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New Maps Of Hell: A Survey Of Science Fiction

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Based on Amis' series of six lectures on science fiction in 1959, New Maps of Hell, discussion emphasizes the satirical and dystopian elements in science fiction rather than being primarily about technology.


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Based on Amis' series of six lectures on science fiction in 1959, New Maps of Hell, discussion emphasizes the satirical and dystopian elements in science fiction rather than being primarily about technology.

30 review for New Maps Of Hell: A Survey Of Science Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    I could barely put down this wonderful essay by the late Kingsley Amis, who turns out to have had exactly the same prejudices about science-fiction as I do. From the identity of the first known SF story (Plato's Critias, what else?), glancing at The Tempest with its astonishingly durable mad-scientist-and-beautiful-daughter combo, through the inexplicably addictive quality of Jules Verne's horrible prose, past the weirdness of 30s pulps and up to the delights of what was then the cutting edge - I could barely put down this wonderful essay by the late Kingsley Amis, who turns out to have had exactly the same prejudices about science-fiction as I do. From the identity of the first known SF story (Plato's Critias, what else?), glancing at The Tempest with its astonishingly durable mad-scientist-and-beautiful-daughter combo, through the inexplicably addictive quality of Jules Verne's horrible prose, past the weirdness of 30s pulps and up to the delights of what was then the cutting edge - New Maps came out in 1960 - there's hardly a sentence I'd want to disagree with. I've read a good three-quarters of his favorites and have the same high opinion of them. Brave New World, check! Fahrenheit 451, check! Wyndham's Consider Her Ways, check! Clifford Simak folksiness, check! The Pohl and Kornbluth advertising stories, check! And OMG, he's even a fan of Robert Sheckley's Pilgrimage to Earth! If, like me, you love both Golden Age SF and mainstream literature, you simply have to get this. It only takes a couple of hours to read and will charm your socks off.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. There Are no Golden Ages: "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis “No wife who finds her husband addicting himself to science fiction need fear that he is in search of an erotic outlet, anyway not an overt one.”   In "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis   To put it in another context, imagine I'd be teaching F. Scott Fitzgerald to undergraduates, some of whom would be of African descent. Do we look at the casual racism found in the books and sa If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. There Are no Golden Ages: "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis “No wife who finds her husband addicting himself to science fiction need fear that he is in search of an erotic outlet, anyway not an overt one.”   In "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis   To put it in another context, imagine I'd be teaching F. Scott Fitzgerald to undergraduates, some of whom would be of African descent. Do we look at the casual racism found in the books and say "that's wrong?" No, we assume that everyone "gets" that it's wrong. But we look at the fact that this was considered normal/acceptable in F. Scott's day. He's still a magnificent writer, but he reflects his own era. Scott’s similar to Amis. His attitude to women is a reflection of the times. We can't shy away from that and pretend it isn't so, and we can't negate him as a writer, because of it.   Imagine yourself living in Lisbon as a young woman; wouldn’t you dread the endless comments, abuse, physical assaults that were part of your everyday experience. Maybe this young woman dreamt of buying an electric cattle prod and zapping those who threatened her. But it was the times in which they lived back then. Women had no rights in the 60s. The literature of the times, reflected that. Shall we zap Amis with a cattle prod for being a man of his time? No. First of all, I believe that all good books, whether niche or mainstream or somewhere in-between, must have an implicit message they are trying to put across, which should stick out almost like a sore thumb. That said, I in no way think this should make books programmatic. Writing a novel with the sole purpose of creating a text more politically correct than anything that has ever been written might take away, all at once, all the drama and conflict that all good novels - needless to say, I am merely expressing my own point of view here - play with to a certain extent. Secondly, SF (fantasy and science-fiction), possibly more so than any other genre, and even at their most mechanically chlichéd, are written and read not simply for "idle entertainment", but as a platform for escapism. And "entertainment" and "escapism" are definitely not the same thing. Sure, escapism includes enjoyment, but there are many other elements to it as well.      If you're into SF Criticism, read on.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This has been possibly one of the hardest books to categorise that I have read in recent times. Let me explain. The book is based around a series of lectures Amis gave in the early 60s. He himself a fan of science fiction, although openly admitting he is neither an expert not a professional in this field chose to give his views on the subject. Now on first glance you would assume this would the source of major consternation - after all someone who does not know the subject putting it under scrutin This has been possibly one of the hardest books to categorise that I have read in recent times. Let me explain. The book is based around a series of lectures Amis gave in the early 60s. He himself a fan of science fiction, although openly admitting he is neither an expert not a professional in this field chose to give his views on the subject. Now on first glance you would assume this would the source of major consternation - after all someone who does not know the subject putting it under scrutiny. This is not the case. Many of his opinions are well explained and justified and it is quickly demonstrated that he does know the subject just he is not claiming all knowledge is his. Then there is the rather antiquated and at times extreme views - often dismissing certain sub-genres and even certain authors as at best not really science fiction authors and at worst - those who are simply retelling old stories but simply substituting people and places for more exotic sounding versions (for example his explanation of Space Operas). Now all of this should have got me ranting but no, after all this was written in 1961 where science fiction like much of popular fiction was coming out of the pulp era and learning to join the mains stream. Yes there were many who looked (and for many years after as well) down their noses at science fiction relegating it to pubescent youths (mainly boys) or pipe smoking intellectuals who used to to express ideas they were incapable of expressing in any other way. As Amis explains this is not the way just for some reason we try and dismiss it as such. Then there is also the fact that through out the book - for all its criticisms it is a positive tone he takes, this is a genres that is here to stay and not only that has growth and potential. Unlike many other styles and stories who really only try and find new ways of retelling the same story, science fiction is limited only by us, as new discoveries and ideas come to the front so this genre will be there to explore them. So I will admit if I could have my rating rise and fall like a pendulum I think I would do, at one moment wanting to max it out and then another to dismiss it. This is a classic bit of science fiction history although at the time I am sure these were explosive words. One aspect I did enjoy was the determination that Amis tried to link Science fiction to jazz I will say no more but I will give him full marks for his determination and creativity.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    anybody that likes Lit Crit (and that's everybody, right?) hs got to read this. Then read the books he touches on, then read his own novels....

