kelly’s The Slipstream Anthology, I was sold on their taste in stories, so when I found The Secret History of Science Fiction, I picked it up with the expectation that their taste in science fiction would also mesh well with mine. I was mostly right. There are nineteen stories included in this collection as well as an introduction by the editors in which they discuss the “genrefication” of science fiction and its status as a lower form of literature ascribed to it by readers and critics unfamiliar with it. Throughout the course of the book, before each story, quotes are included by famous science fiction writers and writers who dabble in sci fi but would otherwise be considered “literary” writers as well as those who straddle both lines regularly, such as T.C. Boyle and Ursula K. Le Guin. The quotes continued the introduction’s discussion and were just as good as the stories, and I found myself eager to read them as well. (view spoiler)[ Of the nineteen stories in this collection, I became enamored with eight of them. Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” which I’d read previously but was more than happy to revisit, concerns a utopian society and is written as if the author is trying to convince the reader of the society’s existence. “Ladies and Gentleman, This Is Your Crisis” by Kate Wilhelm tells the story of a young couple and their weekend obsession with a reality television show a bit more dangerous than ours today, in which the contestants face actual death, and through their viewing of the show, the narrative explores the nature of relationships between men and women. In T.C. Boyle’s “Descent of Man,” an absolutely hilarious story, a man is concerned when his girlfriend becomes wrapped up in her work assisting a hyper-intelligent ape. Margaret Atwood’s “Homelanding” is a short piece which uses a woman landing on a foreign planet to explore, very briefly but no less affectingly, our own planet’s treatment of women. “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Carter Scholz is also a hilarious read, in which a writer submits Arthur C. Clarke’s famous story as his own, and the story consists of his back-and-forth with the editor who rejects him. I found “Schwarzschild Radius” by Connie Willis beautifully poignant. To quote Kelly and Kessel, this story “uses the physics of black holes as a metaphor for the isolation of men trapped in war, drawn inexorably toward their deaths.” Maureen F. McHugh’s “Frankenstein’s Daughter” tells the story of a broken family coping with the hardship of raising a cloned child developmentally disabled by the procedure. I appreciate the way it uses a common sci fi premise to tell the domestic story of the difficulties of raising children. My favorite story in the anthology is “The Wizard of West Orange” by Steven Millhauser, in which a new invention of Thomas Edison’s will allow people to record and experience touch. (hide spoiler)] The Secret History of Science Fiction introduced me to a wealth of writers I would like to check out more of. I would certainly recommend this to any reader skeptical of the worth of science fiction.

  10. 4 out of 5

    John Orman

    Stories that crossover from science fiction to mainstream, these writing defy trends and cross genres. LeGuin, Wilhelm, Willis, Atwood, and Greg Wolfe are represented. In The Descent of Man, T.C. Boyle writes of a weird researcher at a Primate Center who goes ape for a resident, bringing him lice in her navel. Then the ape goes wild and the relationship ends badly. In the poem Homelanding, Margaret Atwood describes and alien who does not believe in the "take me to your leader" cliche: No, take me t Stories that crossover from science fiction to mainstream, these writing defy trends and cross genres. LeGuin, Wilhelm, Willis, Atwood, and Greg Wolfe are represented. In The Descent of Man, T.C. Boyle writes of a weird researcher at a Primate Center who goes ape for a resident, bringing him lice in her navel. Then the ape goes wild and the relationship ends badly. In the poem Homelanding, Margaret Atwood describes and alien who does not believe in the "take me to your leader" cliche: No, take me to trees, breakfasts, sunsets, shoes, dreams, and deaths. These are worth it, are what I have come for. In The Nine Billion Names of God, an author submits the well-known Arthur Clarke story word for word to an editor, supposedly generated by a computer program that generates random numbers then looks up the corresponding words in a dictionary. The author claims that since the story has a "new context," it is a "new" story. The editor does not buy that belief, or the story. When the author runs his program in reverse, it generates another famous story, Asimov's The Last Question. The editor still does not buy it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mscout

    This was a collection of stories that set out to examine the boundaries between "literature" and "genre". What makes a story science fiction? Why does that label automatically devalue the story in some circles? The authors chosen for the anthology are mostly not generally associated with scifi, so it may be an eye-opener for a lot of serious lit folks. Overall, the collection is very solid and highly recommended. This was a collection of stories that set out to examine the boundaries between "literature" and "genre". What makes a story science fiction? Why does that label automatically devalue the story in some circles? The authors chosen for the anthology are mostly not generally associated with scifi, so it may be an eye-opener for a lot of serious lit folks. Overall, the collection is very solid and highly recommended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Stormer

