Gary Westfahl, Science fiction quotations:
from the inner mind to the outer limits (Yale University Press, 2005)
Have I talked you about what I call popcorn reading? Popcorn reading is anything which, in spite of any merit it might have otherwise, is best approached as entertainment. George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is perfect popcorn reading for several winters worth, as is any other serial fiction that is sufficiently long in duration, such as the Harry Potter series. Likewise Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series and Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings. Now comes the tricky part. Fiction that is popcorn reading is fairly common, but non-fiction that is so is fairly rare. Now I admit that most non-fiction is better than warm milk and chocolate chip cookies consumed on late on a winters night for putting me straight to sleep, but there's a fair amount of good popcorn reading out there. Both of John Clute's two dated works, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction are great for dipping into when looking for reading inspiration, as is The Anatomy of Wonder. I vaguely remember that it was dipping into one of these references works that led me to read both Patricia McKillip and Simon Green, to name but two authors who I've enjoyed immensely.
Now along comes Science Fiction Quotations, a book hailed by many critics as defining an entire genre. Bull. First of all, this is not a collection of Science fiction quotations. It includes material from sources that no individual with a grounding in science fiction would claim as part of that genre, such as Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, not to mention selections from Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea series! Second, defining any genre is a collective undertaking that changes almost continually. As Deborah Frost in the Village Voice, an American alternative newspaper, once said, 'Analyzing the Breeders may be as useful as deconstructing a good fuck, or for those less carnally inclined, a strawberry shortcake. When it works, you really don't have to discuss it. If it doesn't, you just signal for mas cafe por favor and slosh away.' Indeed the strawberry shortcake -- preferably with lots of whipped cream -- would be far more satisfying than the attempt to define what the Science Fiction genre is or is not!
Not that Westfahl has not created something really wonderful, as he indeed has. I spent far too many hours skimming Science fiction quotations: from the inner mind to the outer limits to see who among the SF writers I am familiar with were included (lots of Robert Heinlein, Arthur Clarke, Issac Asimov, and LeGuin to name but a few) and who wasn't (Neal Asher, Kage Baker and Charles Stross are notably absent). Rather large servings of quotations from Star Trek and Babylon 5 are here for your consumption, but Max Headroom, a SF series if ever there was one, is not here, nor is Tek War, the SF series William Shatner was in. What the fuck?!? Farscape isn't here! (As you can see, it does have an excellent set of indexes.) I know -- I'm kvetching. But I have a reason for doing so.
Remember my definition of popcorn reading? (The popcorn here is the stuff you make at home with real melted butter and just a hint of salt. Not the stuff they sell at the megaplex that would've killed the Toxic Avenger in seconds.) If we strip Science fiction quotations: from the inner mind to the outer limits of all the baggage that has been hung on it by critics, it is, to paraphrase Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks, a damn fine read. Read by yourself and you'll end making lists of reading which you should do; read aloud from it with a group of friends into SF and it'll provoke conversations well into the night. With the quotations being arranged by subject, I could (with some bemusement) see what what a number of writers had to say on food and drink -- the quote on caffeine from Greg Egan's Distress was particularly amusing, as was the bit on hangovers from Zelazny's 'The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth' story. There's many an hour of entertainment here.
The bottom line? I've added this fine volume to the core collection of non-fiction which is devoted to sf/horror/fantasy in my office here at Green Man. No, it won't get as much use as Zipes' Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, but it will be fun -- yes, fun! -- to pull it off the shelf and read a section from time to time. It is, after all, damn fine popcorn reading.