The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1: 1929-1964

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume 1 - Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Anthony Boucher, Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg, Damon Knight, Alfred Bester, Richard Matheson, Fritz Leiber, Daniel Keyes, Cordwainer Smith, Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, James Blish, Fredric Brown, A.E. van Vog I've been reading quite a few science fiction books lately, particularly anthologies, and this one stands out as special. It's comprised of the 26 stories voted into the "Science Fiction Hall of Fame" as the best in the genre under 15,000 words by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Spanning from 1934 to 1963, these are all stories from before the group established their yearly Nebula Awards and are from the "Golden Age of Science Fiction." I think that gave the voters some perspective, a little distance from politics and personalities, because this is about as strong a group of science fiction stories as you can get in one volume. Nine of the twenty-six were also nominated for or won Hugo Awards, the other major award in the field. One sci-fi anthology I read recently I found disappointing was Dangerous Visions, a 1967 anthology of what were supposed to be innovative, daring stories by the "New Wave" writers in contrast to the staid old timers. But I found more stories truly innovative here in style (Matheson's "Born of Man and Woman," Smith's "Scanners Live in Vain," Bester's "Fondly Fahrenheit") and daring and iconoclastic (Boucher's "Quest for Saint Aquin," Clarke's "Nine Billion Names of God," even in its way Vogt's "The Weapon Shop" and Knight's "Country of the Kind") without ever being...well crude. There was only one story I considered rather weak, and that was Judith Merril's "That Only a Mother." Along with C.L. Moore who co-wrote one story, Merril was the only female writer represented--and I had to wonder if that was part of why Silverberg chose the story, especially since it didn't come in on the "mandatory" first fifteen in the balloting listed in the introduction. (Female science fiction writers were thin on the ground then. Anne McCaffrey was the first to win a Nebula or Hugo in 1968.) On the other hand, that story by Merril--and others given the chronological order--did give an interesting picture of the fears of the post-nuclear age. If I counted stories I loved--truly loved, that would be 21 out of the 26. If I was forced to name a top five... 1) "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov - One of those stories that made me fall in love with science fiction--this story I had read long before--and absolutely deserves listing as among the best. It came in first in the vote tally. You'll never look at the night sky in the same way again. Trust me. 2) "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes - This isn't simply one of the best science fiction stories I've read, but one of the best short stories period. Later expanded into a novel and made into the film Charly, I love how this tells its story through diary entries--showing the changes in its protagonist directly in the way he writes. A heart-breaking story. 3) "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" by Roger Zelazny - Written in a pitch perfect first person, this is the most lyrical story in the book--fitting given the poet protagonist. And yes, as the title promises, the story is poignant and haunting. (Campbell's time-travel story "Twilight" had a similar quality.) 4) "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" by Lewis Padgett - Padgett is the pseudonym of the husband and wife writing team of C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Moore is a favorite author of mine--I own a collection of her short stories. This one wasn't in there, and I began it skeptical it could possibly top "Vintage Season" in quality. Well, it didn't top it--but it did match it. And that's quite a feat. One of the rare stories with convincing child characters, it would have made a great Twilight Zone episode--which could be said of quite a few stories in this book. (See, for instance "Mars is Heaven!," "The Little Black Bag" or "It's a Good Life.") 5) "Surface Tension" by James Blish - I just loved the way this created a completely unique world--one where humanity spans a world the size of a puddle with protozoa allies and rotifer enemies and the challenge of...surface tension. "Microcosmic Gods" was another standout in that regard. That's not even to mention the pleasures of reading Brown's "Arena," which was a basis for an episode of Classic Trek. Or of Leinster's "First Contact" the most light-hearted of the stories. Or the phantasmagorical "A Martian Odyssey" by Weinbaum. Or Godwin's "The Cold Equations," a favorite of Robert Heinlein--or an early story by Heinlein himself, "The Roads Must Roll" I had never read. Or... Truly, if you like or are curious about science fiction at all, I'd call this one not just a must-read but a must-buy. In hardcover no less. Which is what I have, and will remain on my bookshelves forever more, amen. I only wish I had volumes that would cover as well the years since 1965 in the genre.