The Astounding Illustrated History of Science Fiction

I’ve documented my minor obsession with British science fiction first editions before now. My 2013 diary entry led to me being contacted out of the blue by someone writing an article as part of a content marketing campaign around financial investments (hint: there are better ones than books). Then, earlier this year, I was contacted again, this time by a team working on a project to create the Astounding Illustrated History of Science Fiction.

Front cover of the book, showing an image that looks a little like Bladerunner with insert images from other SF films and magazines

Having just received my copy, I can attest that it is a thing of beauty.

My rather battered copy of the Jules Verne classic. An early, but not a first, edition. The publishers managed to clean up the image and make it look brand new for the book.

It’s a large format book that, as the name suggests, has a lot of illustrations, or rather, includes the artwork from hundreds of books, films and games, as well as behind the scenes images. The narrative takes us from pre-1500 up to the modern day. The story really gets under way with obvious references to Wells, Conan Doyle, Verne, and many names I admit are entirely new to me, and ends with references to films barely out of the cinemas. The discussion about ‘what is science fiction’ is rehearsed with the inevitable conclusion that there is no single definition. Margaret Atwood is famously adamant that her work is not SF, even though by any normal definition it most certainly is, and other authors whose work is generally not SF occasionally dip into the genre without realising it. I’m not sure I care.

My own contribution to the Astounding Illustrated History of science Fiction was trivial but I was glad to help. Among my shelves are one or two SF first editions that are relatively hard to come by these days and I was able to provide the images.

Actually, taking high resolution pictures of books – or any object – is harder than you think. To do it, I set up a table in the garden which I then covered with white paper. The difficulty then is to take the picture straight on without getting your own shadow in the picture. Tricky. (As an aside, my job at GS1 puts me in touch with people who do this for a living using complex rigs and lighting. I had a Galaxy S7 phone and a sunny day). You can see all the images I offered in this directory.

Anyway… for anyone interested in the genre and its history, I can do no more than recommend the Astounding Illustrated History of Science Fiction (broken link removed) by Dave Golder, Jess Nevins, Russ Thorne and Sarah Dobbs. Published by the good folks at Flame Tree Publishing. (2024-01-03 - looks like it's out of print. Try ABE Books or similar to find a used copy).

My orginal shot of the front covers of Red, Green and Blue Mars that was used in the book