Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Billion Year Spree - Brian Aldiss

This book is a history of science fiction. Partial, personal and, in places, thin. But it does not pretend to be anything but personal and partial. It is Brian Aldiss’s view of the history of science fiction. As a major practitioner of the field, however, he has written with a great deal of understanding and insight.

His objective, as stated in the book, was to put the genre in perspective. Starting with a definition of science fiction which he accepts not everyone will agree with, he traces the roots of the genre. From there he surveys the major developments through the decades up to the point of writing (in the early 1970s).

Its main point of interest is that it does not give undue attention to the ‘big names’. Indeed, many of them are rightly treated as hack writers – a profusion of works and popularity does not necessarily mean these writers are actually any good as writers. Aldiss is interested in the development of sf and very often the ‘big names’ are responsible for halting that development.

As a guide to the genre, it is a good place to start, provided you are prepared to explore further (and there is a comprehensive bibliography). And, of course, another thirty-five years have passed since this was written and a lot has happened in that time.