Best of Science Fiction, The

By Groff Conklin (editor, 1946)

5/10

A rather stodgy collection that is best read in spurts, or by skipping certain sections completely. It’s laid out in six sections, the first three of which weren’t that appealing (and one of THOSE — The Atom — which you could probably skip completely due to how dated it is).

The only memorable stories in those first three sections were from the Wonders of the Earth section: “Killdozer!” a surprisingly compelling tale about a possessed bulldozer, and “Davy Jones’ Ambassador,” an underwater adventure that reminded me a lot of the James Cameron film “The Abyss.” The third section, The Superscience of Man, was the most disappointing for me as it had the big names of short fiction — Poe, Doyle, Wells and Julian Huxley — but featured telepathy and body-swapping stories that were uniformly dull.

The best stories by far were by two other big names — Heinlein and Asimov — and found in the last From Outer Space section. Heinlein’s “Universe” was a proto-Matrix type dystopian hero’s journey about a huge spaceship whose inhabitants believe there is no outer world. It featured some well-layered philosophical and religious musings about the nature of reality and how people become entrenched in their beliefs. Asimov’s “Blind Alley” is a fascinating psychological examination of colonization with a great payoff as only Asimov does.

The other stories worth reading are “Ultimate Metal,” about a newly discovered alloy whose inventor doesn’t research enough before implementation; “The Machine,” about a disastrous world where a supercomputer takes care of all of humanities needs; “The Monster from Nowhere,” a cool mystery about an extra-dimensional “monster”; and “The Search,” one of the best and most complete time-travel stories I’ve read.

Still, that’s a pretty low ratio of good stories and the entire collection is forgettable except as a nifty glimpse at the origins of the genre. Campbell’s preface is pretty interesting as well, in any case significantly moreso than Conklin’s.

 

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