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The Astounding Illustrated History Of Science Fiction (book review).

February 22, 2021 | By | Reply More

With any book, always pay attention to the title as to what the content is supposed to be. ‘The Astounding Illustrated History Of Science Fiction’ is supposed to be about the illustrated aspect of SF and despite Pat Mills introduction, the initial focus is on SF origins than where art, beyond covers, entered into the business.

The Astounding Illustrated History Of Science Fiction
Flame Tree Publishing, 2017

I should point out that on the indicia page (and how many of you read that?), there is a disclaimer for the timeline at the opening of each chapter omitting film sequels and such to focus on the first releases. Thing is, this leaves a lot of empty space and having small text in a colour font on a black background doesn’t make it particularly readable and I found I tended to ignore it. Oddly, this also means no mention of the remakes of ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’ (1978) and ‘The Thing’ (1982), both considered as good as the originals.

Don’t expect this book to be a complete record of significant SF films so you might have fun working out which ones they left out which should have been included, like ‘Starman’ (1984) or even the TV series ‘Farscape’ (1999-2003). With the lines double-spaced and four acknowledged writers, Dave Golder, Jess Nevins, Russ Thorne and Sarah Dobbs with consultant editor David Langford, maybe it’s the geek in me, but that’s a lot of wasted space. I’m not going to mention the odd circles around some parts of the photos as that might be a production decision but certainly reduces its use as a visual history. We do like seeing uncluttered photos when possible.

The Astounding Illustrated History Of Science Fiction
Flame Tree Publishing, 2017

It’s also a little disturbing matching early references to something more contemporary. A simple matter of date and country would not confuse two newspapers called ‘The Sun’ than treat it as a cheap laugh. The same also applies to comparing space travel devices. I mean, a direction lineage would mean a more contemporary author might have read an obscure early SF novel and without proof sets up the wrong image in a reader’s mind rather than a relatively new author had an original thought.

A look at the early SF writers has a much larger look at HG Wells beyond the more recognised books he wrote and makes a telling remark about ‘The Invisible Man’ ‘that morality ‘vanishes’ when you can get away with doing bad things’. Should we let politicians and business magnets know this?

The Astounding Illustrated History Of Science Fiction
Flame Tree Publishing, 2017

Something that I do tend to watch for when reading histories of Science Fiction is how detailed they get. It isn’t until the half-way point when plots of significant novels start to be covered and then you realise they probably haven’t read many of the Golden Age SF novels and this book is no exception in this. Although I don’t expect everyone to have significant knowledge of the entire history of Science Fiction these days, you would have thought that the mix of writers involved with this book might have given a balanced coverage or revealing knowledge not always remembered and certainly attempted to read the early books. Pre-‘Dune’ and even Heinlein, they were rarely doorstops. Crossing referencing book covers and events from different generation per decade is also a little dicey. If you’re doing decades as they were doing, they should have kept things in context and follow the evolution properly.

The Astounding Illustrated History Of Science Fiction
Flame Tree Publishing, 2017

I’m a bit confused with their choice of X-Men for nationality and ethnic choices and selecting Sabra as their choice of Jewish as Kitty Pryde aka multiple codenames, was their first Jewish character and still going strong.

With the ‘Barbarella’ 1968 film, they neglect to mention it was based on the French comicstrip (sic) by Jean Claude Forest from 1962-64. Even if they didn’t know the info, a google check would have taken a minute. It isn’t as though they don’t reference source with other characters.

There are odd things not quite right. Although Star Trek’s ‘Deep Space Nine’ and ‘Voyager’ never made the transition to films, neither did ‘Enterprise’. All three had finite ends which would have made it difficult to have a film as to what happened next and if you put a story within the timeline you know everything is going to work out find. ‘Star Trek; The Next Generation’ was geared to follow the original ‘Star Trek’ series films but its final film, ‘Nemesis’ did not do well moneywise and was the reason that this was halted. Until ‘Babylon 5’, ‘Star Trek’ pretty much had sown up SF space series on television and used digital to do all their special effects instead of models. It was this that swayed ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ to go the same way. Details like this give the reader the right knowledge as to what happened than just stating it as if it was the first.

The Astounding Illustrated History Of Science Fiction
Flame Tree Publishing, 2017

Sorry if I’ve been critical of some areas of this book but being on home ground, I have to pay attention to this or I lose my geek licence for not noticing things I should be. For what it covers, the information is fairly accurate although I do think some omissions are probably down to whatever the remit they were given to work from. Being called ‘an illustrated history’ means you do get a lot of visuals but not necessary a complete history of our genre. So don’t buy the book thinking you’re going to get that and just think of it as an introduction that might make you want to explore Science Fiction more.

GF Willmetts

February 2021

(pub: Flame Tree Publishing, 2017. 192 page large square hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK) $35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-78664-527-2)

check out website: wwwflametreepublishing.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

About the Author ()

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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