Let’s go ahead and tee this up so the snarkers can get their shots in: the Syfy network has put its name on an extensive, well-packaged look at the history of science fiction film and television – and it’s a book.
The good news for those who think Syfy has lost its way when it comes to the genre it was founded upon is that you’ll find no ghost hunters or wrestlers in The Science Fiction Universe … and Beyond – Syfy Channel Book of Sci-Fi. Authored by Michael Mallory, this 9.5-by-12-inch, 256-page hardcover exploration starts with A Trip to the Moon and ends with Hugo, with 300 photos along the way. (For those who care about extra details, it’s also got some really cool end-papers which feature a collage of classic movie posters.)
Divided into nine chapters, the book is generally laid out chronologically, although movie sequels and re-invented TV shows are lumped together with the originals, so you occasionally get a weird juxtaposition like photos from Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica alongside a behind-the-scenes shot from Alien.
Each chapter also includes a spotlight on a standout movie, series, or theme of the era: Chapter 1, “Early Dreams and Nightmares,” for instance, spotlights serials like King of the Rocket Men and Buck Rogers. Other spotlight sections focus on unsurprising heavy hitters like The Twilight Zone, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who.
Although there’s a lot of pictures – not unexpected, really, since it’s a coffee-table type book aimed at fans – Mallory gets a good amount of information and history into the text of each chapter.
I was born in 1970, so I found most of the book’s second-half material pretty well-worn territory in terms of the movies and shows Mallory writes about, since that’s the stuff that made me a science fiction fan in the first place. Still, there were some interesting and surprising factoids in there, like the note about Industrial Light & Magic artist Dennis Muren putting an R2-D2 model on the stern of the Close Encounters of the Third Kind ship.
The first half of the book, though, from the earliest days of science fiction films through the classic B-movies and pulpy storytelling, and on into the late 1960s and very early 1970s? I found these sections enthralling and entertaining and inspiring, because there’s so much there I haven’t seen.
After the final chapter, the text concludes with an appendix listing “one hundred additional films and programs that are not discussed within these pages, but which would be of interest to any sci-fi fan.”
Though not an encyclopedic volume, The Science Fiction Universe … and Beyond could serve as a good reference for those days when there’s only wrestling on TV, and you’re looking for a reminder of a classic bit of science fiction to revisit, or to enjoy for the first time.
Disclosure: Universe provided GeekDad with a review copy of this book.