A stroll through 98 of “the greatest fictional worlds ever created.”
Overseen by editor Miller (The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, 2008, etc.), longtime editor and critic at Salon.com, a host of writers contribute short essays on books ranging from The Epic of Gilgamesh up through Salman Rushdie’s Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015). Sidebars introduce factoids about the selections. The copiously illustrated volume is arranged chronologically and divided, rather arbitrarily, into sections titled “Ancient Myth & Legend,” “Science & Romanticism,” “Golden Age of Fantasy,” “New World Order,” and “The Computer Age.” Aside from a brief opening essay by Miller, readers are left on their own to make sense of these varied fictional landscapes. Most will find some that are deeply familiar and others that are new: for every Nineteen Eighty-Four or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, there is an Egalia’s Daughters, a feminist satire by Norwegian Gerd Mjoen Brantenberg, or a Lagoon, a work of science fiction by Nnedi Okorafor set in Nigeria. Children’s literature is well-represented, and though the volume skews toward works written in the last half-century or so, the editor makes a noble effort to include earlier books. The entries in general follow a formulaic pattern, with a bit of historical context, an extensive summary of the book in question, a few quotations, a little literary analysis, and a paragraph about other books by the author and writers the book has influenced. The volume, often academic in tone, is best taken in small doses. The best essays, such as Abigail Nussbaum’s quirky tribute to Tove Jansson’s The Moomins and the Great Flood or Lev Grossman’s salute to the “just slightly askew” world of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, transport the book out of the realm of the committee into that of personal passion.
An encyclopedic look at literary landscapes featuring an encyclopedia’s breadth and lack of depth.