Something I always look for when perusing used bookstores are science fiction anthologies. Partially, this is because, as a short story writer, it’s useful to see what’s come before, but mainly because I really enjoy reading short fiction, especially the stuff published until about 1990 or so, when the genre was focused more on entertainment than anything else.
It’s not unusual to encounter incredible stories forgotten in the pages of some battered mass market paperback, and that discovery is always wonderful. So my bookshelves are kind of packed with random anthologies chosen for no other reason than that I found them on a shelf at some point.
The latest in this quixotic quest was the 1973 antho Jupiter, edited by Frederick and Carol Pohl, which included colossi like Asimov, Clarke, Blish, Simak, Weinbaum, Anderson, and del Rey. Only two stories were by authors whose name I failed to recognize immediately.
But the names, amazingly, are secondary. The most interesting part of this one is the date. 1973. Jupiter was just being explored, then. The major NASA probes were on their way, but enough had been discovered to remove any possibility of the pre-war sword & planet tales being possible. By 1973, everyone knew that the gas giants had atmospheres at least a few hundred kilometers thick and that any surface activity would need to take place under horrendous pressures and in chemically difficult conditions.
And yet even the more modern stories in the antho assume that there is a surface that can be used under the atmosphere–thinking that today’s discoveries have ruled out. Which means that, even though there’s a certain amount to modern feel to the tales, the fact that many of them take place on the surface of Jupiter gives them a bit of a sword & planet feel anyway. We know this isn’t how it is, and the story is superseded by reality.
That doesn’t stop one from enjoying them anyway and, as is often the case, the very best of them in my opinion was Lester del Rey’s “Habit”. I’ve always thought del Rey to be enormously underrated–whenever he has a story in a volume with the real heavyweights, it usually holds its own or better.
Second place goes to Clarke’s “A Meeting with Medusa”. This one, while not as entertaining as the del Rey, is imbued with the spectacular sense of wonder that the best SF stories always have. Clarke was a true master of the form.
Overall, however, this one, though entertaining, is for completists and people who don’t mind reading stories that science has since left behind (interestingly, the Clarke and the del Rey, my two favorites, were also the ones that could be published today with little modification, as none of the story depends on old science). Good, but not great.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest collection of short fiction (none of them based on old science yet) is entitled Off the Beaten Path. You can check it out (and hopefully buy it) here.