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The Crystal Man: Landmark Science Fiction by…

The Crystal Man: Landmark Science Fiction

by Edward Page Mitchell

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Very early American science fiction, much of it published in American newspapers. ( )
  Georges_T._Dodds | Mar 30, 2013 |
Required reading for students and scholars of early science fiction. Unfortunately, the book is not scholarship-friendly, lacking both an index to the stories and a bibliography for Moskowitz's excellent introductory essay. Original publication details for each story are scattered throughout the Introduction, but this information does not appear in either the Contents or on individual story title pages, making it extremely difficult to extract. Adding to this frustration, the stories are organized according to dubious categories apparently randomly assigned by Moskowitz, rather than by what would have been a much more useful chronological presentation. Despite these organizational shortcomings, the book offers transformative insight into the development of the science fiction genre, and represents the rediscovery of an important American writer.

The introductory essay by Sam Moskowitz makes a strong case for Mitchell's seminal influence on genre science fiction relative to his better-known contemporaries, and for the role of newspapers in establishing its generic style (Mitchell wrote most of the stories anonymously for the NY Sun, infamous perpetrator of the 1835 Moon Hoax). Crediting Mitchell with the first cyborg, the first friendly alien, the first cryogenics, the first time machine, and the first invisible man to appear in print on either side of the Atlantic, Moskowitz makes a plausible case that Mitchell may not only have anticipated Wells, but actually provided some of the ideas most closely associated with his genius.This last point is speculative, but compelling on its face, given the textual evidence of the stories, and the wide-spread cross-Atlantic reprint trade in an era without international copyright laws.

Mitchell's stories themselves are fascinating from an historical perspective, yet surprisingly readable today. At times the stories may strike some contemporary readers as annoyingly naive. Sensitive readers may also have little patience with outdated images of race and gender. But, Mitchell often withstands a careful reading even on these points, and is as likely to be found reflecting ironically upon such images as he is innocently reproducing them. Mitchell's narrative style is clean and literate, infused with humor, and casually intelligent. At his best, Mitchell brings compelling plot and reflective narrative to bear on the deepest philosophical implications of emerging science and technology, asking questions that still challenge us today. ( )
1 vote delausa | Oct 25, 2009 |
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