Out Of This World: Science Fiction But Not As We Know It by Mike Ashley (book review).

I wasn’t really sure what to make of Mike Ashley’s book, ‘Out Of This World: Science Fiction But Not As We Know It’, when I bought a copy last year. I mean, SF is already a subject we know something about so what don’t we know? Over the six sections, Ashley looks at the origins of particular sections of our genre and citing early examples that I hadn’t heard of before, so I guess that falls into ‘we didn’t know it’.

Equally, there are odd places where I know he’s wrong or missed out as well but SF is a really big subject these days and I doubt if we all know everything. As AE Van Vogt is only mentioned a couple times, Ashley obviously missed ‘The World Of Null-A’ (1948) that introduced terraforming, cloning and teleportation before they had their more recognised names. Mind you, with terraforming, Ashley does point out some earlier examples but not what name they used for it.

With the knowledge Ashley provides, there is also accompanying picture sources and with the British Library as publisher, brings together a lot of source material to look at. A lot of the earliest examples are from France which surprised me a lot and often before SF got its genre title. Some of the photos are from rare things like JG Ballard’s manuscript and Olaf Stapleton’s original future timeline for ‘First And Last Men’. It does make me wonder whether we could see more of such notes in other books to give insight into SF writers thought processes. There’s a strong reminder that what makes Science Fiction stand away from other genres is having the whole of reality to play around with.

Overall, I found at least 17 instances of first use of SF tropes that I haven’t come across before and none of them recent but a couple centuries back. If anything, it shows SF goes back further than I realised and long before it was given its own genre, let alone being called a ‘science romance’, the second word meaning ‘adventure’.

If you want to enhance your knowledge on early Science Fiction, then this book is worth picking up and reading, not to mention looking at some of the early art samples.

GF Willmetts

May 2018

(pub: The British Library, 2011. 144 page illustrated indexed softcover. Price: I pulled my copy for £ 2.80 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7123-5835-4)

check out website: www.bi.uk


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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