Edited by James Gunn

White Wolf


622pp/$14.99/February 1998

The Road To Science Fiction 5:  The British Way

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In the 1970s, science fiction author and historian James Gunn released a three volume historical retrospective anthology entitled The Road to Science Fiction. Although a fourth volume was compiled, it wasn't published until 1997 when White Wolf began re-releasing the series. White Wolf also contracted for additional books Gunn had in mind, one dealing with British SF, the other with international SF. This is the first of those additional books.

In his introduction, Gunn is careful to delineate the major differences between British and American science fiction. Until the 1960s, British science fiction was the fiction of pessimism while the US generally produced more optimistic writings. There were several reasons for this, one of the major ones being the American influence of Hugo Gernsback which Gunn seems to feel was missing for British authors. Britain was also more introspective and retrospective, perhaps due to their decline as a world power, particularly after the Second World War. Gunn quotes Brian Stableford as pointing out that although one of Britain's allies created the atomic bomb, it was still someone other than the British. Conversely, American science fiction authors were looking to the future as their nation rose in prominence.

Gunn also makes the point that Michael Moorcock's New Worlds-style of science fiction was not particularly successful in the short term, but did influence several science fiction authors in both the US and the UK whose careers took off following the heyday of Moorcock's experiment.

Gunn's selection of stories is generally pretty good and gives a nice taste of the literature coming out of England throughout the past century. For the early years, Gunn presents excerpts from a variety of novels which dealt with sf-nal themes, eventually giving way to short stories as that market grew. Although the general perception is that British SF began with Wells, Gunn has included five works which pre-date Wells.

In an anthology of this sort, publication date is important. While most anthologies frequently hide the date of original publication on copywrite pages, if it is included at all, Gunn has included the original publication date on the table of contents, making it clear to the reader what the world situation was when the work was originally published.

Before each story, Gunn provides a short biography of about the author with a brief description of their work. These introductions are interesting and, in many cases, too brief, leaving the reader wanting more information about the author they are about to read. Perhaps a way of satisfying the reader's curiosity would have been to include a bibliography of the authors represented so the reader could track down more of their literature when they've finished reading the anthology.

Perhaps the major fault of the book is a sin of omission. Gunn admits that the book was compiled some time ago and therefore it only publishes stories which had seen print prior to 1986. Unfortunately, a new generation of British science fiction authors have arisen since then who have added an important chapter to the history of British SF. While many of these tend to write at the novel length, such as Terry Pratchett, Peter F. Hamilton and Douglas Adams, others consistantly publish quality short fiction. Names such as Stephen Baxter, Mary Gentle, Nicola Griffith, Kim Newman and Paul McAuley all spring to mind. Nevertheless, none are mentioned. Neither does Gunn mention Interzone, which got its start in 1982.

Lt.-Col. Sir George Tompkyns Chesney The Battle of Dorking (Excerpt)
Edwin A. Abbott Flatland (Excerpt)
Richard Jeffries After London; or, Wild England (Excerpt)
Robert Barr The Doom of London
George Griffith A Corner in Lightning
H.G. Wells The Country of the Blind
Rudyard Kipling As Easy as A.B.C.
J.D. Beresford A Negligable Experiment
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle The Horror of the Heights
S. Fowler Wright The Rat
W. Olaf Stapledon Star Maker (Excerpt)
H.F. Heard The Great Fog
Eric Frank Russell Hobbyist
Peter Phillips Dreams Are Sacred
J.T. McIntosh Made in U.S.A.
Sir Arthur C. Clarke The Star
John Wyndham The Emptiness of Space
J.G. Ballard The Voices of Time
J.G. Ballard The Drowned Giant
John Brunner The Totally Rich
David I. Masson Mouth of Hell
D.G. Compton It's Smart to Have an English Address
Anthony Burgess The Muse
Michael Moorcock The Nature of the Catastrophe
Bob Shaw The Happiest Day of Your Life
Josephine Saxton The Power of Time
Kingsley Amis Mason's Life
M. John Harrison Settling the World
Brian W. Aldiss Working in the Spaceship Yards
Brian W. Aldiss Appearance of Life
Christopher Priest An Infinite Summer
James White Custom Fitting
Tanith Lee Written in Water
Ian Watson The Great Atlantic Swimming Race
Brian M. Stableford And He Not Busy Being Born

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