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Where do the roots of science fiction lie? What themes have shaped the genre, and how has it changed over the years? All these questions are pondered in the wonderful book The World Beyond the Hill (Amazon US and UK), by Alexei and Cory Panshin. Subtitled “Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence”, the book won a Hugo Award when originally released in 1989, garnering rave reviews from some of the leading lights of science fiction (with good reason). Happily, the book has recently been re-released by Phoenix Pick, for all of us who missed the original edition. It’s certainly a book that I think Grailers will get a lot out of.

Here’s a summary from the book’s Preface:

The world that we live in has been formed in the image of the myth of science fiction. Anything we use today may have been made by a robot. Children play interactive games with household computers, and thinking machines play championship-level chess. Men in rockets have traveled to the moon, and we have even sent off greetings to the stars.

The story of the complete life cycle of this myth is presented in this book, beginning with the first faint glimmerings that “science” might be a new name for higher possibility, and ending with modern mythmakers able to imagine that mankind might assume control of its own destiny, establish a galaxy-wide stellar empire, and evolve into a higher order of being.

For those who are interested in the dynamics of myth, this book tells
how a new myth comes into being, how the makers of myth conceive and produce their stories, how myth both responds to worldly change and anticipates it, and how one myth at the conclusion of its usefulness may evolve into another.

For those who have love for the myth of science fiction, this book shows where its central ideas and images came from and how they developed, from a time prior to the point when this literature even had a name up until the moment of crisis and opportunity when mythmakers came to the realization that their sense of higher human potential could no longer be contained by the name “science” and began to use another.

And for those with dreams of a sounder, more holistic, more human way of life beyond the fragmentation and purposelessness which presently dominate our society, this book indicates not only how our myths change us, but how we change our myths. It shows how the storytellers of SF, having come to recognize the limitations of a world built upon scientific materialism, altered their myth and laid down the basis for a new age of higher consciousness.

I’ve spoken with the publisher about posting an extended excerpt from the book as a feature article in the near future (though it’s a tough decision to choose which part of the book to touch on). However, I can categorically recommend The World Beyond the Hill as a worthy addition to your bookshelf, so why wait? Grab a copy from Amazon US or Amazon UK.