    Great collection of Science Fiction stories that confound, extend, and ultimately bring to question ideas about Sci-Fi as a genre that is necessarily separate from mainstream literature. All are good-- my favorites are "The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Carter Scholz, and "The Hardened Criminals" by Jonathan Lethem. Great collection of Science Fiction stories that confound, extend, and ultimately bring to question ideas about Sci-Fi as a genre that is necessarily separate from mainstream literature. All are good-- my favorites are "The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Carter Scholz, and "The Hardened Criminals" by Jonathan Lethem.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Nace

    Not the best anthology I've ever read....some interesting selections, but on the whole my reaction was mostly "Meh" Not the best anthology I've ever read....some interesting selections, but on the whole my reaction was mostly "Meh"

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kend

    I'll be honest, I mostly picked up this anthology to lay my hands on Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" in the wake of her death, as I'd never read it and was roundly admonished for that fact. And boy, Le Guin did not disappoint ... and happily, neither did the collection as a whole! With selections from Atwood and Willis and a number of other authors I love—as well as many I'd avoided, or hadn't heard of—this anthology quickly proved its value to me. If I were still teaching college I'll be honest, I mostly picked up this anthology to lay my hands on Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" in the wake of her death, as I'd never read it and was roundly admonished for that fact. And boy, Le Guin did not disappoint ... and happily, neither did the collection as a whole! With selections from Atwood and Willis and a number of other authors I love—as well as many I'd avoided, or hadn't heard of—this anthology quickly proved its value to me. If I were still teaching college composition courses I would have found a few here to use in the classroom. I appreciated the introduction as much as anything, too, and I think it would make a perfect introductory reading to any course on science fiction; after all, it examines important questions we tend to gloss over when nerding out over SFF, like "What is science fiction, anyway? What makes it different from other kinds of books? Is it even a genre? Or is it something else?" Of course, James Patrick Kelly seems to have been anthologizing SFF for forever (I've seen his books all through my growing up years) so it's perhaps not a surprise that he's more or less perfected the form and the questions which shape any collection. I'm not one who goes for anthologies as a whole, especially the yearly ones, but this is a great collection of works from those post-"Golden Age" authors which have shaped the current epoch. If I ever spot it on the shelves at my local(ish) bookstores, I'll be picking up a copy for keeping. Dark libraries and their due dates ....

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dan Slimmon

    I don't think that this compilation of stories lives up to the editors' ambition of laying out the "secret history of science fiction." Or maybe I didn't understand the critical point of view they were arguing against. In any case, it's a pretty good collection that plays with the gray area between science fiction and Respectable Literature. I especially liked the Molly Gloss and Gene Wolfe stories. I don't think that this compilation of stories lives up to the editors' ambition of laying out the "secret history of science fiction." Or maybe I didn't understand the critical point of view they were arguing against. In any case, it's a pretty good collection that plays with the gray area between science fiction and Respectable Literature. I especially liked the Molly Gloss and Gene Wolfe stories.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cristian

    A nice collection overall. Unfortunately, many of the stories feel lacking, even amongst the better ones you might find yourself at a loss at the end of the reading, not sure if it succeeded in delivering its point across or not, while a couple others just feel plain gimmicky. Nonetheless, the couple of gems sprinkled in here will more than compensate for the few duds and the mediocrity of the rest.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Roger Mexico

    Lots of interesting stories, some of them a little too dry/dense. Definitely liked the Saunders one written like a lab report. This collection makes a good case for taking science fiction "more seriously" (or viewing it as less of "pulp"/"niche" genre and more of a "literary pursuit) which is one of the editors goals, so, "kudos to you!", editors! Lots of interesting stories, some of them a little too dry/dense. Definitely liked the Saunders one written like a lab report. This collection makes a good case for taking science fiction "more seriously" (or viewing it as less of "pulp"/"niche" genre and more of a "literary pursuit) which is one of the editors goals, so, "kudos to you!", editors!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ebenmaessiger

