Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction, much like David Thomson’s superb Television: A Biography, is a great example of the pleasures of the book as object. In a slightly larger than average format of about 7″ X 10″ with all of its 576 pages in a semi-gloss finish and abundantly illustrated with color photos, charts, and graphics, the book is a pleasure simply to hold and thumb through. And, like The Platinum Age of Television, it’s an encyclopedic volume, chronologically organized, so it can be dipped into on a whim without worry. The entries do not cover a single work but rather entire franchises, so that the section on Star Trek covers the books, movies, and the various television series. There are essays detailing its history, production, and impact as well. Each entry is accompanied by a timeline that maps out release and run dates for all of these and, as in the picture at left, one that shows the lifespan of major characters. These timelines are a pretty slick feature of Sci-Fi Chronicles. After all, when a pop-culture volume includes two pages on “how to use this book,” its entertainment value is bound to rival its informativeness.
Science fiction has the power to move us, in my view, just as much as any other genre or type of art and one might argue that the richness of its universes capture the imagination like no other but it’s all too often written off as the escapist domain of nerds. I believe, though, that it has the power to speak to all of us in hugely important ways. The many dystopian worlds of sci-fi serve as a warning of how wrong things might go for humanity if we don’t get our collective stuff together. But its more optimistic imaginings allow us to wonder “what if?” and encourage us to aspire to something higher for ourselves and everyone around us – a higher intellectual development, technological advancement, and knowledge of the cosmos; a higher plane of relating to each other and our environment, and even higher forms of consciousness and being. So don’t feel guilty as you page through Sci-Fi Chronicles. Rather, enjoy yourself, and tell that nagging little voice in your head saying “this is all so silly” to shut up already.