Happening on the Wikipedia article
for a book I'd heard of a fair while ago as one of the first serious critical looks at science fiction, I was reading almost idly through its information on Damon Knight's In Search of Wonder
when all of a sudden I noticed it mention there was now an ebook edition. With dawning interest I made a quick search of the iBooks catalogue and discovered the ebook was available there as well. Eventually, I suppose, I could get around to "buying a first book for another e-reader application," but not having to do that in this case was fine for me.
On starting to read through In Search of Wonder,
though, I did realise it wasn't quite the book I'd imagined it to be. As with some of the first science fiction novels linked to the tradition that grew out of American pulp magazines (which is of course a different thing altogether from "the first science fiction novels ever"), it was put together from small pieces from magazines. Knight's critical reviews of SF novels of the 1950s are incisive, often entertaining, and do seem written in such a way they perhaps didn't goad me to an uncomfortably familiar recoiling feeling when they were more negative than my own old reactions, but perhaps I'd imagined something constructed more as a unit. The book was revised a few times, and happening on a chapter about a single nonfiction book dwelling worryingly on irrigation projects spreading disease was one of the oddest touches for all that I could suppose Knight saw that point as needing to be made no matter what. At the very end of the book, after sorting out that a caustic take on "mainstream success" had been written in the 1950s rather than, say, the early 1980s, all of a sudden Knight was mentioning William Gibson and Kim Stanley Robinson; there'd at least been enough of a break to tell this was one of the revisions.
In any case, it did become interesting to see period opinions of books that, by the time I'd got around to them, were presented as "enduring classics" (as much as I've had to face
how those "classics" have had some of their patina wear thin since then). I began to contemplate a two-volume boxed set of "classic novels
" I'd bought not that long ago (although I never quite got around to writing a post about its second volume) and Knight wrote reviews of most of them, only for most of those reviews to include a fair bit of criticism. Two of the novels seemed to draw ire for invoking "striking images" that were nevertheless scientifically implausible; I have to admit this did provoke a thought or two about "gatekeeping" in general for all that I could see the specific point. Perhaps, though, it was the thoroughly negative takes on books I'd never heard of (for what I could see as perfectly good reasons) that were the most entertaining parts of the book, even if that might hint at quixotic quests ahead.