The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy - Paul Collins ed.
Melbourne University Press, June 1998, hc, 188pp, $39.95.
Reviewed by Jonathan Strahan
Australian science fiction underwent a period of unprecedented growth in the 1990s, and the need for an authoritative reference work to cover the field is clear. Not only is there a need to put newer writers like Sean Williams and Sara Douglass in context and to consider major figures like Damien Broderick, Terry Dowling, and Greg Egan, but also to record the evolution of the field, and to do so before much of the living record is lost. It is into this gap that writer/editor Paul Collins steps with The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy. It is an interesting, if occasionally puzzling, work that raises as many questions as it answers.
To compile the book, Collins approached respected writers and critics Steven Paulsen and Sean McMullen, as well as well-known bibliographer Graham Stone, to assist him with preparing a work that would be both authoritative and comprehensive. Necessarily, Collins made choices before starting work on the Encyclopaedia, shaping the resulting volume in significant ways. First, Collins restricted the book to cover work published after 1950, and to writers who have published three or more works of short fiction. While the latter criterion is generous, the former is disappointingly restrictive, since this period would have provided important and useful information on the evolution of fantastic literature in Australia.
Collins openly, and reasonably, states that the MUP Encyclopaedia will contain errors and omissions. It's something repeated by Peter Nicholls in his introduction, and it does have some truth to it. A careful reading of the book does show some problems, albeit mostly minor ones. For example, unpublished, and even unwritten, novels are included in bibliographies, and publication sources are inconsistently cited. It also seems odd that, in a book restricted to covering work published after 1950, so much of the book is devoted to information on reprinting books and short fiction. It is also hard to see why the book does not, as a minimum, cover the material in the more general Clute/Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Finally, there is a certain evenhandedness lacking in some of the author entries written by Collins himself, which are difficult to parse, and probably more difficult to forgive.
Nevertheless, in compiling this book Collins and his assistant editors undertook a major task and, given the limitations set by Collins, they have produced a work that is not definitive, but will be of use until such a work is published. There is an impressive and significant amount of useful information on Australian science fiction and fantasy, and the editors deserve applause for their achievement, even though the work is flawed - both by the lack of consistency in entries and bibliographic methodology.
|©1999 Jonathan Strahan.
This review originally appeared in Locus.