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Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  387 ratings  ·  35 reviews
Britain's most illustrious SF writer, Brian Aldiss, provides a witty and perceptive history of this extraordinary phenomenon, set in its social and literary context. Crammed with fascinating insights, this generous spree takes us through decades of treats for the imagination: escape to other dimensions, flights to other planets, lost worlds, utopias, mechanical creatures a ...more
Paperback, 639 pages
Published July 1st 2001 by House of Stratus (first published November 6th 1986)
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Grant F Itwas called Billion Year Spree but Brian updated it and called the new edition Trillion Year Spree

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Paul Bryant

The tenacity of poor SF is renowned. It has unfortunately formed the hallmark of the genre.


This could be a rather long review so for those with more time pressure here’s a summary :

This is a splendid history of SF from whenever it started (disputed) up to the mid of the 1980s. It was an update of his earlier Billion Year Spree, and I am only sorry that Brian Aldiss hasn’t done a Gazillion Year Spree yet. He is stil
Lost Planet Airman
Decent history and analysis of science fiction and fantasy from their roots to the mid-70s (the original Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction) or late-80s (if you can get the revised and expanded Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction).

I've found Aldiss to be a decent SF fiction writer, and he gives a good inside view of theme and creativity. On the downside, he can get a little "catalog-y", using a lot of valuable book real estate with a paragraph on each new boo
Glen Engel-Cox
It's no easy task to write a history of science fiction, as amorphous a publishing category as there is, so I hesitate to call this book a failure on those terms alone. What it attempts to do, it does handily and usefully: it brings to light a strand that stretches from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to William Gibson's Neuromancer, the darling of the 1980s (when this book was published). Along the way it pauses long enough to note certain knots in the strand that have made it stronger (woah, I ...more
Nov 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
If you're at all interested in SF, this is a must-read. Absolutely the best history of the genre that I know, written by an insider who is passionate about the subject.

Aldiss has a broad take on the question of what science-fiction is, and there is a strange, eerie theme running through the book: a fascination with ice. Anna Kavan's Ice, a novel I have still not read, but which Aldiss describes with passion. Dante's traitors, buried in the ice of the innermost circles of Hell. And this stanza fr
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-other, lit-crit
If you love SF, you will at least like this book.

Aldiss researched and wrote the first version of his history, 'Billion Year Spree', in the 70s. Back then there was a popular belief that science fiction began with the American SF magazines edited by Hugo Gernsback (the Hugo Awards, the Oscars of the SF world, are named after Mr Gernsback). Aldiss found this belief annoying: he wrote his history as a corrective, and it was one of, if not the, first major single-volume history of science fiction.
Feb 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I came to this book, off and on, over a period of five years and have just turned the last of its dense 444 pages. This is an amazing and exhaustive history of Speculative Fiction (SF) by one of its Grand Masters. Any serious reader of SF should tackle this amazing map of the foundations, trends, and pit-falls of our most expansive and awe inspiring genre of fiction.

Aldiss not only navigates the varied coastline of the literature of "What if...", but is not in the least afraid of keel-hauling t
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
My book shelves are liberally peppered with science fiction novels. Right now, in front of my eyes, I can see a William Gibson trilogy peeking back at me mischievously. Pattern Recognition. Spook Country.Zero History.
I taught Art and Design in India for 12 years. These books must become part of the curriculum of any cutting edge art and design school across the world, I think to myself. But, not many will care. Because, firstly, are there any Gen X or Gen Y kids who read? Should they read at all
Nicholas Whyte
http://nhw.livejournal.com/1013390.html[return][return]It is a big big book about the history of science fiction from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to 1986 (with a very brief postscript for the 2001 edition). I was surprised how much of the argument of the book was already familiar to me. I guess I must have internalised it from poring over the writings of John Clute. Still, Aldiss makes some very interesting points to fill out the basic lines about Shelley, Gernsback and what happened in between. ...more
Jun 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book was a bit of a trip, because I'd been under the impression I'd read a third of it around 2008ish. Then I got halfway through and it still felt really familiar. Then in the chapters on the 60s/70s it still felt kind of familiar but far less justifiably. I think I can only confidently say I read everything up to the 50s and didn't read the last two chapters. I'd actually intended to skip the portions I'd already read and just look at the stuff I hadn't, but with my foggy inabilit ...more
A revised and updated version of "Billion Year Spree" - a history of science fiction through the early 1980's.

