Review: American Science Fiction: Five Classic Novels 1956-1958

Posted: October 1, 2013 in Book Reviews, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , , , , ,



(Gary K. Wolfe editor, The Library of America, 2012)

reviewed by Chris Edwards

The first volume of this two-volume set includes novels from 1953 to 1956, and the second includes novels from 1956-1958. This book is worth owning. The Library of America always publishes great looking volumes that can become collectors items, and the look and feel of its books enhance the reading experience. Gary K. Wolfe, or someone else at the publishing house, made the wise decision to leave the collection uncluttered by original covers and commentary, and instead outsourced this to The site features the original covers and commentary on the books from some of SF’s modern stars, such as Connie Willis and Neil Gaiman.

At this point; I’ve only read Volume II (because I’m the kind of guy who reads a two-volume science fiction anthology out of order with a pack of smokes rolled up in the sleeve of my white T-shirt). The volume includes Double Star, by Robert Heinlein, The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester, A Case of Conscience, by James Blish, Who, by Algis Budrys, and The Big Time, by Fritz Leiber.

Modern sci-fi fans will note a few major differences between these novels and more modern sci-fi novels. The first is how tight and concise the books are in comparison with the sprawling, seemingly unedited novels typical of most modern writers. Second, we all know that nobody but JFK got laid in the 1950s, so sex features not at all in any of this volume’s 803 pages. Compared to the sexual gymnastics one often finds in modern SF, this is quite a difference. Third, and most enjoyably, the early writers represented in this collection seemed to be free of the need to work esoteric physics into their stories. These works from the fifties tilt toward telling a good story rather than explicating science. (Since this is a general overview, I’ll say more about the novels themselves in future posts.)

Sci-fi fans rarely worry about whether or not the navel-gazing literary establishment takes science fiction seriously. Still, it’s nice to see the literary history of the genre receive serious treatment. The important thing about the Library of America’s anthology, and the complementary website’s solid treatment of the books, may be that at least some academics may finally be treating science fiction with the gravity it deserves.

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snakeoilcover (Chris Edwards is the author of Spiritual Snake Oil

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