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. Clarke's "Second Dawn" (which is my personal favorite among his short stories that I've actually read), James H. 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.
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. Miller, Jr. 3/5 The Tunnel Under the World (1955) by Frederik Pohl 5/5 Who Can Replace a Man?
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. Hillström makes How Beautiful with Banners one of the top stories in this anthology. 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. Disch -- Fitting snugly into the dystopias at play in the Oxford Anthology, Problems of Creativeness, a short story in Dischs novel of short stories, 334, plods along with the life of Birdie Ludd, making its readers (at least this reader) uncomfortable with Ludds attitudes towards love, the woman in his life, his deserts, and all the obstacles he faces. How the Whip Came Back, by Gene Wolfe -- Here we have the one story I would absolutely remove from the Anthology. 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 Shippeys favourite themes, dystopia. Cloak of Anarchy, by Larry Niven -- Far and away my students favourite story in the anthology, Larry Nivens Cloak of Anarchy manages to balance everything that matterw in Sci-Fi in one twenty-ish page tale. 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. 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 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. 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. 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-Fis 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. 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. As Easy as ABC, by Rudyard Kipling -- There are many positive things I could say about Kiplings 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 Mans Burden looms too large over As Easy as ABC for anything else in the story to matter to me. The trouble is, despite multiple readings, I dont feel there is a whole hell of a lot to extract from this tale, and it seems out of place in this anthology. 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 Ive encountered: the avian-like Martian, Tweel. 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. 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. 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). What is most troubling about this is that the authors dont seem to be making the connection between this fearful and ignorant behaviour and the racist behaviour of humans towards mainstream Baldies. It is a fascinating story, however, and its undeniable connection to the superheroic makes it worth a look. Thats 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. 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. 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. Thus, it was no surprise to me Second Dawn is one of the best written stories in the anthology. Clarkes prose is clear, his themes are well expressed, and he manages to conjure one of the most interesting and unique alien species weve seen -- the Atheleni -- but there are buts, and those buts go beyond mere context, which either make the story problematic or even more impressive. 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 theyve developed and their fears for the future. 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. 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. Billenium, by J.G. Ballard -- This is, actually, one of the less weird stories by one of Sci-Fis weirdest authors, yet it still remains a difficult stone to chip for readers. 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 Cmell, 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.
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.
If you have never read a science fiction anthology before, this is a good one to start with.
The story was interesting due to the sheer innovativeness of the subject matter, but it was difficult to follow. 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. Told in a similar style to Vernes 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. 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. So far, all of the narrators of these stories, even in fantastic alien settings, have been human. 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. 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. I didnt even mind that this is probably the third or fourth time Ive read it. This far future society is dealing with a crowding and housing problem by authorizing less than 4 square meters per person for living space. Also set in the far future, but not at all similar to the previous entry is The Ballad of Lost CMell. The story focuses on the (forbidden) relationship between a true human VIP and an underperson of evolved feline lineage. I have read Semleys Necklace before, as it appears as the prologue to Rocannons World, which is the first book in LeGuins Ekumen series. 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 Blishs 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. The next two stories, both written in 1967, present commentary on the problem of overpopulation. 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. 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. I have read Norman Spinrads A Thing of Beauty at least once before, and I didnt get it that time, either. Maybe someone can go read the story and help me out with this. The story is told via narration, letters from his wife, and one of his daughters diary entries. Similarly to LeGuins contribution to this book, I have also previously read George R.R. Martins The Way of Cross and Dragon and it was enjoyable to rediscover with the ending already in mind. In David Brins 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. In summary, I cant really think of more than two stories in this collection that I didnt like, and that was mostly due to my failure to understand them. Although some of the stories dealt with the same themes and some had similar settings, they all seemed diverse.
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. (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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Campbell Jr., "Night" (1935): An "end of time" story. 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"). 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. 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. 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. Harry Harrison, "A Criminal Act" (1967): This is the other overpopulation story in the collection. While I don't share the author's dark view of human (particularly male human) nature, it makes some important points nevertheless. 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. 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. 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.