The following is intended for those not yet familiar with researching sf. This section is under construction and suggestions from sf scholars are welcome. (See also, “Feminist sf“)
Scope of past research
See the tables of contents of the genre’s three oldest academic journals: Extrapolation (1959-present), Foundation – The International Review of Science Fiction (1972-present), and Science Fiction Studies (1973-present). See also those specializing in film (see Science Fiction Film and Television) and feminism (see Femspec), which may be found through university library resources such as JSTOR, Project Muse, the MLA database, and so on. Paradoxa publishes articles on all forms of genre literature. UPDATE: There’s a new journal as of 2015: The Journal of Science Fiction and one as of 2016: Fantastika.
See also Vector, the magazine of the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA).
Other sites offering plot summaries and thematic categorizations range from NEFSA’s encyclopedic Recursive SF to the more conversational and topical Variety SF, Best Science Fiction Stories, SF at DarkRoastedBlend, or Headed for Alien Territory. Io9 also publishes articles featuring summaries of sf novels and short stories. Blogs targeting time periods are available, such as Radium Age Science Fiction (sf published between 1904-33).
Recommended for commentary and plot summaries of novels:
Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations.
For more in-depth book reviews, articles, and editorials, see The New York Review of Science Fiction and LOCUS magazine which features the LOCUS Roundtable blog maintained by writers and editors. See also NEFSA’s book reviews. Concatenation also publishes book reviews and material of interest to the sf community. Sf Mistressworks publishes reviews of books by female authors.
If you’re more interested in the anthology form rather than in a review of fiction, before you begin you may want to investigate those books that serve as primers on science fiction anthologies such as Anthopology 101: Reflections, Inspections and Dissections of Sf Anthologies, by Bud Webster or review a sample of the extensive, book-length bibliographies that exist such as A Checklist of Science-Fiction Anthologies, ed. Walter R. Cole.
See also the sf anthologies page.
Magazine and pulp cover art
Galactic Central provides a gallery of pulp cover art.
The website for The Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas offers an extensive resources and links section, as does LOCUS Online. You may want to scan these lists– especially those provided by sites devoted to your topic, time period, author, etc.–as they may provide links to material of direct interest.
For links related to feminist science fiction and fantasy, see FeministSF.org (no longer maintained, but resources are still up).
For a link portal dedicated to the teaching of myth and fairy tales, see Snow White.
Reader’s Guides are also available, in print and on line. An early example is A Reader’s Guide to Science Fiction (1980) by Baird Searles, Martin Last, Beth Meacham, and Michael Franklin. More recent examples include Sherry Vint’s Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed (2014).
Other examples include:
- The Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas provides teaching resources and reading guides at AboutSF.
- For feminist science fiction reading lists, see the extensive list at FeministSF.org
- For self-reflexive and inter-textual SF, see Recursive SF
- For a starting point in hard SF, see the Intro to Hard SF for Non-SF Readers
- For GLBT SF, see the Lambda Sci-Fi Reading List, GLBT Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Alternative Sexualities and Identities in Fantasy and SF Booklist, and Queer Youth in Feminist SF. Also see Uranian Worlds: A Reader’s Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction (1983) by Eric Garber.
- File770‘s reader’s poll of best science fiction of the 20th century
The ISFDB (Internet Speculative Fiction Database) and the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazine Index (1890-2006) are resources for locating bibliographic information for sf texts.
University library catalogs, Worldcat, Amazon, and ABEbooks are useful for locating texts, and Project Gutenberg (see their Science Fiction Bookshelf) may have copies of those texts now in the public domain. Google Books can be useful for quickly identifying quotations and confirming bibliographic data.
Certain university libraries have extensive SF collections, such as the Bud Foote collection at Georgia Tech, the Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University (with an extensive pulp collection), the Science Fiction Hub at The University of Liverpool, the SF&F Research Database at Texas A & M, the Jack Williamson collection at ENMU, the Eaton Collection at UC Riverside, or the new collection at Columbia University established by Dr. Fred Lerner, which includes “substantial runs of the following titles: Amazing Stories, Asimov’s, Astounding Science Fiction, Fantastic, Galaxy Science Fiction, If: Worlds of Science Fiction, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Magazine of Horror, as well as various issues of several other titles.”
Two general reference books are The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, and Science Fiction: The Gernsback Years by Everett Bleiler, the latter covering the pulp years only. Much more specific reference books exist, however, particularly in the form of bibliographies.
See the anthologies page on this site.
The Science Fiction Research Association , the Popular Culture Association, and the Science Fiction Foundation may also be useful introductory resources, depending on your research goals. See also the Organizations section of LOCUS Online’s Links portal.
Resources for teaching
A site dedicated to the teaching of SF: A Virtual Introduction to SF: Online Toolkit for the Teaching of SF. Also see Course Materials for the Teaching of SF for possible materials.