    "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas," by Ursula K. Le Guin, 5 pg. (1973): 9.25 - Much more impressive than my faded memory would have had me believe, that being that it's a riff off the Shirley Jackson “Lottery”, with the obvious variations in the victim's treatment. Instead, Le Guin—fittingly for the time and progressive literary movements of which she was a part—crafts a much more self-conscious, broadly implicatory, and (paradoxically) playful vision, in which it actually helps to know the twi "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas," by Ursula K. Le Guin, 5 pg. (1973): 9.25 - Much more impressive than my faded memory would have had me believe, that being that it's a riff off the Shirley Jackson “Lottery”, with the obvious variations in the victim's treatment. Instead, Le Guin—fittingly for the time and progressive literary movements of which she was a part—crafts a much more self-conscious, broadly implicatory, and (paradoxically) playful vision, in which it actually helps to know the twist to understand the nature of her pre-twist tone (insouciant, a bit condemnatory and derisively exhausted toward toward the reader): meaning, she proceeds from the given premise (what if a perfect society existed BECAUSE it did this) and actively creates/fills in the gaps during the writing (ie “well what do you think a "perfect" society’s technological level would look like?”). "Salvador," by Lucius Shepard (1984): 8 - Above all else, this reads like story from 1984, and not simply because of the Contra allusions, but more so for the half-reactionary anti-Reagan meandering at play here, the kind of knee-jerk ‘againstness’ here struggling to find a coherent ideological/narrative outlet, instead opting for ambiguity rather than directness. STORY: in an only slightly-altered timeline [depicting a much more concentrated (maybe?) American presence in El Salvador/”anti-communist” insurgencies throughout the Third World], a soldier, concurrently taking way too many hyper-combat-readiness drugs, maybe hallucinates / maybe actually finds his way into an in-between world, where a girl tells him to, effectively, bring the war home to Americans. In turn, he slaughters his regiment and returns home, and we leave the story on the cusp of him, likely, slaughtering some American civilians for these murky reasons. It works half-effectively as a hazy, what’s-happening play on the messiness of both America’s Cold War commitments, as well as on the toll that the nature of this cruel war has on the ones perpetrating it (although, in that line, in falls square in line with takes on SFF/genre lit, in which Vietnam and our country’s sundry sins are played out as, first and foremost, tragedies for us, rather than for those against whom these actions are committed). At the very least, it works much better at this angle than it does at all in the ‘depiction of battle or soldiers’ angle, case in point being DT, the menacing, jive talkin’ black commander of the group. “Angouleme,” by Thomas M. Disch (1971): 9 - If an example of the “realistic fiction of the future,” as described by this collection’s editors in their introduction, then Disch’s little what-if-Leopold-and-Loeb in a dystopia reflects that realism less in a representative slice-of-life narrative way than in its finely observed, subtly clued character study. Indeed, I struggle to see our prepubescent plotters as typical of any social cadre even in the future depicted here, although this doesn’t take away from the power Disch finds in illuminating the contours of this most plausible of futures — little noticeable technological change, “progressive” socio-cultural changes overlaying general socio-economic degeneration, shunting have nots onto a UBI-like “now-don’t-complain” program — through them. Disch employs a slightly overwrought, half strained, and half quite effective prose style that is probably the main source of lumping him in with the li-fi crowd—in addition to the decidedly degenerate and relatively low-stakes atmosphere of his work. The thing, though: it’s pretty good. Nonetheless, clearly suffers as a stand-alone, ie sure the cumulative effect of reading this in conjunction with the rest of 334 provides more generous view than getting it solo here. STORY: slightly off-kilter future with bored rich kids doing what bored rich kids do: planning to murk someone.

