The new Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction

Where do you go to find the answer to a question about science fiction? Google? Wikipedia? The New York Times?

All of those are plausible answers, but it would sure be convenient to have everything you want to know in one place, especially if you’re wondering about a specific word or concept. The answer is Jesse Sheidlower’s Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction, recently described in both the reliable New York Times and the somewhat less reliable but more exciting Wired Magazine. Both of the linked articles use the unfortunate term “sci-fi” in their headlines, but I guess that’s to be expected: headline writers love short words and phrases.

Note that this is a dictionary, not an encyclopedia, so use it accordingly. (Other sources will provide you encyclopedic information.) The Times article gives you some idea of the entries:

Users can look up individual words, or browse through subject categories like fandom, weaponry, demonyns (names for beings for particular locations), FTL (shorthand for faster-than-light travel) and, yes, “Star Trek.”

Note also that the esteemed Mr. Sheidlower has compiled a historical dictionary, which of course informs his selection of entries and definitions. The Wired article gives you the flavor of what you’ll discover from the historical POV:

In just a few minutes of reconnaissance, for example, I learned that the first person to pilot a jet car was not, as I hoped, Buckaroo Banzai, but in fact a character in Bryce Walton’s 1946 short story “Prisoner of the Brain Mistress.” I figured that Han Solo wasn’t the first person to make the jump to “hyperspace,” but I didn’t expect the concept to first come up in 1928, in Kirk Meadowcroft’s story “The Invisible Bubble” in the germinal pulp Amazing Stories. Nor did I expect big names like E. E. “Doc” Smith, Isaac Asimov, Samuel Delaney, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and David Brin to have also used the idea. And let’s say you wanted to go back in time and kill the person who came up with the idea of the grandfather paradox. You’d have to assassinate Hugo Gernsback, arguably the co-inventor of the modern iteration of the genre, before he published his essay “The Question of Time-Traveling” in Science Wonder Stories in 1929.

If that’s your cup of tea, explore this new resource. It’s worth every penny… and much more!


Categories: Books, Linguistics