  5. 5 out of 5

    Printable Tire

    The first truly critical analysis of science fiction by an author better known for his work outside the science fiction field. Amis begins with a brief history of science fiction and its origins in the pulp magazines and brings the reader up to date (for the time). Along the way he gives synopsis of science fiction stories he approves of, and more often than not ones he does not approve of. He then differentiates the types of science fiction stories, one of which is the "universal" (my term) sci The first truly critical analysis of science fiction by an author better known for his work outside the science fiction field. Amis begins with a brief history of science fiction and its origins in the pulp magazines and brings the reader up to date (for the time). Along the way he gives synopsis of science fiction stories he approves of, and more often than not ones he does not approve of. He then differentiates the types of science fiction stories, one of which is the "universal" (my term) science fiction story that deals with a science fiction phenomenon primarily rather than with the people it might affect (the danger of such stories, as Amis points out, is that the synopsis is more often better than the actual stories themselves). He shows his disapproval of the BEM (bug-eyed monster) story, that is the story most non-science-fiction readers commonly associate with science fiction, in which some Jocks In Space do battle with an ugly intergalactic army of cephalopods bent on universal domination. Amis' argument isn't so much that science fiction can be better than most other types of fiction, but that in most cases it can be just as good, that just as there is bad literature and good literature, there is good science fiction and bad science fiction (much of the same argument is being made nowadays about comic books and graphic novels). He comes off as a bit of an apologist in that way, but he knows his stuff and never appears to be a literary figure slumming in pop culture (like just about every literary or cinema figure seems to be doing nowadays). He never makes any qualms that science fiction is the best sort of fiction (even though it can be the most entertaining) and he stresses that is has a long way to go before it can be respected by outside audiences. He values the fan-base of science fiction, which is probably the strongest fan-base of anything outside of sports, and shows how the fan-base's interaction and criticisms of the genre is integral to the flourish and growth of the genre. He pays little attention to science fiction novels, believing science fiction is better fitted for the short story form. Often (as I have just been above) Amis can dwell too much on summary and synopsis of different stories and histories, and not offer enough of his own analysis. This book is very dated, but it is an excellent primer for those not yet associated with the merits of science fiction.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dominick

