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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 2001
I bought this book because I enjoyed the authors SF novels, and because I am interested in SF as a whole. I found it geared to students (I'm not a student), but nonetheless it has some very interesting readings of Science fiction from the earliest periods to the present day.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2010
I picked up this short introduction to contemporary science-fiction because Roberts is both a respected academic and sf writer, the perfect person to provide some critical insights on the genre. The book is an introductory text presumably written for undergrads in the humanities and analyses the definitions and boundaries of sf, provides a brief history of the genre, and discusses some of the core concerns that science-fiction has engaged with. Roberts makes some good critical points that help make sense of what science fiction is and what it is capable of, arguing that it should be understood as a symbolist form of fiction structured around 'nova' (novel concepts, entities or technologies) embedded within the rationalistic language of modern science. The presence of these nova (space ships, artificial intelligence, telepathy) allows us to intellectually engage with complex real world questions, drawing our attention to the way in which our own world is structured. For Roberts, an essential element of this is the encounter with 'difference', and this is the part where the book started to grate. Alterity and alienness are certainly a big part of sf, as Roberts shows, but he really beats the reader over the head with the issue. This is aided with some pretty ropey postmodern theory and, in cringeworthy moments, references to Freud, whose theories I honestly thought had been cosigned to the intellectual scrapheap where they belong. Science fiction's attraction has long been its openness to ideas, Roberts seems to want narrow it down to a concern with identity politics. To take one example: a core concern of Iain M. Banks work is about political violence, and how far it can be justified in furtherance of democratic egalitarian goals - an issue that there is no space to discuss within Roberts's schema.

It's also notable that a hostility towards science creeps into the text, depressingly common in the humanities but a bit jarring in a work on sf. This dovetails with his dismissal of sf as prediction or as offering visions of the future, odd as almost every major technological advance has been anticipated by sf writers and books such as 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and Neuromancer remain visionary works. But though there is plenty to disagree with, the book as a whole really got me thinking, which is which I picked up a copy. Especially well made are his points about how science-fiction has merged with the scientific imagination itself, but nevertheless provides the best vehicle for re-imagining the world around us. A pretty decent read all in all, although some arguments failed to convince.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2009
The author has chosen a strange way to introduce a wonderful subject. I read with interest his various definitions of science fiction (admittedly as difficult a task as charting a path through fog and quicksands), which took 40 pp, and then was keen to read the chapter on history. However, coming to pages 66/7: "...British S-F experienced a burst of creativity at around the time of Wells, Bram Stoker, Olaf Stapleton and Rider Haggard, because this period saw the high summer of the British Imperial adventure.", I was astonished at such a sweeping generality. Since Rider Haggard published 'King Solomon's Mines' in 1885, H G Wells 'The Time Machine' in 1895, Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' in 1897, and Olaf Stepledon (with a 'd', not a 't') published 'Last and First Men' in 1930, that's a 45-year span. It takes in the Great War and the beginning of the Depression, which certainly cannot be included in a period of 'high summer'. Enjoyable as their works are, Rider Haggard and Stoker cannot be considered S-F writers; Wells of course was a great one, as was Stapledon, whose first novel covers 2 billion years and 18 different species of evolving humanity, and ought to have been specifically mentioned as a ground-breaking work. I felt it was all downhill after this, including the predictable re-hashing of the usual star-fare. There are many other better guides to S-f out there, not all written by a professor!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 2005
Roberts attempts to define science-fiction through the dual mediums of film and book and the other chapters cover various critical areas of the genre, including representations of race, gender and technology as a metaphor. The second chapter is an attempt at providing a history of the genre - I say 'a' history because the subject is subject to contention even now amongst fans.
The Roberts touches on various authors, including Arthur C. Clarke, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, Philip K. Dick, H G Wells, Brian Aldiss, Issac Asimov etc. plus many critics on the field. Some aspects of philosophy are also considered in relation to SF texts, both film and novels. All in all the book is what it sets out to do: provide a critical overview of the genre. The reason it has no fifth star is that occasionally I find the arguments presented a little too obvious - though I concede this to be necessary in an introductory overview.
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