By Richard C.
Set aside those simple lists online for the best SF and Fantasy. Useful, yes. Context, no. Much in these genres stem from common themes and traditions, which is great. But many defy and transcend those patterns, which is often even better. So what’s to help us zoom out on our usual reading threads and find some stories we’d love, if we only knew where to look? Definitely check out SPL staff picks for SF and Fantasy, but also give these a try:
Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010
You can love SF, have dozens of favorite authors/titles, and then still be overwhelmed with excitement finding new names and new corners to explore. This handy book helps you do just that. Entries are pleasantly short, but long enough to put authors and works into accessible context. I came across C.J. Cherryh, Peter Watts, and Nancy Kress – all familiar names, sure, but seeing how they fit into my tastes, now I know they’re worth my precious reading time. Check out the foreward by David Pringle author of a similar/older book that treats 1949-1984.
Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia
Words are okay, but images can be better. I’m always trying to expand my knowledge and appreciation for our genres, and great for me were the pictures collected in this encyclopedia. One section covers the influential magazines that nurtured and flat-out made possible the SF genre as we know it: Amazing Stories, Galaxy, Analog, and many many more. Another section puts the publication in the context of historical events. How did urbanization, mass transportation, and nuclear bombs influence SF? Finally, for the Fantasy inclined, a very simlar and excellent book is The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy: The Definitive Illustrated Guide.
Some other great books to zoom you out include:
- The Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction
- Mutants & Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, & the Paranormal
- Pioneers of Wonder: Conversations with the Founders of Science Fiction
- Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak
- The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF