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Westfahl, Gary

Entry updated 13 May 2024. Tagged: Author, Critic, Editor.

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(1951-    ) American academic and critic. After receiving a PhD in English from Claremont Graduate University in 1986, he worked until 2011 at the University of California, Riverside, then taught at the University at La Verne before retiring in 2017 and receiving the title of professor emeritus. His first major project was a series of contentious articles in Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction, based on research from his dissertation, which were eventually revised and expanded as The Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction (1998). Its argument that the true origins of science fiction lie in the writings and editorial career of Hugo Gernsback, expanded upon in a later book, Hugo Gernsback and the Century of Science Fiction (2007), is usually regarded as his most noteworthy contribution to sf scholarship, though he has also written on such subjects as sf Cinema, Hard SF, Space Opera and Space Stations. His numerous articles and reviews have appeared in Extrapolation, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Monad: Essays on Science Fiction, Science Fiction Eye, Science Fiction Studies, SFRA Newsletter, Strange Horizons, and other print and online magazines, critical anthologies, and reference works. He also worked for six years as a regular columnist for Interzone (1998-2004) and for nineteen years as a film reviewer and occasional commentator for the website Locus Online (see Locus). One of those commentaries, written in the wake of the 2003 Columbia disaster, lambasted science fiction for inappropriately promoting space travel, arousing a brief storm of controversy

However, he has increasingly focused his energies on publishing books about science fiction, which fall into three categories. First, he has co-edited a number of critical anthologies, most of them featuring essays from the J Lloyd Eaton Conferences on Science Fiction and Fantasy (see J Lloyd Eaton Collection). A recent example, with essays from the one-time 2019 George Slusser Conference, is Science Fiction and the Dismal Science: Essays on Economics in and of the Genre (2019), co-edited with Gregory Benford, Howard V Hendrix, and Jonathan Alexander (see economics).

Second, he has as sole editor has undertaken several projects, most notably the Hugo-nominated Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits (2005), the three-volume The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy (2005 3vols), and posthumous books by Frank McConnell and George Slusser.

Finally, he has written to date fourteen books about science fiction, some incorporating previously published material. These include Cosmic Engineers: A Study of Hard Science Fiction (1996); The Other Side of the Sky: An Annotated Bibliography of Space Stations in Science Fiction, 1869-1993 (2009), which examines examples of artefacts that – for pragmatic reasons – are dealt with in this Encyclopedia under two headings: Space Habitats and Space Stations; a Cinema study, The Spacesuit Film: A History, 1918-1969 (2012) (see Spacesuit Films); the two-volume Science Fiction Literature through History: An Encyclopedia (2021); The Stuff of Science Fiction: Hardware, Settings, Characters (2022); and two contributions to the University of Illinois Press Modern Masters of Science Fiction series, William Gibson (2013) and Arthur C. Clarke (2018). The only book he has written which is not about science fiction is the three-volume reference A Day in a Working Life: 300 Trades and Professions through History (2015).

Westfahl received the Pilgrim Award in 2003 for lifetime contributions to sf and fantasy scholarship. Voluminous, contrarian, methodical and learned, he is a central figure in sf criticism. [GW/JC]

Gary Wesley Westfahl

born Washington, District of Columbia: 7 May 1951



works as editor


Eaton Conference Papers

individual titles as editor


previous versions of this entry

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