Click here to return to the main site.

Book Review

Book Cover

Sci-Fi Chronicles
A Visual History of the Galaxy's Greatest Science Fiction (Hardback)


Edited by: Guy Haley
Publisher: Aurum Press
RRP: £25.00
ISBN: 978 1 78131 359 6
Publication Date: 02 October 2014

Science Fiction Chronicles (2014. 576 pages. 25 cm x 18 cm x 5 cm which translates as big, heavy book) is the year by year history of the most famous, or important creations in the science fiction genre, edited by Guy Haley with contributions from twenty-seven writers. The book covers a period between 1881 and 2009, split into five lengthy chapters. It’s a brave attempt to capture the history of science fiction in a novel way using context and comparison.

The book has a two page introduction by Stephen Baxter, extolling the virtues of the genre and explaining why it remains relevant regardless of the period in which it was created. This is followed by a two page introduction by the editor Guy Haley, also waving the flag for our collective, glorious obsession. Because of the novel way the book is structured there is a rather handy, four page explanation on how to navigate the book. The book consists of text and a very generous helping of pictures.

The level of detail covered in the book is just about right as this is neither a book which relies heavily in pictures over text, but at the same time it is not attempting to be a dry intellectual dissection of the subject, it’s an Aladdin’s cave of information for your delectation and exploration.

The organisation of the information has led to some novel crossovers. Not content in just providing information about written science fiction the book attempts to tie together all instances of a particular work, including all its adaptations. So, for instance, The Dune universe has an extensive entry, four pages of mixed text and pictures, with a further two pages of colour plates, from David Lynch’s film version, none from the later television adaptation, although this may be due to copyright issues.

Across the top of the page you get information about its particular sub-genre, colour coded, its title and the year of the first key work. It’s a nice idea, letting you know what sub-genre the piece falls into, but there is no comprehensive way of linking it to other similar entries other than flicking through the book.

Below this you have a series of small pictures, around two and a half centimetres, detailing the most prominent covers, whether they are magazines/comics, books or DVD/Blu-ray covers representing any film or computer game adaptations. Depending on the layout of the article the main text will take up somewhere between a third and a half of the page. Finally, along the bottom of the page, you have a colour coded chronology based on the date of publication or release.

Given that the premise is to present a year by year account of the most prominent science fiction, regardless of the medium it was presented, some choices obviously had to be made. Film, television and radio are pretty straight forward, being classified under their year of release. Authors, however, have been placed in the year of their first publication, for the most part. We shall come to some problems with this later.

From the hard cover, with what feels like a HAL eyepiece sticker prominently displayed, to the quality heavy gloss paper, the whole book screams quality. Obviously, it is not designed to be read from cover to cover, but to be dipped into and because of the visual nature of the information there is a great delight in discovering parts of your own collection represented. In my case seeing the 1963 cover of Analog, with the first ever publication of a Dune story, gave me a little tingle of delight.

Although mostly marvellous, the book does have a couple of problems as well as a couple of niggles. Because of the way the book is organised chronologically, similar subjects can appear at different times. For instance Phillip K. Dick has an entry for 1952, the date of his first published story, but there is also an entry for Dick's short story ‘We Can Remember it for you Wholesale’ which became the basis for Total Recall (1990), but there is no link between these two entries. It’s a small point but it would have allowed the reader to navigate in and around an author’s work and the various adaptations. Of course, the book has an index where this information can be found, but a jumping off pointer on the actual page would have added to the sense of exploration

There are also small pieces of information missing. The 1956 entry for J. G. Ballard give the impression that his first published science fiction novel was The Drowned World (1962) where as his first novel was The Wind from Nowhere published the previous year.

At the back of the book a couple of nice pieces have been included, such as the four pages of silhouette of famous spacecraft, although they are not particularly to scale. Next is the Science Fiction Chronology which places stories in the order they would have appeared in an alternative history.

Whilst I did have a few niggles with the book, overall it’s an excellent work, well worth taking up shelf space for anyone interested in the subject.


Charles Packer

Buy this item online

Each of the store links below opens in a new window, allowing you to compare the price of this product from various online stores.