Review of ‘The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories’ edited by Tom Shippey

This is a brilliant collection of 30 short sci-fi stories, arranged chronologically from ‘The Land Ironclads’ by H G Wells (1903) to ‘Piecework’ by David Brin (1990).

The emphasis is on literary quality, so the stories tend to be on the thoughtful side and are not all action-packed. They’re all clever, not all easy to understand, but all are worth reading. My favourites are ‘Finis’ by Frank L Pollack, ‘The Metal Man’ by Jack Williamson, ‘The Tunnel Under the World’ by Frederik Pohl, ‘Billennium’ by J G Ballard, ‘Semley’s Necklace’ by Ursula K Le Guin, ‘The Way of Cross and Dragon’ by George R R Martin and ‘Burning Chrome’ by William Gibson.

Science fiction at its best is a commentary on the era in which it was written. This is evident in many of the stories and which is why they can seem a little outdated in their references. All the main themes of science fiction are represented: artificial intelligence, alien civilisations, colonisation of other planets, environmental disasters, genetic modification, the questioning of what it means to be human. The authors represented include most of the well-known sci-fi greats (with notable exceptions of Isaac Asimov, Philip K Dick, Joanna Russ and Ray Bradbury, for example) but this in itself shows the historical lack of diversity in the genre, with an emphasis on white male American authors. Surprisingly this does not feature at all in the editor’s introduction, although maybe when the book was first published, this wasn’t an issue thought worth mentioning.

This was a re-read. First published in 1992 by Oxford University Press, reissued in 2003.

4 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories’ edited by Tom Shippey”

    1. If you want a range of sci-fi from the 20th century this is definitely the one to read 🙂

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