17 June 2013

Review: The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe

Trade paperback, 429 pages
Published 1976 (contents: 1833-49)
Acquired April 2012
Read September 2012
The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe
edited by Harold Beaver

This book collects all of Edgar Allan Poe's short fiction that could be reasonably dubbed "science fiction"-- and perhaps some of it, unreasonably dubbed. It's an odd, difficult collection; one suspects that Poe's influence on modern sf comes not via his actual sf, but the material he wrote that we now would dub "horror"; surely "The Fall of the House of Usher" or "The Tell-Tale Heart" has inspired more sf than "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" or "Some Words with a Mummy."

Still, this is an important and interesting set of stories. You really can see Poe working through what he thinks the genre we now call "science fiction" is: fantastic extrapolation, but with scientific rigor or at least claims to rigor. This especially comes through in the stories that were intended to be hoaxes, such as "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall," which tries really hard to convince you it's about a man who really did go to the moon.

To my surprise, I ended up liking some of the really weird stuff, like the dialogues between dead(?) spirits, "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" and "The Colloquy of Monos and Una."  "Some Words with a Mummy" was good fun, and there were creepy moments in "The System of Dr Tarr and Prof. Fether."

What the heck is up with "Eureka," though? A more brave mind than mind will have to try to untangle that.

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