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The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places
Brian Stableford, illustrated by Jeff White
Fireside, 384 pages

The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places
Brian Stableford
Brian Stableford was born in 1948 at Shipley, Yorkshire. He graduated with a B.A. in Biology from the University of York, going on to do postgraduate research, first in Biology then in Sociology. In 1979 he received a D. Phil. Until 1998 he worked as a Lecturer in the Sociology Department of the University of Reading. Since then he has been a full-time writer and a part-time Lecturer at several universities.

Brian Stableford Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Inherit the Earth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places, created by Brian Stableford, is an interesting and entertaining look at the wide variety of worlds created by more than a century of science fiction authors. Beginning with the writing of H.G. Wells and continuing to such recent authors as Mary Doria Russell, Stableford has provided brief descriptions of places which have enthralled science fiction audiences.

Each entry treats its subject as a real place, focusing on the type of place and its history. Any activity specifically related to the plot of the book or short story which provided the source material is generally left out as it is usually only a small part of the history of the place. At the end of each entry, Stableford notes the source material and author. This last information might be slightly more useful to the reader at the beginning of the entry, but placing them at the end permits Stableford to maintain the reader's suspension of disbelief through most of the entry. The entries also include cross references pointing the reader towards similar types of worlds.

This last item of information is, perhaps, what makes the book most useful. While it might be fun to look up old favourites, by including cross references the way he does, Stableford is indicating that if you like a specific type of locale you might want to pick up certain other books. While these recommendations are no indication of writing style, they frequently demonstrate similar themes or, at the very least, a "sensawunder."

Stableford includes two indices at the end of the book which help the reader find what they are looking for. The first is an alphabetical listing of authors whose worlds are represented. Following each author's name is a list of the source material and the names of the world from each one. This index is followed by an alphabetical listing of the places, again with author's name and source cited. While this latter index is a repetition of information found in the main text of the book, having it in such a concise form is a nice inclusion.

Unfortunately, Stableford does not seem to be particularly clear about who his audience is. While the text of the book seems to presuppose the reader has a familiarity with science fiction and its tropes, the introduction spends a great deal of time explaining what science fictional universes are and the fact that they can be mutually exclusive. What would really have strengthened the introduction would have been an explanation of the criteria Stableford used to select the places included. Without that simple piece of information, there is no clue as to why Ringworld is the only representative of Larry Niven's Known Space universe while Isaac Asimov's Foundation series is represented by no fewer than five planets.

While not a serious reference work, Stableford's book is highly entertaining and imaginative. Anyone who reads science fiction as more than an occasional diversion will find themselves transported, if only for a minute or two, to worlds which they have read about, and will gain the opportunity to discover at greater depths worlds of which they have never heard. Perhaps in the final analysis what Stableford has really provided is a tourist pamphlet to vacation spots throughout the science fictional universes.

Copyright © 1999 by Steven H Silver

Steven H. Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000, and Clavius in 2001, and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.


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