  19. 4 out of 5

    A

    I'm probably the ideal reader for this kind of anthology, since a lot of my favorite fiction is stylistically interesting, intelligent, and a little weird (more is always better). While it's not quite perfect (exclusions of certain influential writers for inclusions of the editors?), and the introductory essay brings up some contentious issues (which it clearlymeans to do), overall quality was high. All the stories were new to me, though I imagine they are familiar to those who read anthologies I'm probably the ideal reader for this kind of anthology, since a lot of my favorite fiction is stylistically interesting, intelligent, and a little weird (more is always better). While it's not quite perfect (exclusions of certain influential writers for inclusions of the editors?), and the introductory essay brings up some contentious issues (which it clearlymeans to do), overall quality was high. All the stories were new to me, though I imagine they are familiar to those who read anthologies more regularly than I do. Some favorites: "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," Ursula K. Le Guin Beautifully written story with palpable atmosphere that presents an ambiguous and fascinating allegory on sacrifices made for happiness. Further evidence that Le Guin is a great writer. "Ladies and Gentleman, This is Your Crisis," Kate Wilhelm Not as stylish as some of the stories, but I found her 1976 take on the future of reality TV refreshing. While there's the usual disturbing subtext, Wilhelm focuses her attention on the viewers and the way these shows can build/enhance bonds between people (while furthering our disconnect). "Descent of Man," T.C. Boyle The rare "Post-Modern" style story that engaged me through some really great writing. Some unreal elements that commit the usual mistake of over-reaching, but still fun. "Homelanding," Margaret Atwood I figured out her primary "trick" too quickly, but Atwood is always interesting. "Salvador," Lucius Shepard Pretty emotional, provocative story set in a near-future war in Latin America. Effects of a drug highlight the real dehumanizing effects of warfare, but built more on characterization than this concept. "Buddha Nostril Bird," John Kessell One of those stories that resists mere allegory by filling in enough details that we can imagine the world as a real thing. Built primarily on ancient Greek elements with some Eastern thrown in. "Hardened Criminals," Jonathan Lethem Probably my favorite story in the collection, apart from Le Guin's. Brilliant concept the serves as metaphor but is also treated as "real" and fully integrated w/the characterization (which is its primary thrust). I've heard great things about Lethem's work, and this convinces me that he's the sort of writer I connect with. Will read more. "10/16 to 1," James Patrick Kelly Had a very classic feel, which may be tied to the early 60's setting (when Bradbury was writing a lot of his best short work). I think it was this feel that appealed to me--concise, well-written story built on an interesting concept, good characterization, and nice "twist" at the end. Plus I'm a sucker for time travel. "The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance," Michael Chabon The dense language sometimes cloaks the action, but this is probably the intentionally archaic style that enhances the overall feel. Chabon certainly gets the syntax right and shows himself capable with rollicking alternate history steampunk adventure. OMG airship! Yeah, it's kinda like that. "The Wizard of West Orange," Steven Millhauser Gets a bit repetitive, but beautifully written and sorta steampunkish. I love fusions of past/present/future and exploring all these potential worlds and possibilities, which this story does quite well. The stories by Delillo and Wolfe were mildly disappointing. "Human Moments in World War III" is frankly dull, the dialogue unrealistic, and the characters not particularly human or engaging, which I realize is the point but doesn't make for a particular interesting read. Ends up being just an ineffective whine, a "why should I care?" "The Ziggurat" is as sophisticated in its use of an unreliable narrator as plenty of literary fiction and interesting to think about, but suffers from a horribly plodding pace and too much padding. Will probably explore both writers more eventually, since they are generally so well regarded. The rest are all good, interesting in terms of style and technique, but don't pop out as much in my memory. You may very well find they suit you more than me.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mathew Walls

    I was reminded recently of the short story The Nine Billion Names of God by Carter Scholz and wanted to read it again. I found it in this collection and decided I may as well read the rest. Most of the rest aren't very good, but I would almost recommend the book just on the strength of that one story; it's really great. There rest aren't worth going out of your way for, but most of them have at least enough of something to hold your interest. Angeloume didn't do much for me, and I'm not really su I was reminded recently of the short story The Nine Billion Names of God by Carter Scholz and wanted to read it again. I found it in this collection and decided I may as well read the rest. Most of the rest aren't very good, but I would almost recommend the book just on the strength of that one story; it's really great. There rest aren't worth going out of your way for, but most of them have at least enough of something to hold your interest. Angeloume didn't do much for me, and I'm not really sure what I was supposed to get out of it. It's one of those stories about teenagers with big plans failing to carry them out and nothing really happens. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas was weird and seemed fairly pointless. I don't get it. Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Your Crisis reminded me a bit of Black Mirror. More plausible, less outrageous. Not particularly original, but not bad. I gave up on Descent of Man. It was very unpleasant. Human Moments in World War III was another where not much happened and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to get out of it. Homelanding was another one I didn't see much point in. The Nine Billion Names of God is brilliant. Read it. Or listen to the author read it. Interlocking Pieces was one of the better ones, though I don't have much to say about it, it was worth reading. Salvador was also OK, and also a bit Black Mirror-ish - though less so than This is Your Crisis. Schwarzchild Radius was weird and didn't really have any impact on me. Buddha Nostril Bird was the strangest of the stories and it wasn't clear at all what was actually going on or what we were meant to understand from it. A lot of the time it felt like it should have been part of a larger story. The Ziggurat wasn't bad, but also felt like it should have been part of a longer story. I'd read that story, but I'm not sure whether it would be good or not. The Hardened Criminals was very Black Mirror and incredibly dumb. Standing Room Only was another one that felt like the start of a longer story, and in fact, it just seems to end at a fairly arbitrary point, as though the author reached her word count. 10¹⁶ to 1 was an interesting premise that never really went anywhere. The protagonist compares his experience to an episode of The Twilight Zone and the comparison is appropriate. The story kind of sets up the alternate reality and encourages you to think about it, but to what end is unclear. 93990 can be summarised as "monkey experiences atypical lack of response in drug trial. Results inconclusive." Seriously, nothing happens. The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance was yet another that felt like the first chapter of a novel rather than a self-contained short story. It ends just as it has your attention. Frankenstein's Daughter is sort of like 10¹⁶ to 1 except that the interesting premise is shoved into the background and has no real relevance to the mundane story actually being told. The Wizard of West Orange is one of those old-fashioned sort of sci-fi stories where some new technology is speculated on and described, and then the author wonders what its consequences will be but provides no answers. It's fine for the type of thing it is though. In all, a distinctly underwhelming collection except for the one shining piece of brilliance buried within.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tomislav

