A Conversation Larger than the Universe: Readings in Science Fiction and the Fantastic 1762–2017

Henry Wessells. Grolier, $35 (288p) ISBN 978-1-60583-074-2
This erudite and altogether fascinating collection of essays from Wessells (Another Green World) explores the development of science fiction from its roots, focusing on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which the author considers “the point at which science fiction emerges from the gothic.” He then takes the reader on a personal journey through his favorite books, pointing out historic firsts such as Sara Coleridge’s Phantasmion (1837), the first fantasy novel published in English. He surveys the publishing history of some of the pillars of the genre, including Philip K. Dick, James Blish, Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Robert Sheckley, as well as highlighting the work of authors whose names are less well known by the general public, such as Avram Davidson and R.A. Lafferty. Wessells, an antiquarian bookman, poet, publisher, and true lover of books, shows how two world wars, political strife, and even rock-and-roll and punk have all contributed to this ever-evolving and expanding literary universe. As he says, “Far from being escapist reading, science fiction is a way of seeing the world. It may be the essential literature for life in the twenty-first century.” In the year of Frankenstein’s bicentennial, this is essential reading. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/18/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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