Tom Shippey’s The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories (2003) and Shippey’s books on J.R.R. Tolkien established this academic as a critic to respect. Reading these collected essays, published over a 30-year span, shows the variety of Shippey’s interests. He’s a big fan of Kingsley Amis’s science fiction novels–The Alteration and Russian Hide and Seek–which I’m going to be reading in 2018 because of the strength of Shippey’s advocacy. Shippey discusses most of the great SF writers: Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and Bradbury. But Shippey reserves his greatest praise for Jack Vance (my favorite SF writer!). If you’re interested in Science Fiction and want to learn more about SF and politics, or SF and culture Hard Reading provides intelligent essays that will delight and inform you. Plus, I really like the Gray Morrow cover on this book! GRADE: A
List of Figures ix
Note on References x
A Personal Preface xi

What SF Is
1 Coming Out of the Science Fiction Closet 3
‘Learning to Read Science Fiction’ 6
2 Rejecting Gesture Politics 24
‘Literary Gatekeepers and the Fabril Tradition’ 26
3 Getting Away from the Facilior Lectio 47
‘Semiotic Ghosts and Ghostlinesses in the Work of Bruce Sterling’ 50

SF and Change
4 Getting Serious with the Fans 67
‘Science Fiction and the Idea of History’ 70
5 Getting to Grips with the Issue of Cultures … 85
‘Cultural Engineering: A Theme in Science Fiction’ 89
6 … And Not Fudging the Issue! 103
‘“People are Plastic”: Jack Vance and t he Dilemma of Cultural Relativism’ 106
7 SF Authors Really Mean what they Say 121
‘Alternate Historians: Newt, Kingers, Harry and Me’ 124
8 A Revealing Failure by the Critics 141
‘Kingsley Amis’s Science Fiction and the Problems of
Genre’ 144
9 A Glimpse of Structuralist Possibility 160
‘The Golden Bough and the Incorporations of Magic in Science Fiction’ 163
10 Serious Issues, Serious Traumas, Emotional Depth 182
‘The Magic Art and the Evolution of Words: Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea” Trilogy’ 185

SF and Politics
11 A First Encounter with Politics 207
‘The Cold War in Science Fiction, 1940–1960’ 209
12 Language Corruption, and Rocking the Boat 229
‘Variations on Newspeak: The Open Question of Nineteen Eighty-Four’ 233
13 Just Before the Disaster 255
‘The Fall of America in Science Fiction’ 258
14 Why Politicians, and Producers, Should Read Science Fiction 274
‘The Critique of America in Contemporary Science Fiction’ 277
15 Saying (When Necessary) the Lamentable Word 293
‘Starship Troopers, Galactic Heroes, Mercenary Princes: The Military and its Discontents in Science Fiction’ 296
References 311
Index 321


  1. Cap'n Bob

    When I was younger I would have gobbled this up! But in my dotage I can’t justify spending the time on it, no matter how appealing!

      1. Todd Mason

        Liverpool is charging the Earth for all their books of late. Making getting the later volumes of Mike Ashley’s history of SF magazines annoying at best.

      2. george Post author

        Todd, my chief complaint about the Liverpool University Press is the priciness of their titles. I rarely shell out $120 for a book even if it is as good as HARD READING.

  2. Jeff Meyerson

    I agree with you – great cover! The book does sound interesting, but I am way too backed up now. I have that Silverberg collection of first person stories. I’ve read them all already, but in looking through the book and reading his introductions, it made me want to reread at least some of them.

  3. Todd Mason

    No surprise that a Tolkien scholar would choose Jack Vance as his favorite sf writer…I’ll bet he’s pretty close to being Shippey’s second-favorite fantasy writer as well.

    The cover painting by Morrow was originally an illustration for the WORLDS OF IF serialized version of James Blish’s BLACK EASTER…known in IF as FAUST ALEPH NULL:

    1. george Post author

      Todd, I remember that Gray Morrow cover on WORLDS OF IF way back when. But, I like the way TOM SHIPPEY’s name appears in this version. Clever idea!


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