Recursive Science Fiction

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary (New York, 1971 A.D.) the word "recursion" is rare or obsolete and means "a backward movement, or a return."  This is hardly what I meant in use of it. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, Massachusetts, 1986 A.D.) comes closer with "the determination of a succession of elements . . . by operation on one or more preceding elements according to a rule or formula involving a finite number of steps."  For our purposes, the best definition comes from the Encyclopedia Galactica, 116th Edition (Terminus, 1020 F.E.) where, in an article on the mathematics of psychohistory, the term is discussed and it is noted ". . . However, the common use of the word has, from its mathematical meaning, come to be synonymous with 'self-referential.'  That is, any entity or item that points back to itself may be said to be 'recursive.'"  Those who are not convinced could look at Douglas R. Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach or watch the opening episode of the Dr. Who story Castrovalva.  By the way, that title refers back to a picture by Escher.

There are science fiction stories that refer to science fiction. The references may be to authors, fans, collectors, conventions, etc. Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, Philip K. Dick, and Isaac Asimov are five of the most popular SF writers to be cast as characters (although we do not currently know of any story that contains all of them). I have cheated by including a number of mystery stories with science fictional references even though they do not meet the strict criterion of membership. Some of these deal with murders at SF conventions (although I do not believe that there have been any in over 50 years of such conventions), a number of others have murder as the central theme, and only one is of a cerebral, crimeless nature. There are also some romances with references to SF included. Such items are clearly marked so that purists can blot out these offending items.

I know this bibliography is incomplete. To the extent possible, I have tried to include as many of the appearances of the stories as possible since many publications are now long out of print. I would greatly appreciate any additions—either of new items or of other appearances of items on this list. Corrections are also accepted. A large number of additions have been made in the second edition. A reasonable fraction of these were published after the first edition was printed.


A crossover story in one in which characters from another author's stories appear. It can be as simple as a single character (as, for example Poul Anderson's Sir Dominic Flandry appearing in an A. Bertram Chandler's Commodore Grimes story—The Dark Dimensions, Ace 441-13783-075, May 1971) to the complexities of John Myers Myers' Silverlock (Dutton, 1949; NESFA Press, 2004) wherein all characters but the protagonist come from literature. [Your compiler is particularly enamoured of "The Death of Bowie Gizzardsbane"—the Battle of the Alamo written in the style of "Beowulf." (pp.107-110)]  Philip José Farmer has attempted to derive the genealogy of the major pulp heroes showing their relationships. In recent years, fans have mixed television series as in Jean Airey's The Doctor and the Enterprise (Pioneer 218-6, 1989) placing the Fourth Doctor into the Star Trek universe, or Barbara Hambly's Ishmael (Pocket Books 55427-1, May 1985) which grafts Aaron Stemple (of Here Come the Brides) onto Commander Spock's Earth heritage (doubly amusing in that Mark Lenard played both Sarek and Stemple in the respective series). This type of story is not recursive but is still somewhat akin in the incestuous use of materials.

One of the most amusing and literate set of crossovers (though, alas, not SF) is Andrew Lang's Old Friends: Essays in Epistolary Parody (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1890—originally published in the St. James's Gazette, reprinted by AMS Press 0-404-03838-7, 1970). Here characters from different stories, who ought to have met one another, correspond. The most amusing is a series of letters in which M. Lecoq requests Inspector Bucket of Scotland Yard to secretly apprehend the Count of Fosco in London and ship him to Paris. Unfortunately, the Inspector ships him Mr. Samuel Pickwick instead. There are three others of particular interest. Two letters between John Bunyan's Christian and Izaak Walton's Piscator illustrate different approaches to God. Mr. Allan Quatermain explains some of his African adventures to Sir Henry Curtis. Finally, in a footnote to a letter from Herodotus to Sophocles, we learn that Ayesha (She Who Must Be Obeyed) was originally Rhodopis the Thracian. Although the original was out of print for almost a century, this book will repay the effort of tracking down and reading. It is now freely available online at

Common Universes

There are three types of common universes—franchised, sharecropped, and shared (some might say this is a distinction without a difference). I would define them as follows.

Franchised: a writer takes an existing universe that she (or he) has created and allows other writers to set stories there. The original author may or may not continue writing there. Some examples are Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover", Larry Niven's "Man-Kzin Wars", Isaac Asimov's "Robot City", or Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek.

Sharecropped: a writer sets up a universe specifically to allow others to set stories there. The original author may or may not ever write stories in this setting. Some examples are Isaac Asimov's "Isaac's Universe", Poul Anderson's "Cleopatra", and Robert Asprin's "Thieves' World."

Shared: a group of writers jointly set up a universe in which they can write stories. Someone may be in charge to coordinate. This is the rarest of the common universes. An excellent example is "Medea: Harlan's World" sparkplugged and coordinated by Harlan Ellison.


A "tuckerism" is the use of a friend's name as a character, place, equipment name, or the like in a story where the name itself is the only stfnal reference. The term is derived from the actions of Wilson "Bob" Tucker, who promulgated this in our field. I have not listed such items here; others are welcome to prepare such a list starting with the works of Tucker himself, and not neglecting those of Robert Bloch, Larry Niven, David Gerrold, Linda Bushyager, and Jack Chalker. The last's "Well World" hex names are, in the main, based upon people or places in science fiction. These include two active NESFA members (Leslie) TUREK and SUFORD (Lewis). Some of the Star Trek™ novels from Pocket Books are alleged to have names of the author's friends for minor characters.

If, in the future, someone wishes to collect a list of these items it could be issued as an appendix to this book (or as a separate book, if size warrants it).

Tuckerization is the converse of the more common roman à clef (story with key) in which the characters are all real people whose names and titles have been changed but whose characteristics have been retained.


Filksongs are folkish songs written by SF fans and professionals. By their very nature, most of them are recursive. They range from songs about single authors, stories, conventions, magazines up to "Young Man Mulligan and The Great Fantastical Bum" which is about almost everything and everyone in the field (with a minimum of nineteen versewriters...). A reasonable challenge for a filk enthusiast would be to produce a set of filksong books each dealing with an aspect of recursion - authors, series, movies, television shows, etc. The few songs in this bibliography were originally published in professional magazines. Most filksongs are published in fanzines or filksong books.

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