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What Is It We Do When We Read Science Fiction
Paul Kincaid
Beccon Publications, 365 pages

What Is It We Do When We Read Science Fiction
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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Paul Kincaid offers up thirty-three essays and lengthy reviews in What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction. These essays are divided by Kincaid into several different topics, ranging from a look at British author Christopher Priest (4 essays) to a look at the genre in whole or part.

Kincaid's essays assume a certain level of familiarity with science fiction as a whole and with the specific authors and sub-genres he is discussing. This means that when he discusses authors who are better known in Britain than in America, he may lose some of his North American readers, but it also demonstrates just how heterogeneous science fiction is. Despite an increasing globalization, there are still regionalisms even within the realm of Anglophonic science fiction.

Kincaid's essays are insightful and offer a much more detailed look at authors' works than the average review. His essays regarding Priest or Gene Wolfe, are lengthy enough that he is able to provide a real understanding of these men's place in the genre and the themes which run throughout their oeuvre. These essays assume a familiarity with the subjects, so if Kincaid's reader has not read the works of his subject, these essays lose some of their strength.

Throughout the book, readers will find what amount to lengthy reviews of individual books, some as they came out and others years after their initial publication. But Kincaid does more than just review the books. He places them within their genre context, and also looks at them in relation to the authors' careers as a whole. For readers who might be more used to reading brief synopsis reviews that tell them whether to read a book, Kincaid's more intellectual look at books will seem strange, but he is clearly involved in the dialogue of science fiction.

Damon Knight famously claimed that science fiction is what he points to when he says "This is science fiction." Before and after Knight's definition, other authors, scholars, and fans have attempted to come up with a concise definition of what science fiction is. Although Kincaid does not provide a short, easily quotable definition of the genre, he does provide a more holistic definition by looking at a broad range of the type of literature we read when we say "this is science fiction."

Focused, as it is, on British science fiction, although with vast swathes of American SF as well, What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction may not answer the question posed in the title, but it does provide a view of science fiction which will be eye opening to just about any reader. Kincaid's essays and reviews offer in depth analysis of the authors and topics he has selected to write about.

Copyright © 2008 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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