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British Science Fiction & Fantasy: Twenty Years and Two Surveys
edited by Paul Kincaid and Niall Harrison
British Science Fiction Association, 208 pages

British Science Fiction & Fantasy: Twenty Years and Two Surveys
Paul Kincaid
Paul Kincaid is the former administrator of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the recipient of the SFRA's Thomas D. Clareson Award for Distinguished Service for 2006. He is the co-editor of The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology.

Paul Kincaid Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Niall Harrison
Niall Harrison is a mild-mannered medical writer; by night, an sf fan and would-be critic. He has reviewed for Interzone, Foundation, The Alien Online, and Vector. In the real world, he lives in the UK, just west of London.

Niall Harrison Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Science fiction and fantasy changes over time. Sometimes the changes are obvious such as when a novel like Neuromancer explodes on the scene. Other times, the changes are more subtle, like an authors whose work has been published steadily in the magazines looks back and sees the scope of their career. In 1989, Paul Kincaid conducted a survey in which he asked British science fiction and fantasy authors a series of questions to get a feel for the state of the genre. Twenty years later, Niall Harrison conducted essentially the same survey with a different (although occasionally overlapping) group of authors, to not only gauge the health of the genre, but to compare today's view of science fiction and fantasy to the view held by authors twenty years ago. The results are published in British Science Fiction and Fantasy: Twenty Years, Two Surveys.

The survey begins with the most basic question of whether the authors self-identify as science fiction or fantasy authors. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the respondents for both surveys answered in the affirmative, many with qualifiers or explanations. The survey then moves on to ask a more probing question of what aspects of the authors' writings they identify as science fiction or fantasy, thereby obliquely delving into the question of what defines science fiction or fantasy. The editors have had to choose, in this and all chapters, which respondents to quote directly, which leaves a wide open question about the overall data. At the same time, the editors clearly are offering a narrative which provides a synopses of the range of answers and the most common.

The questions not only look at the author's own identities as science fiction and fantasy authors and their influences, but reach out to expand and see their vision of British speculative fiction and a comparison between it and American speculative fiction, both in structure, influence, and industry. In many ways it is when the survey opens up that it becomes most interesting, and a little infuriating. Interesting because the various replies definitely provide a look into what makes British science fiction and fantasy British, but infuriating because there is the stated idea that the British form of the genre must be compared to America, almost as if that is the Platonic ideal. Fortunately, many of the authors attempt to view British science fiction and fantasy on its own terms, although the frequency of the concept of "too British" for American audiences is troubling, and telling.

Kincaid and Harrison have compiled a wonderful book, not only a snapshot of the genre and community in1989 and 2009, but a look at the trends and growth of the genre during that time. One can only hope that in 2029, another enterprising British fan will undertake to continue the survey, and perhaps have an American version to contrast it with, to see how American authors view themselves in terms of the British standard.

Copyright © 2010 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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