BRAVE NEW WORDS: THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF SCIENCE FICTION
Edited by Jeff Prucher
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 1944, science fiction fan historian Jack Speer published Fancyclopedia, a listing of terms used by science fiction fans in their interactions. In point of fact, many of the entries in Fancyclopedia read more like in-jokes from the time than useful entries. Fancyclopedia was updated in 1959 by Dick Eney, who employed the same procedure as Speer. Other fannish lexicons have also appeared over the years, of which Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, edited by Jeff Prucher, may be the ultimate representation.
Unlike those earlier compilations, Brave New Words is not actually aimed at the fannish community, although it is questionable who, aside from linguists and lexicographers, would be interested in the book outside fandom. For the most part, the book is a straight dictionary, providing a word, followed by the part of speech to which it belongs, and a definition. Each entry then includes several examples of the word in use, including its earliest coinage and enough examples to demonstrate that usage of the word became common. For instance, jump space was first used by Harry Harrison in 1961 and Prucher includes instances of its use by different authors for each decade through the 1990s.
In addition to the normal entries, Brave New Worlds includes eleven brief essays on specific types of terms, from “‘Zines,” (p.272) which includes a brief description of the terms specific to ‘zines (and pointers to the words that have full entries) to “Expletives & Profanity,” (p.72), which discusses ways in which writers have gotten around censorious authorities.
The book also boasts an appendix of pseudonyms cited throughout the book and two bibliographies. The first bibliography of books quoted in the book appears to be only of books cited. The myriad short stories, magazines, ‘zines, etc. which are cited throughout are left out of this bibliography. The usefulness of this bibliography is further depleted by its lack of indexing. It might be nice to know that Julie Czeneda’s In the Company of Others is cited in Brave New Words, but it would be more useful to know which word(s) reference this text. The second bibliography provides information on science fiction non-fiction and reference books, which is useful even without the cross indexing.
While Brave New Words is a scholarly book, it is far from dry. The use of science fictional quotations throughout is enough to ensure it is enjoyable reading, and readers interested in certain aspects of the field can even use the book to point them in the direction of lost stories, such as “Unforeseen” by Mark Champion, which introduced the term “Stun gun” in 1946. The examples also give surprises, like the fact that starships have been referred to as a “torch” as recently as 2002 in M. John Harrison’s Light.
Not all the words come from science fiction literature. Many refer to words which have come about from the culture that surrounds science fiction fandom, from the words reflecting ‘zines to “Sturgeon’s Law.” The preponderance of these phrases and words, along with the shear number of fanzines cited throughout the text, attest to the longevity and vitality of the science fiction community.
For the science fiction fan, Brave New Words offers interesting reading and a sort of vindication in a world in which science fiction is still occasionally looked up as “that Buck Rogers stuff (a phrase the dictionary defines as “characteristic of dated or hackneyed science fiction,” p.18). For anyone interested in the words that make up science fiction, or the attitudes that surround it, Brave New Words is an essential, and fun, book.
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