    This was hard to rate. On the one hand, it is very dated; ironically, perhaps, a 50+-year-old critique of SF suffers from some of the same stale-dating that 50+-year-old SF itself suffers from. Furthermore,despite its overall pro-SF agenda, it is perhaps just a shade too eager to adopt a semi-apologetic tone for treating such generally puerile and stylistically sterile work seriously. On the other hand, it is probably the first serious book-length critique of SF, certainly the first such by some This was hard to rate. On the one hand, it is very dated; ironically, perhaps, a 50+-year-old critique of SF suffers from some of the same stale-dating that 50+-year-old SF itself suffers from. Furthermore,despite its overall pro-SF agenda, it is perhaps just a shade too eager to adopt a semi-apologetic tone for treating such generally puerile and stylistically sterile work seriously. On the other hand, it is probably the first serious book-length critique of SF, certainly the first such by someone from outside the genre (IIRC, the first academic journal devoted to SF studies began only the year before this book came out), when there was virtually no audience for such a study--as its publication by Ballantine, one of the better SF houses in the 1960s (complete with a typical Ballantine SF cover) perhaps attests. As such, it is a trail-blazing work. And it does show insight and critical discrimination, albeit not always in ways I quite agree with. Amis doesn't seem to see much room in SF for more than satire or didacticism. To be sure, SF can be both satiric and didactic (often at the same time), but I would have thought that even by 1960 the potential, at least, for more would have been more evident to an avid and discrminating reader. He does make clear, however, that the best SF writers are at least comparable to decent non-SF writers, and he is at some pains to point out that the specifics of the genre ight mean it does not do certain things, but that neither ought it try to do them. his conclusion that there areperhaps a dozen or so SF authors that could reasonably be viewed as minor writers of some merit is on the face of it perhaps insulting, but it is perhaps also not as far from the truth as one might hope. Anyway, perhaps unsurprisingly given the absence of a critical tradition and of anything like a clearly-identifiable audience (other than SF fans), the book tends towards the general and the summative, but Amis writes with verve and (dry) wit, and he generally selects excellent examples to demonstrate his points. He also, especially early on, provides fascinating information about the development of fan communities, the sales figures of various SF magazines, the relative status of different magazines, etc.--valuable information easily lost in time. Anyone interested in the genesis of SF criticism should read this book, but any SF fan, generally, should find this an illuminating time capsule.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jose Moa

    Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) wrote in 1960 i think is the first serious essay on the world of science fiction,ovously it is outdated but yet it contains some gems. The book beguins with the primitive history with the names between others more anciet of Jules Verne,H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Haggard and more, then follows with the less serious writes in pulp magazines and finally when the sf became a mature and serious genre of mass diffusion ,the autor focusses more on the sociological and political Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) wrote in 1960 i think is the first serious essay on the world of science fiction,ovously it is outdated but yet it contains some gems. The book beguins with the primitive history with the names between others more anciet of Jules Verne,H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Haggard and more, then follows with the less serious writes in pulp magazines and finally when the sf became a mature and serious genre of mass diffusion ,the autor focusses more on the sociological and political aspects and sees the genre in its distopic novels and tales as a critic ,satire or warning for the human society,here appears names as James Blish,Ray Bradbury,Arthur Clarke,Robert Sheckley,Frederick Pohl,Van Vogt,Clifford Simak,L.Sprague de Camps,Kornbluth ,Brian Aldiss and others. Then makes a length discussion on the works THe Space Merchants,The Midas Plague and Farenheith 451 but makes alusión to other many Works as: Silent Brother by Algis Budris,World Withut Men by Charles Eric Maine,Consider Her Ways by John Wynham,,Unhuman Sacrifice by Katherine MacLean,The Helping Hand by Poul Anderson,Drop Dead by Clifford Simak,The Demolished Man BY Alfred Bester,Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell,The Academy by Robert Sheckley,What to do till the Analist comes by Pohl where satirices the use of tranquilicers,Pictures Dont Lie by Katherine MacLean,The Tunel Under the World by Pohl,the classic Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy,the utopics Works by Bulwer Lytton,Samuel Buttler,W.H. Hudson,Willian Morris,Dean Howells and many others I would rate it 4.5

