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This is the definitive collection of the twentieth-century's most characteristic genre -- science fiction. The tales are organized chronologically to give readers a sense of how the genre's range, vitality, and literary quality have evolved over time. Each tale offers a unique vision, an altered reality, a universe all its own. Readers can sample H.G. Well's 1903 story The This is the definitive collection of the twentieth-century's most characteristic genre -- science fiction. The tales are organized chronologically to give readers a sense of how the genre's range, vitality, and literary quality have evolved over time. Each tale offers a unique vision, an altered reality, a universe all its own. Readers can sample H.G. Well's 1903 story The Land Ironclads (which predicted the stalemate of trench warfare and the invention of the tank), Jack Williamson's The Metal Man, a rarely anthologized gem written in 1928, Clifford D. Simak's 1940s classic, Desertion, set on "the howling maelstrom that was Jupiter", Frederik Pohl's 1955 The Tunnel Under the World (with its gripping first line, "On the morning of June 15th, Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming out of a dream"), right up to the current crop of writers, such as cyberpunk's Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, whose 1982 story Burning Chrome foreshadows the idea of virtual reality, and David Brin's Piecework, written in 1990. In addition, Shippey provides an informative introduction, examining the history of the genre, its major themes, and its literary techniques.


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This is the definitive collection of the twentieth-century's most characteristic genre -- science fiction. The tales are organized chronologically to give readers a sense of how the genre's range, vitality, and literary quality have evolved over time. Each tale offers a unique vision, an altered reality, a universe all its own. Readers can sample H.G. Well's 1903 story The This is the definitive collection of the twentieth-century's most characteristic genre -- science fiction. The tales are organized chronologically to give readers a sense of how the genre's range, vitality, and literary quality have evolved over time. Each tale offers a unique vision, an altered reality, a universe all its own. Readers can sample H.G. Well's 1903 story The Land Ironclads (which predicted the stalemate of trench warfare and the invention of the tank), Jack Williamson's The Metal Man, a rarely anthologized gem written in 1928, Clifford D. Simak's 1940s classic, Desertion, set on "the howling maelstrom that was Jupiter", Frederik Pohl's 1955 The Tunnel Under the World (with its gripping first line, "On the morning of June 15th, Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming out of a dream"), right up to the current crop of writers, such as cyberpunk's Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, whose 1982 story Burning Chrome foreshadows the idea of virtual reality, and David Brin's Piecework, written in 1990. In addition, Shippey provides an informative introduction, examining the history of the genre, its major themes, and its literary techniques.

30 review for The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories

  1. 5 out of 5

    Werner

    Oxford Univ. Press continues to justify its well-earned reputation for absolutely top-quality fiction anthologies with this outstanding collection. The 30 selections are chronologically arranged and span most of the 20th-century, starting with H. G. Wells' "The Land Ironclads," thus providing an excellent historical sampler of developments and trends in the genre over that time. I read it at a time when I was looking for a textbook for a possible college-level science fiction course; and althoug Oxford Univ. Press continues to justify its well-earned reputation for absolutely top-quality fiction anthologies with this outstanding collection. The 30 selections are chronologically arranged and span most of the 20th-century, starting with H. G. Wells' "The Land Ironclads," thus providing an excellent historical sampler of developments and trends in the genre over that time. I read it at a time when I was looking for a textbook for a possible college-level science fiction course; and although that project fell through, given the very limited number of chronologically broad collections out there, this wouldn't be a bad choice for such a class (though of course it would have to be supplemented for pre-1900 material). Both British and American authors are included, and two female writers are represented. A number of the selections included are genre classics (I'd read a few of them before, but most of the stories in the book were new to me), and many of the authors represented are well known. While several of the later authors were associated with the "New Wave" movement, the selections of their work chosen here don't generally embody the worst negative features of the movement; and in fact the great majority of the stories here are of very high quality. Almost all of them are at least well-written and entertaining, though there were a handful I didn't personally get into, notably the one by "Raccoona Sheldon," which was another pen name of Alice B. Sheldon (who usually wrote as James Tiptree, Jr.). Among the many masterpieces here, it's impossible to pick a single favorite. Some of the most outstanding are Arthur C. Clarke's "Second Dawn" (which is my personal favorite among his short stories that I've actually read), James H. Schmitz's "Second Night of Summer," "Crucifixus Etiam" by Walter M. Miller Jr., "Ballad of Lost C'Mell," by Cordwainer Smith, "Problems of Creativeness" by Thomas M. Disch, "How the Whip Came Back," by Gene Wolfe, "Cloak of Anarchy," by Larry Niven, "Thing of Beauty" by Norman Spinrad, and Ursula K. Le Guin's "Semley's Necklace," which well illustrates why some critics, early in her career, thought that she might be the genre's "next Leigh Brackett." Also deserving of special mention are Frederik Pohl's "Tunnel Under the World," which is a powerful expression of some of his most characteristic themes; Stanley G. Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey," which was ground-breaking in its imagining of genuinely alien life (and which was included in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame); William Gibson's "Burning Chrome," the story with which he singlehandedly created the whole "cyber-punk" sub-genre; and Bruce Sterling's absolutely unforgettable "Swarm." Both "hard" and "soft" SF is included, along with strictly sociological science fiction (such as the stories by Disch and Wolfe), which don't posit any particular changes in physical technology as such at all. (Interestingly, while Wells was his era's preeminent exponent of soft SF, the story he's represented with here is actually a solid exercise in predictive extrapolation from actually existing technology, of the sort that Verne was famous for --Wells predicted the invention of the tank here, well before World War I.) The century's existential pessimism, born of atheistic Darwinism and other ideological currents, is reflected in stories like "Night" by John W. Campbell Jr. and Frank L. Pollack's early 20th-century "Finis," which is scientifically wildly implausible but still manages to be enormously emotionally evocative and haunting; and George R. R. Martin's "Way of Cross and Dragon" proclaims the later 20th century's postmodernist credo. But even the stories with messages I disagreed with are usually, like these, well crafted and worth reading as serious stories. And the hard SF selections here focus on the effects of technology on human beings, not simply on exposition of what technology can potentially do and how it might do it. In the interests of time, I've forborne to mention a number of writers and works here that might well deserve comment! All in all, this is a highly recommended collection.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rasheed

