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Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction
edited by Jeff Prucher
Oxford University Press, 342 pages

Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction
Jeff Prucher
Jeff Prucher is a freelance lexicographer. He has previously been a bookseller, office temp, editorial assistant for Locus, and software quality assurance engineer. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and more books than they realistically have room for.

Jeff Prucher Website
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SF Site Review: Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Although some authors, such as Lester del Rey, wanted the academics to "get out of my Ghetto," many other authors, and fans, have yearned for social respectability they have felt was long denied. They wanted a chance for science fiction to prove that it had put that "Buck Rogers" stuff behind it and graduated to a serious literature, not only of ideas, but of characterization, plot, and even relevance. While Brave New Words: Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction can't bestow any of those things on the genre, it does demonstrate that academics are taking it seriously.

The scope of the dictionary includes words taken from science fiction literature, such as the concepts of "organleggers" (p.138) or "tardis" (p.231, sic), as well as from the fannish community, such as "Slan Shack" (p.188) or "annish" (p.7). Although there is no indication in formatting which terms are from the literature and which are cultural, the distinction can easily be found within the definitions.

In addition to the traditional definitions provided by the dictionary, each entry includes several examples of its use, including the first known appearance of the term, "death ray dates back to 1915," (p.34) and continues to show the longevity of each term, the most recent example provided for "death ray" dates to 1998.

In addition to the standard definitions, Jeff Prucher has written several short essays which group terms together, spending a page discussing the term "robot" and its off-shoots (p.125), or explaining the vicissitudes of "fanspeak." (p.96) These essays help provide a larger context for the many words in the lexicon which otherwise would lack any context at all.

There is an appendix of pseudonyms linked to the authors's real names, which is a nice feature, as well as two bibliographies. The second bibliography notes important reference works for anyone studying science fiction, and which, presumably, would be of use to anyone using Brave New Words. It is the first bibliography which is less than completely useful.

Prucher has provided a bibliography of books which are cited in the examples throughout the dictionary. Stories, articles, and essays which are less than book-length are not cited. Furthermore, although there is a listing of the noted works, there is no indication which words are drawn from each work. While it might be nice to know that seven books by Kim Stanley Robinson are cited, it might be more useful if, through indexing, the reader could know that Blue Mars provides an example for the word "terraform."

Although its primary purpose is to provide a look at the words which have entered the English language through the creative processes of science fiction authors and fans, Brave New Words also provides a look at the manner in which science fiction has evolved over the years. In a genre less than a century old, terms have already become archaic as the concepts they describe have become passť or they are superseded by more descriptive terms.

Brave New Words is a wonderful -- and fun -- resource, providing readers with hints of science fiction through the last century and the larger culture which has grown up around the literature. Although, perhaps, targeted at lexicographers and linguists, the appeal of Brave New Words is such that anyone interested in science fiction, writing, words, or sociology should pick up a copy.

Copyright © 2007 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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