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Dated? Yes. Is it a brave subject to tackle and defend at the close of the 1950s --unlike a certain, albeit wonderful author who in 2015 still shuffles behind the spec word--absolutely. And once again, this supposedly awful misogynist I've been reading about flays my expectations by citing two feminist rants in pulp SF magazines as proof of the genre's value (OK, not because they're feminist exactly, but because a reader of westerns wouldn't take to the same amount of digression on frontier ethi Dated? Yes. Is it a brave subject to tackle and defend at the close of the 1950s --unlike a certain, albeit wonderful author who in 2015 still shuffles behind the spec word--absolutely. And once again, this supposedly awful misogynist I've been reading about flays my expectations by citing two feminist rants in pulp SF magazines as proof of the genre's value (OK, not because they're feminist exactly, but because a reader of westerns wouldn't take to the same amount of digression on frontier ethics, but still!). I find myself liking Mr. Amis more and more.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Peter Dunn

    It has taken me 30 years to get round to taking this out of my to be read plies but it still holds up as pretty much the definitive starting point for anyone wanting to analyse SF as a literary phenomenon. There are some places where it is dated. For instance a tendency to seek to require a clear technology element to separate SF from fantasy, or where he welcomes a move away from aliens being stereotypical bad guy BEMS to being often more sympathetically portrayed whereas since that time many a It has taken me 30 years to get round to taking this out of my to be read plies but it still holds up as pretty much the definitive starting point for anyone wanting to analyse SF as a literary phenomenon. There are some places where it is dated. For instance a tendency to seek to require a clear technology element to separate SF from fantasy, or where he welcomes a move away from aliens being stereotypical bad guy BEMS to being often more sympathetically portrayed whereas since that time many authors have moved a step beyond that to try and show the alien as being truly alien in outlook. However in much of the rest Amis remains spot on. For instance SF used as a mechanism for current issues or which simply reflects the culture in which it was created, the use of What If? as a core story element, the tendency of some SF to turn characters into mere cyphers, the difficulty and rareness of humour in SF (remember Amis would count Pratchett as fantasy not SF), and its similarity to other genre forms. Even if you disagree with his analysis the wide selection of SF books name checked in this text would make an ideal recommended reading list for any fan of the genre.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bryce Wilson

    "rather than take the trouble of devising reasons for my dislike, though I think I could do so if pressed." Kingsley, buddy, the one thing in this universe I have complete confidence in is your ability to devise reasons for your dislike. P.S. I will say that I was somewhat tickled to see that Amis enjoyed Usher II, a story I've always had a lot of affection for.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    I read this many, many years ago. I had the 1961 mmpb edition -- and might even still have it? Anyway, for a real review, I refer you to Manny's, which fits my golden memories better: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... -- and to Manuel Antão's more critical review, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... I should look to see if I still have it. Love that period cover art! http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I... I read this many, many years ago. I had the 1961 mmpb edition -- and might even still have it? Anyway, for a real review, I refer you to Manny's, which fits my golden memories better: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... -- and to Manuel Antão's more critical review, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... I should look to see if I still have it. Love that period cover art! http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Karl Bunker