    The Land Ironclads (1903) by H. G. Wells 3/5 Finis (1906) by Frank Lillie Pollock 3/5 As Easy as ABC (1912) by Rudyard Kipling 3/5 The Metal Man (1928) by Jack Williamson 4/5 A Martian Odyssey (1934) by Stanley G. Weinbaum 5/5 Night (1935) by John W. Campbell 5/5 Desertion (1944) by Clifford D. Simak 5/5 The Piper's Son (1945) by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore 3/5 The Monster (1948) by A.E. van Vogt 5/5 The Second Night of Summer (1950) by James H. Schmitz 5/5 Second Dawn (1951) by Arthur C. Clarke 3/5 Crucifi The Land Ironclads (1903) by H. G. Wells 3/5 Finis (1906) by Frank Lillie Pollock 3/5 As Easy as ABC (1912) by Rudyard Kipling 3/5 The Metal Man (1928) by Jack Williamson 4/5 A Martian Odyssey (1934) by Stanley G. Weinbaum 5/5 Night (1935) by John W. Campbell 5/5 Desertion (1944) by Clifford D. Simak 5/5 The Piper's Son (1945) by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore 3/5 The Monster (1948) by A.E. van Vogt 5/5 The Second Night of Summer (1950) by James H. Schmitz 5/5 Second Dawn (1951) by Arthur C. Clarke 3/5 Crucifixus Etiam (1953) by Walter M. Miller, Jr. 3/5 The Tunnel Under the World (1955) by Frederik Pohl 5/5 Who Can Replace a Man? (1958) by Brian W. Aldiss 5/5 Billennium (1961) by J.G. Ballard 3/5 The Ballad of Lost C'Mell (1962) by Cordwainer Smith 4/5 Semley's Necklace (1964) by Ursula K. Le Guin 2/5 How Beautiful With Banners (1966) by James Blish 3/5 A Criminal Act (1966) by Harry Harrison 2/5 Problems of Creativeness (1967) by Thomas M. Disch 3/5 How the Whip Came Back (1970) by Gene Wolfe 3/5 Cloak of Anarchy (1972) by Larry Niven 4/5 A Thing of Beauty (1973) by Norman Spinrad 4/5 The Screwfly Solution (1977) by James Tiptree, Jr. 4/5 The Way of Cross and Dragon (1979) by George R.R. Martin 3/5 Swarm (1982) by Bruce Sterling 4/5 Burning Chrome (1982) by William Gibson 3/5 Silicon Muse (1984) by Hilbert Schenck 2/5 Karl and the Ogre (1988) by Paul J. McAuley 4/5 Piecework (1990) by David Brin 1/5 Editor's Introduction 3/5 (contains a spoiler!)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    Part Two of Two. How Beautiful With Banners, by James Blish -- This is an essential Sci-Fi story for anyone who cares about Sci-Fi. This deserves to be in every anthology, and I’m not just talking about Scif-Fi anthologies. Published in Orbit in 1966, this story is a wonder of complex brevity. It engages in myriad themes, delivers a potent warning to mankind (which may not be a warning at all, but rather a simple statement of the sorts of things for which we are capable), imagines a far distant f Part Two of Two. How Beautiful With Banners, by James Blish -- This is an essential Sci-Fi story for anyone who cares about Sci-Fi. This deserves to be in every anthology, and I’m not just talking about Scif-Fi anthologies. Published in Orbit in 1966, this story is a wonder of complex brevity. It engages in myriad themes, delivers a potent warning to mankind (which may not be a warning at all, but rather a simple statement of the sorts of things for which we are capable), imagines a far distant future with total conviction and believability, and gives us -- as our only human character -- Dr. Ulla Hillström. She is our only connection to the action. She is floating around Titan’s clouds in a virus-bubble. She is more than capable. She is headstrong. She is brave. She is inquisitive. She is realistic. She is the only witness to an epic moment in life. And she may very well be a psychopath. She is an incredible character for anytime, but as a female character in ’66, she is one that must be known beyond deep Sci-Fi geeks. Hillström makes How Beautiful with Banners one of the top stories in this anthology. No question. A Criminal Act, by Harry Harrison -- There is no better story for class discussion than Harrison’s meditation on those who abide by the law and those who break the law. And what does law even mean? I feel like Harrison has a very clear idea he is trying to convey, but his story opens the discussion to every conceivable view point, and that overcomes whatever it is he is trying to tell us -- for the better. Problems of Creativeness, by Thomas M. Disch -- Fitting snugly into the dystopias at play in the Oxford Anthology, Problems of Creativeness, a short story in Disch’s novel of short stories, 334, plods along with the life of Birdie Ludd, making its readers (at least this reader) uncomfortable with Ludd’s attitudes towards love, the woman in his life, his deserts, and all the obstacles he faces. However, it eventually takes a powerful turn that I feel reveals something ineluctable about the expectations on masculinity at the core of the struggles men face today. I am not sure we’re ready to hear what Disch has to say; other, extremely important battles are being waged (and rightfully so), but when there is room for this discussion, I believe those who remember Problems of Creativeness will find a fascinating starting point. How the Whip Came Back, by Gene Wolfe -- Here we have the one story I would absolutely remove from the Anthology. It is only barely Sci-Fi, fitting in, I suppose, to the subgenres of future alternate history, due to its speculation on a return of slavery, and robotics because, well ... there are some robots. My guess is that Shippey just badly wanted Wolfe (who is much beloved in Sci-Fi circles) represented in this book, and a return to slavery slips easily into another one of Shippey’s favourite themes, dystopia. For my part, though, I find How the Whip Came Back to be incredibly naïve. Even when Wolfe wrote this in the late 70s - early 80s, slavery in the form of incarceration (which he seems to be suggesting is something new in his dystopian future) was already being practised around the world, and most specifically in the supposed bastion of goodness, the USA. The only thing Wolfe’s story does is make slavery an explicit international agreement rather than an implicit and silent part of the fabric of nations. He doesn’t go far enough. Cloak of Anarchy, by Larry Niven -- Far and away my students’ favourite story in the anthology, Larry Niven’s Cloak of Anarchy manages to balance everything that matterw in Sci-Fi in one twenty-ish page tale. It’s dystopian; it’s utopian; it’s hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi; it’s politically philosophical and culturally philosophical; it’s compelling and challenging, it’s relevant to our now. My favourite part, though, is its engagement with anarchy itself. I am still unsure what Niven is saying about anarchy, but I know what it means to me in this story, and it makes me love Cloak of Anarchy as much as everyone else. This is in the top three stories of the anthology. Easily. A Thing of Beauty, by Norman Spinrad -- Always playful, always challenging, often infuriating, Norman Spinrad is a singular voice in Sci-Fi. His short story A Thing of Beauty is a little bit of all these things. An art dealer, Mr. Harris, is charged with finding just the right piece of iconic American architecture to be the centerpiece Shiburo Ito;s garden (a Japanese businessman). Mr. Harris is unlikable, racist, condescending; hence, he is hard to care about. The story is a classic joke retold. The ending is a wonderful little riddle. It is all Spinrad. Reading it again mostly makes me want to hunt down one of his novels, like Osama the Gun (yep, that Osama), so that Spinrad can mess with my mind for a while. It’s what he does best and what I love him for. Off I go to search google. The Screwfly Solution, by Racoona Sheldon -- Another contender for the top story in the anthology, The Screwfly Solution is one of the most amazing tales ever told, Sci-Fi or otherwise. It is an epistolary tale, much like the grandmother of all Sci-Fi tales, Frankenstein, and it withholds all the information it can to allow us to make the most of its suspense and horror. Today, it could be so much more than a short story or even a film. I can see ten seasons of a TV series based on this one superlative story. If only Margaret Atwood had written this, it would already be a limited or continuous series, but it was written by the little known Racoona Sheldon -- so it will probably wind up an episode in the new Twilight Zone or Black Mirror rather than an entity unto itself. (view spoiler)[Plus, it is the best alien invasion story ever told (hide spoiler)] The Way of the Cross and Dragon, by George R. R. Martin -- Nobody expects the One True Interstellar Catholic Church Inquisition. Well, except for the Liars, a galaxy or maybe universe spanning conspiracy of people who have no faith of their own, see the universe as one big existential black hole, so give the people who long for something to believe in exactly what they want: in this case a new testament of St. Judas Iscariot. Amazing, unsung, much maligned hero of the bible. The Way of the Cross and Dragon is a story about the intangibility of truth, about how what people choose to believe -- true or not -- translates into the only true power, a power to get things done. It’s a fun read, but somehow still manages to be one of the most cynical, depressing and “true” stories in the anthology. I do love me some GRRM short story writing. Swarm, by Bruce Sterling -- I love this story. Cyberpunk meets Geneticpunk meets human hubris. This story has one of the most fascinating alien entities ever conceived, and the single most freaky moment in Shippey’s anthology (and maybe anywhere), yet it remains one of the most easy to read and get sucked into. Sterling is a master. The thing is ... I pull for the Swarm. I am not sure exactly what that says about me (although I have an idea), but it is hard to side with our human protagonist in this story. He exhibits everything that makes us ugly and more, but then he displays all the things we like to pretend make us noble -- but I don’t think they do. Sterling delivers a fine balancing act. It is impressive as hell. Read this story. Burning Chrome, by William Gibson -- What do you say about a tale that was so prescient about our digital world, actually coined the term “cyberspace” (and even described travelling through cyberspace with the metaphor of surfing), started the entire cyberpunk movement (along with Johnny Mnemonic and Neuromancer), gave us the Sprawl (which I feel like I am driving through any time I hit the I-95), and inspired an entire generation of earthbound Sci-Fi films? There is perhaps too much to say, so I will stick with this one pretty cool component of the tale: Rikki is objectified by Bobby, she is loved by Jack, both wish to possess her for different reasons, but Rikki has a goal, and Rikki knowingly sells her body to achieve that goal on her own terms, turns down the gifts of the men in her life, and lives a life entirely her own. Rikki is one to be admired, and another reason, amongst all the aforementioned, to appreciate this killer short story by William Gibson. Silicon Muse, by