Monday, January 11, 2016

Vintage Science Fiction: The Great SF Stories 25

Title: Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 25
Edited by: Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg
Pages: 381
ISBN: 0886775183
Publisher: DAW
Published: 1992
Genre: Short Stories / Science Fiction
Source: Owned

In 1963, the world was in a state of turmoil and change. racial unrest and civil rights marches, President Kennedy's assassination, the establishment of the "hot line" between Washington and Moscow, the discovery of the quasar, and the first human organ transplants, all were seminal events. And the concerns of the time, the fears about where humankind might be heading, and the hopes for a better future are reflected in masterful stories by some of the science fiction's all-time greats.
When I started looking for something to read for the Vintage Science Fiction not-a-challenge hosted by the Little Red Reviewer I was rather perplexed to find that most of my collection consists of books from the 1990s onward. Luckily I stumbled on one title with sufficiently yellowed edges – a sure indication of a suitably geriatric book (or inferior paper) worthy of being called vintage.

It turned out that the book in question, Isaac Asimov presents The Great SF Stories 25, was actually published in 1992. Luckily the anthology consisted of stories published in 1963 so I was all set to go.

The table of contents reads like the who’s who of early science fiction and it was interesting to read stories by some lesser-known authors which I hadn’t encountered before.
Fortress Ship by Fred Saberhagen
Not In The Literature by Christopher Anvil
The Totally Rich by John Brunner
No Truce With Kings Paul Anderson
New Folk’s Home by Clifford D. Simak
The Faces Outside by Bruce McAllister
Hot Planet by Hal Clement
The Pain Peddlers by Robert Silverberg
Turn of the Sky by Rey Nelson
They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To by Alfred Bester
Bernie the Faust by William Tenn
A Rose For Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny
If There Were No Benny Cemoli by Philip K. DIck

Six stories really stood out for me. The best story in the collection turned out to be The Pain Peddlers by Robert Silverberg. It is a rather macabre tale of a TV executive preying on the pain of others in order to get the rights to broadcast that pain to his viewers allowing them to experience the pain themselves via intensifier helmets. In the end he gets what he had coming.

No Truce With Kings by Paul Anderson was my second favourite story. An otherworldly force is interfering in the politics of mankind leading to a civil war in a post-nuclear America. A powerful and evocative tale about freedom, belief and the cost of fighting for those beliefs.

New Folk’s Home by Clifford D. Simak was a strange one and I’m not really sure why I ended up liking it so much. While going on one last adventure before checking himself into an Old folk’s home a retired law professor discovers a mysterious house. A house that might just hold the key to his future. Who knew a story revolving around law could be so interesting?

Hot Planet by Hal Clement falls more firmly in the hard SF category. A scientific expedition to Mercury is endangered by sudden volcanic activity. I loved the focus on the scientists and the fact that they use science to resolve the situation. A modern audience might say they scienced the shit out of it.

They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To by Alfred Bester reminded me a lot of I Am Legend. The last two survivors of the human race cross paths in a devastated world. While the conclusion of the story was mostly predictable the impact of the story is in the differing ways these two people try to cope with the trauma of their existence. I also liked the somewhat odd touch that the characters felt compelled to leave IOUs in all the shops they looted.

Finally there was A Rose For Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny - a very touching and poignant tale that stays with you. The story grows in impact the longer you contemplate it. A gifted poet and linguist from Earth is sent to study the history of the Martian race. While reading their sacred texts he makes a startling discovery and unwittingly plays a part in fulfilling a prophecy that leaves him scarred.

Overall I enjoyed the collection of stories on offer. While some of them didn’t age all that well, particularly those relying heavily on the political climate and beliefs of the time, most of them still had the ability to resonate with me on some level. One thing I found exceptionally jarring, aside from the dated technology (vacuum tubes and tapes!), was how often the stories involved smoking. This was particularly ironic when, in one of the stories, a character gave a Martian a cigarette and proceeded to instruct her on the divine joy of smoking only for it to be later revealed that said Martian race is actually on the verge of dying out. I guess a couple of smokes couldn't hurt. 

The Verdict:
Isaac Asimov presents The Great SF Stories 25 is a very enjoyable read with some superb short fiction to discover. Some of the stories are very much a product of their time and haven’t aged well, but most have stood the test of time surprisingly well. If you are at all interested in vintage science fiction, then this anthology would be a good place to start.

The Rating: 6 / 10 (Good)


  1. 1992 wasn't that long ago was it? I hate to think it's "Vintage", makes me feel old! I am going to look for this though, I think I will like it. Right now reading Suns of End series by Robert Gryn, is his site. Fields of Rust is the first volume, and I am hooked!!

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