    This 1960 book is an interesting and engaging work in the history of science fiction studies. Kingsley Amis (1922 - 1995) was a noted English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher; he was the author of Lucky Jim , The Green Man, and much more. A life-long science fiction fan, he decided with this book to act as something of an emissary, attempting to bring a better understanding and appreciation of science fiction to mainstream readers. "Science fiction is not tomfool sensationalism," he says earl This 1960 book is an interesting and engaging work in the history of science fiction studies. Kingsley Amis (1922 - 1995) was a noted English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher; he was the author of Lucky Jim , The Green Man, and much more. A life-long science fiction fan, he decided with this book to act as something of an emissary, attempting to bring a better understanding and appreciation of science fiction to mainstream readers. "Science fiction is not tomfool sensationalism," he says early in the book. While praising its virtues, Amis never claims that SF is for all tastes, nor does he entirely reject all of the usual criticisms of the genre (which have remained largely unchanged since this book's writing). He notes an "incuriosity about human character" is common in SF, and states that this is something of a necessity in the genre: "treating character conservatively and limiting interest in it," he says, shows the reader "that the familiar categories of human behaviour persist in an unfamiliar environment." "Science fiction shows us human beings in their relations not with one another, but with a thing, a monster, an alien, a plague, or a form of society..." Almost needless to say, there are many in the SF field who disagree that this limitation is inherent to SF, and who will happily site many counter-examples. Amis also states at one point that "any notion" of a science-fiction love story "will certainly not do"; another opinion that drew the ire of Damon Knight, for one. Knight also pointed out that Amis, a writer of satires himself, seems to over-value satires compared to other forms of SF, notably Pohl and Kornbluth's The Space Merchants, which he refers to often and to which he gives a place of honor in his book's opening chapter. But none of this diminishes the value of Amis' book in the least. his opinions are always interesting and articulate, and it's quite fascinating to see this noted mainstream author -- writing in 1960 -- lamenting science fiction's lack of respect among educated readers. (A lament that of course continues to be voiced today, and no doubt will still be voiced into the distant, science-fictional future.) Amis later went on to co-edit a series of SF anthologies: Spectrum 1 through Spectrum 5. I highly recommended these as a source for some of the best examples of short SF in the 1961- 1966 time period.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    From Brilliant SF books that got away: "Robert May, former UK chief scientific adviser: “This is the book that made science fiction grow up. It’s a scholarly review that takes science fiction seriously – which is how I think it should be.” Though best-known for his mainstream novels, Kingsley Amis was an avid science fiction reader, and his literary criticism on the genre, New Maps of Hell, was published in 1960. Spanning the works of masters like Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, as well as topics suc From Brilliant SF books that got away: "Robert May, former UK chief scientific adviser: “This is the book that made science fiction grow up. It’s a scholarly review that takes science fiction seriously – which is how I think it should be.” Though best-known for his mainstream novels, Kingsley Amis was an avid science fiction reader, and his literary criticism on the genre, New Maps of Hell, was published in 1960. Spanning the works of masters like Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, as well as topics such as bug-eyed monsters, revolutionary inventions and the exploration of outer space, the entire spectrum of science fiction comes under Amis’s critical eye. In this book Amis coined the phrase “comic inferno” to describe a type of humorous dystopia."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Danceswithcats

    I had a chapter in my dissertation entitled 'Hell's cartographers'. Oh! I thought I was so clever.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    Amis's book, published in 1960, is a set of six critical essays on the subject of science fiction - as the genre existed at that time - and its satirical, predictive and allegorical properties. In 2016, this is a fairly good if somewhat academic analysis of what science fiction was and is still today. But for me, who started reading sci-fi in 1960 in the 5th grade (no, not Tom Swift, Jr. - Robert Silverberg and Poul Anderson), New Maps of Hell was more of a nostalgic stroll down memory lane. Onc Amis's book, published in 1960, is a set of six critical essays on the subject of science fiction - as the genre existed at that time - and its satirical, predictive and allegorical properties. In 2016, this is a fairly good if somewhat academic analysis of what science fiction was and is still today. But for me, who started reading sci-fi in 1960 in the 5th grade (no, not Tom Swift, Jr. - Robert Silverberg and Poul Anderson), New Maps of Hell was more of a nostalgic stroll down memory lane. Once we get past the initial chapter featuring the works of Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. G. Wells, and the quasi-fantasy/gothic romance proto-sci-fi works, Amis prominently features a number of luminaries of the "Golden Age" of science fiction from 1940 to 1960 - e.g., Frederik Pohl, C .M. Kornbluth, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Clifford Simak, Algys Budrys, Ray Bradbury, L. Sprague de Camp, Lester del Rey, Damon Knight, Poul Anderson, Arthur C. Clark, and A.E. van Vogt. The publishing phenomenon of pulp sci-fi periodicals, such as 'Amazing Stories', 'If', 'Astounding Science Fiction' that arose in the '20's and maintained well into '60's is lovingly reviewed for what it was-a vehicle for writers both of considerable and marginal talents to expand and define the genre. Sixty years after Amis wrote this book, sci-fi is "serious" popular literature, thanks in large part to pulp mags and pulp paperbacks (Ace Books, Ballentine Books). I take issue with some of Amis's views, chiefly Amis notion that sci fi was like jazz -i.e., non-serious writing just as he characterized jazz as "non-serious" music. Amis's writing style is also dense, almost unintelligibly so. Some of his sentences are so jam-packed with clauses and ideas, that they require several reads to unpack all of the ideas within them. I actually found myself more than once falling asleep trying to figure out what I had just read. Likewise, although this is probably just a matter of my taste, some sci-fi classics go completely unremarked: Olaf Stapledon ("Last and First Men"), Phillip Francis Nowlan ("Armageddon: 2419 A.D."), and Ray Cummings (the king of pulp - too many titles to name). I think you need to be a hardcore sci-fi fan, and probably a Baby Boomer or older, to like this book. The authors named above are old friends for me (with the emphasis on "old"), but are probably cyphers and strangers to younger sci-fi fans. But anyone who has read and loved the Hunger Games trilogy, should at least check this book out as an homage to the pillars on which today's sci fi so solidly stands.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    This book about science fiction is probably aimed more at people who are interested in SF but have never really read any of it, rather than at true SF aficionados. But I think the author has interesting things to say on the subject for all audiences. I was particularly intrigued by the way Amis compares SF to jazz, as a medium or genre with an underground appeal that the mainstream and establishment were a bit sniffy about. The book is very early so it is somewhat limited in what it looks at, bu This book about science fiction is probably aimed more at people who are interested in SF but have never really read any of it, rather than at true SF aficionados. But I think the author has interesting things to say on the subject for all audiences. I was particularly intrigued by the way Amis compares SF to jazz, as a medium or genre with an underground appeal that the mainstream and establishment were a bit sniffy about. The book is very early so it is somewhat limited in what it looks at, but it is an attractive view into the form at a point when it was still establishing itself. Reading it makes me both want to read more early SF generally but also to try and track down the anthology of SF that Amis edited to illustrate his views of what is best in the genre.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    In some ways, this is very dated because Sci-Fi has moved on so much, and yet it still reads true because the spirit and attitude of the genre remains what it always was, and a lot of what I read seemed to describe exactly how the subculture has developed into the 21st century.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    It was a book of it's time, and yet continues to tell the trials and tribulation of science fiction authors. If you are a serious student of speculative fiction, this remains a must-read (if you can find a copy that's not falling apart).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    A really interesting study of science fiction before genre fiction was widely accepted into the literary canon. Amis' style is engaging and his enthusiasm is very evident throughout.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Chris Marcatili