Hilbert Schenck -- Are you sure I am writing this review? I’m not. Karl and the Ogre, by Paul J. McAuley A Fantasy world born of Sci-Fi, Karl and the Ogre is a bit of a smashing together of the Shadowrun RPG (which I suppose is a little bit of Shanara) and the old TOS: Miri. It’s fine. Perhaps at this point I am merely suffering fatigue and can’t get excited about the stories anymore, but that’s the best I can muster -- it’s fine. Piecework, by David Brin In a not so distant future, where the global warming and overpopulation have exhausted most of the worlds resources, humans have become the factories themselves. Genetically altered men and women produce products through pregnancy. A man, a codder (a play on codpiece and coder) has a specific seed, that seed interacts with a pieceworker’s egg, she carries the product to term and once she is “decanted” they both attain money and a chance at a status for their pains. And if they are really lucky, someday, maybe, they can actually be taken out of the fabrication pool and be given the right to parent. Piecework ends up being as creepy as it sounds. And in a very short span of time, Brin manages to imply everything we need to know about what society has become. Schools are now tailored to train pieceworkers. Pieceworkers are marked by their distinctive billowing garb. Blackmarkets exist for those who want to produce fast and cheap. Petty rivalries lead to hired date rapes or infertility poisonings. Sometimes women don’t even know what they are carrying. It is really quiet disturbing, especially because it’s one of those tales that doesn’t seem all that far-fetched despite its rather fantastic bio-tech projections. For me, the Swarm and Screwfly Solution are probably more disturbing, but Piecework definitely unsettled me. An excellent end to a superior anthology of Sci-Fi. Begun here.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    Part One of Two (this is a beast of a review). The Land Ironclads, by HG Wells – It is tempting to focus on HG Wells’ prescience in this story of trench to tank warfare to the exclusion of all else. It was written, after all, twelve years before Europe was bogged down in the mire of WWI, and fifteen years before tanks made their first appearance on the military stage – and this at a time when military experts believed old tactics and warfare would continue – but Wells’ foresight is the easy rout Part One of Two (this is a beast of a review). The Land Ironclads, by HG Wells – It is tempting to focus on HG Wells’ prescience in this story of trench to tank warfare to the exclusion of all else. It was written, after all, twelve years before Europe was bogged down in the mire of WWI, and fifteen years before tanks made their first appearance on the military stage – and this at a time when military experts believed old tactics and warfare would continue – but Wells’ foresight is the easy route into this tale, and for me the least interesting. Politically, the story sets itself squarely in the realm of Colonial criticism, perhaps even anti-Colonialism. From this direction, the land ironclads and other technologies are important as signifiers of the “invaders” rather than as the potential creations of science, just as the cavalry and adherence to old rules of warfare are signifiers of the “defenders.” It is the war correspondent, however, whose observations are the most significant. Which side he comes from is left intentionally vague, and it is entirely possible he represents a neutral nation or peoples merely watching the battle unfold, but it is through his privileged eyes that we see the defenders as “other” in the Orientalism sense; those of us reading it, then, are presumed to be part of the othering, to be someone like the war correspondent, perhaps even to be on the side of the invaders (although this could simply be because we are now, as Wells’ readers were then, most often on the side of the invaders). Moreover, beyond its anti-Colonialism, The Land Ironclads works as a criticism of journalism, delivering surprisingly relevant connections to a today Wells surely never imagined, a time of soundbytes and platitudes delivered on social media. He is not looking through his crystal ball to our world of Facebook and Twitter, but Wells’ commentary that “journalism curdles all one’s mind to phrases” and the constant dodging and weaving of the war correspondent’s attitudes and observations is reflective of the input we receive from our journalists (and increasingly one another without journalistic pretension) in our millennial reality. All told, The Land Ironclads is chilling opening to the Oxford Book of Science Fiction stories, offering, as it does, a perfect example of Sci-Fi’s greatest strength (at least in my estimation): its ability to tell us not what we could be or will be but precisely what we are. Finis, by Frank L. Pollock – Even the faintest imaginary hint of nuclear war or global warming musn’t have been present in the mind of Frank L. Pollock way back in 1906; his apocalyptic story, Finis, surely had no connection to either of our contemporary bogeymen, yet the reflection of those two species killers offers itself to even the casual reader. Finis is the end of humanity with no escape. Indeed, Finis goes beyond existential crisis. We are utterly insignificant. Insignificant to such an extent that there is no crisis to be had. Just meaninglessness. At best, we are seeds for some future life that may evolve amongst the new scorched conditions that proceed us in the tale (a tale of dubious, though still clever science which ends us all). And that end has all the trappings of our own manmade extinction events. Scorching heat in a runaway greenhouse, flash blasts that burn the air and set exposed flammables alight, riots, extreme weather events, all packed into the shortest of spans, as some imagine our end to be coming once we reach the climate change tipping point, or the madfolk in charge of our world finally detonate their arsenals. Or, for the more theology minded, Finis could be the very literally coming of the second Su(o)n, destroying all sinners in a final, cleansing Armageddon. For all Finis’ simplicity, it is a complex pool from which to draw criticism. Even its views on the world, a world that feels very late 20th Century as opposed to early 20th Century, a world whose views of women may be retrograde to us but were positively revolutionary in 1906, a world of impotent animals facing an end beyond their control, offer myriad places from which to draw criticism and kick off debate. If only I could track down an old radio adaptation of Finis. I bet that would be excellent for a little late night listening. As Easy as ABC, by Rudyard Kipling -- There are many positive things I could say about Kipling’s As Easy as ABC, not the least of which is the joy of seeing a literary heavyweight dipping his big white toe into the pool of speculative (Sci-Fi) fiction, but I am not a fan of him or his brand of colonialism, and his infamous (well, it should be infamous) “White Man’s Burden” looms too large over As Easy as ABC for anything else in the story to matter to me. The ABC of the book embodies Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” in the most patronizing of ways, patting its charges on the head once they are through whining about how difficult their charges are to manage and how none of those charges would ever step up to do the work they do, so their charges are just damn lucky to have them. It may very well be that Kipling is criticizing the tyranny of the ABC, but if he is criticizing the ABC, he is missing the very clear connection their tyranny has to his own Imperialist tyranny, the one he espoused and championed in this long literary career. I admit that I haven’t given As Easy as ABC a fair shake, but my bias towards Kipling is deep and profound. The Metal Man, by Jack Williamson – Medusa and Icharus. Those are the touchstones for me in the Metal Man. I actually forgot what this story was about, and was misled by the title into the obvious and a little on the nose assumption that it is a story of robotics. It isn’t. Instead, it is a reimagining of Greek Mythology, specifically bringing together Medusa’s petrification and Icharus’ reaching too far in the adventure of Dr. Kelvin. He is a radium hunter, and he stumbles on a quite fantastic hidden land, wherein a lifeform he can’t understand, something completely foreign to our conception, a giant spherical mechanism with protruding yellow fire spikes (hello, Medusa!), has petrified unsuspecting animals throughout the ages. He ends up there by overstretching, quite like Icharus, and only escapes through a stroke of floral luck, only to deliver his tale and succumb to inevitable petrification. The trouble is, despite multiple readings, I don’t feel there is a whole hell of a lot to extract from this tale, and it seems out of place in this anthology. Yet, it does show the clear link between mythology and speculative fiction, so perhaps that is good enough. A Martian Odyssey, by Stanley G. Weinbaum -- Amongst the smattering of weird and whacky stories that appear in this anthology, A Martian Odyssey is, to me, the weirdest and the whackiest. Like many of the other tales, it takes some old mythology and spins it into a future tale, imagining one of the more unique alien species I’ve encountered: the avian-like Martian, Tweel. To my mind, it is Tweel who takes the role of Odysseus, and our narrator, the human Dick Jarvis, who accompanies Tweel as they cross the Martian landscape, takes on the role of Homer, relating the Odyssey to the crew of the Ares who’ve joined Dick on the surface of the red planet. A Martian Odyssey is mostly a stringing together of “scary,” pseudo-mythical encounters, with Tweel -- more than a few times -- and eventually a deus ex machina saving Dick from his own stupidity. Without Tweel, in fact, the story would be a little too thin to hold up, but Tweel allows A Martian Odyssey to transcend both its sketchy plot and what would otherwise be a rather frustrating expression of the exceptionalist attitudes of humanism. Tweel is one of the earliest examples of an attempt to create a unique and highly intelligent alien species, and it is all Tweel’s idiosyncrasies that make this story worth while. Night, by John W. Campbell Jr. -- Important because it was written by John W. Campbell Jr., editor MAXIMUS of Astounding Science Fiction Magazine, the man who wrote Who Goes There? (the basis for every version of The Thing ever filmed ), Night is a powerful and ahead of its time meditation on space and time. It is cold, repetitive (which, I think is a reflection of how Campbell thought time worked), and intentionally confusing, but it is also a destruction of human ego, which makes it one of the earliest Sci-Fi meditations on what it is to be us. And if that isn’t enough, it is a speculative consideration of