Clareson, Thomas D

Tagged: Author | Editor | Critic

(1926-1993) US editor, critic and professor of English. By the time he took his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in 1956, he had published his first sf criticism, "The Evolution of Science Fiction" (August 1953 Science Fiction Quarterly). He was perhaps best known for editing Extrapolation continuously from its founding in December 1959 to Winter 1989, at which point he handed over the reins to his then co-editor, Donald M Hassler; the rare first ten years' issues of this journal, the oldest established academic journal about sf, were reprinted in Extrapolation; A Science Fiction Newsletter, Vols 1-10 (anth 1978) edited by Clareson; although inconveniently packaged – there are no running heads, and pagination is not continuous – its contents remain valuable. He was also a pioneer in editing Anthologies of sf criticism in book form: SF: The Other Side of Realism (anth 1971); Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers Vol 1 (anth 1976) and its sequels Vol 2 (anth 1979) and Vol 3 (anth 1983), the latter with Thomas L Wymer; and Many Futures, Many Worlds: Theme and Form in Science Fiction (anth 1977). His SF Criticism: An Annotated Checklist (1972) began a specialist research series which would be continued by Marshall B Tymn and Roger Schlobin. Clareson also edited a story anthology with notes, intended to be used in education: A Spectrum of Worlds (anth 1972).

Clareson's most important research was in early US sf. He wrote the chapter "The Emergence of the Scientific Romance" in Neil Barron's Anatomy of Wonder: Science Fiction (1976; rev 1981; rev 1987; rev 1987; rev 2004), revised in later editions as "The Emergence of Science Fiction: The Beginnings to the 1920s". He was general editor of Greenwood Press's (somewhat incomplete) microfilm reprint series of sf Pulp magazines and, also from Greenwood, the large, wide-ranging collection Early Science Fiction Novels: A Microfiche Collection (coll 1984). Perhaps his two most important works are Science Fiction in America, 1870s-1930s: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary Sources (1984) and Some Kind of Paradise: The Emergence of American Science Fiction (dated 1985 but 1986). The latter – a historical and thematic survey rather than a critical study – is a breakthrough book in an area that was previously codified poorly and erratically; one of Clareson's strategies, perhaps necessary in so little known a field, is the inclusion of much plot synopsis. This is precisely the strength of the former book, too, whose annotations are of real use to researchers who may find copies of the original works difficult to locate. In Clareson's more recent book, Understanding American Science Fiction: The Formative Period, 1926-1970 (1990), the subject matter is much more familiar. His clear-headed reading of the works of Robert A Heinlein, The Heritage of Heinlein: A Critical Reading of the Fiction (2014) with Joe Sanders, unfinished at his death, was completed by his collaborator.

Clareson was chairman of the first Modern Language Association Seminar on sf in 1958, and first President of the Science Fiction Research Association, 1970-1976. In recognition of his services to the academic study of sf he received the Pilgrim Award in 1977. The Thomas D Clareson Award for services to sf, presented since 1995, is named in his honour. [PN]

see also: Bibliographies; Conceptual Breakthrough; Critical and Historical Works About SF; France; History of SF; Lost Worlds.

Thomas Dean Clareson

born Austin, Minnesota: 26 August 1926

died Wooster, Ohio: 6 July 1993

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