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SF:UK: How British Science Fiction Changed The World
Reynolds & Hearn paperback £12.95
review by Steven Hampton
This illustrated genre survey, published as a companion book to Channel Four's TV documentary series of the same title, is engaging and thought-provoking. Yet, although the author seems to have a good idea what constitutes peculiarly 'British' SF, he seems more than a trifle confused about what material is genuinely British, and what properly belongs to America in general, and Hollywood in particular.
This makes certain passages irritating and bewildering, as links between obviously British books by Mary Shelley, and H.G. Wells, and their US film adapations are somewhat grossly over-emphasised. War Of The Worlds (1953) was produced by George Pal for Paramount. That is not British at all! And yet, O'Brien spends a chapter sketching out the merits of James Whale's two Frankenstein comedy horrors, simply because the director was born in England.
Where O'Brien does get it right is with thematic discussions of Hammer's cycle of grisly Frankenstein movies, Nigel Kneale's Quatermass TV serials, various incarnations of Doctor Who, and the often overlooked science fictional content of Gerry Anderson's classic puppet shows like Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. Here, we are on safer ground where the presence of an essential Brit factor is unquestionable. It's also a pleasure to see Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner, and phenomenal comic-book 2000 AD, getting some well deserved praise for making substantial contributions to the SF field. These disparate items of our cultural heritage are, too often, dismissed as mere cult appendages to the genre, so it's about time both were reappraised, shifted into the centre, and recognised for what they are - among the best British SF of the last 50 years.
Photos and artwork is all in b/w, but there are neat time charts to compare SF breakthroughs with science facts, and the index is fairly comprehensive, too.
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