Sunday, February 19, 2006
Fantastic Victoriana reviewed in San Francisco Chronicle
You can't ask for fairer than that.
Apocalyptic scenarios aren't exclusively the product of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Jess Nevins unearths a few as he traces the roots of modern science fiction and fantasy in The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana (Monkeybrain Books; 1,010 pages; $50).
A reference librarian at Sam Houston State University, Nevins gained attention by offering online annotations to Alan Moore's intricate comic-book series, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." There he managed to both explain the copious in-jokes of Moore's scripts and preserve the project's subversive sense of fun.
His new encyclopedia is several orders of magnitude more substantial but equally perceptive and valuable. Most of the enduring characters of 19th century popular fiction get an entry, from Kipling's Kim to Verne's Captain Nemo, Stevenson's David Balfour to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Also accounted for are a great number of intriguing obscurities, from Ahez the Pale to Prince Zaleski.
The only major drawback to this exhaustive reference work is that one wishes there were more thematic entries that explore the connections between assorted authors and their often outrageous characters.
"The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana" probably isn't a volume to be read from cover to cover, but there's plenty there to reward the diligent browser and the serious scholar.