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Travel Guides

Entry updated 17 December 2020. Tagged: Theme.

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These occasionally feature in sf, the most famous of all being Douglas Adams's comic creation The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (which see) – a guide that gives little space to such minor destinations as Earth, famously listed only as "Harmless" and amended after extensive further research to "Mostly harmless". In older sf, Jack Vance makes witty use of invented guidebooks – e.g. "Popular Handbook of the Planets, 303rd edition" – for background Infodumps in his Demon Princes sequence opening with The Star King (December 1963-February 1964 Galaxy; 1964), and again in his Alastor Cluster (1973-1978) and Cadwal Chronicles (1987-1992) trilogies. The Baedeker-like Wu and Fabricant Guidebook is consulted in Alexei Panshin's Anthony Villiers comedies, beginning with Star Well (1968); a planet-specific volume of Wu and Fabricant is the supposed source of Joanna Russ's brief squib "Useful Phrases for the Tourist" (in Universe 2, anth 1972, ed Terry Carr), which suggests a number of predicaments for the unwary ("This is my companion. It is not intended as a tip."). Brian Aldiss's "Confluence" (30 August 1967 Punch) presents phrases from the titular Alien language which denote varyingly whimsical concepts, few likely to be useful to a tourist. Charles Sheffield's Summertide: Book One of the Heritage Universe (1990) repeatedly quotes from a gazetteer of the vast and mysterious Macrostructures scattered through his galactic setting: the Lang Universal Artifact Catalog, Fourth Edition.

Several sf and sf-related works have been couched as guidebooks, such as the US Science Fiction Book Club promotional pamphlet "Your First Vacation on the Moon" (circa 1960 chap) by James Black, Rhoda Blumberg's Moon handbook The First Travel Guide to the Moon: What to Pack, How to Go, and What to See When You Get There (1980 chap), and William K Hartmann's and Ron Miller's Solar System overview The Grand Tour: A Travelers Guide to the Solar System (1981; rev 1993; rev 2005). Italo Calvino's Le città invisibili (1972; trans as Invisible Cities 1974) elevates the listing of fictional Cities to a metaphorical, metaphysical level that is radiant with Sense of Wonder. Why Come to Slaka? (1986) by Malcolm Bradbury (1932-2000) comically elaborates on the awfulness of the imaginary Eastern European country Slaka which was the setting of Bradbury's borderline-fantastic novel Rates of Exchange (1983). Diana Wynne Jones's The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (1996; rev 2006) uses the guidebook format as a vehicle for spirited mockery of fantasy Clichés; Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe present fantastical whimsies in A Walking Tour of the Shambles: Little Walks for Sightseers #16 (2002). Christopher Priest's The Islanders (2011) is to some extent organized as a gazetteer of selected Islands in his recurring, ever-shifting Dream Archipelago setting.

Further nonfiction compilations with something of the feel of guidebooks to the exotic include Wayne Douglas Barlowe's Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials (graph 1979) and Brian Stableford's The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places (1999). Books about fictional lands and worlds are occasionally framed as guidebooks, a single example being the Discworld spinoff A Tourist Guide to Lancre: A Discworld Mapp (graph 1998) by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs. Many Role Playing Game sourcebooks inhabit similar territory, an outstanding example of such world-building being Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) by M A R Barker.

A spoof travel guide is a convenient template for organizing compilations of sf art, as in Bob Shaw's and David Hardy's Galactic Tours: Thomas Cook Out of this World Vacations (graph 1981). Tour of the Universe (graph 1980) by Malcolm Edwards and Robert Holdstock and Diary of a Spaceperson (graph 1990) by and illustrated by Chris Foss take a similar approach, though more as tourist diaries than actual purported guidebooks. There are also guidebook elements, such as advice on galactic package tours, in Holdstock's differently themed art vehicle Space Wars: Worlds and Weapons (graph 1979) as by Steven Eisler. Mur Lafferty's Shambling Guides sequence, opening with A Shambling Guide to New York (2013), comprises not guidebooks per se but tales about a writer of such guides for the undead. [DRL]


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