THE DICTIONARY OF SCIENCE FICTION PLACES
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Brian Stableford does not seem to be entirely sure of who the audience is for his most recent science fiction reference work, The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places. While the target audience would seem to be long-time fans who wanted to be reminded of some of their favorite worlds and given pointers to other realms to discover, Stableford's introduction seems to indicate that he is writing for a more general audience. In his introduction, Stableford explains what a science fiction universe is and explains why they are generally mutually exclusive. What he does not, unfortunately, explain is what criteria he used to select the places described in this book.
There is little cause to argue with any of Stableford's inclusions. His selections run the gamut from classical science fiction worlds such as Frank Herbert's Dune and Isaac Asimov's Trantor to such new locations as Mary Doria Russell's Rakhat and Kim Newman & Eugene Byrne's United Socialist States of America.
Each of Stableford's descriptions treats the place it is discussing as a real place with little reference to the specific adventures which the books and stories describe. These genrally begin by describing the location and end with a short blurb suggesting similar worlds in other universes which might interest the reader. For instance, upon finishing the entry for Arthur C. Clarke's Rama, Stableford points out that readers interested in "similarly awesome and dubiously convenient alien artifacts" should look into the entries about Asgard, Orbitsville and Thistledown. The end of the entry is also where Stableford identifies the location's creator and the works which describe the world. This last information would be better at the beginning of the entry, but Stabelford seems to have elected to put it at the end so it wouldn't interfere with the reader's suspension of disbelief.
The entries are arranged in alphabetical order, but Stableford has provided the book with the double index. The first is arranged by author's name, noting the works covered and then the individual worlds. The second index is an alphabetical listing of the worlds with the source and author included for quick reference. These indices make the book much more useful than the main part of the work would be without them.
Stableford soes have some interesting omissions. He refers to the worlds prominent in Mike Resnick's Paradise and Purgatory, but neglects to have an entry for the world in Inferno, the third novel in the sequence. Larry Niven, whose creation of interesting worlds in his Known Space series is second only to his races, receives a notice for Known Space's Ringworld, but none of that universe's other planets. On the other hand, Poul Anderson has no fewer than twenty entries.
While The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places provides useful and interesting pointers for people who are looking for new books to read, it seems essentially to be a work of reference for those who are already familiar with several of the worlds appearing in the book. Priced at only $20, it is cheap enough that readers can purchase the book for the shear nostalgic value, and the entries are interesting even when the place described is not already familiar. Stableford does such a great job, it can only be hoped that he is currently working on a similar dictionary describing the realms of fantasy.
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