Welcome to jennre, a data-blog for the sf-curious academic. The summaries and informational resources in this blog are intended for new readers in the genre; old hands may be familiar with most of this material. Casual readers may enjoy browsing, but they are forewarned that most of material here is directed toward readers in search of specific information. As such, certain pages are long and information-dense.
Here new readers will find a good number of science fiction texts summarized by theme and time period (see “Categories” on the right). This blog is still in development, and certain sections may change in response to suggestions from users. I expected to finish this data-blog in early January 2013, but I’ve since devoted some attention to a companion blog, Sisters of SF&F, focusing solely on feminist science fiction and fantasy. At a later point, I will return to this database.
At this time, entries are in chronological order, as they’re being entered from an index, and most of the content is pre-1960. Texts summarized as of today: 450.
Waveries will be a collection of features, each in its own way focusing on a set of stories from the genre’s past and relating them to the present. (Click the link or see the very end of the “All Categories” menu.)
Resources contains information on links, texts, databases, and associations which may be of interest to sf-curious academics. If you have suggestions for this section, I would appreciate having them.
Regarding the summaries, some classics are included, but the blog also seeks to promote obscure texts that may not have received academic attention. More of these will be included over time. Keep in mind that some of the early texts highlighted here are offered for their foundational value only; they are of value because they set certain idea “in play” for later, more sophisticated writers to develop into texts worthy of scholarly analysis. Such analysis would seem to be enriched by an awareness of the genesis of certain themes and ideas. (Which is not to say that all early texts are “unsophisticated” or without value.)
Use the search field beneath “Recent Posts” to search for specific terms.
The texts covered are almost entirely short stories. The summaries are very brief; each contains a brisk plot synopsis, a suggestion as to how you might approach the text, and very general information about the author. Note: The synopsis may not focus on the plot (there are other sites dedicated to this purpose), but rather suggest how the text may be placed within a larger tradition from the point of view of one reader. Other interpretations are certain to exist, and you should keep this in mind.
If you’re not certain why a text has been included, check the category designation at the bottom of the post. If the author is obscure, a bit of biographical information is provided, and if the text is in the public domain, a link to the text. A few ISFDB entries and links to criticism are included; the ISFDB entries are mainly for my use.
Why short stories?
Expedience and a personal preference play a role. More importantly, the short story was the operational mode of science fiction in its infancy, if not for the better part of the 20th century. Arguably, it is the most efficient method of introduction to the genre for new readers.
Most of the summaries resulted from a four-year review of anthologies covering 20th century sf. Initially, I sought fiction capable of engendering discussions of the Other, particularly texts written in the 30s and 40s from the vantage of the freak, misfit, alien, exile, and robot. In the end, my only criterion for the index was that the text interest me in some way. The project was rooted in pleasure and an old source of curiosity–I’ve always wanted to survey the genre in chronological order–but the goal had to shift when I entered a Master’s program: Find a thesis topic.
The review eventually led to a thesis on the work of C. L. Moore. I considered stopping there, but the project was not easily put aside. Although it may have seemed a respectable number at the onset, a few hundred anthologies covering such a large span of time hardly comprised the “comprehensive review” I’d originally envisioned. In fact, the more I read, the more I came to understand that the genre was a house of unlimited rooms, of tiny doors that open to unsuspected worlds, and that many of these rooms and doors are connected. I’d been told this before, read this in criticism, but a description is a poor substitute for a Borges or a Wonderland moment. If you’re coming to the genre to read for pleasure, I wish you the same discovery sense of wonder, not simply that derived from the stories and their individual visions, but from the genre itself.
And so, the index grows…
Reviewing sf anthologies
In “sf anthologies” you’ll find a lengthy explanation of how you might conduct a chronological or thematic review of 20th century sf written in the short story mode. It’s not suggested that you conduct this type of review; rather, this section is a crash course in the genre for those unaware of the variety and number of potential texts involved. It’s also a means for veterans of the genre to identify gaps in my knowledge and, I hope, refer me to additional or superior sources.
This section also provides an introduction to the spectrum of sf anthologies a new reader might encounter. This may be of use to those specifically interested in how the genre markets its texts and to those seeking an anthology tailored to their agenda or theme. The section concludes with a list of questions that are intended for the new reader only. Again, veterans are invited to comment and correct as they see fit.
Advice given to me: If you’re pressed for time and eager to begin reading texts, this and other blogs of its type may be of some assistance. Use the blog to search for terms of interest to you–or just browse, letting your curiosity have rein. Instead of conducting a methodical survey of “the grid,” explore your interest in an author, critic, or time period and work your way out in a more organic fashion. Once you’ve found a focus, you know how to take it from there, using more traditional research methods.
Go for a stroll
A few final words for the curious. Don’t be discouraged by the amount of material. Just start walking. Use this and other blogs to search for terms, critics, figures related to your interests. I can almost guarantee you’ll encounter something you didn’t expect to find. Second, although the trail of summaries provided here is only one possible path through these texts, it is a path and one which you may contest as you find your own way, meaning, something to argue against. At the very least, I believe that after walking this road you will leave with a better appreciation of the variety offered by the genre and a more confident plan of attack before embarking upon more traditional research strategies.
Your comments and corrections
Your comments and corrections, to individual posts or the blog overall, are very welcome. I apologize in advance for any errors or typos. This blog attempts to cover and include a prodigious amount of material, and I’m certain that human error will be found.
–December 12, 2012, last revised