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March 2003
2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. One:
The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time,
Chosen by the Members of the Science Fiction Writers of America
Edited by Robert Silverberg
Tor
Hardcover: ISBN 0765305364 PubDate Feb 03
Review by Ernest Lilley
560 pages List price $27.95  
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Chosen by the members of SFWA, and edited by Grand Master Robert Silverberg, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. One, 1929-1964 has a lot to live up to to meet my expectations.

It exceeds them handily. SFWA and Silverberg managed to do for a span of three-plus decades what Gardner Dozois pulls off like clockwork in his Years Best SF. They've captured the best of what was and put it together in an eye opening array of stories.  26 in all, originally published in 1970 (which explains why nobody asked me to vote) it's been too long out of print. You should not miss this opportunity to get a copy this time around.

When was the Golden Age of SF? Editor David Hartwell's misleading, if accurate, "about 14" notwithstanding, it's somewhere between these covers. The short story has always been a favorite form for SF, and the gems displayed here shine under any light you bring to bear on them. They are at once a window into the past, the present and the future. In them we revisit the dreams of days gone by, get a sense of how we got to where we are, and realize that the future was never all that far away. Suddenly the stories in here don't seem either farfetched...and often they don't seem as naive as they've been painted over the years.

Ok, and sometimes they seem flat out hilarious in the light of the new day. Just to be fair. But in here is more often the vision of a future we still wish for, though we'd tweak it a bit to make it accessible for all, but I believe that these authors would have approved of that were they here today.

For instance, in the very first story in the collection, A Martian Odyseey, by Stanley Weinbaum, his anglo speaking male adventurer character is retelling his hairbreadth escape from the natives of Mars, and how an alien saved his life. The alien didn't speak English, didn't think the way we think, and wasn't a white male from New Jersey no matter how you look at it, but still the character remarks, "The point I'm making is that Tweel and his race are worthy of our friendship. Somewhere on Mars - and you'll find I'm right - is a civilization and culture equal to ours, and maybe more than equal. And communication is possible between them and us."

That's the spirit of SF in a nutshell. It's about making friends out of strangers, no matter how strange they might seem. Bug Eyed Monsters were the province of Hollywood, but SF was created by engineers with a sense of adventure. SF isn't about the fear of the unknown, about how embracing it could expand our universe, and all you had to do to be allowed to play was read the rulebook and agree to live by it...and the rulebook was a physics text.

Even then, SF is open to many voices. Asimov's underlying theme wasn't about the ability of rational man to overcome the universe...witness Nightfall in these pages, Bradbury either. That man has always given me the creeps with his dangerous visions of the Martians within us. And even Clarke, the SF's ultimate reference for hardness, offers up some post-modern irony in The Nine Billion Names of God. Want to get confused about the objectification of women? Read Lester del Rey's Helen O'Loy, a stirring tale of when men were men, and women were made of "spun plastics and metals". Read them all and make up your own minds about what SF is about.

If I were going to teach a course on SF, this would definitely be the short story text for the first semester. I'd love to get this in e-book to have on hand in my e-reference library. So many good quotes and ideas are in here that I only wish I could search for them using my whiz-bang electro-word-finder gizmo. Of course, that would mean that I didn't spend hours getting sidetracked every time my eye fell on a familiar (or better yet, unfamiliar) passage, so perhaps it's for the best.

Just one more thing. You can't borrow my copy. Don't even think about it. Go buy your own.

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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