Once you’re deep into genre fandom, if you’re not careful, you can wind up spending more time reading about the thing you love than actually reading the thing you love—there are certainly non-fiction books about Sherlock Holmes in print than there are Sherlock Holmes stories themselves, and no end to the number of scholarly considerations of the history of comics.
Sci-fi and fantasy certainly have seen their share of these related works. Fans will always clamor to tell you the essential novels and stories in the field, but what about the books about genre? Here are 7 great non-fiction reads on the subject.
In Other Worlds: SF and Human Imagination, by Margaret Atwood
Featuring original essays and collected interviews, this indispensable volume offers iconoclast author’s whip-smart insights on everything from how she got into writing fantastic fiction to why everybody really loves Robin the Boy Wonder. Atwood is odder and funnier than I ever imagined, even as she both destroys and creates new definitions of science fiction. Controversial among genre insiders, but a great read even if you don’t agree with all her assertions.
The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, by Samuel Delany
If you ask me, literally no other academic text on the writing of science fiction is better, nor more fun. Consisting of various pieces of non-fiction Delany wrote over the years, the contemporary edition of The Jewel-Hinged Jaw collects a multitude of the author’s insights on not only how science fiction is made, but how it is perceived by writers outside the gerne. Why do we sometimes call it speculative fiction? Why are there biases against it? It’s all here.
The Wave in the Mind, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin’s 2004 collection of essays is among her best non-fictional works. Her discussion of gender as it relates to her identity as a writer is excellent, but her more general advice to writers of any genre is quirky and wise, too. Her scene-stealing speech at the National Book Awards last fall only scratched the surface of her straight-dope insights.
The Writer’s Tale, by Russell T. Davies
It’s hard to believe how long it has been (five years!) that Russell T. Davies was in charge of Doctor Who, but there’s no denying that his tenure as showrunner helped to redefine the iconic character for the modern era, transforming him from a character with niche appeal outside of England into the global time-traveling phenomenon he is today. But what about all the roads not taken? Just how many different companions did Davies want to bring back? What does he think of the character of the Doctor? You can geek out on Doctor Who by reading a bunch of books about how the TARDIS supposedly works, but, if you’re really hardcore, you’ll read about the man who really made the TARDIS fly.
Hardcover $31.50 | $35.00
Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, Jeff Prucher (editor)
What is the definition of “beaming?” What is a “tesseract” as it relates to A Wrinkle in Time? You know what a robot is, but where did the word come from? Even if you think you know, this reference work offers complete entomology and citations for the words that have become common genre parlance.
Supergods, by Grant Morrison
One of the best comic book writers in the business discusses the philosophical import of superheroes. Since we’re about half a decade away from the the point that “non-superhero movies” becomes a sort of counter-genre, there’s never been a better time to explore the deeper reasons we’re so attached to oddly named earthbound gods in masks and capes.
The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, by Humphrey Carpenter (with Christopher Tolkien)
Like anything related to the machinations of Middle-Earth, this one is pretty long. But in providing both an autobiographical sketch of one of the world’s greatest writers and giving the fan a peak into how the The Lord of the Rings evolved as it was being written, this book is extremely special. More than anything, it will remind you that all of the fantasy worlds that we love were at one point just humble works in progress.
What’s your favorite non-fiction book about sci-fi or fantasy?