Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History Of The Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction edited by Guy Haley (book review).

If you want a heavy weight book for its size, then you need ‘Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History Of The Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction’ edited by Guy Haley. A page flick does reveal a plethora of photographs to supplement what looks like a mostly intelligently written analysis by 27 contributors looking at the different eras of Science Fiction. The problems started when I started reading and starting picking out mistakes. Occasionally, it might have been technical but often it was also omissions where there was space to include them and then there were some darn right unforgiveable mistakes. Granted this book is a big project and there might have been problems approaching deadline but I found the problems below in a single week’s reading sweep. I suspect those of you who are SF conversant would do likewise, so as I’m here first, let’s begin.


Take HG Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’. Writer Simon Ward points out that the time traveller could not travel into the past because people would see him as he would have been visible to them. Although this is true, the same would also apply as he projects into the future where the traveller would be literally frozen in time, granted this never came out in the book or film neither because it was only seen from his perspective. It’s all to do with relativity. The time traveller might see the world moving by fast but from the outside, he would be barely moving.

Where ‘The Lost World’ is concerned, the 2001 TV movie starring Peter Falk is missing as in the Ron Ely starring series of ‘Tarzan’ (1966-68) under his entry. It’s hardly like neither were little known.

It seems odd to show a timeline for EE Doc Smith’s ‘Lensmen’ series and not include David Kyle’s books in there. It isn’t as though stories noted by other authors in franchise aren’t included if they’re canon. I would also have the same with including Bizarro and the Legion Of Super-Heroes in Superman’s timeline if there wasn’t space in the text. Then again, repeating Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ on successive pages is just careless.

With the ‘Foundation’ books, the Mule was not telepathic but a mind manipulating empath. Calling ‘Frank Poole’ ‘Francis Poole’ than his accepted name in text, especially as its given in the normal way at the top of the page in ‘2001’ is going to confuse the younger readers. Well, anyone born after the 1980s that is.

Likewise, with photo captions like with the Gerry Anderson products, identifying Phones as Troy Tempest and on a successive page, Thunderbird 3 as Thunderbird 1, despite having the latter below it is going to make fans wince at the carelessness. Bizarrely, the picture of the Spectrum agents is in black and white, when surely they could have been shown in colour.

With the ‘Planet Of The Apes’ time-line, the crucial element at the end of ‘The Battle For The Planet Of The Apes’ where the mutates are killed (apart from one and he’s hardly to go on) and the apes and humans unite, removing the Taylor future seems to have been ignored. A similar state is there with the recent ‘Star Trek’ movies pocket universe.

With ‘Doctor Who’, it’s actually thirteen regenerations, not twelve, although writer Steven Moffat admits slipping an extra one with the Tennant regeneration. It seems a shame that in the text where the Pertwee regeneration has the series going to colour that the photo of the actor is again in black and white. It isn’t like there weren’t colour cameras back then. Probably the worse thing is identifying in the five Doctors photo, Richard Hurndall as William Hartnell, especially as the same actor is at the top of the page.

‘The X-Men’ article ignores artist Dave Cockrum’s contribution to the New X-Men and likewise places ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ and ‘Days Of Future Past’ with the new writer than with Claremont and Byrne.

Familiarity with the film version of ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ and the identification of Newton seeing a people from long ago in one of his car journeys, neglects the fact that these were also aliens not humans as well, who also failed to survive. An omen to his own future.

‘The Dune Universe’ feature even gets the Paul Atreides’ children wrong because it is Leto II who become the God Emperor. Occasionally, an important omission is made. It was hardly going to take up more than a couple words in the ‘Ringworld’ piece to explain that ‘Speaker-to-Animals’ was a member of the cat-like Kzin.

But calling the ‘OSI’ in ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ entry ‘OSO’ is yet more carelessness. Sandra Bullock was actually in ‘Bionic Showdown’, not ‘Bionic Ever  After’. Under Glen Larson’s own entry, he is attributed to composing the music when it was Oliver Nelson.  Entries about ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and ‘V’ seems to think the former series only had 4 seasons when it was actually 6!

With the ‘Star Wars’ entry, I’m sure if she was still alive, Leigh Bracket would have been dismayed at being called a man.

The ‘Mork And Mindy’ entry’s writer thinks that ‘My Favourite Martian’ came later than before in the 1960s, although he might be referring to the latter film. Likewise, with the ‘Max Max’ entry, its writer confuses the graphic novel film and film version of ‘Watchmen’ because the latter did not leave the option of Grice cutting his hand off to get out of burning building and Rorschach went for something far more brutal in the film.

The extended entries on ‘Alien’ starts of declaring the asteroid as ‘LZ-426’ twice and later corrects it to ‘LV-246’. Still wrong! Mind you, it didn’t have a name until the second film and then it was ‘LV-426’.

I might be a little fairer with ‘The Terminator’ entry but ‘The Sarah Connors Chronicles’ can just about fit, especially as John Connor could have been returned to the past in the series conclusion. It’s a shame they never saw my article of a few years back where I speculated that Skynet needed to ensure the resistance and itself send travellers into the past to ensure its own creation.

The ‘Red Dwarf’ entry ignores the fact that its creators Doug Naylor and Rob Grant split up with the latter leaving after 1988 went on with the TV series alone.

With the 90s onward, where many of the writers are more familiar, you would have thought there would be fewer mistakes. The ‘Babylon 5’ timeline extends further back than shown because they should have included the point that Babylon 4 was projected back in time and the arrival of Valen, let alone the Vorlons visiting Earth to get their genetic program started. Considering Jeffrey Sinclair’s significance to the series, it seems a shame he was left out on the heads at the top of the page or indeed Kosh. When you turn to the photos section and the undisguised Vorlon is show, he’s declared to be the Delenn hybrid.

Just in case you think there are just mistakes, some omissions are puzzling. Some, I might accept as a lack of space like omitting AE Van Vogt (despite being a prime source for the film ‘Alien’ and spawning super-humans in SF who would have deserved his own entry) and even Clifford Simak. But when it comes to TV series, ignoring ‘Quantum Leap’ with a brief mention and only one page on ‘Farscape’ and nothing on its timeline removes any element of being complete.

Some kinds of omissions aren’t even due to the lack of space. Take ‘Sliders’. When actor Jerry O’Connell left, his brother, Charlie, took his place. With ‘The Matrix’ films, wouldn’t it have been wiser to refer to Lana Wachowski when he was referred to as Larry before his operation? An uninformed reader would wonder what is going on otherwise.

I can see someone remarking that this book as the title says is ‘The Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction’, but to ignore ‘The 3000’, ‘Warehouse 13’. ‘Psi-Factor’ and ‘Defiance’, although to be fair, the latter has only just started, doesn’t make this book comprehensive, even if it includes a few popular computer games.

Something which is common throughout this book is that with people entries, there are no pictures of these people unless they appear in the two page photo-spreads. Granted there must have been a nightmare of permissions and copyrights with this book but this is still supposed to be a visual book and another serious omission.

The comparison of the various spacecraft was interesting even if didn’t go from smallest to largest. ‘The Science Fiction Chronology’ seems more like a waste of space that could have been used for other entries.

Was there anything here that I liked? Well, there was a good selection of photos. The mistakes tends to distract from what potentially could have been a useful reference tome. I really do hope that Aurum Press release a second edition and get these things sorted out.

GF Willmetts

October 2014

(pub: Aurum Press. 567 page illustrated hardback. Price: £25.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78131-359-6)

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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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