The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy
February 14, 2001
Whether you're wondering why you can't find any decent household ROBOTS any more, trying to put the make on a good looking specimen of ALIENS with FOREHEAD RIDGES, or wondering why you're suddenly being attacked by BATTLE CRUISERS - when you're 450 light years from the North Sea and the year is 2916, not 1916 - The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy is your complete handbook for everything you need to know. (And a good deal you never wanted to.)
Don't leave Earth without it!
|These pages are, of course, a shameless
ripoff of Diana Wynne Jones's The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
Oh, that sounds so crass. It is much nicer to say that they are a sincere tribute [OMT] to the original. Not only nicer, but every bit as accurate. The real Tough Guide is not only hilarious, but as thoughtful a critical study of modern fantasy as you are going to find. (For more remarks on the book and its implications, see my companion article, "The Tough Guide to Archetypes," here. And for a couple of items that Ms. Wynne Jones unaccountably left out of the book, go here.)
For those not familiar with the book, find a copy and buy it. For others, a brief refresher: The premise of the book is that fantasy quest trilogies are essentially Tours of Fantasyland. Following an introduction, most of the book consists of "Toughpick:" thumbnail descriptions of the various attractions you'll see and experiences you can expect to have in the course of your Tour. Capitalized words indicate cross-referenced items, and Official Management Terms - such as savory for edible stew, or blood your sword for "skewer someone" - are italized and marked by a little oval with OMT in it. (I can't fully reproduce this; hence [OMT].)
Obviously all of this cries out [OMT] to be done for science fiction as well, and indeed Wynne Jones acknowledges the existence of an SF Tour. The hundred-odd Kbytes linked below just barely scratch the surface of what may be encountered in the course of this Tour. Science fiction is still a far more sprawling genre than fantasy, even though fantasy is undergoing rapid suburbanization. I've confined myself only to one subgenre of science fiction, what may be called SPACE SF, since that is the kind I'm writing. (For a general indication of what my novel-in-progess, Spindown, is all about, see TRADE FEDERATION.) Even then I've nowhere near covered the waterfront, or STATION cargo airlocks.
The format of these pages follows the original, with minor exception. I don't fully capitalize Space the first time it appears in an entry (because it appears in practically all of them). Nor do I have a spiffy little symbol like [OMT]; though I do note words that belong either to TECHJARGON or the more general NOMENCLATURE of Space SF. I make no references, as Diana Wynne Jones does, to the Tour MANAGEMENT - given the libertarian bent of much Space SF, and the sheer sprawl of the KNOWN GALAXY, they probably lost all effective control ages ago.
I've also strayed a bit from her strict tour-guidebook conceit. Science fiction is not only a bigger field than modern quest fantasy, it is a considerably older one. The Known Galaxy appeared in recognizable form starting way back with E.E. "Doc" Smith and the Lensman series, at least two generations ago, whereas Fantasyland as we know it only really developed after J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings came out of nowhere to hit the bestseller lists in the 1960s. Much that was once commonplace in the Known Galaxy has fallen out of use over the years, while other customs and gadgets have taken their place. I did not resist noting these changes where appropriate.
A comment on hypertext: As some online reviews have already pointed out, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland would be ideally suited to a hypertext format, with links connecting the entries. This is not practical in a book, of course, but would be perfectly practical for these pages. Alas, I haven't done it. The reason (surprise!) is that doing it means work - entering, testing, and then maintaining at least a hundred plus links. Which is more GRUNT work than I felt like doing.
Two different people actually sent me versions with internal hyperlinks added - this was over a year ago, and I'm only now getting around to noting their contributions and inserting their hyperlinked versions. One specifically asked not to be named; the other didn't, but their messages to me are both back somewhere in my Mozilla Thunderbird local folders.
Anyway, thanks to both of you!
And so, without further ado, to the "Toughpick" entries:
-- Rick Robinson
For related discussion, visit my blog, Rocketpunk Manifesto!