gravity at the end of everything. This story is as cool as they get. Desertion, by Clifford D. Simak -- Shippey’s seeming editorial preoccupation with the criticism of humanism in Sci-Fi finds its clearest expression in Simak’s Desertion. It is the most explicit declaration that humanity is nothing special in the universe. I imagine many would find this particular story anywhere from insulting to depressing; I find it utterly liberating of my spirit. Couple all of this with a rare and wonderful visit to our gas giant, Jupiter (the poor cousin to Mars and the Moon when it comes to Sci-Fi visitation and colonization), and Desertion has to be one of my favourite stories in this anthology (but then I am partial to anything that takes us to the gas giants). The Piper’s Son, by Lewis Padgett -- There are lots of reasons to appreciate Lewis Padgett’s (actually wife - husband team, C.L. Moore & Harold Kuttner) The Piper’s Son: telepathy from mutation, post-nuclear social reimagining, a hint of social anarchy, along with the three big themes it is tackling -- racism, mental health, and ethics. It is in these three themes that The Piper’s Son fails to engage with me as it might have when it was published in 1945. First racism; the authors use human fear of the “Baldies” (the telepaths marked by their total lack of hair ... a common enough trope when it comes to the telapthic in Sci-Fi) to examine racism, and they put the responsibility for overcoming the views of the ignorant squarely in the camp of the victims of racism, who are, and this is where things go from merely problematic to troublesome, the “Baldies” trying to assimilate, while the “Baldies” and “Freaks” who can’t function are merely cast aside without thought or care by anyone, and the supposed paranoid “Baldies” are seen as the root of ignorant fear and are actively and violently excised from the body politic. Second, mental health; the paranoics or dps (those with the old designation, dementia praecox) are cast away, seen as evil, seen as predators, and handled by their mentally healthy brethren with daggers and murder. What is most troubling about this is that the authors don’t seem to be making the connection between this fearful and ignorant behaviour and the racist behaviour of humans towards mainstream “Baldies.” If that connection was implied, it might enrich the story, but their failure diminishes the tale. Third, ethics; this is where the story gave me the most trouble. It seems to want to discuss ethics throughout, to makes us believe that Burkhalter is an ethical man, but when he engages in one form of behaviour, which sets up the baseline of his ethics, then casts his own impediments aside to engage in that very behaviour on his son because he is his son ... well, that troubles me. Perhaps they are making a comment on situational ethics, but if they are, their attempt is ham fisted at best. It is a fascinating story, however, and its undeniable connection to the superheroic makes it worth a look. The Monster, by A.E.van Vogt -- Who is the Monster? That’s the question raised by A.E. van Vogt in this surprisingly lasting story of space colonization, alien encounter and “hubris getting clobbered my nemesis” with a little extra hubris setting itself up all over again (thanks, Mr. Aldiss). Two things make this tale stand out from the crowd: one, the fact that we are seeing it from the perspective of the Ganae, a colonizing, fundamentalist, expansive alien race; and two, what it suggests about humanity and our bloodthirstiness. Van Vogt may have been a bit of a hack at times, but that crazy Canuck had some perspectives worth listening to. Plus, it turns out this is a favourite of my students (which does surprise me a bit, but there it is). The Second Night of Summer, by James H. Schmitz -- This story’s most interesting element, and probably its best claim to being in this anthology, is that the primary mover of the story is Granny Wannattel. Published in Galaxy Magazine in 1950, Wannattel is your basic Sci-Fi hero except for one important thing -- she is a woman -- putting Schmitz at the forefront of making space for women in the genre (indeed, some women would later name him as an influence in their future careers). Wannattel is a sort of psionic agent (yep, telepathy is ubiquitous in the Sci-Fi of this period), who comes to a planet to find and destroy a transmitter that will awaken a dormant hive-mind species, who will overrun the planet and wipe out the human(oid) population on the planet. It is a tricky business because to find the transmitter, Wannattel must enter the hive minds with her telepathy just as they are awakening and responding to the transmitter. What makes Wannatel such a cool character and Schmitz so important is that she just happens to be a woman. There are no men for her to love, there is no future of marriage for her to dream about, there is only the job at hand and her doing a little recruiting for her agency. And this was in 1950. Impressive and worthy of a place in this anthology. However, I must add a caveat: it is one of the least interesting plots in the anthology, making it a fair to middling story at best. Such a shame. Perhaps something else from Schmitz’s Agent of Vega series would have been better. Second Dawn, by Arthur C. Clarke -- I’ve only read the Clarke stories that everyone’s read -- Rama, 2001, Childhood’s End -- but I have always been impressed with the sober, literary bent to his work. Thus, it was no surprise to me Second Dawn is one of the best written stories in the anthology. Clarke’s prose is clear, his themes are well expressed, and he manages to conjure one of the most interesting and unique alien species we’ve seen -- the Atheleni -- but there are “buts”, and those “buts” go beyond mere context, which either make the story problematic or even more impressive. My sense is that Second Dawn is actually more problematic than impressive; however, I do think that whichever the story is, it is a perfect story for class discussion (and I am going to adjust my syllabus to add it). I am speaking of two elements that Clarke seems to be uncritically including in his story: a sort of space “Manifest Destiny” and enslavement of an “inferior” race by a “superior” one. The reason I fear that Clarke uncritically added these elements is that his characters are very critical of their ethics when it comes to the use of weapons they’ve developed and their fears for the future. The fact that none of the characters note the other things they are engaged in seems out of joint with what Clarke was explicitly doing. Still, perhaps this is some strategic underspecificity at work? Perhaps it is there for the reader to remark on rather than the characters, and if that was Clarke’s purpose, he succeeded. Crucifixus Etiam, by Walter M. Miller Jr. -- Manue. Manue, Wherefore are you on Mars, Manue? Reject your mission and reclaim your freedom. But nope. That’s not in the indentured cards. Instead, you will suck and suck until your lungs can suck no more, and then you will die long before your purpose is fulfilled. Miller Jr. delivers one of the most existentially rich stories in this anthology. It is full of Christ imagery (you noticed the title, right?), Catholic guilt and duty, religious humanism, hard sci-fi tech, Marxist thought, and despair. It is Earth’s history writ by Ares. What you take from this says much more about you than it does about Miller Jr.’s story. How cool are tales like that? The Tunnel Under the World, by Frederik Pohl -- Pohl hated advertising; he hated psychiatry; he hated propaganda, and he was attacked as a Pinko for his positions. I’m guessing he really was a Commie, and good on him because his body of work is not kind to the Capitalist drive to consume. His novel, Space Merchants, goes even farther than his short story, The Tunnel Under the World, but even in this quick tale of Guy Burckhardt and the horror of his repeating life, Pohl’s disdain for consumerism is at the fore. Couple this attack on consumerism with one of the most original conceptions of AI and Robotics that Sci-Fi has ever seen, then add in one of the best radio adaptations of a Sci-Fi story (track it down at Relic Radio Sci-Fi if you can), and you have one of the most fascinating, thought provoking tales in the entire anthology. But you’ll have to cope with some 50s sexism. Hell ... you can’t have everything. Who Can Replace a Man?, by Brian Aldiss -- Christ, Mr. Aldiss. Something to replace us, please. Anything. A “man” appears in this story in only one sentence, but “man’s” stamp is everywhere. In this, the shortest story in the anthology, mankind has ravaged the Earth in all the ways -- real and imaginary -- that we have lived, are living, or could still live, and we have driven ourselves to the point of extinction, but at least behind us we have left out last slave race -- the robots. And this is their great moment of liberation (or destruction), unless it isn’t. So much being said here in 1958 and a great deal of it is being said by remaining unsaid. Potent and poignant. Billenium, by J.G. Ballard -- This is, actually, one of the less weird stories by one of Sci-Fi’s weirdest authors, yet it still remains a difficult stone to chip for readers. Imagine, if you will, a world of cities and farms. The farms are given over to the most industrial form of agriculture you can imagine (since Ballard doesn’t bother to explain it much beyond that), while the cities are sardine canned with people -- from their daily movement to their ever shrinking living space. Enter Rossiter and Ward and the forgotten space they find behind a wall. Once again, their decisions, dystopian and soul sapping, lead to the worst possible outcome. It is over-population imagined via sustainability. Yep .. people can sustain themselves, people can live, but what sort of a life is it? There is a hint of Ballard’s time in the Japanese Internment camps in the lack of space, but the message is all Sci-Fi. The Ballad of Lost C’mell, by Cordwainer Smith -- Wow! is this story problematic. Cordwainer Smith (a.k.a. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) was one of the kookiest cats to ever write Sci-Fi, and that includes L. Ron Hubbard (which should tell you all you need to know); if you want more info go hunting; regardless, Linebarger is fascinating, and despite the sexism that is rampant in C’mell, Cordwainer Smith manages to tell a convincing story about the power of myth and myth making. But what may be the coolest thing about Cordwainer Smith and his work is his conception of a human future, steeped in genetic engineering, telepathy, and oligarchy. It is bizarre in ways only he can convey. Read this story and see. Semley’s Necklace, by Ursula K. LeGuin -- Ursula K. LeGuin should win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and this is one of her most beautiful tales. That’s all I have to say. Continued here

