There are few experiences quite as disheartening as discovering that a genre you love had some growing pains. Unfortunately, most things worth having suffered at some point, and science fiction, quite obviously, was not the exception.
The genres dark ages happened in the sixties and seventies. Riding a wave of enthusiasm derived from the Pulp Era and the Golden Age, science fiction hit the days of hippies, pop culture and Vietnam with a resounding thud, and something called the New Wave.
Now, as someone who entered the genre in the 1980s, I was surprised to learn about this. To me, science fiction was Clarke, Heinlein and especially Asimov, three men who dominated the field in 1987 or so, just as they did in the fifties. To anyone joining then, it was as if the New Wave never happened. It’s still kind of that way today, except that all of us recognize that New Wave sensibilities did give us one colossus of the genre, Dune, and another literary great, LeGuin. Other than that, it has mostly been forgotten.
But the anthologies are still out there, places where one can see the atrocities perpetrated against the genre in all their unfortunate luridity. Perhaps the greatest of the criminals against genre during the New Wave era was Judith Merril. At the time a respected anthologist, her collections tend to be strings of empty stories that mainly paid homage to the times and have little lasting value.
Unfortunately, she was also quite prolific, and she compiled a lot of the era’s “Year’s Best” collections, so she’s the first anthologist you’re likely to encounter, and the one that will form your view.
All of the above is just a very long-winded way of saying that when I picked up The Best of Sci-Fi 17 x Infinity, published in 1963, I was expecting more of the same. Pop-minded crap where density of composition attempted to hide a lack of originality and ideas… boy was I mistaken.
This one actually covers much more ground than other anthos of the era, and includes stories by such colossi as Rudyard Kipling and E. M. Forster. And before you ask, these aren’t stories “considered” to be science fiction – these are straight SF yarns with no excuses given; cover the writer’s name, and you’d guess Golden Age Astounding.
When you add in more modern authors such as Asimov, Herbert, Bradbury Pohl and Sturgeon it becomes… well, quite simply, this was one of the best SF anthos I’ve ever read. Perhaps not cutting edge by modern standards, it was a breeze to read… which is the way to know you’re enjoying something.
Favorite tale was probably Herbert’s, which was funny as hell and would probably cause a few interesting meltdowns if someone published it today… which is always a plus.
Track this one down and get a copy. It’s probably only worth a couple of dollars at your friendly neighborhood used book store. You’ll enjoy this one.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose latest book – Timeless – was recently released. You can check it out here.