2001-09-03: The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories

The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories (1992)

ed. Tom Shippey (1943-)

I sought out this book after reading Shippey’s J. R. R. Tolkien. I found some interesting thoughts in his introduction.

A revealing way of describing science fiction is to say that it is part of a literary mode which one may call ‘fabril’. ‘Fabril’ is the opposite of ‘pastoral’. But while ‘the pastoral’ is an established and much-discussed literary mode, recognized as such since early antiquity, its dark opposite has not yet been accepted, or even named, by the law-givers of literature. Yet the opposition is a clear one. Pastoral literature is rural, nostalgic, conservative. It idealizes the past and tends to convert complexities into simplicity; its central image is the shepherd. Fabril literature (of which science fiction is now by far the most prominent genre) is overwhelmingly urban, disruptive, future-oriented, eager for novelty; its central image is the ‘faber’, the smith or blacksmith in older usage, but now extended in science fiction to mean the creator of artefacts in general – metallic, crystalline, genetic, or even social.

Shippey believes he is the first to use the word ‘fabril’ in print, but credits Dr. James Bradley of the University of British Columbia for coining the word and concept.

Shippey contends that science fiction, despite occasional attempts to show otherwise, is a 20th century literature, with H. G. Wells the earliest of its writers still read for enjoyment. He thus discounts Mary Shelley, George Griffith, and Jules Verne.

Some of these stories I had read before; others were new to me. I found nearly all of them interesting, and have started following up on some of the authors.


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