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For a history of our most important magazine, you can do a lot worse than A Requiem for Astounding, by Alva Rogers. Explorers of the Infinite and Seekers of Tomorrow, both by Sam Moskowitz, aren’t all that well-written, but he knew just about every one of these giants personally. Brian Aldiss’s Billion Year Spree is a nice, serious history of the genre. Much more fun is Damon Knight’s The Futurians, the history of the late 30s/early 40s New York fan group, and except for Pohl, Wollheim, Asimov, Knight, Blish, Merril, Kornbluth, Lowndes, and Kidd, why, they hardly produced any major figures at all.
Speaking of Knight, his In Search of Wonder remains one of the best critical collections, along with Blish’s The Issue at Hand and More Issues at Hand (both written as “William Atheling, Jr.”). Also worth a look are Benchmarks by Algis Budrys, and Science Fiction at Large, edited by Peter Nichols.
If you’d like to read every word of every speech and panel given at the 1962 and 1963 Worldcons, try The Proceedings: Chicon III, edited by Earl Kemp (it’s being reprinted for Chicon 7), and The Proceedings; Discon, edited by Dick Eney. Noreascon I also did a Proceedings, though I think we were multi-track by then and it just covered the main track. A nice catch-all book was Sprague de Camp’s Science-Fiction Handbook, which he later revised and updated.
The best biographies are Fred Pohl’s The Way the Future Was, Jack Williamson’s Wonder’s Child, and the wonderful 6-bio catchall, Hell’s Cartographers. And then there’s E. Hoffman Price’s wonderful Book of the Dead, which covers his experiences with Lovecraft, Howard, Kuttner, Clark Ashton Smith. et al. And don’t overlook Bob Silverberg’s Other Spaces, Other Times, or Eric Leif Davin’s Pioneers of Wonder: Conversations with the Founders of Science Fiction. John Campbell deserves a shelf of his own, and you can begin filling with the first two massive volumes of The John W. Campbell Letters, and his Collected Editorials from Analog. There are endless indices to the magazines, but only one truly thoroughgoing history of them: Mike Ashley’s wonderful 3-volume The History of the Science Fiction Magazine.
Books on and about science fiction that belong on most writers’ shelves include Barry Malzberg’s Breakfast in the Ruins and Norman Spinrad’s Staying Alive and Science Fiction in the Real World. Half a century ago Advent gathered Heinlein, Bester, Kornbluth and Bloch for The Science Fiction Novel, then assembled Heinlein, Campbell, Doc Smith, and four others for Of Worlds Beyond. The Panshins wrote Science Fiction in Dimension, a very nice follow-up to the more limited Heinlein in Dimension, then won a Hugo for The World Beyond the Hill. Kingsley Amis’s New Maps of Hell remains a classic. And there are a couple of fine compendiums edited by Reginald Bretnor: The Craft of Science Fiction and Science Fiction Today and Tomorrow. Two charming books containing some serious and a lot of hilarious fanzine articles by Robert Bloch are The Eighth Stage of Fandom and Out of My Head. And on the subject of fandom, the best is Fancyclopedia II, with many more entries than the original. And of course there are the histories of fandom: The Immortal Storm by Sam Moskowitz; Up to Now by Jack Speer; and All Our Yesterdays and A Wealth of Fable by Harry Warner, Jr. Finally, I’ll mention some of my own: a trio of Hugo nominees, Putting it Together, I Have This Nifty Idea…, and (with Barry Malzberg) The Business of Science Fiction.
I realize that I haven’t mentioned some of the very popular recent “must-have” books like the Nichols/Clute Encyclopedia and similar, but that’s because I assume anyone reading this Mind Meld already has them or at least knows about them.
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