The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two B: The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time Chosen by the Members of the Science Fiction Writers
by Ben Bova (Editor)
Cover Artist: Kenn Brown
Review by Andrew Brooks
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765305329
Date: 29 April 2008 List Price $29.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two B is a collection of novellas selected by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), and is a reprint of the original 1973 novella edited by Ben Bova. Since the Nebula Awards were began in 1965 the collection is SFWA's way of honoring those works from the golden age that were written prior to the annual awarding of science fiction's greatest works. Apparently, SFWA came up with a plethora of deserving stories because Volume Two B is the second part of a two book anthology that features twenty-two novellas. I've not read the first half of the second volume, nor the first volume itself, but if the stories in Two B are an indicator there's some great stuff there. These are stories and writers a lot of readers new to science fiction may never have read before. Hopefully with the books being reissued that will change.
The first story is "The Martian Way" by Isaac Asimov, a tale of Mars-born Scavengers. In the future there's a living to be made from searching through space for the used lower stages of spacecraft, and then tagging them and sending them on the way towards Mars. Mario Rioz and Ted Long are partners that at first don't understand each other, Long having given up a cushy job for a life of Scavenging. He doesn't understand what Long calls "The Martian Way". But when politicians from Earth dub their cousins on Mars "Wasters" the two are thrust into coming up with a way to keep the most important source of energy for their planet, water, from being cut off. Long comes up with a plan to search the rings of Saturn for large hunks of ice, while the politicians from Earth pressure the government on Mars to sign an agreement ending all water exports to their colony. I liked this story a lot, way more than I thought I would when I first started in on it. There's a passage in this novella where the crew's on their way to Saturn, discover the joy and exhilaration of floating outside their ships in space that heightened the you are there sense. Asimov's style is simple and direct, but no less poetic for it.
Another novella I found very enjoyable is "Rogue Moon" by Algis Budrys, a story about two men trying to find their way through an alien structure on the Moon. The structure, as scientists find out, operates by a set of rules that when broken instantly kills any who enter it. Using a matter transmitter the scientist, Hawks, sends a copies of volunteers to the Moon's surface in order to map out which way to move and which way not to. Frustrated by the volunteers going insane, Hawks looks for and finds a man who is seemingly fearless. The new volunteer, Barker, doesn't go insane after entering and dying in the structure for the first time. As he and Hawks map out the correct rules, the alien artifact will remind you of a video game. Each time Barker gets past one point and dies, he figures out more of the rules of the place and progresses further and further. The dialogue was a little old fashioned, and a little stilted, but the novella was written in 1960. Interestingly enough the main crux of the story centers on the relationships of the characters, something I usually enjoy the most of anything I'm reading, but I found myself more curious about what would lay at the end of the path on the Moon.
My favorite in the collection was "The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forster. Written in 1908 (you read that correctly), the novella is about a future where most of humanity lives beneath the surface of Earth. There, each person lives isolated from the others in a cell which provides them with everything they need. All of these things are provided and maintained by the God-like Machine. Since everything is provided for each person the only thing they have to fill their days is by sharing knowledge with each other via the speaking apparatus. This video conference is imagined in a time where computers were non-existant. Forster was ahead of the curve on that one! When two of the inhabitants of this world decide they wish to explore the surface of Earth the life support apparatus is abolished and a religion in which the Machine must be worshipped is instituted. The ending contains victory and defeat for the mother and son, and seemed to me to be a social commentary on the value of human contact. That Forster never lived to see the internet age, full of virtual contact and the way it has dampened some people's sense of the real people around them, is amazing. I've never read anything by Forster, but I've already started checking (yep) the Internet for more of this author's works.
That's the great thing about this collection, and others like it that seek to expose the old guard to new science fiction readers and writers. While some aspects of each story seemed outdated they still hold a lot of the one thing that drives good science fiction stories -- imagination. And these writers had that in spades. I've only covered my personal favorites in this review, but all of the stories were solid. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume Two B is a collection I highly recommend.