This review was first published by Booklist on November 2, 2018.
Brake (Different Engines, 2007, with Neil Hook) is a scholar and authority on how science fiction can influence the course of science and define our popular perceptions. The short essays—none longer than half a dozen pages—collected here are grouped into four main themes: “Space,” “Time,” “Machine,” and “Monster.” Some essays fit more than one theme, but they give the work a useful structure. Each essay is a quick read, but none go into much depth. Anyone looking for a robust scholarly treatment of the subject might be disappointed. Brake takes a valuable historical view, citing several stories from the earliest days of the genre, dating back to the 1600s and earlier, as well as classic and modern movies. However, the examples he chooses seem somewhat random and lack modern literary selections. He examines the history of science from Galileo and Newton to Einstein and the atomic bomb and on to the invention of computers and the internet. The book comes across as almost a random selection of short works; nonetheless, it is insightful, fascinating, and an easy read.