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.