Back when I edited Nova Express, I tried to pick up all the important SF reference works I could afford that I could lay my hands on. Among those were two extensive Magill’s references sets: Survey of Science Fiction Literature and Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature. Each covers hundreds of key works, alphabetized by title, providing title, author, year of publication, type (novel, etc.), time, setting, key characters, a summary of the book that touches in some measure on its major themes, and a short secondary bibliography. Several notable science fiction writers, editors and critics contributed entries, including Brian Aldiss, John Clute, David Pringle, Brian Stableford and Jack Williamson.
In some ways, the material in these books have been superseded by the aggregate knowledge contained in the Internet. But it’s still a useful reference source. If i want to know, say, what Harry E. Martinson’s Aniara is about, I can read the short entry here rather than the entire book-length poem and be reasonably sure that it’s accurate.
I kept my eyes out for those sets, and picked them up off eBay when affordable copies appeared. I also picked up two more Magill’s sets at a library sale dirt cheap (I think $10 for each set) and those are on the same top shelf.
On the end of the row in the picture is an Ex-Library copy of the first edition of Neil Barron’s Anatomy of Wonder.
There are two other Magill SF/F reference sets I don’t own: Magill’s Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature from 1996, which culls and condenses the two five volume sets down to a single four volume set, and Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature from 2002, which condenses them down still further into a two volume set with still more additional material, including my own entry on Patrick O’Leary’s Door Number Three. I believe that Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature is the only thing I’m in for which I lack a contributor’s copy.
In Anatomy of Wonder 4, Neil Barron calls Survey of Science Fiction Literature “an essential tool, although its price will limit it to larger libraries.” Well, I guess mine qualifies…