Indispensable to the Science Fiction Bibliophile
Jack L. Chalker & Mark Owings, The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History, Edition 3.75 (Westminster, MD: Mirage Press, 2001)
Much significant science fiction and fantasy writing was published for the first (and often the only) time by specialty presses that printed only a few hundred copies and distributed them almost nowhere. This massive reference work, compiled by writer Jack Chalker and bookseller Mark Owings, rescues such publications from bibliographic oblivion and reveals much about the history of SF.
The listings include 2,500 or so books under more than 200 different imprints. The editors' objective was to cover every non-mass market publisher, active or defunct, since 1923 that devoted itself exclusively to SF and fantasy, produced at least one hardcover book and offered works by authors other than the owner. Added to these are numerous books within the field from companies with a substantial non-SF orientation. Coverage includes all English-speaking countries, plus a few English language books produced elsewhere and a handful of French and German titles.
Entries contain the standard bibliographic data, detailed tables of contents and pithy editorial notes. Of considerable interest are narrative histories of each publisher, ranging in length from a few paragraphs to several pages. The best of these read almost like case studies in how to succeed or fail in the small press business.
The authors are men of strong opinions, which they are not reticent about stating. Perhaps as a consequence, the book received a number of scathing reviews, ostensibly condemning errors fact, upon its first appearance in 1991. There certainly are factual mistakes, which the editors have diligently worked to correct in the supplements to the original volume, but they are startlingly few in relation to the bulk of the work. As for the opinions, they are tactless in spots but lively and well-informed.
The publishers have produced a supplemental volume approximately each year and have now migrated fully to CD-Rom and the Internet. Registered owners can view or download the “supplement in progress” from the publisher’s Web site, as well as submit additions and corrections.
Without diligent scholars like Chalker and Owings - amateurs in the best sense of the word - much of science fiction’s past would be fall into unrecoverable oblivion. It is a bonus that the product of their toil is so brightly written and compulsively readable.