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ned Huston

    This is a terrific anthology of science fiction, one of my favorites. For one volume, it accomplishes a lot. Many of the stories here are frequently reprinted in historical anthologies, but "The Land Ironclads," "Billennium," "A Criminal Act" and "The Way of Cross and Dragon" are classics not seen often enough. They all provide an essential insight to the author's whole body of work.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Short Story Title Author Year of first publication Rating "The Land Ironclads" H.G. Wells 1903 ** lots of machine detail at the end "Finis Frank L. Pollack 1906 ** An interesting, original idea "As Easy as ABC" Rudyard Kipling 1912 * odd particularly for 1912 "The Metal Man" Jack Williamson 1928 *** Interesting chemistry guesses "A Martian Odyssey" Stanley G. Weinbaum 1934 *** Wild tale “Yerba Mate Hour?!” "Night" John W. Campbell Jr. 1935 ** The end of time Short Story Title Author Year of first publication Rating "The Land Ironclads" H.G. Wells 1903 ** lots of machine detail at the end "Finis Frank L. Pollack 1906 ** An interesting, original idea "As Easy as ABC" Rudyard Kipling 1912 * odd particularly for 1912 "The Metal Man" Jack Williamson 1928 *** Interesting chemistry guesses "A Martian Odyssey" Stanley G. Weinbaum 1934 *** Wild tale “Yerba Mate Hour?!” "Night" John W. Campbell Jr. 1935 ** The end of time "Desertion" Clifford D. Simak 1944 *** Very out there but cool "The Piper's Son" Lewis Padgett 1945 *** Telepathy from fallout "The Monster" A. E. van Vogt 1948 *** Can’t beat man "The Second Night of Summer" James H. Schmitz 1950 ** A mess but original "Second Dawn" Arthur C. Clarke 1951 *** Good use of aliens but still too human thinking "Crucifixus Etiam" Walter M. Miller Jr. 1953 *** Future wage-slaves on Mars no prediction of robotics "The Tunnel Under the World" Frederik Pohl 1955 *** What profit reality "Who Can Replace a Man?" Brian Aldiss 1958 *** What will the robots do "Billennium" J.G. Ballard 1961 ** An over-populationist's fantasy "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" Cordwainer Smith 1962 *** Far far future civ "Semley's Necklace" Ursula K. Le Guin 1964 *** Futuristic elves and dwarfs "How Beautiful with Banners" James Blish 1966 ** Overwrought, overlong but points for originality "A Criminal Act" Harry Harrison 1967 *** Over-populationist's fantasy with licensed murder "Problems of Creativeness" Thomas M. Disch 1967 *** Over-populationist's fantasy with eugenics . . . or is it "How the Whip Came Back" Gene Wolfe 1970 * Another Catholic future tale from Gene Wolfe "Cloak of Anarchy" Larry Niven 1972 **** Argument against anarchy "A Thing of Beauty" Norman Spinrad 1973 ** Silly but original with an odd Japanese flare "The Screwfly Solution" Raccoona Sheldon AKA James Tiptree Jr - Alice Sheldon 1977 **** Sheldon's best in my opinion "The Way of Cross and Dragon" George R. R. Martin 1978 * Odd but original Catholic SF "Swarm" Bruce Sterling 1982 ***** A passenger in an Investor ship arrives at an asteroid in another system to study a colony of a non-intelligent species known as the Swarm, with has an insect-like hierarchy, a queen, and different castes, and also hosts some degenerated alien species known as symbiotes which live as parasites or in commensal relationships with the others. Read it before and I've been looking for this story for years to read again. "Burning Chrome" William Gibson 1982 **** Classic Gibson cyberpunk "Silicon Muse" Hilbert Schenck 1984 ***** Brilliant story-driven computer "Karl and the Ogre" Paul J. McAuley 1988 *** The future is childsplay "Piecework" David Brin 1990 **** Paid maternity takes on a whole new meaning

  7. 5 out of 5

    Damon

    A good collection of contemporary sci-fi, some of it very ahead of its time and deliciously deviant, edgy and weird-- but also widely accessible to the current generation for its mix of "swashbuckling" golden aged adventurism and a heavier, darker nougat as it progresses through the 20th century. Every story is set in not just a different universe but a unique sub-genre (unless there is a special category just for "crazy ****") which is a treat in and of itself. Of the ones I read, "The Tunnel U A good collection of contemporary sci-fi, some of it very ahead of its time and deliciously deviant, edgy and weird-- but also widely accessible to the current generation for its mix of "swashbuckling" golden aged adventurism and a heavier, darker nougat as it progresses through the 20th century. Every story is set in not just a different universe but a unique sub-genre (unless there is a special category just for "crazy ****") which is a treat in and of itself. Of the ones I read, "The Tunnel Under The World", "A Criminal Act", and "Problems of Creativeness" were probably my most cherished. "Desertion" is a beautiful story that should be taught in grade school, and I challenge anyone to get through "The Monster" in one sitting without getting chills down their spine. I can't recall the title but the one about the test pilot who mistakenly launches a billion years into the future was pretty mind-blowing as well... a worthy crown jewel to leave off at, I suppose. Shame I couldn't finish the whole anthology (I was passing through Leavenworth at the time) but I can easily recommend this collection for achieving the "coolness" triangle: Brainy, spooky, and prophetic.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rena Sherwood