    The authors' contention is that there is a neglected but important middle-ground between the SF genre and mainstream literature. SF writers should be able to break out of the SF ghetto, receive some literary recognition, and not risk losing their fanbase. At the same time, in order to remain relevant to 20th and 21st century life, literature needs to stop avoiding speculative concepts. This cross-over was in strong development in the 1970s, but fell away perhaps due to lack of commercial success The authors' contention is that there is a neglected but important middle-ground between the SF genre and mainstream literature. SF writers should be able to break out of the SF ghetto, receive some literary recognition, and not risk losing their fanbase. At the same time, in order to remain relevant to 20th and 21st century life, literature needs to stop avoiding speculative concepts. This cross-over was in strong development in the 1970s, but fell away perhaps due to lack of commercial success. This anthology falls into that range, with stories by SF writers using literary devices, and with literary writers using speculative devices. A few representative stories from the 1970s, such as Le Guin's, are included. But Kelly and Kessel are trying to show the middleground, while neglected commercially, has not gone away - so more recent works are included. The content of this anthology, with a very few exceptions, is just outstanding. Angouleme, by Thomas M. Disch The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula K. LeGuin Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Crisis, by Kate Wilhelm Descent of Man, by T. C. Boyle Human Moments in World War III, by Don DeLillo Homelanding, by Margaret Atwood The Nine Billion Names of God, by Carter Scholz Interlocking Pieces, by Molly Gloss Salvador, by Lucius Shepard Schwarzschild Radius, by Connie Willis Buddha Nostril Bird, by John Kessel The Ziggurat, by Gene Wolfe The Hardened Criminals, by Jonathan Lethem Standing Room Only, by Karen Jay Fowler 10^16 to 1, by James Patrick Kelly 93990, by George Saunders The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance, by Michael Chabon Frankenstein's Daughter, by Maureen F. McHugh The Wizard of West Orange, by Steven Millhauser

  22. 5 out of 5

    Falbs

    This was truly eye-opening for me. I've never given a whole lot of thought to 'genre' before, but now it's on my mind constantly. And great, great stories by the way. "It seems to me that SF is standing, these days, in a doorway. The door is open, wide open. Are we just going to stand there, waiting for the applause of the multitudes? It won't come; we haven't earned it yet. Are we going to cringe back into the old safe ghetto room and pretend that there isn't any big, bad multitude out there? Is This was truly eye-opening for me. I've never given a whole lot of thought to 'genre' before, but now it's on my mind constantly. And great, great stories by the way. "It seems to me that SF is standing, these days, in a doorway. The door is open, wide open. Are we just going to stand there, waiting for the applause of the multitudes? It won't come; we haven't earned it yet. Are we going to cringe back into the old safe ghetto room and pretend that there isn't any big, bad multitude out there? Is so, our good writers will leave us in despair, and there will not be another generation of them. Or are we going to walk through the doorway and join the rest of the city? I hope so. I know we can and I hope we do, because we have a great deal to offer- to art, which needs new forms like ours, and to critics who are sick of chewing over the same old works and above all to readers of books, who want and deserve better novels than they mostly get. But it will take not only courage for SF to join the community of literature, but strength, self-respect, the will not to settle for second rate. It will take genuine self-criticism. And it will include genuine praise." -Ursula K. Le Guin (The Master, as always)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Frank Taranto