See sample syllabi for teaching science fiction literature and film on the College/University Courses page of The Speculative Literature Foundation site.
Sample feminist SF syllabus: Sf Feminisms.
For a list of sf-related college courses (as of 1996) with course descriptions, see North American College Courses in Science Fiction, Utopian Literature, and Fantasy compiled by Arthur B. Evans and R. D. Mullen and published in Science Fiction Studies (Nov. 1996, #70). This particular issue of SFS is entitled “SF in Academe” and includes essays on the teaching of science fiction. More recent articles on the teaching of science fiction are available, as are books on this topic.
Anthologies you may find useful in the classroom:
- The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction by Arthur B. Evans, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., Joan Gordon, Veronica Hollinger, Rob Latham, and Carol McGuirk
- Visions of Wonder by David G. Hartwell and Milton T. Wolf
- The Norton Book of Science Fiction by Brian Attebery and Ursula Le Guin
- Science Fiction: The Science Fiction Research Association Anthology by Patricia S. Warrick, Charles C. Waugh, and Martin H. Greenberg
- The Road to Science Fiction six-volume series by James Gunn
- Those Who Can: A Science Fiction Reader, ed. Robin Wilson
- Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century by Justine Larbalestier
Each provides a different take on the history of science fiction and several provide critical commentary on the included texts. Some, such as the Wesleyan anthology, provide additional material for classroom use and Those Who Can provides introductory essays intended to assist in the teaching of science fiction.
Teaching sf theory and history
Definitions of the genre – from critics
Those interested in genre theory may be interested in the early collections of scholarly articles which attempted to explore the “nature” of the genre as a whole.
Thomas D. Clareson’s SF: The Other Side of Realism (1971) examined the genre from a variety of critical perspectives, as did Science Fiction Today and Tomorrow: A Discursive Symposium (1974) ed. Reginald Bretnor. A more recent example in this vein is Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction (2005) by James Gunn, Matthew Candelaria, Brian Aldiss, and Judith Berman.
Definitions of the genre – from writers and fans
Sf writers have also written extensively on the nature of the genre, and essays attempting to define the genre (if this is one of the goals of your course) may be found in the essays and retrospectives of Damon Knight, Brian Aldiss, Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, and so on. Damon Knight’s Turning Points: Essays on the Art of Science Fiction (1977) is a hefty compilation of such essays.
Other sources include the author’s introductions to their own works, histories and memoirs, editorials in magazines of fiction, speeches, and so on.
Targeted critical perspectives
These recent works of criticism apply a particular critical perspective to some subset of the genre’s texts:
Animal Studies – Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal by Sherryl Vint (2013)
Feminism – There are quite a few examples. Here’s a sampling: In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction (1988), ed. Sarah Lefanu; Lost in Space: Probing Feminist Science Fiction and Beyond (1993), ed. Marleen S. Barr; Decoding Gender in Science Fiction (2001), ed. Brian Attebery; and Galactic Suburbia: Recovering Women’s Science Fiction (2008), ed. Lisa Yaszek.
Marxism – Red Planets: Science Fiction and Marxism by Mark Bould and China Miéville (2009)
Modernism – Modernism and Science Fiction by Paul March-Russell (2015)
Postcolonial Theory – Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction by John Rieder (2008)
The Posthuman – Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science Fiction by Sherryl Vint (2007)
Race – Race in American Science Fiction by Isiah Lavender III (2011); The Souls of Cyberfolk by Thomas Foster (2005)
See scholarly journals such as Science Fiction Studies for reviews of these and other works.
(See also, “feminist sf“)
Feminist theory has had a number of sf readers among its ranks, including Donna Haraway, as well as influential feminist writer/critics, notably Ursula LeGuin, James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), and Joanna Russ (and this is certainly not a complete list). Two other writers that have generated both gender-related and race theory criticism in connection with their fiction are Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany, the latter being also linked to queer theory and linguistics.
See the recent special issue on feminist sf in ADA: A Journal of Gender New Media and Technology, which is associated with the Fembot Collective. In particular, see Donna Haraway’s Speech, drafted for the Pilgrim Awards, for a robust introduction to canonical feminist SF texts. In this speech, she describes the influence of SF upon her writing, explains why she views SF as a process of “worlding,” and explores the relationship between SF and the equally speculative domain of theory.
“SF: Science Fiction, Speculative Fabulation, String Figures, So Far” http://adanewmedia.org/2013/11/issue3-haraway/
Also see ADA for more information on Octavia Butler’s fiction and a free reader to read alongside Butler’s work: http://adanewmedia.org/2013/11/issue3-baileybrown/.