    New Maps of Hell is a fitting name. In it, Amis conducts a survey of the tropes of science fiction as of the 1960s when it was first published. It reads as a justification or an introduction for the literary but perhaps too snobbish – those who wouldn't be familiar with science fiction because they dismiss it as popular trash. Amis seeks to challenge some of the assumptions about science fiction, which makes the book a worthwhile read for anyone who thinks they know something about it without hav New Maps of Hell is a fitting name. In it, Amis conducts a survey of the tropes of science fiction as of the 1960s when it was first published. It reads as a justification or an introduction for the literary but perhaps too snobbish – those who wouldn't be familiar with science fiction because they dismiss it as popular trash. Amis seeks to challenge some of the assumptions about science fiction, which makes the book a worthwhile read for anyone who thinks they know something about it without having read it. But of course science fiction has changed a lot since the 1960s – it was a period of significant change for the genre – so the book has dated. For someone relatively versed with science fiction and its tropes, the book won't offer much. Amis goes from story to story, briefly outlining its plot, commenting on key themes without delving particularly deeply into any of them. The book is more of a catalogue of science fiction and doesn't offer any deeply challenging or thought-provoking ideas. But there's a little dry humour to keep the reader engaged.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kai Schreiber

    What a delight to have someone with sense and sensibility speak about a genre that is, for various reasons close to my heart. These reasons including nostalgia for childhood escapism and the appeal of having ideas take the spot as the central characters of a story rather than people. While I do not agree with everything Amis has to say, and deeply regret that the book is old enough to not allow for mention of many of my favorites (though Vonnegut at least makes an appearance), this is inspiring What a delight to have someone with sense and sensibility speak about a genre that is, for various reasons close to my heart. These reasons including nostalgia for childhood escapism and the appeal of having ideas take the spot as the central characters of a story rather than people. While I do not agree with everything Amis has to say, and deeply regret that the book is old enough to not allow for mention of many of my favorites (though Vonnegut at least makes an appearance), this is inspiring reading, and the irreverent tone is made all the more delightful for being so incongruous with the common SF expression of sentiments. Just wish he'd updated this. It seems in a few place as though he is asking for Iain Banks to start writing already, and I should have liked to find out whether I'm right about that.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Curran