    Science Fiction as literature. The idea always sounds good, but I read for pleasure more than literary tricks or denseness. A very good group of short stories nevertheless. Includes: LeGuinn's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas", which I've read often and still leaves me somewhat confused. Kate Wilhem's "Descent of Man", which I found amusing. Jonathan Lethem's "The Hardened Criminals" which was an interesting tale set in a prison made of prisoner's bodies who still have their memories and the abil Science Fiction as literature. The idea always sounds good, but I read for pleasure more than literary tricks or denseness. A very good group of short stories nevertheless. Includes: LeGuinn's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas", which I've read often and still leaves me somewhat confused. Kate Wilhem's "Descent of Man", which I found amusing. Jonathan Lethem's "The Hardened Criminals" which was an interesting tale set in a prison made of prisoner's bodies who still have their memories and the ability to talk. Karen Joy Fowler's "standing Room Only", about a time trip to see Lincoln's Assissination. Maureen F. McHugh's "Frankenstein's Daughter", a very touching tale.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I think I liked the point of the book more than I liked the book. Yes, science fiction can be so much more than what most people who don't read it believe it to be. Yes, to label a story as science fiction is restrictive and these stories cross genres over and over again and each author is clearly trying to make the reader feel something or relate to something rather than trying to fit a story into a predetermined library shelf. But in the end, I feel as if I should have liked more of them. I di I think I liked the point of the book more than I liked the book. Yes, science fiction can be so much more than what most people who don't read it believe it to be. Yes, to label a story as science fiction is restrictive and these stories cross genres over and over again and each author is clearly trying to make the reader feel something or relate to something rather than trying to fit a story into a predetermined library shelf. But in the end, I feel as if I should have liked more of them. I did thoroughly enjoy three of them, and I did appreciated most of the others. I was just expecting more.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brent

    This anthology offers twenty stories from well-known authors to show the progression of "genre" fiction since the 70s. I enjoyed roughly about half of the stories included, which is really the most I expect from an anthology. As rewarding as the stories themselves were the quotes from the authors about their beliefs and philosophies about writing. This anthology offers twenty stories from well-known authors to show the progression of "genre" fiction since the 70s. I enjoyed roughly about half of the stories included, which is really the most I expect from an anthology. As rewarding as the stories themselves were the quotes from the authors about their beliefs and philosophies about writing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    (Borderlands Bookstore's Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club met on Sunday, 15 May, 2011, at 6 pm to discuss The Secret History of Science Fiction by James Patrick Kelly, et al.) (Borderlands Bookstore's Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club met on Sunday, 15 May, 2011, at 6 pm to discuss The Secret History of Science Fiction by James Patrick Kelly, et al.)

  27. 5 out of 5

    David

    This was an interesting book. Each story was framed with quotations from contributing authors reflecting on the genre of SF, its contributions to literature and how it is perceived in the broader literary community. This juxtaposition provided the stories with an added depth that I enjoyed exploring.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emily Cait

    I wish they'd bothered to edit this... For example: it's Molly GlOss (not GlAss) who wrote "Interlocking Pieces" and Kate WilheLm who wrote "Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Your Crisis". There are some gems in here ("The Hardened Criminals" - Jonathan Lethem) and some really bad (and stupidly long) pieces ("The Ziggurat" - Gene Wolfe). I wish they'd bothered to edit this... For example: it's Molly GlOss (not GlAss) who wrote "Interlocking Pieces" and Kate WilheLm who wrote "Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Your Crisis". There are some gems in here ("The Hardened Criminals" - Jonathan Lethem) and some really bad (and stupidly long) pieces ("The Ziggurat" - Gene Wolfe).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    So, my own idiocy led me to be disappointed with this book. I'd hoped it would be an anthology of secret history stories, and instead it is a collection of stories on the boundary of genre and "literary" fiction. It was still pretty good, overall. So, my own idiocy led me to be disappointed with this book. I'd hoped it would be an anthology of secret history stories, and instead it is a collection of stories on the boundary of genre and "literary" fiction. It was still pretty good, overall.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sue Davis

    Better than many of the sci fi anthologies I have read. Best story: "the Ziggurat" Gene Wolf. Too many old stories. Theme that the editors want to stress is the importance of science fiction and transcending genre boundaries. Better than many of the sci fi anthologies I have read. Best story: "the Ziggurat" Gene Wolf. Too many old stories. Theme that the editors want to stress is the importance of science fiction and transcending genre boundaries.

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