I previously read "Billion Year Spree" (published 1973) and enjoyed it. This book is a revision of the first one and an extension of it to the early 80's. It was fun to see what Brian Aldiss thought were the up and comers - some of them are still around (Sterling, Bear, Gibson) and a few of them I'd never heard of (Richard Cowper, Rudy Rucker). His few paragraphs on George R. R. Martin m
Karl Bunker
Feb 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is not so much a true history of science fiction as it is a history-spanning piece of literary criticism of SF. Which is to say it's more about Aldiss presenting his opinions of authors, stories, novels, editors, etc., than it is about laying out the who, what, and when of history. And this is not a bad thing, especially speaking from a time some 26 years after the book was published. As a history of an ongoing phenomenon, those missing years up to the present day would steeply diminish the ...more
Aug 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Pretentious use of the royal we...author writes critical assessments of himself in the third person... writes about his reactions to literature with impersonal constructions ("At least one reader remembers this novel fondly..."). Many chapters are little more than lists of works with no real insight or analysis. ...more
3.5 stars

Not the most engaging history ever, but a useful reference with some sharp insights.
Vasyl Kerimov
Apr 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
There was a great deal of interest here for me.
The definition of the SF given is obv. flawed as any such would be but it gives the genre a noble and interesting ancestry I've never considered and is helpful at cluing you in on the lens through which principal author of the tome views SF literature: what he will search for, praise, etc. No less helpful is the witty formulation that Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe and Candid Ould have been some of the greatest SF books ever written, were they
Steve Chisnell
Apr 16, 2022 rated it really liked it
Aldiss himself was dubious that this 1986 revision of his earlier work would be able to predict the evolution of SF, but that was in the end far from his intention. Instead, he offers a coherent and thorough history of Western civilization's SF development (outside of a few Russian authors and perhaps Borges, he rarely touches upon the non-English works) across the ages. For that, as prim and British as his scholarship is, he is surprisingly forthright about his opinions, dismissing some works o ...more
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
A fascinating, detailed history of science fiction from its roots into the late 1980s. This introduced me to so many interesting-sounding books and authors that it has greatly increased my reading list. Although the later chapters are a bit dated now, the opinions are mostly still valid. I need to find a more recent review or history to discover how the forecasts and worries about science fiction developed.
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really, what can I complain about? It's about the apotheosis of what I'd been looking for in nonfiction sf writing: knowledgeable, moderately comprehensive, and idiosyncratically opinionated. This is present in spades in Clute, albeit too often subsumed within delusions at straightforward encyclopedic documentation--an admirable (enough) project. ...more
Rick Ellrod
Jul 15, 2021 rated it liked it
Interesting take on the history of SF through the mid-1980s (the book is itself now a part of SF history). Aldiss is rather a snob, but his approach is a useful counterbalance to the tendency to idolize the Gernsback-Campbell period, and he comes up with some interesting insights.
Tom Buchanan
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What this guy likes he likes. Some of what he likes is very, very wack (Pohl) and some of it is cool to hear talked about properly, if a little gushingly (Stapleton)
Francis Fabian
Jul 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this many years ago. It needs an update? But thoroughly enjoyable and interesting. I guess it helps that Aldiss is a pretty good SF writer.
Keith Davis
Nov 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A monumental history of science fiction. I read this to pieces in college. Unfortunately it only goes up to the 80's, but recommended for anyone interested in discovering the rich legacy of the genre. I likely would never have read Clifford Simak or Zena Henderson if Aldiss' book had not introduced them to me. ...more
TRILLION YEAR SPREE by Brian and David Wingrove Aldiss (1986)
Trillion Year Spree: The History Of Science Fiction by Brian W. Aldiss (1988)
Jul 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
Along with John Clute's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, this book taught me all about science fiction history. Indispensable. ...more
Aug 27, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-and-gone
disappointing. I learned some about the history of SF, related to pulp fiction. But, I don't feel like I learned that much else. ...more
May 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Witty and comprehensive overview of SF up until about the late Eighties (my edition ends there, anyway). Essential for anyone curious about SF as a genre and a storytelling methodology.
Jonathan Oliver
Jun 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Obviously a little out of date now, but still a fascinating history of the genre. I don't agree with everything Aldiss says, but the praise assigned is generally deserved. ...more
Jun 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Scott Golden
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thorough overview of the history of science fiction, emphasizing books and magazine stories, by one of its most consistently excellent writers.
Anthony Faber
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An expansion of his earlier "Billion Year Spree", it's a quick jaunt through the history of science fiction, ending 30 years ago.
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Pseudonyms: Jael Cracken, Peter Pica, John Runciman, C.C. Shackleton, Arch Mendicant, & "Doc" Peristyle.

Brian Wilson Aldiss was one of the most important voices in science fiction writing today. He wrote his first novel while working as a bookseller in Oxford. Shortly afterwards he wrote his first work of science fiction and soon gained international recognition. Adored for his innovative literary

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