    I've been reading a lot of science fiction anthologies lately and this has been a happy find from my local library. It presents some great science fiction stories from 1903 to 1990. It only presents one story per author (including authors like Rudyard Kipling) so you get a broad selection to enjoy. The only problems are: 1) A far-too-long introduction 2) Some stories here seem to be in just about every other science fiction anthology ever published, such as George R. R. Martin's "The Way of Cross I've been reading a lot of science fiction anthologies lately and this has been a happy find from my local library. It presents some great science fiction stories from 1903 to 1990. It only presents one story per author (including authors like Rudyard Kipling) so you get a broad selection to enjoy. The only problems are: 1) A far-too-long introduction 2) Some stories here seem to be in just about every other science fiction anthology ever published, such as George R. R. Martin's "The Way of Cross and Dragon", Bruce Sterling's "Swarm" and Stanley G. Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyessy." For the most part, these stories were new to me. I was sorry when this came to an end. If you have never read a science fiction anthology before, this is a good one to start with.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    The structure of this “authoritative” collection of science fiction short stories is rigidly chronological, based on when the stories were written. Some of the authors of the older pieces foresaw technology or events that have actually come to pass. The first example of which is H.G. Wells’ “The Land Ironclads,” introducing the usage of tanks into war a full 13 years before they were actually invented. The story was interesting due to the sheer innovativeness of the subject matter, but it was di The structure of this “authoritative” collection of science fiction short stories is rigidly chronological, based on when the stories were written. Some of the authors of the older pieces foresaw technology or events that have actually come to pass. The first example of which is H.G. Wells’ “The Land Ironclads,” introducing the usage of tanks into war a full 13 years before they were actually invented. The story was interesting due to the sheer innovativeness of the subject matter, but it was difficult to follow. Wells does not identify the enemy combatants with any kind of national appellation, instead referring to “invaders” and “defenders”, which was rather confusing to me, particularly since it is not readily apparent to which side our narrator belongs. I am also not well-versed in the machinations of war, so found the whole thing rather confounding throughout. “Finis” by Frank L. Pollack was much more my style of story. Our narrator is awaiting the rise of a second sun, which scientists have theorized is located at the center of the universe and the earth is about to rotate into the path of its emanation. What happens is not exactly what the astronomers expected. A fascinating “what if” tale; over too soon. Since I know of Rudyard Kipling almost exclusively in connection with The Jungle Book, I expected his contribution to this collection to be quite different than it turned out to be. In “As Easy as ABC,” set in the far future, the population has become scarce and seems to ascribe the catastrophe that wiped out the previous hordes to the “evils” of “crowds” and “invasion of privacy.” I’m not sure I really understood all the implications or the moral of this story because it took me quite some time to figure out what was going on, and what the “ABC” actually is and does. “The Metal Man” by Jack Williamson was much more comprehensible. Told in a similar style to Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars or Wells’ The Time Machine, our narrator relates a secondhand tale of one who had fantastic experiences in an unworldly place with unfamiliar creatures. The (non)ending left something to be desired as it was rather abrupt, but the story was interesting enough. In the same vein, “A Martian Odyssey” is Stanley G. Weinbaum’s description of an exploratory expedition on Mars. One of the crew is separated from the others and encounters some unfathomable alien creatures, one of which might actually be sentient. I really liked this story, particularly the dialog. It was apparent that the crew was made up of men from several different nationalities, which highlighted the idea that when encountering a foreign being some work has to be done to gain understanding and translation. Another visit to Mars is made by the protagonist of John W. Campbell’s “Night.” Campbell is famous for shaping modern science fiction due to his longtime position as editor of Astounding. His own work tends to be bleak, particularly in this example, in which a man is transported to the last days of the galaxy. Everything is dead or dying and our narrator contemplates the death of the universe and what it might mean that mankind does not survive. The next selection is set one planet more distant. In Clifford D. Simak’s “Diversion,” a team of scientists is trying to adapt the human body for life on Jupiter. They’ve identified the most promising prospect amongst the native fauna and are transmogrifying humans and sending them out as tests. Unfortunately, they’re not coming back. Finally, the project manager must submit himself as a test subject in order to avoid being blamed for more “deaths.” What he finds out about the nature of humanity as opposed to the nature of Jovians is a challenge to anyone’s self-image. The action returns to the more familiar setting of Earth for Lewis Padgett’s “The Piper’s Son,” although it is a post-apocalyptic society we encounter. After the nuclear blasts, a mutation has occurred giving some people the gift of telepathy. The central concern is whether telepathy is a gift or a curse and how one integrates with a society that views one for the most part with suspicion and fear. Almost 20 years later, the X-Men would dwell on this same theme with a similar commentary. As I am partial to social experiments in science fiction, I found this particularly enjoyable. So far, all of the narrators of these stories, even in fantastic alien settings, have been human. A.E. van Vogt chooses to tells us about “The Monster” through the eyes of an extra terrestrial visitor to a deserted earth. They “reanimate” a couple of subjects, hoping to learn what wiped out the humans. Unfortunately; however, this is a not a commentary on how our present society might be viewed by other-worlders, because the aliens are much more similar to me and my contemporaries than those far-future humans. Huh. Maybe *that* was the point. (*Mild Spoilers*) “The Second Night of Summer” by James H. Schmitz reminded me a bit of Ursula LeGuin’s Ekumen series. Humanity has spread to other planets and is defending them from alien encroachment. The farming-society inhabitants of the planet in question are completely unaware of the battle raging around them. It is up to one person, an undercover member of the planetary government, to save the world. These details were revealed organically, which enhanced my enjoyment of the tale. In only the second story with a non-human narrator, and the only one so far to not feature humans at all, we visit Arthur C. Clarke’s “Second Dawn.” Featuring a mathematically and philosophically advanced society that is not equally technologically advanced, due to an accident of physiological evolution, the population makes a discovery that could revolutionize their way of life and prevent another one of the civil wars that they recently, and just barely survived. I had guessed the “twist” of the story a few paragraphs previous to its revolution, but that did not make it less engaging. It is intriguing to deliberate about how we may be different if we didn’t evolve exactly the way we did. I was really not looking forward to reading Walter M. Miller’s contribution to this volume, having previously read and really disliking A Canticle for Liebowitz. Fortunately, and despite the title, Crucifixus Etiam was much less focused on the Catholic religion than I expected. We are back again on Mars, where our narrator has agreed to undergo painful and possibly un-reversible adaptation to his lungs to allow him to breathe while doing hard labor on the planet’s surface. He struggles, as do we, with the futility of his endeavor, and it seems that even in 2134, big corporations are still relying on near-slave labor to accomplish their aims. This was bleak and depressing, although the end seems to offer (a very little) hope. Ever since I first read “The Tunnel Under the World”, in The Best of Frederik Pohl, every time I wake up from a dream in which I was dying, I have been afraid I might have stumbled into this world. Any explanation would ruin the eventual revelations, so I won’t say much more. This is one of those haunting tales that sticks with you forever. I didn’t even mind that this is probably the third or fourth time I’ve read it. Brian Aldiss asks “Who Can Replace a Man” by putting his robot characters in a situation in which there seems to be no men left to direct them. What would they do? Where would they go? Would they find a new purpose? These are compelling questions to ask and the punch-line ending made me smile. “Billenium” by J.G. Ballard is another story about population. This far future society is dealing with a crowding and housing problem by authorizing less than 4 square meters per person for living space. The whole thing just made me really claustrophobic and obscenely grateful that I’ll be dead before being forced to give up my 2300 square foot house (hopefully!). Also set in the far future, but not at all similar to the previous entry is “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell”. The story focuses on the (forbidden) relationship between a “true human” VIP and an “underperson” of evolved feline lineage. They work together to secure rights for all underpeople, but cannot acknowledge their desire for each other. Initially, it was difficult to understand this, but by the end it all made sense and was most moving. I have read “Semley’s Necklace” before, as it appears as the prologue to Rocannon’s World, which is the first book in LeGuin’s Ekumen series. Semley lives on a planet that has had contact with the Ekumen, but she is not of the race they communicate with. When she goes on a search for a necklace that was lost by her ancestors, the journey takes her far further, and far longer, than she expects. This was also very sad, but it was interesting to re-read being already familiar with the ending. Stories with sad endings continue with James Blish’s “How Beautiful With Banners”. A scientist is making her way across a frozen planet (no idea why) in a spacesuit engineered from a virus to protect her from the deadly landscape. It’s not totally fool-proof. There was so much unexplained in this story, that I found it difficult to care about this woman and her plight. The next two stories, both written in 1967, present commentary on the problem of overpopulation. Harry Harrison tells us what happens when a man commits “A Criminal Act” namely, having a third child. As punishment, a potential murderer is allowed to take out a contract on his life. No matter who wins this engagement, the offending “extra life” will be balanced out. There is a lot of commentary and world-building contained in the argument/discussion the two men have while hiding just out of firing range. Harrison does well at presenting both sides of the issue as sympathetic, and I as a reader, found myself “rooting” for each one at different points of the tale. Thomas M. Disch takes a different tack in describing a young man’s quest to be licensed as “parent material.” In this reality, one has several routes to authorized parenthood and birth control is just in the water system (a method I’ve been secretly in favor of for years). The narrator tries and fails at the more mainstream routes, finally attempting to create a piece of artwork or literature in order to “win” a license due to artistic creativity. The resulting essay, from which the title “Problems of Creativeness” comes, is also included in the text. I suppose Disch’s character is supposed to be sympathetic, but I wouldn’t want this guy procreating. Societal problems can also be caused by overpopulation in a certain area, such as the prison system. “How the Whip Came Back” explores the idea of turning criminals into slaves. This is discussed from the perspective of a charity worker and the current pope, neither of whom have any actual power over the vote. Frankly, I wished this could have been explored in practice instead of theory. “Cloak of Anarchy” does explore in practice a controversial theory. Larry Niven describes a “free park” in a future Los Angeles that is patrolled by basketball-sized “copseyes” that are able to stun people who engage in violence. It’s a pretty safe place to be until someone knocks them all out of the sky and locks the doors that let people in and out. Now, everyone is stuck and there are absolutely no rules or protections. Casual nudity is the first enlightened practice to disappear. The eventual conclusion is worth reading for. I have read Norman Spinrad’s “A Thing of Beauty” at least once before, and I didn’t get it that time, either. According to the foreword, it has an “ironic” ending, but really, I don’t get it. I either don’t know enough about Japanese culture or the zeitgeist of the early 1970’s to get the joke. Maybe someone can go read the story and help me out with this. Fortunately, “The Screwfly Solution” was much more understandable, with a trick ending I definitely got. For some unknown reason, a plague is sweeping the earth causing men to violently murder women, particularly their wives and daughters. Our main character is an entomologist working on a plague of caneflies in South America. He valiantly tries to escape the plague. The story is told via narration, letters from his wife, and one of his daughter’s diary entries. This allows the reader several points of view, which are handled rather well, considering the scope and also the brevity of this tale. Similarly to LeGuin’s contribution to this book, I have also previously read George R.R. Martin’s “The Way of Cross and Dragon” and it was enjoyable to rediscover with the ending already in mind. Martin’s main character is an Inquisitor with the Catholic Church, traveling from planet to planet investigating and destroying heresies. This latest is most egregious: they’ve made a saint of Judas Iscariot. Ultimately, this is a meditation on faith, lies, and belief that makes its point rather well. Bruce Sterling’s “Swarm” focuses on a more scientific topic. Two doctors have discovered an asteroid populated by a seemingly mindless group of distinct alien species that nonetheless function as a hive, with zero waste and ultimate efficiency. Their attempt to harness this system for economic benefit is both fascinating and disturbing. It never ceases to amaze me how prescient William Gibson’s work seems when considering his conception of “cyberspace” in the year 1982 so closely mirrors what has come to pass since. I don’t always get his characters’ slang, but the tale of hacking is suspenseful and believable. “Silicon Muse” is probably my favorite story in this whole collection. A young scientist is making a proposal to a grant committee requesting funds for a computer program he’s built that writes fiction. The output is included and it’s a doozy! To tell you anything more, would be a spoiler. I will be checking out more of Hilbert Schenck’s work. I hadn’t heard of him until this book. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much of anything about Paul J. McAuley’s “Karl and the Ogre” without it being a spoiler, except that it’s a cautionary tale about three young men who go hunting for an ogre. At first, I thought this was fantasy and wondered what it was doing in this book, with its mentions of unicorns, ogres and undines, but all is revealed and it’s done very well, although the ending was kind of depressing. Finally we have “Piecework” which is another addition to the problem of overpopulation category. In David Brin’s story, wombs and sperm are put to much more (better?) use than just creating new humans. This society is so well developed, I wonder whether Brin has set other works in it. If so, I’d really like to check them out! In summary, I can’t really think of more than two stories in this collection that I didn’t like, and that was mostly due to my failure to understand them. As an overview of Science Fiction in the 20th century, it accomplishes its stated purpose. Although some of the stories dealt with the same themes and some had similar settings, they all seemed diverse.