Young adult sf
Justice in Young Adult Speculative Fiction: A Cognitive Reading by Marek C. Oziewic (2015)
Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories Paperback – August 5, 2014 by Alisa Krasnostein (Editor), Julia Rios (Editor)
Diversity YA Website
Website of Tamora Pierce
Best YA of 2012: http://tamorapierce.com/recbooks/12recbooks.htm
Best LBGT YA of 2011: http://tamorapierce.com/recbooks/lgbtq2011.htm
Current SF for Teens: http://tamorapierce.com/recbooks/sf4teen.htm#2010sf
Reading List from (the now-defunct) Feminist sf Website
Other Recommendations from various websites and scholarly articles
Le Guin’s National Book Award-winning Earthsea series is one of the key works of YA feminist fantasy. Nancy Kress’s An Alien Light is recommended, as is Joanna Russ’s The Adventures of Alyx. Madeleine L’Engle, Octavia Butler, Carol Emshwiller, and Kathe Koja wrote novels that have some cross-over appeal to young adult market. Also recommended is Nnedi Okorafor (http://www.nnedi.com/). Ellen Klages’s time travel/historical fiction is also recommended, as are Dr. Franklin’s Island (2002) and Peter Dickinson’s Eva (1988) (see Cat Yampbell’s “When Science Blurs the Boundaries: The Commodification of the Animal in Young Adult Science Fiction” (2008)). An example of the type of narrative that’s in demand now:
THE SUMMER PRINCE by Alaya Dawn Johnson, coming out in Spring 2013. It’s a retelling of Gilgamesh set in far-future Brazil, where a women’s council runs the city-arcology and the lower classes run their own lives as they create oxygen. The lead character struggles with her art, her former best friend, her boyfriend and his boyfriend, as well as saving the world. The author discusses how she came to write the series: http://alayadawnjohnson.tumblr.com/post/18971848361/the-summer-prince
Anthologies by theme
Anthologies of fiction exist which may be tailored to the study of sf according to specific critical perspectives, one recent example being So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan.
Rick Wilber’s recent Future Media (2011) contains fiction and scholarship related to media landscape science fiction.
Feminist scholars may be interested in early anthologies that foreground and discuss traditions of female authorship in the genre. Examples include Aurora: Beyond Equality (1976), ed. Vonda N. McIntyre and Susan Janice Anderson; Cassandra Rising (1978), ed. Alice Laurance; Millennial Women (1978), ed. Virginia Kidd; A Woman’s Liberation (2001), ed. Connie Willis and Sheila Williams; Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (2006), and Pamela Sargent’s multi-volume Women of Wonder series.
Those interested in the genre’s treatment of ecologically-related themes may be interested in compilations of science fiction concerned with “ecological crisis” or “species extinction,” such as Nightmare Age (1970), ed. Frederik Pohl; or The Ruins of Earth (1971), ed. Thomas Disch; The Wounded Planet (1973, with an introduction by Frank Herbert), ed. Roger Elwood and Virginia Kidd; or, more recently, Vanishing Acts (2001), ed. Ellen Datlow.
- The International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts
- Also see LOCUS’s link page for international magazines of SF & Fantasy
- A site devoted to Translated SF
Below are a few compilations which seek to introduce new readers to a variety of traditions outside the U.S.:
- The SFWA European Hall of Fame by James and Kathryn Morrow
- The World Treasury of Science Fiction by David G. Hartwell
- View From Another Shore by Franz Rottensteiner
- The Road to Science Fiction: Volume 6 by James Gunn
More specific collections by country or region exist. Damon Knight sought to bring French science fiction to the English-speaking sf community through such anthologies as 13 French Science-Fiction Stories (1965). Judith Merril worked to do the same for Japanese science fiction, and the first volume of Speculative Japan (2007) is dedicated to her efforts. Other early entries along these lines are Soviet Science Fiction and More Soviet Science Fiction (1962) by Isaac Asimov; The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories (1989) by John L. Apostolou and Martin H. Greenberg; Science Fiction from China (1989) by Dingbo Wu and Patrick D. Murphy; and Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (1992) by David Ketterer.
See also The International Science Fiction Yearbook: 1979 (1978), ed. Colin Lester, for an encyclopedic treatment of that year’s international sf output.
A few recent works include:
- Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime
- The Review of Contemporary Fiction: New Japanese Fiction (Summer 2002)
- Speculative Japan: Outstanding Tales of Japanese Science Fiction and Fantasy (3 volumes)
- Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain
- Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic
- The Black Mirror & Other Stories: An Anthology of Science Fiction From Germany & Austria
- The Anticipation Novelists of the 1950s: Stepchildren of Voltaire
- Worlds Apart: An Anthology of Russian Fantasy and Science Fiction
- Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora
- Africa SF (special issue of Paradoxa)
- Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction (Native American, First Nations, Aboriginal Australian, and New Zealand Maori authors)
- So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy
- Northern Suns series (anthologies of Canadian science fiction)
Sf of the late 1800’s
Although the term “science fiction” had not yet been coined, there was a large body of imaginative, science-oriented literature in the late 1800’s.
