Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction: The Formative Period, 1926-1970 by Thomas D. Clareson (book review)

November 30, 2016 | By | Reply More

Something I discovered a while back from a chat with Gordon van Gelder, publisher of the magazine ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’, is that in the USA, there is no single Internet bookstore like Eurospan that gathers up the various American university presses like it does for non-American consumption that makes tracking down books, let alone discovering titles that you might not even have heard of easy to do.


One name that popped up recently was Thomas D. Clareson. For those who are interested in the history of Science Fiction, he edited, amongst other books, three volumes of ‘Voices For The Future’ where he interviewed all the SF authors of the time. This time was the Golden Age of SF and should be required reading and are still out there. Alas, he died in 1993, and I was rather surprised to see ‘Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction: The Formative Period, 1926-1970’ still available and one I hadn’t read.

This book is by no means a comprehensive book on the subject but the stories he covers are given detail with no spoiler and their importance as he saw them. I suspect you’re going to use this book to wean out books that you need to read or, in my case, the odd ones I’ve missed which are about three novels to add to my list.

The main thing you will come away from this book knowing is how SF authors from the formative years created the foundations of what we have today. The changes with the new SF authors of the ‘New Wave’ startled some of the older generation but SF has always been about ideas. It doesn’t mean you have to like them but learn the lessons from them.

It’s problematic with books about the SF Golden Age now because most of the authors are no longer with us and that is now including those from the 70s. As such, these books are the only way to get the thoughts from the past. An added bonus at the back of the book is a list of the SF reference books where it appears I need eight more for my own collection. Never under-estimate the size of a book to the information it imparts. If you want to explore the history of SF, this makes this book a handy pocket reference tracker as well.

GF Willmetts

November 2016

(pub: University Of South Carolina Press, 1992. 300 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £23.95 (UK), $21.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-87249-870-9)

check out websites: www.sc.edu/uscpress and www.eurospanbookstore.com

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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