On the surface, this might look like yet another of those glossy coffee table 'encyclopedias', with everything that needs to be said about a subject squeezed into a well-illustrated double page (on Cities, Satire, Gender, Space Wars, AIs, Robots, Alternate Worlds, Future Histories, Cyberpunk, Mars, ...) . But here, the text is written by Clute, which alone is enough to bring it head and shoulders above other coffee table fare.
SF is a genre mainly of words, less of pictures, so the 'illustrated' part is dominated by photographs of book covers and authors. (The covers appear mainly in the various timelines, and it is fascinating and nostalgic to see some of the original, worn, covers of classic books.) Anything more dynamic is drawn mainly from pen-and-ink illustrations in the early pulps, and from films.
This is a fun browsing book, with lots of variety: in addition to the two page spreads, there are timelines, author profiles and bibliographies, classic book profiles, and short-short reviews of SF films and TV shows. But for an in-depth reference get the excellent The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
At over 1000 pages, this must be the definitive essential work on Fantasy. Heavily cross-referenced, it covers authors and their works, films, TV series, and fantasy tropes, from the well-known to the obscure. The headings range from TOLKIEN to THINNING, from FAERIE to FRANCE, from WEREWOLVES to WAINSCOTS.
WAINSCOTS It has always been an assumption that behind the wainscots one may find invisible societies of animals -- MICE AND RATS, etc. ... in fantasy wainscots comprising normal humans are uncommon ...
The cross-referencing means it takes hours to look up anything -- every entry points to others, leading you on and on through the BOOK in your own never-ending QUEST for SEHNSUCHT and... (sorry -- it's catching).
Wonderful, engrossing stuff. I just hope there will be a CD-ROM version (as there was eventually with the earlier companion volume, ESF.)