Mike Ashley’s The Dreaming Sex: Early Tales of the Scientific Imagination (2011) and The Feminine Future: Early Science Fiction by Women Writers (2015) are both excellent and highly readable.
Anthologies such as Science Fiction by Gaslight: A History and Anthology of Science Fiction in the Popular Magazines, 1891-1911 by Sam Moskowitz and Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century by H. Bruce Franklin provide highly readable introductions to this period.
I recommend Future Perfect for the quality of the fiction and Franklin’s commentary. He notes that the genre was “intimately connected with the rise of modern science and technology” and therefore was “somewhere near the center of of nineteenth-century American literature.” He notes further that there “was no major nineteeth-century American writer of fiction…who did not write some science fiction or at least one utopian romance.” Even Henry James, at his death, “left in hundreds of pages of manuscript the unfinished The Sense of the Past, a tale of time travel.” (Future Perfect, vii-x) [Although, see James’s debate with H. G. Wells on the question of whether sf is Literature, as it doesn’t focus on “character,” discussed in Mark W. Tiedemann’s article, “Inclusions,” in the NYRSF, August 2003.]
The Dealers’ Room at most conventions offers for sale both new and used books which may be difficult to locate or prohibitively priced outside of such venues. Dealers are also often veterans of the genre who may be able to assist you in tracking down elusive texts (or recommending additional texts).
Keep in mind that certain authors have followings in the sf community and that these communities can be quite knowledgeable. Long-standing groups often have access to texts and research concerning both their authors and their author’s contemporaries. (For example, in my own research on C. L. Moore, the Robert E. Howard United Press Association–REHupa–kindly helped me locate a rare pulp era fanzine containing one of Moore’s interviews.) Their websites may provide bibliographical information, story synopses, covers, scholarship, and publication statistics on their author(s) of interest.
Academics have also shown interest in the genre’s unique culture, which prompts discussions of fan labor, sociality, creativity, cooperation, among many other areas.
Some science fiction conventions are primarily social, while others have a scholarly bent. Three examples are provided below; each uses a different approach to serve a different audience.
See the Speculative Literature Foundation’s list of conventions for a cross-section of conventions offered in 2005/6. See the NESFA convention list for recent information. See this site for a list of upcoming conventions: Upcoming Conventions.
Wiscon–an annual convention in Madison with feminist sf as its focus–is a social/scholarly con. Fans and their children are encouraged to socialize with authors and critics and vice versa. See the Wiscon 35 pocket program for more examples. The Carl Brandon Society, which recognizes sf writers of color, and The James Tiptree, Jr. Award, which recognizes works exploring the concept of gender, present their awards at Wiscon.
Readercon, in contrast, does not allow any fannish content and is primarily a conference for industry professionals (writers, publishers, editors). For a sample of its programming, see the Readercon 23 Pocket Program.
The Jack Williamson Lectureship is a smaller event held at Eastern New Mexico University, where Williamson taught. In accordance with Williamson’s lifework, the Lectureship’s primary focus is to encourage young writers to develop their writing and their knowledge of sf. The Lectureship offers educational panel programming, lectures by guests of honor, and workshops for young writers conducted by sf authors such as Grandmaster Connie Willis.
As mentioned, the above are only three examples meant to introduce a variety of approaches and target audiences.
Worldcon is the longest-running annual science fiction convention, with as many as 7,000 in attendance. The 70th Worldcon will be held in 2012 in Chicago, IL (“Chicon 7”). Worldcon is the annual meeting of the World Science Fiction Society, tends to focus on written sf, and is the event at which the Hugo Award is presented. See the 69th Worldon Pocket Program for programming examples. Larger cons like Worldcon may also include a separate Academic Program.
Worldcon’s attendance pales in comparison to that of the annual Dragoncon held in Atlanta (2011 attendance: approx. 46,000), which draws its audience from sf, fantasy, gaming, and comics fans. See the 2011 Dragoncon Pocket Program for programming examples.
Other related cons include Pulpfest (for fans of pulps and pulp art), Bouchercon (The World Mystery Convention), and The World Fantasy Convention. Other cons include Comic-Con (comics), regional cons, and cons on the fantastic arts (IlluXcon and Spectrum Live) and the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA).
In addition to fannish activities (e.g., costume balls, role-playing, filking), larger fan conventions also offer educational panels on many aspects of the genre. Workshops for writers, organized outings and dinners, book signings, book sales, art shows, film screenings, and author readings are also standard fare at most cons.