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Science Fiction 101: Where to Start Reading and Writing Science Fiction Paperback – 1 Mar 2001
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"A virtual primer on the writing of science fiction." Publishers Weekly"
About the Author
In his illustrious forty-five year career as a novelist and author of short fiction, Robert Silverberg has belonged in the company of the best writers of the 20th century. His writing has been compared to Conrad, Huxley and Orwell.
Top customer reviews
There's some great stories in there - Day Million, The Light of Other Days, PK Dick's Colony - and one or two others I can't help but find terribly creaky and old-fashioned, such as Cordwainer Smith's Scanners Live in Vain. Even so, when treated purely as an anthology of sf stories and momentarily disregarding the essays on writing, what you have here is also an excellent overview of some of the most influential science fiction published in the middle part of the 20th Century. Highly recommended, particularly if you want to learn at the feet of one of the grand old men of the genre.
The book starts with a long-ish autobiographical essay from Robert Silverberg (ignore Amazon's co-credit to Greg Bear as author - all he contributes is a foreword), describing his apprentice years as a writer, and how he came to learn his (substantial) craft. It then moves on to include 13 short stories which Silverberg found particularly important in the development of his own writing, and his annotations on how the stories' authors achieve their effects through their own skills. So it's a strange mix of memoir, anthology, critical review and how-to guide.
If you approach it purely as an anthology, you'll probably find it short on volume, if not on quality. As a how-to guide, it's probably too anecdotal for those who are really looking for serious instruction, though the critical observations are shrewd and really enhance appreciation of the stories. As for the memoir, I found it fascinating, and liked its wry tone, but then I'm a big admirer of Silverberg and I also like hearing about how people with great skills acquired them, and how they learned from others. I can however see how some readers (like, again, some Amazon.com reviewers) might find it offputting, particularly if they don't pick up on Silverberg's understated irony and misread it as an ego trip.
I like the mix. Readers looking for something more straightforward may be better off looking elsewhere. That said, if you just buy it for the stories, and ignore all the other stuff, it's one hell of an anthology. All the writers are from the top-rank and many of the stories are established classics. This is what you get:
Damon Knight - Four In One
Alfred Bester - Fondly Farenheit
C.L. Moore - No Woman Born
Henry Kuttner - Home Is The Hunter
Robert Sheckley - The Monsters
James Blish - Common Time
Cordwainer Smith - Scanners Live In Vain
Brian W. Aldiss - Hothouse
Jack Vance - The New Prime
Philip K. Dick - Colony
C. M. Kornbluth - The Little Black Bag
Bob Shaw - Light Of Other Days
Frederik Pohl - Day Million
Not a dud among them. So if you do just buy it for the stories, you have a very fine read ahead of you. But if you like the sound of the other stuff, or even if you don't but you have an open mind, the whole thing is even more rich and rewarding.
Some very important and influential writers are completely absent from this compilation, large and small, too many to list, and some that would be better in this book than those few naff ones that Mr. Silverberg chose to include. To mention a few of the well known, there's nothing here by Clark, Heinlein, Azimov, Bradbury, etc., etc., etc. What were Silverberg's reason for passing these over, who knows ~ substance for the imagination?
3 stars for a 'good' and 'interesting' read.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I urge those who want to learn to write science fiction, or any other type of fiction, to get James N. Frey's books, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, How to Write a Damn Good Novel II and How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, especially if you can only afford to buy a few books. I have read a number of books on writing, and while some of the others are quite good, I have found none better, and I think if you have these three, you won't need any others. He tells you plainly and simply exactly what you need to do. I've seen other books called writers' bibles, but Frey's books really are what the others say they are. If you don't believe me, check out the high praise he has gotten from other published authors.
In this volume, the multi-Hugo and multi-Nebula award winner Robert Silverberg presents a book that's part autobiography of his early years as a developing writer, part literary criticism, part guide to other beginning writers, and part anthology.
Thirteen stories are included, each by a different author, ranging in date from 1944 to 1966. Silverberg selected these stories both for their value as lasting classics of the SF genre, and for the influence they had on him as a young writer. In a brief essay that follows each story, Silverberg explains why he considers it among the best that SF has produced, analyzes what makes it "work" as a story, and often, how the story influenced him when he first read it. Fascinating tidbits about the genesis of the story, its reception at the time of its publication, and its influence on the SF field in general are also sometimes included.
Any devoted reader of SF short stories will be familiar with some, if not all of the stories here. But the book works on several levels: As a fine collection of classics, as a work of SF criticism and analysis that will give readers new insights into some well-known stories, and as a partial autobiography of the early career of one of SF's greatest authors, revealing much about the man, his thoughts about SF writing and the circle of writers he moved among.
A list of the stories:
"Four in One"; Damon Knight, 1953
"Fondly Fahrenheit"; Alfred Bester, 1954
"No Woman Born"; C.L. Moore, 1944
"Home is the Hunter"; Henry Kuttner, 1953
"The Monsters"; Robert Sheckley, 1953
"Common Time"; James Blish, 1953
"Scanners Live in Vain"; Cordwainer Smith, 1950
"Hothouse"; Brian W. Aldiss, 1960
"The New Prime"; Jack Vance, 1951
"Colony"; Philip K. Dick, 1953
"The Little Black Bag"; C.M. Kornbluth, 1950
"Light of Other Days"; Bob Shaw, 1966
"Day Million"; Frederick Pohl, 1966
The stories themselves are a terrific collection and include some true masterpieces of short story writing, some of which are rarely anthologised. Just go to the sample pages above to check out the contents list. I defy any SF fan not to enjoy most of these stories.
Then there are the essays on the stories, where Silverberg deconstructs and analyses the stories (without, I should add, in any way detracting from them). This isn't a case of the illusion being spoiled when you look at how it's done. I came away from them only more admiring of the skills and imaginations of the writers.
As to those who accuse this of being an ego exercise by Silverberg I can only say they obviously miss the point. There's a clear love of the craft and art of science fiction at work here. Silverberg tells us plainly that he chose these stories not because they are the all-time greats of the genre necessarily (though some actually are - and for a fuller list of such stories see Silverberg's anthology The Science Fiction Hall of Fame vol.1. The greatest SF short stories as chosen by the SF Writers Association).
These are the stories that a fledgling writer was moved by, astounded by, impressed and dazzled by. We all have our own lists of such stories and they often include ones that wouldn't be on anyone else's list. Doesn't make them bad choices, just personal ones. And frankly, if someone as talented as Robert Silverberg, an author and editor who's proven his talent time and again in this field, by any standard, hasn't earned the right after forty years of writing to do a collection like this, then I don't know who has.
There are any number of authors who have projected their own egos into their works. Harlan Ellison does it all the time and is wonderfully entertaining at it. The great Isaac Asimov published three thick volumes of autobiography that are a pleasure to read. Any editor who puts together an anthology projects their own tastes into it. The proof is ultimately in the work itself. And it's certainly on display here. End of sermon.
Do yourself a favour. Read this book. Maybe, Like Robert Silverberg, some of these stories will inspire you enough to begin writing yourself. Or at least to read more. And that can't be a bad thing.