    While being composed with all the wit and style one would expect from the author of the funniest novel ever written (LUCKY JIM) this early lit. crit. appraisal of science fiction inevitably suffers for the modern reader by being written before the the sixties, before the rise of Ballard and Aldiss et al., when things got really chewy. Many of the great cornerstones of the genre were already established by the time the change came, of course, but Amis is primarily concerned here with the kind of While being composed with all the wit and style one would expect from the author of the funniest novel ever written (LUCKY JIM) this early lit. crit. appraisal of science fiction inevitably suffers for the modern reader by being written before the the sixties, before the rise of Ballard and Aldiss et al., when things got really chewy. Many of the great cornerstones of the genre were already established by the time the change came, of course, but Amis is primarily concerned here with the kind of colourful fare found in magazines like ‘Amazing Stories’ and ‘Astounding Science Fiction’. ‘New Worlds’ was yet to flourish. He could clearly see the possibilities, though, more than once predicting the development of something richer and more complex.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Salvo

    Read in a bad Spanish traslation, I think is a very good book, plenty of ideas and analysis of the spectrum of what we call science fiction, even it was wrote in 1960 (it is a recopilation of conferences on science fiction). Enjoyable, plenty of nostalgy, and very critic about some childish science fiction.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tayne

    Very witty, very English, very sharp. Unfortunately didn't quite get to finish it, but have every intention of doing so when I get back to my bookshelf on home soil. Also that title and with that cover. Lots of fun.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Liedzeit

    An Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science Fiction. Very nice to see how SF was viewed by an intellectual in the year 1960. Great title.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Not terrible but not amazing either. Pretty dry and humdrum.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Gray

    Interesting in bits and chunks, but not often enough (and not concise enough) for such a slim book. But I wish more books like this (surveys of the landscape of sci-fi) existed.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bill FromPA

