I am offering a shorter review than I usually tend to of The Science Fiction Handbook by M. Keith Booker and Anne-Marie Thomas (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), not because the book has lesser value, but on the contrary, because the book is so rich, diverse and complex that it is difficult to summarize, other than in the form of a recommendation that, if you are interested in science fiction, and in particular if you are interested in serious academic study of and reflection on sci-fi, you run out and get a copy.
The book is organized into four sections. Each major section provides an angle on science fiction that could have been a book in its own right. After the introduction, part 2 focuses on subgenres (such as apocalyptic, dystopian, utopian and cyberpunk), part 3 on representative authors, and part 4 on individual texts. As a result, one can dip into the book easily as a reference work and find general and/or detailed information on a theme, an author, or a work of interest. And in spite of the need to include authors and works in more than one section, the book does not seem overly repetative. Although the focus is on literature, movies and TV shows are also included.
No matter how you are approaching science fiction or what your specific interest is, the book is likely to prove extremely useful. I learned quite a bit – for instance, I didn’t know that in addition to having written what is considered the first modern work of science fiction, Mary Shelley also authored the first postapocalyptic sci-fi tale as well. As someone particularly interested in religion in science fiction, I was delighted to find significant mentions and treatments of this topic throughout the book. Whether one enjoys time travel or alternate universes, alien invasion and apocalyptic or politically satirical sci-fi, religion often plays a role in the narrative. An additional delightful feature of the book is the inclusion of multicultural sci-fi rather than simply “Western” works, as well as highlighting the ways in which sci-fi authors have treated and helpfully problematized issues related to gender and sexuality.
Since I don’t teach science fiction literature in the way one might find it in an English Department, I cannot evaluate the usefulness of the book as a potential textbook for such a purpose. It is probably too broad and contains too much material to be useful in the class on religion and science fiction I will be teaching in the near future. But as an invaluable reference for both myself as a professor and students doing assignment, this is an important and helpful volume. If you don’t use it as a textbook, you’ll definitely want your university and/or public library to get a copy. In short, I highly recommend it. The book not only taught me and demonstrated its a potential as a reference work. It introduced me to works of science fiction that I had not read and left me wanting to go out and read them.