BOOK COLLECTING has always been important for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts, and recently libraries, too, have started to assemble collections of representative works. Prices for certain books have always been high, depending on their desirability and rarity, but in the last few years values have gone far beyond what might have been expected from inflation. For example, a copy of The Outsider, by H. P. Lovecraft, which sold for $3.50 in 1939, now brings between $300 and $750, and E. E. Smith's History of Civilization is in the same price range. Is it any wonder that collectors hoard books?
Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors, by L. W. Currey (G. K. Hall, $48), will be the basic book for such collectors. Currey is the first to prepare a thorough bibliography for about 200 authors, describing all the little oddities that make a first printing more valuable to a collector than a later and perhaps better edition. Given are all the minor imprints, the signed issues, the variations in binding, and the typographical points. Currey has done a first-rate job in gathering this information, and it is astonishing how many little known items he records that the collector might otherwise miss. His information is presented with model clarity and suitable fullness. For obvious reason values are not discussed. My only criticism of the book is that the selection concentrates too much on recent, somewhat untried authors, rather than "classics," but this flaw can easily be corrected in a second volume.
The most recent and comprehensive general bibliography of fantastic literature is Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, a two-volume set by R. Reginald (Gale, $74). The first volume lists 15,783 books and pamphlets printed up through 1976. This is not first-edition information as in Currey, but short-entry bibliography, which is completely adequate for most purposes. The book can, indeed, supplement Currey, since most science-fiction and fantasy books have never achieved second printings. While earlier biblographies have covered parts of Reginald's span, it is most handy to have all this information in one volume, and the book is indispensable to the researcher and collector.
This is not to say that Reginald is the ultimate reference work for this field. There are a few careless mistakes like a confused entry that attributes Wuthering Heights (a dubious inclusion) to Charlotte Bronte and a misclassification of John Collier's "Green Thoughts" and Stephen Vincent Benet's "The Devil and Daniel Webster" as novels. And at least 1,000 books from the pre-1949 period have been omitted. Many of these omissions are not oddities but solid, standard titles like The Ingoldsby Legends, by R. H. Barham, The Blindman's World, by Edward Bellamy, Armadale, by Wilkie Collins, On the Edge, by Walter de la Mare, the ghost stories of Amelia B. Edwards in toto, and so on. I also feel that Reginald's approach is now a generation out of date. The field of fantastic fiction includes many subgenres and scores of possible classifications. To dump everything together without comment may have been defensible 30 years ago when bibliogaphy was being scraped together out of largely unread collections, but today a reader has a right to ask for guidance in subject matter and typology.
Despite these limitations Reginald's bibliography is very useful, but it is difficult to say anything favorable about the second volume of the set, which is a selection of canned biographies from the Contemporary Authors series.
Two special bibliographies also deserve mentions. The Works of M. P. Shiel Updated, by A. Reynolds Morse (The Reynolds Morse Foundation,$90), is a labor of love. Morse has gathered just about everything known, biographically, bibliographically, about the eccentric fin-de-siecle British author (best known for The Purple Cloud) who was highly regarded by critics like Rebecca West and L. P. Hartley. Morse's work is indepensable for the study of Shiel, although it could have been a little better organized. Another labor of love is Who Goes There, A Study in Bibliography, by James A. Rock (James A. Rock and Co., Bloominton, Ind., $23.95; paperback, $10.95), which covers book and magazine work of authors who have used pseudonyms. The research that went into this book is enormous, and the author has not received the attention he deserves for a useful supplementary work.
Speculation about the nature, function, and goal of science fiction and fantasy used to be rather staid and perhaps a little naive, but a great deal has happened since scholars versed in sophisticated mainstream criticism have begun to study the two genres.
A noteworthy recent book that analyzes science fiction deeply is Darko Suvin's Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (Yale, $22.50; paperback, $8.95). It is probably the richest and most thought-provoking work yet to appear on the esthetic of science fiction. Ideas pour fourth tumultously, forcing the reader to pause and reflect many times on every page, to evaluate new insights and weigh new linkages. The coverage, too, is wide, for Suvin has read extensively in early science fiction, a somewhat rare accomplishment among those who write about it. His position, that of catholic syncretism, is enriched with ideas from European Formalism, neo-Marxism, modern philosophical esthetics of many schools and the social sciences.