    Kingsley Amis is a man looking for sex in all the wrong places, that is to say in the SF of the 1950s. He first introduces the subject in chapter 3, only to quickly conclude that, “No wife who finds her husband addicting himself to science fiction need fear that he is in search of an erotic outlet, anyway not an overt one.” In spite of the chapter’s title, “New Light on the Unconscious” Amis does not attempt any explication of the non-overt sexuality in SF. Instead he launches, for some reason, Kingsley Amis is a man looking for sex in all the wrong places, that is to say in the SF of the 1950s. He first introduces the subject in chapter 3, only to quickly conclude that, “No wife who finds her husband addicting himself to science fiction need fear that he is in search of an erotic outlet, anyway not an overt one.” In spite of the chapter’s title, “New Light on the Unconscious” Amis does not attempt any explication of the non-overt sexuality in SF. Instead he launches, for some reason, into a page long summary of The Circus of Dr. Lao, a book which he obviously dislikes and which he admits is fantasy and not SF, but which at least contains allusions to sexual intercourse; his excuse is apparently that Finney’s 1930s novel was reprinted in 1956 along with more recent stories by Nigel Kneale and Ray Bradbury, but in summary the stories by these latter writers sound much more like horror than SF. Sex returns again in the chapters devoted to the “new hells” of the title. In chapter 4 (“Utopias I” dealing with political dystopian SF), sexual themes are found in stories dealing with societies in which only one sex survives, Wylie’s The Disappearance, Wyndham’s “Consider Her Ways” and Charles Eric Maine’s World Without Men; I suspect Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland was too little known in 1960 to have come to Amis’ attention. In Chapter 5 (“Utopias II” dealing with economic dystopias, primarily The Space Merchants) he comes up with only one story dealing with sex, Sheckley’s “A Ticket to Tranai” in which men keep their wives for much of the time in suspended animation, keeping a youthful partner for the man and allowing the woman serial marriages and multiple lucrative widowhoods. So frequently does Amis return to shaking this particular tree while getting so little forbidden fruit to fall from it, that one is surprised that there is no mention of the work of Philip Jose Farmer, who seems to have pretty much cornered the market on SF sex during the 1950s; this omission led me to wonder if Amis’ reading in the genre had really been as thorough as his opening chapters suggested. Amis values SF for its ideas, its extrapolations and caricatures of certain societal trends into unlikely but possible future worlds. Though he will refer to occasional stories as “dull” or mention “stylistic imbecility”, Amis does not seem very interested in style in evaluating works in this genre. He describes Fredrick Pohl as “the most consistently able writer science fiction, in the modern sense, has yet produced”, but this seems due more to the ideas Pohl expresses and the energy and thoroughness with which he imagines his future worlds than in his ability in putting words together into elegant, pleasing or memorable works. Writers of distinctive style like Jack Vance or Fritz Leiber are mentioned nowhere in the book. Sometimes I found that certain directions Amis would like SF to take sounded like they would be quite limiting; he seems to want more concrete relevance to the current world in a way which would horribly date any stories that fit his criteria. For example, he wants to see satires with specific targets, “really spiteful attacks on politician A and corporation B”; at another point he expresses dissatisfaction with Nineteen Eighty-Four for not being “the savage short-range admonitory satire on political forces that Orwell had it in him to write.” Indeed I suspect that in the end my taste in reading differs quite a bit from that of Amis; he considers that “Lovecraft’s intrinsic importance is small” and credits him, at best, with “a memorable nastiness”, and makes the very questionable literary judgment of referring to Mervyn Peake as “a bad fantasy writer of maverick status”. On the whole, while I enjoyed the book, as I do almost all writing about SF, I do not think it has held up very well. It is an incomplete picture of the genre as of 1960, and spends too much of its brief space on stories which Amis doesn’t like or respect or which are not, even in the author’s estimation, science fiction.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Sample quote (on how the magazines in which SF stories were typically published might be off-putting to many potential readers): "Those awful covers and crackpot advertisements give an uneasy sense of the gum-chewing adolescents and lower-class laboratory-floor-sweepers who must like the stuff, and I myself fully appreciate the destructive force of an unflattering notion of one's fellow readers whenever I pick up Jane Austen or DH Lawrence." Amis was being consciously a bit unconventional in choo Sample quote (on how the magazines in which SF stories were typically published might be off-putting to many potential readers): "Those awful covers and crackpot advertisements give an uneasy sense of the gum-chewing adolescents and lower-class laboratory-floor-sweepers who must like the stuff, and I myself fully appreciate the destructive force of an unflattering notion of one's fellow readers whenever I pick up Jane Austen or DH Lawrence." Amis was being consciously a bit unconventional in choosing to bring science fiction to academia at the end of the 50s. Well, ok. In any case one of the intriguing things about this book for the Amis fan, besides its offbeatness, in the sense of off his beat, is the tone of voice here, which I suppose is Amis playing at being donnish with a mildly wayward accent. Very untypical. A different KA. It works for me. And yes, it makes the sci-fi he writes about sound worth a go. I already ordered a copy of an anthology (that being a major format at least at that stage in sci-fi hostory)containing one story he recommended. He also recommends Vonnegut's Player Piano, and if anything could make me give Vonnegut one last try it's a recommendation from Amis - a surprising link to me since what makes KV so irritating to me is his never-ending sloppy whimsicality, very unAmisian. He does harp on rather about the question of SF's status vis-a-vis literature in its then-canonical modes. That must reflect some insecurity about his chosen topic as suitable for university teaching, and it eventually starts to feel a little bit excessive. One oddity is a repeated misspelling, which I'd guess goes back to the first editions, and doesn't seem to be a joke: "entymology" - for "ento-" rather than "ety-" as far as I can make out. The author of "The King's English" would surely be mortified at what may well be his own error. Anyway: enjoyable for anyone interested in sci-fi or Amis or both, or willing to start being.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Fasching-Gray

    If there was a big difference between the 1950s and the 1960s then this book had something to do with it. Amis is clever and well read in the genre and he still has enough of the angry young man communist party member in him to side with Galaxy over Astounding and with The Space Merchants over Space Opera. Hard to imagine that this is the same guy who would later be all hawkish on Vietnam. Would the Amis of 1968 have praised Alfred Elton Van Vogt? Even here Amis seems to be dissing the bug-eyed- If there was a big difference between the 1950s and the 1960s then this book had something to do with it. Amis is clever and well read in the genre and he still has enough of the angry young man communist party member in him to side with Galaxy over Astounding and with The Space Merchants over Space Opera. Hard to imagine that this is the same guy who would later be all hawkish on Vietnam. Would the Amis of 1968 have praised Alfred Elton Van Vogt? Even here Amis seems to be dissing the bug-eyed-monsters halfheartedly and he also has mixed feelings about Ray Bradbury. The Oxfordy Englishness of it is over the top, though. As I read this book, I couldn't help but hear it in my head as if Captain Hastings was trying convince Hercule Poirot and Miss Lemon to read Kurt Vonnegut. I really enjoy reading summaries of science fiction stories with or without critical asides, and in covering a half century of genre fiction in just over a hundred pages you get plenty of funny SF ideas to mull over. So that was fun.

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