on September 7, 2000
In this new anthology Martin H. Greenberg uses a gimmick that I've seen before, but one which still has legs. He has selected several prominent SF writers of the present day, and asked them to choose one favorite SF story. Their choices form this anthology.
Ideally, an anthology of this nature should have two aims: one, simply to present a collection of outstanding stories, to participated, if you will, in the process of SF canon-forming. Secondarily, the anthology might throw light on the influences on the selecting writers. It might suggest what stories appeal to writers, as possibly opposed to readers (something in the way that the Nebula Awards do), and it might illustrate the development process of the field. It doesn't really appear that Greenberg had any special intent to reinforce this secondary aim, however. For one thing, the authors chosen to select stories are not a particularly homogeneous group, either in age or in being members of any identifiable "school" or "movement". In addition, the stories chosen seem for the most part to be chosen as favorite reads, not so much as influences. This is not really a complaint, just an observation: what we are left with, thus, is mostly an anthology of the first type, a canon-building anthology.
I've been reading SF for quite some time now, and I've always liked short fiction, so the bulk of these stories are familiar to me. I was pleased to reread Theodore Sturgeon's "The Man Who Lost the Sea" for the umpteenth time: this story, Clarke's selection, may well have been mine if I were eligible to choose a story for a similar anthology. This is one of the most moving of all SF stories, and its theme lies at the heart of SF: the desire to keep exploring, the value of exploration for its own sake.
Other prominent selections include Frederick Pohl's brilliant story of what humans might become in the very far future, "Day Million" (chosen by Haldeman); C. M. Kornbluth's mordant SF Hall of Fame tale, "The Little Black Bag" (Pohl's choice), about a present day doctor discovering medical tools from the future, and the bitter misuse to which they are put; and Howard Waldrop's Nebula-winning tale of the fate of the last dodos, "The Ugly Chickens", (chosen by Turtledove). Also from the SF Hall of Fame are Lester del Rey's "Nerves", "A Martian Odyssey" by Stanley Weinbaum, and "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" by Cordwainer Smith. Each of these stories is famous, thus familiar. But at the same time each is famous for good reason, and I was happy to reread them. Certainly there is no harm in reprinting them again.
The other selections are by and large fine stories as well. I was happy to see a couple of choice I wasn't familiar with, and which were pretty good: Ward Moore's "Lot" and Gordon Dickson's "Black Charlie". I felt that the second Kornbluth story ("The Only Thing We Learn", chosen by David Drake) was a bit obvious, and nowhere near the quality of his best work, and the pieces by Eric Frank Russell ("Diabologic") and Robert Sheckley ("Untouched by Human Hands") were also somewhat slight, to my taste. Again, both writers have certainly produced stories that belong in anthologies like this. And Norman Kagan's "The Mathenauts" (Greg Bear's choice), while full of fascinating ideas, doesn't really work as a story. But four merely minor stories out of a collection like this is no great weakness, especially as I'm sure the next reader will feel differently than I do. And any collection that includes the stories I've mentioned, as well as "Common Time" by James Blish, Keith Laumer's early Bolo story "The Last Command", Barry Malzberg's metafictional "A Galaxy Called Rome", and Roger Zelazny's moving "The Engine at Heartspring's Center", is well worth your seven dollars.
on August 5, 1999
This is a spectacular anthology. The selection ranges from terrific to good to awful, but the terrific and good stories far outweigh the three substandard stories. I suggest skipping over the bad stories, which are: "The Mathenauts" by Norman Kagan (selected by Greg Bear), "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" by Cordwainer Smith (selected by Lois McMaster Bujold), and -- quite unexpectedly -- "A Martian Odyssey" by Stanley G. Weinbaum (selected by L. Sprague de Camp). Actually, the low quality of an occasional story is understandable, since the writer making the selection might be choosing based not on any inherent quality but on the impact it made on him/her. (In fact, Greg Bear suggests as much in his introduction to "The Mathenauts", and even admits the story's lack in that which is usually defined as quality.)
But aside from those three, the rest of the anthology is amazing. My personal recommendations are... too long to list here without lapsing into monotony, but here are are a few hints: Theodore Sturgeon's "The Man Who Lost the Sea" (selected by Arthur C. Clarke), Eric Frank Russell's "Diabologic" (selected by Andre Norton), Ward Moore's "Lot" (selected by Connie Willis), and Roger Zelazny's "The Engine at Heartspring's Center" (selected by Gregory Benford). Oops: listed more than I meant to. Just goes to show how many of the stories in this volume I enjoyed immensely.
And since not nearly all of the "name authors" available in SF have been exhausted, I look forward to future volumes constructed along the same scheme. I can't wait.
on January 22, 2000
This book is the kind which should be judged not only for the value of its content, but also for the underlying message that it contains as a whole. In other words, it is more than just a collection of stories. As the reader finishes each tale, he or she should ask the question, "Besides whether or not I myself enjoyed this story, what about it could have inspired someone to make the decision to become a writer of science fiction?" Although some might make more critical evaluations, most people should find that each entry has a common answer: the author loved his work and wanted to convey that to the reader. "Favorite" is a very subjective word, and this book is absolutely subjective. No one will agree on every story being high quality, but everyone will agree that, somewhere, we all hold a science fiction story dear to our heart. This book is good reading, if only for the joyful presentation of the genre.
on July 19, 1999
I very much looked forward to reading this, seeing as it contains stories by pros which were chosen by OTHER pros as their favorites. Aside from the first story by Sturgeon (The Man Who Lost the Sea), which is a fascinating example of how to tease the reader, I thought this was a very poor collection. I seriously question whether the authors actually chose the stories themselves, or if they just lent their names to this book. Also, "The Black Bag" is one of the most amateurish stories I've ever read.