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I read Tom Shippey's other excellent collection, The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories some time ago, so it was only a matter of time before I sought out this one. (As an incidental note, I was embarrassed to discover, while reading a library copy which I'd specially requested from the stacks, that I own a copy myself. It's possible I have too many books.) Like its stablemate, it consists of a chronological collection of stories from a variety of authors, with an introduction by the editor. I was st I read Tom Shippey's other excellent collection, The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories some time ago, so it was only a matter of time before I sought out this one. (As an incidental note, I was embarrassed to discover, while reading a library copy which I'd specially requested from the stacks, that I own a copy myself. It's possible I have too many books.) Like its stablemate, it consists of a chronological collection of stories from a variety of authors, with an introduction by the editor. I was struck by the idea of "fabril" literature, which is discussed in the introduction: a form of literature in which the "smith" is central. Certainly, a great deal of early science fiction in particular involves a clever engineer solving some sort of problem, and I'm sure many careers in engineering and the sciences have been launched in this way. I'd say that there is some tendency, though, as the genre matures, for technology to become the problem and human factors the solution, rather than vice versa. It's not strongly marked in this collection, but the theme is there to see if you know to look for it. Also, technology tends to recede into the background sometimes, and the problems can become simply social ones, as in Gene Wolfe's "How the Whip Came Back" (1970). (The editor does note that any single account of what SF is doing is going to be inadequate and have its counter-examples, even within this collection.) Still, there's an assumption throughout science fiction that people are clever at making things, and this will change how they live, and this is worth telling stories about; and these stories convey that sense well. There are a few notable names missing from the table of contents. The editor mentions Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon and Murray Leinster in the introduction, for example; all four men wrote short fiction, and could worthily have been included, but presumably space was limited. Most of the stories selected are at the shorter end of the short-fiction spectrum (at a rough estimate, between 2000 and 5000 words), even though this limits how much the ideas, characters and settings can be developed, and I assume that this was in order to include more examples. There are two and a half women among the 30 authors ("Lewis Padgett" being one of the collective pseudonyms of C.L. Moore and her husband Henry Kuttner), which is, unfortunately, representative of the field in general, particularly in its earlier years. (The other two apart from Moore - Ursula Le Guin and "Raccoona Sheldon", a pseudonym of Alice Sheldon AKA James Tiptree, Jr. - are from the 1960s and 1970s.) To the best of my knowledge, all of the authors are white, and most are American. In other words, the collection doesn't set out to be inclusive of diverse voices, but of widely recognised ones. To the individual stories now. H.G. Wells, "The Land Ironclads" (1903): Wells predicts tank warfare, and is widely ignored, certainly by the military establishment. However, this story is primarily about the clash between the human values of bravery, toughness and physical fitness and the developing technological civilisation, in which clerks with machines could beat brave, tough, fit men every time. It's (as so often with Wells) a depressing reflection. Frank L. Pollack, "Finis" (1906): using some highly dubious astronomy, Pollack postulates a huge sun around which everything, including the galaxies, is rotating, and shows us the end of the world as its light and heat finally reach Earth. There's not a great deal more to it than an extended "rocks fall, everybody dies", though it does show the human reactions as well as the crashes and explosions. Rudyard Kipling, "As Easy as ABC" (1912): Look here, clearly democracy, in which stupid people get a voice, is inferior to autocratic rule by jolly good chaps with superior technology, don't you know? That's basically the point of this story in the world of the author's With The Night Mail: A Story Of 2000 Ad. To rub it in more thoroughly, it's set in the USA. Jack Williamson, "The Metal Man" (1928): This is as much in the Weird Tales mould as it is SF, with a manuscript account (a staple of the Weird Tale) of the transformation of a man into metal by a mysterious radioactive gas. Stanley G. Weinbaum, "A Martian Odyssey" (1934): A succession of wonders on a Mars with many strange races, some of them intelligent, some friendly, others not. An explorer's ship crashes; he apparently has no radio, and must walk back to his base, encountering adventure along the way. As the collection's introduction points out, the cancer cure in the story has extra resonance because the author was himself dying of cancer when he wrote it. John W. Campbell Jr., "Night" (1935): An "end of time" story. An engineer testing an antigravity device is projected through time to a period when the earth has died, humanity is extinct, and only machines remain, underlining the futility of all human endeavour. Clifford D. Simak, "Desertion" (1944): This could be regarded as a very, very early story of posthumanism, and a predecessor of the film Avatar. An administrator on Jupiter has seen three men be transformed (by handwavium) into a form of life suited for Jupiter's conditions, disappear into the storms and not return. Deciding that he can't, in good conscience, send anyone else, he goes himself, and discovers why they didn't want to come back. "Lewis Padgett", "The Piper's Son" (1945): After a minor nuclear apocalypse, some people are telepaths, distrusted by those who aren't. In a typically adept Moore/Kuttner story, years ahead of what other writers were doing, action and human values combine to create a satisfying narrative which makes the point that elites must serve for the sake of their own protection. A.E. van Vogt, "The Monster" (1948): This is a "humans are inherently better than aliens and will beat them every time" story, with a good deal of sonic screwdriving (by which I mean "I have whatever power I happen to need in the circumstances"). Triumphalist and not that satisfying as a story, partly because the viewpoint characters, the aliens, are doomed to fail. James H. Schmitz, "The Second Night of Summer" (1950): Reminded me a little of some of Harry Harrison's stories, like Man From P.I.G. And R.O.B.O.T., in which unlikely undercover agents cleverly deal with alien threats. This one, refreshingly, is an older woman, a kind of person who seldom gets to be the protagonist in SFF. The little worldbuilding details are fun, too. Arthur C. Clarke, "Second Dawn" (1951): A fairly typical Clarke story, more about revealing the clever worldbuilding and making a philosophical point than it is about things actually happening, let alone protagonists overcoming fit opposition. He manages to make it an enjoyable ride in any case. Walter M. Miller Jr., "Crucifixus Etiam" (1953): Blue-collar SF, in which the hero discovers that the dignity of his labour is not in his working conditions (which are horrible) but in the fact that eventually the infrastructure he's working on will benefit others, enabling them to live comfortable lives based on his pain. Which, in my view, is a pretty nasty conclusion. Frederik Pohl, "The Tunnel Under the World" (1955): Some of the best 1950s SF satirised the growing power of consumerism and advertising. Robert Sheckley was a master of the subgenre, but so was Fred Pohl (in, for example, The Space Merchants), and this story is a classic in which an entrepreneur gains the means to perform the ultimate A-B test. Brian Aldiss, "Who Can Replace a Man?" (1958): As humanity slowly dies out from non-nutritious crops, the machines try to take over. Their logical, cold-hearted arguments among themselves are simultaneously amusing and disturbing. The story ends with a memorable twist. J.G. Ballard, "Billenium" (1961): By the 1960s, overpopulation was becoming a fear, and this is one of a couple of stories in the collection to address it. New York is becoming more and more crowded, as people pack tighter and tighter. But, given the opportunity to have more space, the characters in this story end up where they began, unable to break out of their society's patterns. "Cordwainer Smith", "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" (1962): Part of the author's epic Rediscovery of Man future history, told in his inimitable style complete with frequent word coinages, this story tells of a civil rights struggle and a romance and a heist. Ursula K. Le Guin, "Semley's Necklace" (1964): So, so clever. This story is, at one and the same time, a familiar fantasy story of a woman who seeks an ancestral treasure among the Little People and returns to find her world altered, and SF in Le Guin's Ekumen setting. And it works perfectly on both levels at the same time. James Blish, "How Beautiful with Banners" (1966): A space-explorer story, but by the 1960s a space-explorer story also had a lot going on about the explorer's unhappy romantic history, and the explorer could be a woman, and in general there was a lot more depth than there had been even a decade before. Harry Harrison, "A Criminal Act" (1967): This is the other overpopulation story in the collection. Harrison famously addressed the issue in his novel Make Room! Make Room!, published a year earlier, which was later used as the basis for the film Soylent Green. This one adds in the SF trope of legalised gladiatorial murder that was also going round at the time: if you have an unlicensed baby, someone gets a license to try to kill you, though you can also kill him, since the net effect is still that the population is stabilised. Harrison manages to wedge in a philosophical rant in the midst of the action, characteristically. Thomas M. Disch, "Problems of Creativeness" (1967): Personally, I find the alienated loser as a main character difficult to enjoy, not only because I don't share his worldview (a character whose worldview I don't share can be interesting, if well done), but because it inevitably means that he's not a true protagonist. He doesn't know what he wants, and if he does desire something he's not competent to get it. Sadly, the main character in this story is all too realistic, and there are millions of him alive today. Gene Wolfe, "How the Whip Came Back" (1970): I'm afraid I've never once understood a Gene Wolfe story, and this one is no exception. It's clearer than most - there's a push to reintroduce slavery, and the main character is being pressured to support it, while the Pope of a much-reduced Catholic Church is the sole holdout - but there's a flip at the end which I didn't follow, given what had gone before. Larry Niven, "Cloak of Anarchy" (1972): This is a good premise. In the Free Parks, anarchy is permitted; you can do whatever you like, as long as you don't offer violence to anyone else, because if you do, floating "copseye" drones will stun you. Some impractical dreamer/artist/inventor wonders what would happen if he knocked out all the copseyes. Exactly what he should have expected happens, making a good point about the limitations of anarchy. Norman Spinrad, "A Thing of Beauty" (1973): An amusing story about salesmanship and East-West cultural differences, something that, in 1973, was becoming increasingly salient as the Japanese economy boomed. "Raccoona Sheldon", "The Screwfly Solution" (1977): A disturbing SF horror story about violence towards women. While I don't share the author's dark view of human (particularly male human) nature, it makes some important points nevertheless. George R. R. Martin, "The Way of Cross and Dragon" (1978): Martin's trademark beautifully-written nihilism. Bruce Sterling, "Swarm" (1982): By the 1980s, the idea that "humans will inevitably beat aliens" that van Vogt was using in 1948 was up for question. This claustrophobic story asks whether intelligence is even the best strategy for survival. It's part of the author's Shapers and Mechanists universe, and also has some interesting things to say about bioengineering. William Gibson, "Burning Chrome" (1982): While Gibson's beautifully-written, even poetic, nihilism is completely different from Martin's, it's still beautifully-written nihilism. I read him for the beauty, and stopped reading him for the nihilism. Hilbert Schenck, "Silicon Muse" (1984): I'm not familiar with Schenck's other work, but this AI story is amusing. As usual with AI, it makes the mistake of making the machine too human too quickly. It also reveals a certain cynicism about human nature, and the main character - who's not really a protagonist - is whiny and pathetic, but the central literary conceit is well-executed. Paul J. McAuley, "Karl and the Ogre" (1988): This starts out reading as fantasy, but is arguably SF because it's a post-apocalyptic setting which people with mental and bioengineering powers are transforming into a fairy-tale world (with all the monsters and conflict that implies). The sense of helplessness of the main character doesn't make for a particularly satisfying story, to my mind. David Brin, "Piecework" (1990): Another bioengineering story. Industrial products are being grown in wombs. For reasons that are skated past with a rapid handwave, human wombs can produce more valuable products than non-human wombs, so there's a whole industry of young women who make their living incubating these products, and young men who don't exactly impregnate them. On top of that premise is built a well-written story of a woman whose ambition is to get out of poverty and her friend who resents her for it. As a collection, this represents the humane side of SF, the SF that focuses more on characters and their response to their circumstances than on the circumstances and technologies themselves. Despite the discussion of "fabril", there's not a simple, linear "clever engineer solves a problem" story in the lot, even in the works drawn from earlier times, where that kind of story was a staple. Nor is there a simple, linear pulp adventure among them. If the editor was setting out to show that SF can address important human questions, and has been doing so for a long time, then mission accomplished.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    This is an interesting compilation of SciFi short stories presented in chronological order from 1903 to 1990. The best was H. G. Wells envisioning tank warfare in 1903. However, Kipling's story was uninteresting and difficult to follow. Most of the stories reflected the concerns about the future at the time, e.g., total government control, out-of-control population, alien takeover or genetic engineering gone bad. I wouldn't call it a 'best-of' set (no Asimov, Clark, or other greats), but an inte This is an interesting compilation of SciFi short stories presented in chronological order from 1903 to 1990. The best was H. G. Wells envisioning tank warfare in 1903. However, Kipling's story was uninteresting and difficult to follow. Most of the stories reflected the concerns about the future at the time, e.g., total government control, out-of-control population, alien takeover or genetic engineering gone bad. I wouldn't call it a 'best-of' set (no Asimov, Clark, or other greats), but an interesting set.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kafka

