Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, September 5, 2014

FORGOTTEN BOOKS: SCIENCE FICTION THROUGH THE AGES

Science Fiction Through the Ages 1  and Science Fiction through the Ages 2, both edited by I. O. Evans (1966)

I. O. Evans (1894-1977) can be considered a forgotten name in science fiction.  He edited and translated many of Jules Verne's work for the Firtzroy editions of Verne's novels, many of which ended up as Ace paperbacks in the late 1960s.  He edited Jules Verne - Master of Science Fiction, which  gave fifteen extracts from Verne's novels.  He evidently wrote a critical work on Verne.  And he wrote two science fiction short stories.  The man seems fairly limited in his knowledge of SF.

Evans was confident enough to come out with this two-volume survey of science fiction, confident enough to stretch the limits of the field to his liking, and confident enough to hack out dribs and drabs from various books to illuminate his thematic history of the field.  Alas, some of his choices are questionable while others are weak.  And the man sure loves his extracts.

Here's Volume 1:

  • "Secret Weapon" (from Count Robert of Paris by Walter Scott)
  • "The Vanished Civilization" (from Timaeus and Critius, based on Plato)
  • "Interplanetary Warfare" (from A True Story by Lucian)
  • "The Moon Voyage" (from Somnium by Johannes Kepler -- ha-ha!  Fooled you!  Because Evans could not find an English translation he used a summary written by Roger Lancelyn Green.)
  • "Utopian Science Fiction" (from The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon)
  • "Satirical Science Fiction" (from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift)
  • "The Human Mutant" (from The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins by Robert Paltock)
  • "Visitors from Outer Space" (from Micromegas by Voltaire)
  • "The Recalcitrant Robot" (from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)
  • "The Menace of the Machine" from Erewhon by Samuel Butler)
  • "The Conquest of the Air" from "The Balloon Hoax" by Edgar Allan Poe)
  • "Into the Unknown" from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jule Verne)
All this (basically) proto-science fiction in 156 pages, including introduction and notes.  Just as well, I don't know if I could have taken much more.

On to Volume 2:
  • "An Expostulation," a short poem by C. S. Lewis
  • "The Atomic Bomb" (from The World Set Free by H. G. Wells)
  • "Action at a Distance" (from Ralph 124C41+ by Hugo Gernsback)
  • "Refugee," by Arthur C. Clarke -- the first of eight complete stories in the book
  • "The Feeling of Power," by Isaac Asimov
  • "A Little Oil," by Eric Frank Russell
  • "The Cold Equations," by Tom Godwin
  • "The Flinties," by I. O. Evans -- I did mention he wrote two science fiction short stories, didn't I?  Well, this is one of them.
  • "A Sound of Thunder," by Ray Bradbury
  • "He Walked Around the Horses," by H. Beam Piper
  • "The Light," by Poul Anderson
  • "Those About to Die --" (from On the Beach by Nevil Shute)
Some decent (albeit familiar) stories lurking in the book's 173 pages (including introduction and notes).

Here's the thing:  I can't figure out for what audience these books are intended?  SF readers?  Hardly.
Novice SF readers?  I can't see them putting up with much of the stuff in the volumes; they probably would throw the books down before they got to the good stuff anyway.  Educators?  The books are a little weak and specious to be taken very seriously.  The general public?  Hah!

It seems that the publishers of these British paperbacks, Pan, may have had a hard time also. To my knowledge, the books have never been reprinted.

As history, an overview, or thematic survey, these two books fall flat.  There is at least something to be said for their quirkiness, which is the only reason I can recommend them.

1 comment:

  1. The general comments seemed a bit harsh, till I realized I was conflating Evans with J. O. Bailey, a rather more on the ball figure...yes, the cranks and enthusiasts are always with us, and I fear Prashant won't be the only person who thinks they are getting a comprehensive view of the fields by reassembling beasts out of WWWebbed entrails and hoof parings.

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