British and Irish Literature Science Fiction
Aris Mousoutzanis
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 July 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0166


There has been a trend for introductory texts on science fiction (SF) criticism to start by announcing that SF is now an increasingly respected genre within academia, with its own canonical texts, major scholars, historical traditions, and theoretical perspectives. An increasing influx of publications, conferences, academic courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, doctorate dissertations, and annual awards would seem to testify to this claim. Even further indications of the recognition of the genre’s respectability, the argument goes, lies in the fact that “mainstream” authors now adopt motifs and conventions of the genre within their own writing, when not embracing it wholeheartedly, including Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, and Kazuo Ishiguro, to name a few. But it is now time to move beyond this approach to introducing SF that, even unconsciously, reproduces dominant assumptions about cultural value, generic integrity, and canon formation that encourage an almost apologetic tone or the need to justify “Why SF?” in academia. The wide range of sources included in this bibliography demonstrate a complex, diverse, multilayered and ever-expanding corpus of critical work extending across numerous academic disciplines, whose emergence and expansion over the last few decades has been so rapid that it has caught up with or even surpassed other established areas of academic inquiry with a much longer history within the university. To use a concept much favored within the field over the last couple of decades, the singularity of science fiction criticism has already happened. This annotated bibliography is aimed at both the uninitiated scholar or student and the academic who specializes in the area, as it provides a list of introductory works, textbooks, and readers—a publication format that witnessed a sudden upsurge during the 2000s. The list will also attract the attention of readers with an interest in historicist approaches or theorizations from the perspective of cultural studies of identity, specifically gender and race.

Introductions, Textbooks, Companions, and Readers

If we need to locate a specific historical moment that marked the consolidation of SF criticism within academia, it would be, roughly speaking, the period between the mid-2000s and the mid-2010s, a period that witnessed an upsurge of publications of introductory textbooks, readers, companions, and anthologies on the genre. Since the first publication of its kind by Cambridge University Press, James and Mendlesohn 2003, numerous other publishers followed suit, whose editors either reproduced familiar categories through which to organize criticism on SF (“history,” “themes,” “subgenres”) or adopted different approaches to introducing the genre. This section tries to include both approaches to introducing SF.

  • Booker, M. K., and Anne-Marie Thomas. The Science Fiction Handbook. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

    Divided into three sections on the history of major subgenres, representative authors, and major texts, this handbook also provides further bibliographies and filmographies on novels, films, and critical studies for each section, as well as a glossary. The focus is largely on the critical tradition that views SF as a literature of cognitive estrangement.

  • Bould, Mark, Andrew M. Butler, Adam C. Roberts, and Sherryl Vint, eds. The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction. London: Routledge, 2009.

    A very wide-ranging anthology with contributions by major scholars in the field. Sections on history, theory, issues and challenges, and subgenres. The companion explores SF across a wide range of texts, authors, subgenres, media, countries, and disciplines. In its impressively wide scope and richness of approaches, this is an indispensable work for anyone studying SF.

  • Clute, John, Peter Nicholls, and David Langford, eds. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 3d ed. London: Gollancz, 2011.

    First published in the 1970s by Nicholls only, the third edition has been made available online since 2011 and is updated regularly on a weekly basis. Winner of the Hugo Award and the BSFA Award for best nonfiction work, it is a quintessential reference point for anyone interested in the genre.

  • Hubble, Nick, and Aris Mousoutzanis, eds. The Science Fiction Handbook. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

    Different chapters have been written by scholars in the field for this handbook that includes sections on history, major authors, representative primary and secondary texts, cultural politics, discussions of canonicity, and the current critical landscape. A wide-ranging, informative approach to the genre from a variety of perspectives.

  • James, Edward, and Farah Mendlesohn, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003

    One of the earliest publications of this type, this multi-authored volume reproduces some of the categories that would become staple of handbooks and companions: history, theory, genre. At the same time, there are some original discussions on the importance of editors for the genre or the relationship of SF to the life sciences.

  • Latham, Rob, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    Unlike the strong focus on literary SF that typifies most other handbooks, this collection of essays approaches SF not just as a genre with its major historical periods, authors, texts, and audiences, but also as a medium, a type of culture, and a worldview. Some fascinating, highly original contributions to the scholarship.

  • Roberts, Adam. Science Fiction. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2005.

    Part of the New Critical Idiom series, this is one of the earliest introductory textbooks for the genre, and it will appeal to an academic as well as a more general audience. Roberts introduces SF in an accessible and comprehensive account of existing definitions of the genre, whereas other chapters provide accounts of its history, its representations of gender and race, and its relation to technology. This is a most useful text for those beginning to study the genre

  • Seed, David. Science Fiction: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780199557455.001.0001

    One of Oxford’s “Short Introduction” series, Seed’s account adopts an approach to the genre across fiction, poetry, drama, and film. The book is divided in chapters according to theme (“voyages into space,” “alien encounters,” etc.) and it concludes with an overview of existing SF scholarship. A wide-ranging and informative account of the genre.

  • Seed, David, ed. A Companion to Science Fiction. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

    An extensive list of topics is covered by the chapters, written by major scholars in the field. One of the few companions to focus on non-Western, international SF, the collection does not lose focus from canonical authors and texts. Some close readings of representative works are provided in the final section.

  • Vint, Sherryl. Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

    An exemplary introduction to the genre and an ideal textbook for academic courses on science fiction. Vint’s discussion is clear and comprehensive, and it introduces major theoretical, historical, and political contexts related to the genre in a manner that avoids the usual categorization of chapters according to authors, texts, etc.

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