The Word for the Blog is Scientifiction

miércoles, 13 de enero de 2016

Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy's Greatest Science Fiction, by Guy Haley (ed.)

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español)

Disclaimer: Please, note that English is not my first language. I apologize in advance because I know there could be some mistakes in the text below. I’m trying to improve it, thanks.

I consider that the publication of Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction is very good news for both the fans and those who wish to know the genre. Twenty years ago The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction by John Clute was a great landmark as today could be this guide.

Let’s start the review: The prologue by the writer Stephen Baxter is a masterful preamble about the genre that we love. After this, an equally excellent introduction by the editor Guy Haley, more focused on the explanation about the purpose of this guide. I find very interesting the definition by the latter: in summary Mr Haley says that the science fiction is a part of the fictional genres, which as a distinctive feature has a materialistic and rational basis (unlike, for example, the fantasy whose basis is the magical thought). I understand that this definition encompasses a wider content than the usual meaning about science and technology.

Sci-Fi Chronicles is divided into five chapters: Early Science Fiction: The Birth of the Genre (1818-1920), The Days of Pulp: The Golden Age (1920-1950), The Era of the Atom: Marvels and Perils of Science (1950-1970), Dark Futures: Apocalypses and the War in Space (1970-1990) and the last, The Adventure Continues: Modern Science Fiction (1990-present), a criterion which I consider valid for the purposes of the book. 

Logically within each chapter the items are displayed by date of onset. But it is interesting to note that the guide classifies the science fiction items from their key issues, regardless of source media. For example, you may find indistinctly an entry about a writer, a film director or even a producer; and also another about a series as Doctor Who or Babylon 5. I consider this is well thought out: this allows focus on the creations, because science fiction works often transcend its origins to reach other media. Moreover, the item is reviewed from an outside perspective: date of publication or release and key events associated, and also from inside: the timeline or chronology of events in the fiction described.

At this point I think that this guide leads to a reflection: I mentioned what is exposed in detail all the information. Even too much, since it affects the readability as I mention below. To put it simply, this is as far as the paper books could reach: I miss in this guide -and in general in all the current paper guides and dictionaries- the use of hypertext and also the multimedia support. When you see these tiny images (or icons, as you could see in the pics) your subconscious tells you that perhaps if you press it would display an enlarged image or something like this; but at the moment you realize that this is not possible: it is only a printed paper.

Moreover, the information offered in this guide is scattered in thousands of Internet sites, so the great work done here is necessary to offer a whole vision of the genre. In this sense I believe that today's digital books, for different reasons, also need to be improved. I understand that this work could be published in digital format that allows to read it from a tablet or a computer (but not an e-reader because of the illustrations), but I assume that a publication of this type is economically unviable. Instead to offer all this in a conventional book remains feasible: a point in favour of the printed books then. Of course, this is a question I mention in passing. Just point that someone said long ago that the medium is the message, or in other words, that each format has its own rules.

Comming back to what I mentioned at the beginning, the publishing of Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia, by John Clute was a milestone hard to beat twenty years ago. In my case, I knew it by heart. The Encyclopedia offers information based in authors and focused in literary events, and also mentions historical and major issues addressed by the genre stages. The movies and television series are exposed in a reasonably extensive way, and comics and computer games only mentioned a bit. It was a work in accordance of the present times.

The content of Sci-Fi Chronicles is also in accordance of our current times. It is not exactly the same, but I consider it is a worthy successor. This is reflected even in the title: Sci-Fi instead of Science Fiction.

Regarding the issue before mentioned, I would add a criticism: the insufficient size of the pages requires a reduction in the letters and more in the pictures, and this affects the reading experience. I assume that a larger page size, such as the one in the John Clute’s book- would have increased the price and weighted of the book (this guide has 574 pages). In other words, we return about the limitations of the paper books.

Finally, about the contents. The issues are treated with informative rigor and are representative of the phenomenon of science fiction as a whole, and this includes both –like it or not- Phillip K. Dick and the Power Rangers. Of course, as the editor anticipates in the foreword, some will find important absences, but I think that if we reach this requirement level we are among fans in the third kind and this guide will provide us few discoveries. However, at least in my case, I was delighted to read an entry about a specific author, or about a novel or an anime series that has marked a before and after in the history of the genre.

In short, it is an indispensable work for fans of science fiction and for those who want immerse in a very good introduction to the genre.

Finally, a question for you: How will be like the next guide in twenty years?

PD: I want to thank my friend Clara for her help in the English translation (moltes gràcies Clara!)

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