Quick and quirky guide

Gibbous moon of Jupiter, Europa (NASA image)
Gibbous moon of Jupiter, Europa (NASA image)

Paul Wake, Steve Andrews and Ariel, editors
Waterstone’s Guide to
Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

Series editor Nick Rennison
Waterstone’s Booksellers 1998

Although getting a bit outdated now (the Waterstones apostrophe, dropped to howls from purists early in 2012, is still there in its full glory) this is a ready reference giving a flavour of the range of authors and works in the three genres. It’s not exhaustive of course — no work could be, especially in these ever-popular genres — but I find it useful to dip into for a quick and often quirky summary of an author new to me. As such it fulfils the aim outlined in the introduction, to answer the question (and variants of it) that staff are frequently asked: “I’ve read Tolkien [or some other big name]. What should I try next?” While of necessity slewed to the UK market as it was in the late 20th century it tries to be as comprehensive as is practical in its 200-odd pages; and, while it’s a mystery why it hasn’t since been reissued in revised editions, I shall be keeping this copy on my shelves for a little while longer.

Science fiction has the lion’s share of pages, with sections on Hard Science Fiction (so-called because science and technology are the bedrock of this subdivision, not because the fiction is necessarily difficult to read) and Mainstream SF, along with Space Opera and Literary Science Fiction. About the halfway point the section on Humorous Science Fiction and Fantasy points to a blurring of the boundary between the two genres, leading naturally to Fantasy in all its other manifestations. Horror is accorded a mere tenth of the text before two further chapters — on SF in the media and graphic novels are briefly touched on.


Interspersed through these sections are brief essays by John Clute, Michael Marshall Smith, Stephen Baxter, Peter F Hamilton, Robert Rankin, Anne McCaffrey, Ramsey Campbell and Neil Gaiman — all big names in these fields, though I confess I’ve only read and heard of a couple of them. But at the heart of the book are the many entries, contributed by Waterstone’s staff, on individual authors. These range from the almost cryptic — Piers Anthony and Jean M Auel merit only two sentences each, for example — to the detailed — such as those on Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick and, of course, Tolkien. Most are established authors, several were up and coming and a few, I fear, may have never really arrived.

Does the guide succeed in what it set out to do? Yes, I believe it does. Following some recommendations I’ve been persuaded to try, or even rediscover, some authors which I might have passed on, from Doris Lessing to David Eddings and from Frank Herbert to Poul Anderson. And the list goes ever on; perhaps I don’t need Waterstones to provide an updated edition yet.

14 thoughts on “Quick and quirky guide

  1. I remember the outcry when Waterstones dropped the ‘. This sounds like a useful book, especially for me since I’m not as familiar with British authors, but would like to be.


    1. It’s not just British authors, though; off the top of my head Jules Verne has an entry, and a sizeable proportion of the writers are American, as you’d expect in these genres.


  2. Sounds like a keeper to me Chris. Thought I have ask, what is Auel doing in this book? Would her Clan of the Cave Bears series fall into fantasy? I met her once. Lovely lady. Sadly, I lost my signed copy of her book.


    1. *solemnly* It appears not, Col, editors not as omniscient as they think.

      As for said blip, you may be aware of the so-called ‘grocer’s apostrophe’ which has aberrations such as “potatoe’s”, or even double abominations such as “panini’s”.

      Well, apparently grocers have used up all the available blips so Mr Waterstone had none left for his bookshops.


      1. *bitterly* They didn’t even use The Journal of Commonwealth Literature as a reference? (Although only one of mine is listed there, anyway.)

        Another place where blips get all used up is when people use ‘it’s’ as a possessive, and not meaning ‘it is’.


            1. Actually, all the Waterstoneapostrophes I’ve ever been in have generally been stocked with enthusiastic staff who know their onions. (Not bad when you actually popped in for a book, not a vegetable.)


            2. One West Country library I worked in, a countryman came in and apparently asked for “a book on poetry”. Was very confused by the section he was sent to. Turns out he was a farmer and was enquiring after a “book on poultry” (you need to swallow the ‘l’ when you say it). Eggstraordinary, no? A book storage place that didn’t know its onions…


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