Science Fiction And Empire by Patricia Kerslake (book review).

I have to admit to a raised eyebrow at Patricia Kerslake’s book, ‘Science Fiction And Empire’, when I saw its retail price. If you’re anything like me, even with old books, when I see extreme prices, especially for old books, I give a sigh, shrug and carry on with my life. As a reviewer – and this review is for a first-hand book – very occasionally I will have a look if offered. A talk with the publicist reveals this pricing is normal for their hardbacks, but they do release a much cheaper paperback, hence the double indicia.

Kerslake’s book samples various SF authors, but it isn’t until chapter 4 that I see what she is getting at.

Of course, there are similarities to empires on our planet, they are often used as templates for future realities, and often pay particular attention to their failure, which they tend to because of complacency and not paying attention to other growing empires around them. That’s even before we get to the rebellion element.

If anything, I’m surprised that Kerslake divides the chapters into authors rather than subject matter, let alone giving story synopses that have nothing to do with any empire. Granted, not everyone has read all the books she’s covered, but in such a small book it does tend to come over as padding rather than analysis. Then again, there is an art to the brief synopsis. The latest in 2007 when this book was released was Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Mars’ books.

If anything, it’s the surprise of omissions that puzzles me. Although the index doesn’t mention AE Van Vogt, there is a brief reference to ‘Voyage Of The Space Beagle’ in the text. Hardly a good example of Van Vogt’s empires when you consider he had several across his books that would be far better choices. It does tend to make me wonder if Kerslake was only out to prove her theories rather than look at everything, or simply didn’t have the time to fit everything in. Even Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ series and ‘Star Wars’ barely get a mention and they are centred around empires.

This brings things to the core of the problem I have with this book. There is very little in the way of the examples in this book to justify the argument on empires. Kerslake does little to explain these empires or whether they were good, bad or needed replacing from her examples. What has John Wyndham’s ‘Children Of The Damned’ got to do with building an empire?

It’s almost as though Kerslake chose to write about her favourite SF books, but needed a theme subject to place around it. Even ten years or so ago when she wrote this book, Kerslake wouldn’t have had any difficulty getting a better choice of SF looking at various empire regimes to explore, instead of these where their inclusion is supplementary to the stories.

Hence, coming away from this book, I don’t think I’ve really learnt anything that I didn’t know already. More so as I’ve even written better on the subject myself.

GF Willmetts

May 2017

(pub: Liverpool University Press, 2007. 217 page hardback. Price: £75.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84631-024-9. Paperback version, 2010: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-846315-040-6)

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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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