Suvin first defines science fiction, and then analyzes the work of selected authors from Cyrano de Bergerac to Karel Capek. His approach, which stresses the rational side of sf, is not descriptive, but ideal. The central concept if Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt, which does not have an exact one-word English equivalent, although Suvin renders it as "estrangement." Put into simplest erms (thereby distorted a little) "estrangement" means a new look at familiar objects, with a resulting feedback. Suvin goes on to define science fiction as the "literature of cognitive estrangement" or as a literature that is not concerned with mirroring the world, but which "posits [phenomena] as problems, and then explores where they lead." Suvin holds that mainstream realistic fiction cannot possess "estrangement" and that fantasy, myth and the folktale cannot possess "cognition."
All this does not fit the phenomena well, for, as has been pointed out by other critics, "estrangement" in Brecht's sense is not absent from mainstream literature, and may be present in degrees of strength, while the "cognitive" element in science fiction is usually only lip service or prestidigitation. Where anthing profound occurs in sf, it is usually in works that border on other genres, like philosophical novel. Science fiction, after all, is preeminently amusement.
A serious student should read Suvin's book, even though he may disagree with its unstated presuppositions, its method, and its conclusions. It opens a new world of thought. But the reader must be prepared to work, for Suvin has great difficulty in communicating his ideas. The reader may find himself writing a counter-book to interpret Suvin, for Suvin writes in a sort of mental shorthand where the symbols are not adequately defined.
More accessible, though by no means as rich, is the second edition of SF in Dimension (Advent, $6) by Alexei and Cory Panshin, a collection of reviews and articles that were among the first mature criticism to emerge from the bankrupt mainstream literature in offering new understandings of existential questions. This concept merges into an almost pragmatic conclusion: good sf finds a problem and solves it. I do not agree with this Frank Merriwell theory of literature, but the Panshins make very apt criticism of individual books. The volume also contains Alexel Panshin's good psycho-biography of the work of Robert A. Heinlein.
The relationship of science fiction to its mirror-sister fantasy has long been a matter of strong disagreement. Darko Suvin considers fantasy to be a pollutant, a pathological phenomenon when it impinges on science fiction; the Panshins interpret it as a related and valid form; while Brian Attebery, in The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature (Indiana University Press, $17.50), explains it as a psychologically and socially valid form of literature, related by common descent to science fiction.
Attebery's book is a pleasant, insightful mixture of history, evaluation, an analysis from the points of view of several schools of criticism. It first describes the origin of fantasy in European folklore, and then places a value on it. Like Suvin and the Panshins for science fiction, Attebery claims that fantasy can offer insight into life and the universe, although his claims are more reasonable.
The chronological scope of the book is fairly wide, from the early 19th century up to the present, including Irving, Hawtrhorne, Poe, Melville, L. Frank Baum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Cabell, Bradbury, Thurber, Le Guin and many lesser writers of adult fantasy that one might have expected, like Charles Heber Clark, Sarah Greenough, and Gertrude Hall. Attebery is most perceptive in his analyis of Hawthorne and Le Guin, somewhat less successful with Bradbury and the genre authors, perhaps because the historical situation is too complex to be represented by a unilinear development.
According to Attebery most 19-century American fantasy was limited to European themes and materials simply because there was not enough chronological depth for American material to accrete. An enormous breakthrough came with The Wizard of Oz, a work that stands behind many later developments. An interesting and welcome feature of Attebery's exposition is its application of scientific folklore to questions of story formation and meaning. There are occasions when Attebery seems a little rigid in imposing structural patterns on individual works, but all in all The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature is a rewarding book written in the best tradition of scholarly English. CAPTION:
Picture, Jacket Illustration From "The Science Fictionary"