Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction edited by Jeff Prucher

I could claim to have been reading this book since it was published in 2007: I had a bookmark in it the whole time, and read the first few letters upstairs in my sons' rooms, during bedtime routine [1] back when they were young, though it migrated back to a bookcase at some point and stayed there quietly for years.

That would be a silly claim, since I restarted this time, when I put it in the smallest room and made a new concerted effort to get to the back cover. And that effort worked.

The book is Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, which was published (yes, by Oxford, no points for figuring that out) back in 2007, and which I'm pretty sure I got for consideration as a SFBC editor about two nanoseconds before they kicked me out. (It wouldn't have gotten a lot of consideration in any case: it's a neat book, but not really a book-club book.)

It was edited by Jeff Prucher, who I was going to describe as a lexicographer with some ties to the SF world until I realized his ties to the SF world are probably substantially stronger than mine at this point. It won the Hugo for Best Related Book the next year, in that way that obviously magisterial reference works do, to break up the usual flow of "book by or about a beloved older author".

And this is a magisterial reference work - I could probably find a few things to quibble about (for example: the citations seem to cluster around a few authors, for example, which makes me suspect there were a few very active contributors and potentially a lot of earlier or similarly-dated usages from others), but it's substantial, it's well-researched, and it's correct in every way I'm competent to check.

It is a dictionary of terms related to Science Fiction - both the fictional worlds created by SF writers (ansible, seetee, needlebeam, ultraviolence) and the social milieu of SF fandom (relaxacon, sercon, tanstaffl, gafiate). It's an English-language dictionary, so Prucher's remit is the English-speaking world, but he does cover both genre and "mainstream" writers on the fictional side - as well as a substantial cluster from the Stars Trek and Wars, and a few others mostly known from filmed rather than written SF.

This is not a long dictionary; it's about two hundred and eighty pages before the front- and backmatter. But it is condensed - the usual telegraphese for meaning and citations - and I didn't think of anything glaringly left out. I am sure there are some trufen out there still grumpy that a word or three that they think absolutely crucial is not included; there are always people like that. But it is reasonably comprehensive, and the only major criticism I could have is that it's from 2007, and SF is a field that coins new words every single day - I know the field has moved on a bit from then.

Most people don't read dictionaries for pleasure. I think this one will be read for pleasure by more people than the average dictionary, but it's still a small segment. If that's you, though, you might be happy to know this book exists.

[1] Job One: get them upstairs and start winding them down for bed half an hour or an hour early. So that means being up there with them: sometimes playing with them, sometimes sitting on the couch and reading, sometimes watching them do something, sometimes cleaning up toys all over the floor. I never got as much reading done in that time as I thought I might, but I never regretted either having a book or not reading much of it.

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