Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits by Gary Westfahl

Review by Ann Cecil

This is a surprisingly enjoyable book, one that is probably destined mostly for libraries, but deserves a much larger audience. It is NOT, in spite of its title, a Bartlett imitation which simply lets you look up quotes so you can win arguments, or spice an otherwise flaccid paper with bits of better writing.

Instead it is a thought-provoking compilation of quotations from many of the major sf (and fantasy) works arranged by topic, that both illustrates the evolution of ideas within the genre, and reflects, as the author says, "the atmosphere of dialogue and discussion that is one of the genre's distinctive strengths."

In some sections, you can see shifts in world-view as a response to changes in the outside world and as a response to that internal dialogue as seen in the section on Aliens, for instance, and surprisingly, the one on Happiness. By contrast, both the sections on Old Age and Overpopulation show very little change. In the section on Work, I found myself appreciating the older quotes better than the newer.

Like any work of this sort, I found myself mentally scribbling down names to go look up and read; sometimes stories by authors I already know, but somehow missed, sometimes authors I have not read yet. What the book does especially well is start a dialogue within the reader's mind, that can produce the kind of enthusiastic ferment that makes you want to contribute another piece to the dialogue, whether an article or a story. I can also see a good deal of use for building panels at sf&f conventions.

While the book is a bit pricey for the average reader, those among us who are contributing to panels or writing (fiction or commentary) should consider their own copy. Because it is from Yale University Press, I would imagine libraries can easily be cajoled into buying copies for those who are merely passionate readers. Highly recommended!

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