How Do You Get to Arrakis?
The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places
by Brian Stableford, illustrated by Jeff White
Fireside Books, $19.95 paper
Science fiction fans are a weird lot. Unlike other word lovers who are reasonably certain that the author's characters and situations don't live independently of the book itself, spec-fic fans develop the worlds in their own minds and choose to harbor the fantasy that they do really exist, somewhere out there. All of which is a long way of saying that an Updike-r doesn't ever expect to meet Rabbit in real life, but a Herbert-er hopes that he can someday go to Arrakis, the desert planet in Dune.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. It is this aspect of imagination and possibility that draws most science fiction readers to the genre and keeps them poring through every book they can touch. And now Brian Stableford, contributing editor of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and writer in his own right, has put together a remarkably thorough compendium of all of the worlds that have been created in the name of literary exploration.
The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places is not the kind of book that you would read from cover to cover in one go -- no more than you would sit down and sequentially page through the Encyclopedia Britannica. But it is a kick to let it randomly drop open and read Stableford's descriptions of far-away places, like a travel brochure for exotic locales that you hope to visit when you have the time.
For example, his entry on New Texas -- a world created by ex-pat Texans who escape the Earth because they are still bitter about not being allowed to secede and written about in Lone Star Planet by H. Beam Piper -- reads: "Thanks to the supercow, New Texas quickly became the leading meat exporter to the burgeoning Galactic Empire. Its capital, New Austin, was reasonably civilized but the colony's citizens took a perverse pride in the preservation of such wild and dangerous cultural backwaters as Bonneyville." Just makes you want to delve into the local library to find a couple of New Texas texts, doesn't it?
While there are doubtlessly some omissions and errors, Stableford's work (and Jeff White's line drawings) are remarkably thorough and fun to look at. The biggest gripe may be that some of the entries spoil the plot of the books for those unfamiliar with them. In a way, though, exposure to these new worlds is part of the enjoyment: It forces you to lengthen your summer reading list. -- A.M.