    One of those collections which fundamentally change your opinion about a genre. I was already a fan; Shippey's anthology cemented my obsession with SF for good.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Berenice

    It's a very interesting book

  14. 5 out of 5

    Julian

    Like all compilations of short stories, they are filled with a mix of the great, the average, the poor and even those that don't in any way fit into the genre the compilation is supposed to be focusing on. This edition is of no exception. As expected with a book starting with "The Oxford Book of .....", it felt like reading a book intended to be used as a textbook. It felt like a history of science fiction short stories in which you could easily analyse what was considered to be science fiction Like all compilations of short stories, they are filled with a mix of the great, the average, the poor and even those that don't in any way fit into the genre the compilation is supposed to be focusing on. This edition is of no exception. As expected with a book starting with "The Oxford Book of .....", it felt like reading a book intended to be used as a textbook. It felt like a history of science fiction short stories in which you could easily analyse what was considered to be science fiction and how it changed over the years. There were a few gems, but my problem with compilations of short stories is that you never get a great read from cover to cover. If you buy a book from an author you love, there is a good chance you will at least like that book, but if you buy a book filled with stories from authors you would never normally read, there is no guarantee you will like any of them. The idea of short stories is very attractive because in this busy day and age, the idea of quick and easy to digest stories sounds great but it is just too hit and miss to risk $$$ on it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    John

    My frustration with most sci-fi novels is that they tend to introduce a brilliant concept, but an underwhelming story about that concept - sometimes to the point of being downright dull. This is a collection of stories that demonstrate that very phenomenon. They're not bad for the most part, just unspectacular. Pretty straightforward and not especially impressive by my standards. Perhaps I'm a tougher critic when it comes to sci-fi because I want it to blow my mind. The boundaries of this genre My frustration with most sci-fi novels is that they tend to introduce a brilliant concept, but an underwhelming story about that concept - sometimes to the point of being downright dull. This is a collection of stories that demonstrate that very phenomenon. They're not bad for the most part, just unspectacular. Pretty straightforward and not especially impressive by my standards. Perhaps I'm a tougher critic when it comes to sci-fi because I want it to blow my mind. The boundaries of this genre tend to blur into horror and fantasy and, while I'm a big fan of horror, fantasy doesn't do it for me at all. Horror-slanted stories are virtually non-existent here, but others are so fantastical that calling them science fiction could be a misnomer. I prefer my science fiction (particularly the short stories) in a "Twilight Zone" kind of vein. There are very few like that here. That said, this volume would probably be very satisfying to somebody who is way into science fiction. Unfortunately, I am not that somebody.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Meliae Sybella

    A good read. My favorite stories were 'The Metal Man' by Jack Williamson and 'Desertion' by Clifford D. Simak. A couple of the stories were basically fantasy stories such as 'Kyle and the Ogre' and 'Semley's Necklace.' The fact that they were based in the future must have been qualifying. Many of the stories had a strong emphasis on population control. I did enjoy 'A Criminal Act' and 'Billenium' standing for extreme cases of "over population" control techniques. I will definitely pursue more wo A good read. My favorite stories were 'The Metal Man' by Jack Williamson and 'Desertion' by Clifford D. Simak. A couple of the stories were basically fantasy stories such as 'Kyle and the Ogre' and 'Semley's Necklace.' The fact that they were based in the future must have been qualifying. Many of the stories had a strong emphasis on population control. I did enjoy 'A Criminal Act' and 'Billenium' standing for extreme cases of "over population" control techniques. I will definitely pursue more works by Jack Williamson and Clifford D. Simak. I am open for suggestions.

  17. 5 out of 5

    ruby

    this is perhaps the best introduction to sci-fi in anthology form out there. the carefully selected stories are not the best-known, but are all of high quality, and deserve to stand as representative of a whole century of science fiction. it is perhaps a little weak on the last two decades of the twentieth century, though that is understandable due to the diversification of the genre. all in all this is one of my top books.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Henry

    Collection of classics, most of which I hadn't read previously in spite of their being seminal. I am just not well read in short fiction. My favorites were Campbell's "Night," Pohl's "Tunnel Under the World," Ballard's "Billenium," Le Guin's "Semley's Necklace," Sterling's "Swarm," and Gibson's "Burning Chrome," but there were a lot more solid ones besides. All in all a really well-rounded collection.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nora

    A mixed bag of stories. Since it is assembled by a Tolkien scholar rather than a scifi author, he has gone for historical interest rather than the best stories. I much preferred Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the 20th Century and would recommend reading that instead. A mixed bag of stories. Since it is assembled by a Tolkien scholar rather than a scifi author, he has gone for historical interest rather than the best stories. I much preferred Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the 20th Century and would recommend reading that instead.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Some awesome, classic stories in here, a great starter for someone who hasn't read science fiction. Semley's Necklace, The Swarm, are amazing. But, as this is a collection of stories over time, some of the stories have lost their luster, I think. The stories before the 60s were hard to relate to, I thought. It may be more interesting to someone studying literature than as a book to pick up and read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Buryn

    particularly enjoyed: Finis - Frank L. Pollock The Metal Man - Jack Williamson Night - John W. Campbell, Jr. The Tunnel Under the World - Frederik Pohl (found to be very Philip K. Dick, who is seriously missed in this anthology - i wonder who was inspired by who?) Billenium - J. G. Ballard Burning Chrome - William Gibson

  22. 4 out of 5

    Raymond Spitzer

    I have been a science fiction fan for many years. I have read many magazines and science fiction short story collections. I know the best work in the field. I had read only one of the collected stories. I didn't think any of these stories was topnotch, although all were okay. Nothing from Asimov or Heinlein? Get real!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Fitzgerald

    The writers and the quality of the stories in this book aside, it's an excellent collection of work spanning an dizzying number of years to show how science fiction began, what its capable of, and where it may be going. You could love or hate each and every story between its covers, but this is an essential road map for this interesting and increasingly common corner of literature.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Genna

    An excellent collection of short science fiction. Usually in any collection of short stories there are two or three fantastic stories, three or four terrible ones and a whole bunch of meh. I sincerely enjoyed all but one of these stories.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rita

    I absolutely loved it! The editor had it in his mind to include stories for timid science fiction readers, so there're some old favorites. But the newer stuff, from authors I've never read, turned me on to a few authors that I want to read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    bluetyson

    The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories by Tom Shippey (2003)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    EXcellent review of Sci Fi writing over the last 100 years. Many authors I never heard of and will soon be checking out those at the library. Also, good representation of the short story format.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ed Finn

    A great collection overall. It introduced me to a number of new authors and new stories from those I've read before.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Thom Mckiernan

    Some stories are better than others. Hadn't heard of any titles before but recognise a few authors. Shows you how many movie ideas have ripped of these classics!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Frans

    A nice collection of sci-fi short stories, albeit due to the nature of short stories it's more pleasant to read two or three in between bigger books than to read the book as a whole.

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