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SF: Where To Start
by Brian Plante

Are you new to Science Fiction? Or have you been reading SF awhile but are looking for more and better stories to read? Well, have I got a list for you.

If you're like most folks who read for pleasure, you probably read novels. There are hundreds of really good SF ones, and if I listed all of them, this would be a rather lengthy article. But I think the place most people should start, to get a basic grounding in the history and depth of the SF field, is in the shorter lengths. There's a much higher signal-to-noise ratio at the shorter lengths -- for the same amount of reading as a single novel, you can be swept away into ten or more new worlds.

Unlike most other genres, SF has always had a strong tradition of short stories. SF authors typically break in at the shorter lengths, and there has always been a number of magazine and anthology markets that publish such work. Even when SF authors move up into the arena of novels, it is not unusual for them to still produce shorter works as well.

So where do you find the best of the shorter lengths in SF? Well, the top magazines Asimov's, Analog, and The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction have been around for quite some time, and are the obvious places to spot new work from upcoming as well as established authors. You can read excellent work online for free at SciFiction as well as a few other other worthy websites and magazines if you really have the time, but since we're assuming you're new to SF and want up to speed quickly, those are the biggies to cover first.

Is it too much for you to follow all those magazines every single month? Then dive in with the annual Best of The Year anthologies. Gardner Dozois edits the huge The Year's Best SF annual, and David Hartwell edits a smaller but similarly excellent anthology. Later this year, Robert Silverberg, no slouch at editing, will debut a third SF best of the year anthology. You can't go wrong with any or all of these books.

Want to know where SF has been? Then you want to read some of the many wonderful retrospective anthologies. The single best volume is probably Volume 1 of The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg. That one is currently out of print (as are many of the volumes I'm about to mention), but is widely available in used bookstores or on the internet (try www.abebooks.com or www.half.com). Other quick primers in SF are James Gunn's The Road To SF series (six volumes, but start with volumes 2-4), Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories (25 volumes in all, each one covering a single year from 1939 to 1963), several volumes edited by David Hartwell (The Ascent Of Wonder, The Science Fiction Century, The World Treasury Of SF and Visions Of Wonder), The Oxford Book Of SF edited by Tom Shippey, several volumes of The Arbor House Treasury books edited by Robert Silverberg, Worlds Of Wonder (recently reissued under the title of SF 101) also by Robert Silverberg, Gardner Dozois' The Good Old Stuff,The Good New Stuff, Modern Masterpieces of SF and Modern Classic Short Novels Of SF.

I could go on. And on and on and on. But rather than overwhelm you with a daunting list, I'll cut this short. If you're totally new to the field, start with a few of the retrospective anthologies. If you prefer the newer styles to the old stuff, pick up the best-of-the-year books. If you find yourself really enjoying all this and hungry for more, then subscribe to one or more of the magazines.

And then there's the novels. Ah, so many books, so little time. Well, maybe I'll save those for another article. But if you're just starting out, start with the short stories first and you'll get more bang for your buck. I envy you for all those first-time discoveries you have ahead.

Copyright © 2002 Brian Plante Count=4994


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