Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Treasury of Great Science Fiction Volume II

Boucher, Anthony
A Treasury of Great Science Fiction
Volume II

Copyright 1959

Contains the following stories:

Brain Wave
by Poul Anderson

The Earth passes through a mysterious energy field that dramatically increases the entire human race’s IQ. Shortly thereafter, labor is hard to find when a super-intelligent race finds themselves unable to do menial chores. There is great social and psychological upheaval across the globe. A group of scientists work together to quickly solve the problems while dealing with their own issues and those of their family members.

This is intelligent Golden Age science fiction. The events and characters are entirely believable and the story is well paced and engaging. The only drawback is the shortness of the novella prohibited more development of the story’s characters and their interpersonal relationships. Anderson gives us just barely enough to make the characters interesting.

Bullard Reflection
by Malcolm Jameson

A star ship’s crew’s athletic ability saves them when they are double-crossed on one of the moon’s of Jupiter.

Dull, uninteresting story by an author of whom I’ve never heard.

The Lost Years
by Oscar Lewis

What would have happened had Abraham Lincoln been saved by a surgeon instead of dying the morning after being shot? Lewis explores the possibilities in this alternative history short story.

Not really sci-fi, but engaging nonetheless.

Dead Center
by Judith Merril

A woman designed it and a man is piloting it to the moon. The newest rocket, the KIM III malfunctions as it lands on the moon. Its lone astronaut must be rescued. His wife, who designed the rocket, works frantically to put together the team that will save her husband before he runs out of food and oxygen. Meanwhile, their young son is left to wonder about all the frantic activity about him.

This was a tightly told story . A lot of action and character development crammed into 20 pages of text. Merril makes it work. Merril was envisioning woman engineers leading design teams back in 1953.

Lost Art
by George O. Smith

Two brothers discover a device in the Martian desert and use trial and error learning how to make it work . In a parallel story, a Martian father and son assemble and deploy the device.

Perhaps the most useless story I’ve ever read. I kept thinking “something bad is going to happen when these guys figure out what this thing does.” Nothing bad ever happened. Nothing ever happened. What a pointless waste of twenty pages.

The Other Side of the Sky
by Arthur C. Clarke

The narrator is an engineer aboard a space station that he is confident will be a stepping stone into deep space. Set in the 1990s, the narrator relates anecdotes from his space adventures that show how prescient Clarke was in judging the success of satellite-based communications. It was written in 1957. The space stations he describes would be the same ones that Stanley Kubrick would bring to celluloid in the Clarke story 2001: A Space Oddysey.

The Man Who Sold the Moon

by Robert Heinlein

Man, how I hated this story. I could not finish it. I’ve read two Heinlein stories and hated them both. I’ve always thought about reading Stranger in a Strange Land but now I will not.

This is a story about a corporate pig-dog who wants to acquire the moon and take title to it so he can subdivide it and sell the parcels. In a real story, he would have taken it by force through war or something exciting like that. Instead, in Heinlein’s painfully boring story, he takes it through the drawing up of contracts and the structuring of corporations --- all described in painstaking detail in Heinlein’s narrative and the dialogue.

Imagine reading a low-level corporate attorney’s journal entries. It’s not that exciting.

Heinlein may be the most overrated writer in the history!

Magic City
by Nelson S. Bond

Set more than 1500 years in the future, after the fall of civilization, women lead society. Most societies shun men and need them for little more than breeding stock. Advanced civilizations are slowly integrating men into their society as equals.

In this setting a couple journeys from their home in Jinnia to Newyalk to slay the demon Death, who constantly claims their weak, infirm, and old. Swords and daggers are their weapons of choice as they enter the dangerous city and the temple of Slukes.

The names of the various cities and territories are very clever phonetics and plays on words. They live in a country called Tizzathee (as in my country ‘tis of thee). I usually hate such cute word play, but Bond’s are clever enough to be engaging. The battle scenes are well written and his descriptions of the post-apocalyptic east coast are riveting. This was a great story.

The Morning of the Day They Did It

by E.B. White

A television executive now located on a remote planet relates the story of Earth’s final day and how its destruction came about from the placement of the ultimate weapon in space.

I read this on the heels of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and, as in Bradbury’s classic, this story describes how television destroyed society. This story is not nearly as brilliant as Bradbury’s. The narrator uses mundane (very mundane) events from his day along with dialogue from mundane newscasts and shows to set the stage for the Earth’s discussion. This was a creative idea not well executed.

Piggy Bank
by Henry Kuttner

A greedy man has figured out how to manufacture synthetic diamonds, but keeps losing his fortune to burglars. He asks his chief scientist to develop the ultimate safe that can flee when someone attempts to rob it. But when it flees when the man wants to access his fortune contained therein, he tries every conceivable method to get access.

Letters from Laura
by Mildred Clingerman

A woman’s time travel is documented in a series of letters – first to her mother, then to the company that helped her time travel on vacation.

Dull, dull, dull!

The Stars My Destination
by Alfred Bester

A roughneck spaceman pursues vengeance against the crew of a ship that left him in space to die, marooned on a wrecked ship. Meanwhile, the government and various businessmen want to exploit his knowledge of his doomed ship to retrieve its priceless cargo for use in an interstellar war.

I am somewhat familiar with Bester, who ended his career writing radio sci-fi for the CBS Radio Mystery Theater in the 1970s. Stephen King references this work as Bester’s best in his tome On Writing. It is obvious that King used one of Bester’s ideas for one of his better short stories, The Jaunt because jaunting plays a key role in Bester’s novella. For Bester, jaunting is but part of the story. In King’s story, the science of jaunting is explored.

I think this story must have been serialized because every two or three chapters seems to be a story unto itself.

1 comment:

  1. I linked here from the PKD blog - another good overview! What a line-up.

    I'm not overly familiar with Heinlein, but I tend to agree.

    Poul Anderson is another on my shortlist. Everytime I see anything by him at the used bookstore, I pick it up. One of these days, my queue will get back under control, and I'll actually make progress on these things! I get deliriously sidetracked by personal-project-reading which tends to crowd out other stuff.