I'm not just a fan of reading science fiction and fantasy stories, I'm also a fan of the speculative fiction literary field itself. That means I enjoy reading nonfiction books about science fiction and fantasy. Such books broaden my knowledge of the field, introduce me to new writers and stories, and often enhance the enjoyment of stories I read afterward. Here's a handful of recent nonfiction books that will do the same for you…
Science Fiction Rebels by Mike Ashley
Although science fiction was born in the novel (largely agreed to be Mary Shelley's Frankenstein), it was raised in magazines. Magazines were the lifeblood of the science fiction field for several decades. It was where it found its footing. The history of science fiction magazines is way more interesting than that simple summary, though. A better understanding of the complicated evolution of the genre can be found in Mike Ashley's series of books The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines. The latest book, Science Fiction Rebels, covers the years 1981 through 1990. During this period, Ashley argues, science fiction's evolution was driven by the alternative press and saw the rise of cyberpunk and hard SF. Ashley covers the 80's debuts of some of the top writers still working today, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Kessel, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker, Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Neal Asher, and Robert Reed.
The Song of Middle-Earth by David Harvey
Is there anyone not already familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's masterpiece The Lord of the Rings? If you think you already know all there is to know about this fantasy classic, think again. David Harvey's critical book – The Song of Middle-Earth: J.R.R. Tolkien's Themes, Symbols and Myths – takes a penetrating look at the foundations of Tolkien's work. There's a long-held belief that Tolkien's work was a retelling of existing myths. However, Harvey's study dismisses the notion that Tolkien's world was a derivative fantasy based on existing myths and legends. Instead, he makes a case that the world of Middle Earth is based on Tolkien's desire to create an entirely new mythology.
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
The Geek Feminist Revolution is a brutally honest collection of essays in which author Kameron Hurley overturns conventional notions of genre and writing. She doesn't pull any punches as she covers a wide variety of topics of interest to both fans and writers. Topics include myths about writing, the real-world realities of being an author, the role of women in fiction, and how she learned to overcome perpetuating longstanding stereotypes, how to shape the future of the science fiction field, controversies within the science fiction literary community, and much more. Writers will love it for the hard-earned writing lessons. Fans will love it for the unfiltered perspective on what's going on in genre today. Hurley's guide on geek culture is a must for anyone navigating the uncertain waters of writing and fandom.
Terraforming by Chris Pak
Terraforming is the process of modifying the environment of an uninhabitable world such that it can sustain human life. It's an old theme in science fiction; although coined by Jack Williamson in his 1942 "Seetee Ship" stories, the idea goes as far back as the classic 1898 invasion story The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. A new book takes a detailed look at this fascinating concept. Chris Pak's Terraforming: Ecopolitical Transformations and Environmentalism in Science Fiction examines the history of terraforming in science fiction books and film, up through James Cameron's blockbuster film Avatar. It explores not only the process, but how such projects could affect society. It also does the same for the process of geoengineering; that is: the process of modifying our own planet as a way to address the effects of climate change.
Hard Reading by Tom Shippey
Did you ever wonder what makes science fiction different from other literary fields? Beyond the obvious content of the stories, do you know what literary devices are overwhelmingly utilized by science fiction stories? Tom Shippey has. He's written a new book to address those very issues. Hard Reading: Learning from Science Fiction is Shippey's collection of fifteen essays in which he argues that science fiction has its own internal rhetoric. He calls sf a "high information" genre that favors the unpredictable. He also makes a case that science fiction derives much of its power not from hard sciences (like astronomy and physics), but rather from the soft sciences (like sociology, theology, and politics). This informative collection of essays may very well change the way you look at sf.