In college, my African-American Literature professor devoted his lessons to an overview of the corpus—we read and wrote about some novels, but the classes were mostly devoted to his summarizing and explaining the significance of works we hadn’t read and weren’t assigned. I questioned (silently) how worthwhile this was, but the dividends of cultural literacy presented themselves somewhat regularly after graduation.
If you’d like a similar education in science fiction—perhaps you want to know where to begin reading, perhaps you want to understand more about the influence of certain writers whose writing you don’t really enjoy (I wish Philip K. Dick’s prose was less clunky, though given the magnitude of his vision, that might be too much to ask of one person)—get Dangerous Visions and New Worlds, keep it handy for dipping in and out of.
You can read the book straight through, as I more or less did, but I allowed myself to enter “skimming mode” if I started reading about a novel that the essay in question suggests I’d want to read, but risked learning too much if I continued (J.G. Ballard’s Crash, for example and, given how annoying the movie based on it is, to my surprise).
Themes in the book include war, feminism, (what used to be more commonly called) ecology, sexuality, and over-population, reminding one why science fiction writers and readers have often expressed contempt for “irrelevant” literary works about such themes as marital strife and ennui.
The book says its subject matter is “radical science fiction,” but the number of radical writers during the book’s thirty-five year period seems comparable to the number of traditional (or “traditional”) writers, perhaps suggesting that the phrase “radical science fiction” borders on redundant. –Jim Woster (PM Press, PMPress.com)