There are nineteen stories in this collection as well as an introduction by the editors in which they discuss the “genrefication” of science fiction and its status as a lower form of literature, ascribed to it by readers and critics unfamiliar with the genre. Throughout the course of the book, before each story, quotes are included by famous science fiction writers and writers who dabble in sci-fi but would otherwise be considered “literary” writers as well as those who straddle both lines regularly, such as T.C. Boyle and Ursula K. Le Guin. The quotes continued the introduction’s discussion and were as good as the stories. I found myself eager to read them as well.
Of the nineteen stories, I became enamored with eight. Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” which I’d read previously but was more than happy to revisit, concerns a utopian society and is written as if Le Guin is trying to convince the reader of the society’s existence. “Ladies and Gentleman, This Is Your Crisis” by Kate Wilhelm tells the story of a young couple and their weekend obsession with a reality television show in which the contestants face actual death. Through their viewing of the show, the narrative explores the nature of relationships between men and women.
In T.C. Boyle’s hilarious “Descent of Man,” a man is concerned when his girlfriend becomes wrapped up in her work assisting a hyper-intelligent ape. Margaret Atwood’s short “Homelanding” uses a woman landing on a foreign planet to explore our own planet’s treatment of women. The hilarious “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Carter Scholz, in which a writer submits Arthur C. Clarke’s famous story as his own, consists of a writer’s back-and-forth with the editor who rejects him.
I found “Schwarzschild Radius” by Connie Willis poignant. To quote Kelly and Kessel, this story “uses the physics of black holes as a metaphor for the isolation of men trapped in war, drawn inexorably toward their deaths.” Maureen F. McHugh’s “Frankenstein’s Daughter” tells of a broken family coping with the hardship of raising a cloned child developmentally disabled by the procedure. I appreciate the way it uses a common sci-fi premise to tell the domestic story of the difficulties of raising children. My favorite story in the anthology is “The Wizard of West Orange” by Steven Millhauser, in which a new invention of Thomas Edison’s will allow people to record and experience touch.
The Secret History of Science Fiction introduced me to a wealth of writers I would like to check out more of. I would certainly recommend this to any reader skeptical of the worth of science fiction.
The Secret History of Science Fiction on sale through Tachyon’s website.