The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two A: The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time Chosen by the Members of The Science Fiction Writers of America
Edited by Ben Bova
Cover Artist: Moonbase Masudaya by Kenn Brown
Review by Ernest Lilley
Orb Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765305350
Date: 07 July 2009 List Price $18.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two A: The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time Chosen by the Members of The Science Fiction Writers of America (SF Hall of Fame) has a long winded title, but it lives up to it. It's also got an interesting publishing history, having first come out over three decades ago in 1973 to honor stories that were written before the Nebula Award, which is chosen by the SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America.
SFWA chose the stories in this collection as well which was then edited by Ben Bova, who would later become the organization's president. Unable to fit all the absolutely necessary novellas into one book he talked his editor into making a two book set of it. This is the first half.
"Call Me Joe" written by Poul Anderson, who was SFWA president when the collectin was first released, is a classic story about personality transfer that could well have been the inspiration for the upcoming film Avatar which does much the same thing, though Anderson's setting is a research project on Jupiter, not a battlefield with aliens.
"Who Goes There" was written by one of the most important editors the field has ever known, and if not the most prolific, one of the best authors in his own right. If you've not read it, you still know the story, or the films that have been made from it over the years, about an alien in the midst of a team of scientists at a research base in Antarctica, wondering which of them might be...The Thing.
I'd never thought of "Nerves" by Lester Del Rey, as a novella, since I read it in a 50 cent paperback edition long ago. Reading the tale of an atomic age full of promise and peril, written over half a century ago, is fascinating, both for their naivete and our hubris.
Heinlein's "Universe" is a seminal work about the long slow journey between the stars, and how likely we are to get lost in the centuries it will take to go there. Not lost as in his "Starman Jones" but in the greater sense, when the crew no longer understands that the world they live in is a ship, traveling towards a star. Though this plot has been used repeatedly in science fiction TV shows, forming the setup for Bova's own Starlost, which he walked away from after one episode, I don't think it's ever been made into a film.
"The Marching Morons" by C.M. Kornbluth, is an interesting piece of cautionary storytelling. It has resonated in many stories since, though I don't think it has actually been made over, though bits of Jim Henson's Dark Crystal channel bits of it.
"Vintage Season" by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore (writing as Lawrence O'Donnell) is a fine piece of time travel fiction, but unfortunately, I'm not much on this particular subgenre, though I've softened up since the notion of the multi-verse has gotten into the genre. Here, it's the old deterministic notion of past, present, and future, though when it was written, it could hardly have been called old.
"And Then There Were None" written by Eric Frank Russel, isn't the most science fictional story in the bunch, but it's always been one of my most favorite. Reading it again makes it none the less so. Libertarian utopias are a wonderful fantasy, and who knows? Maybe on some remote planet humans will work out how to make them work, or at least how to mind their own business.
Theodore Sturgeon's "Baby is Three" is an early and chilling piece of posthumanist fiction, where a young man digs into his own mind to discover what he is. It's an important work, and frames the importance of psychiatry at the time of its writing, but it's not my favorite. It does leave me uneasy though, so maybe it's doing what it set out to.
"The Time Machine" by H.G. Wells. Need I say more? Yes, the language is stiff by today's standards, but the story stands the test of (wait for it) time.
The collection closes "With Folded Hands", Jack Williamson's story of robot domination. You may fear the coming of terminators and killer robots, but there are fates worse than death, as Jack brilliantly demonstrates.
The stories in here are all old friends, some of whom I'd forgotten, at least until I read the first few lines. None of whom I regret reading again, not surprising I suppose, but still reassuring that amidst all the good writing going on today (and there's plenty) that stories from the golden age still shine.