SF in WLT? In this first-ever special section devoted to speculative fiction in our pages, readers will discover that the boundaries of genre, space, language, and geography falsify what they confine. In our January 2009 issue, I posed the question, "What in the world is ‘world’ literature?" In the current issue, it matters less how we define the world and more how we see through it, or around it, and into the realm of other possibilities.
Such speculation dates back millennia, of course, and SF has had an international flavor from the start. Our own founding as a literary magazine in the 1920s happens to coincide with the "birth" of science fiction in the United States - as James Gunn notes in his lucid survey (page 27; also online here), Luxembourg expatriate Hugo Gernsback created the first science-fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926 and "gave science fiction an identity and a characteristic flavor." From its center of the universe (New York City), Amazing Stories radiated the "American brand" of SF back to the rest of the world, even as American writers absorbed the influences of such European authors as Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Kurd Lasswitz. Gunn goes on to catalog the evolution of twentieth-century SF in Germany, France, Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, France, Latin America, and the Far East.
In the same vein, Israeli author Lavie Tidhar surveys the current international scene in his essay "The Aliens Won" (page 39; also online here). The Internet, he declares, operates as "a radical force for change around the world," opening up the way to "a cross-pollination that is truly global, democratizing a conversation by opening it up, for the first time, to international writers themselves to initiate and expand." Recent collections confirm the trend: The Apex Book of World SF (2009); the December 2009 Words Without Borders "Out of This World" issue (online); and The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent (2008). Tidhar’s blog, World SF News, includes highlights of new stories published in 2010 by French-Vietnamese writer Aliette de Bodard, Israel’s Nir Yaniv, Netherlands-based Filipino writer Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, and India’s Vandana Singh, who is a professor of physics in the U.S. and calls herself a "card-carrying alien writing science fiction." As Tidhar notes, "World SF has become a global conversation. . . . The true Golden Age of science fiction may well be today."
Over the past eighty years, Books Abroad and WLT have mostly listened in on this conversation. From early notices of anthologies like Fletcher Pratt’s World of Wonder (1951) - which included Kipling, Kafka, and Asimov - to a review of Darko Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (1979), popular genres like SF, graphic novels, and mysteries only received passing mention in our pages (often with condescension), as most critics focused on what one writer called "caviar literature for the fastidious few" - belles lettres for the cognoscenti. In an exchange on the state of the novel that appeared in our Summer 1958 issue, Polish author Jan Parandowski sniffed, "It seems to me that science fiction cannot hitherto boast of any eminent work and, if I understand correctly voices from various sides, has already managed to satiate and bore the reader." Fifty years later, the eminence of the best SF authors is undisputed, and should any reader profess to be bored by SF, this issue of WLT is not for them. For everyone else, as Christopher McKitterick says, welcome to the global conversation.
Special thanks to our guest editor, Christopher McKitterick, for gathering such a wealth of material for this issue; his introduction, "The Literature of Change," begins on page 19 (also online here). Thanks as well to Marla Johnson, WLT’s book review editor, for planting the seed of the special section by attending the 2009 Campbell Conference in Lawrence, Kansas (where she cajoled McKitterick into working with us), and for contributing the original artwork that appears on pages 20 and 30. Finally, click here to see complete links to exclusive SF content on our website this month, and click here to see a complete listing of the print contents.
 For a comprehensive review of critical approaches to SF
from Suvin to the present, see Paul Kincaid’s assessment
of Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr.’s Seven Beauties of
Science Fiction, beginning on page 44 of this issue.