Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Treasury Of Great Science Fiction, Vol 1, Anthony Boucher

Title: A Treasury Of Great Science Fiction, Vol 1
Editor: Anthony Boucher
Rating: Poor

This was a waste of time. I kept reading only out of the hope that the next item in this anthology would be better. They really weren't. And there is a second volume to this tome and I am not at all sure I am going to bother trying to sled through it the way I did this one.

This anthology was compiled in the 1959 and mostly appears to contain material published in the early 1950s. These pieces are almost all very, very dated. Most are just plain poor in my opinion. They include:
  • Re-Birth by John Wyndham. A short novel about a post atomic apocalypse society. 125 pages of trudging predictability.

  • The Shape Of Things That Came by Richard Deming. A short story that might have been fascinating in 1950 but is horribly out of place in 2007.

  • Pillar Of Fire by Ray Bradbury. I know he's supposed to be this god-like author, but this wasn't a winner for me. And in fact, viewed with our sensibilities in 2007, he'd probably be locked up for writing this now, particularly if he wrote it as a kid or in college. It's basically a horror story, though, set somewhere in the future, with a couple mentions of rockets that probably caused people to think of it as SF. Not in my definition, but...

  • Waldo by Robert Heinlein. Now I know why mechanical devices that manipulate items in place of people's hands are called "waldoes", but beyond that there isn't anything to recommend this novella. I've always had trouble with Heinlein, but this is problematic in an entirely different way from his later works. Waldo is boring. His later works are patently offensive.

  • The Father Thing by Philip K. Dick. Another horror story; definitely not SF. I am starting to think that much early SF was actually horror in disguise, and that renders it much less interesting to me.

  • The Children's Hour by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore. This one borders on fantasy, rather than SF, and it's a pretty dull tale of a relationship doomed to failure.

  • Gomez by C. M. Kornbluth. A childish tale - though perhaps not from the POV of 1953 or so - about someone working out important atomic secrets on his own. Other than enhancing my impression of the paranoia of the 1950s about our atomic secrets, there's nothing of interest here.

  • The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff by Theodore Sturgeon. This novella is probably the strongest entry in the book. Again it bordered more on fantasy than SF, but it was actually centered on a whole series of complex relationships, and kept me interested as a result. Not enough to re-read it, but it was OK.

  • Sandra by George P. Elliott. I have no idea why this was included in a volume of SF. I'd call it an alternate history piece, I guess. The central idea is that slavery still exists (the time of the story is not specified, nor is it easy to determine from context) and the main character presents in writing the development of the relationship with his female slave. I found the entire thing pointless and offensive.

  • Beyond Space And Time by Joel Townsley Rogers. A travesty of a hard SF story. I'd never heard of Joel Townsley Rogers before reading this, and I hope I never hear of him again. A quick google search tells me that he was prolific. I'll continue to avoid him, and if you're ever offered the chance to read this short story, don't bother. It's the worst of the lot in this book.

  • The Martian Crown Jewels by Poul Anderson. A rather predictable pseudo-locked room mystery set in the future and involving space travel. Yawn.

  • The Weapon Shops Of Isher by A. E. van Vogt. An oddball novella with some appeal, but I found it slow going for reasons I am not entirely sure I understand. There are a few interrelated plot lines and a reasonably well fleshed out universe, but something seemed lacking.
And there you have it. Many of the giants of SF have pieces in this collection, and my impression is mostly not good. To be honest, the editor states that he was trying to "get together a great deal of good reading in modern (1938-1950) s.f. which had been overlooked by earlier anthologists". I suggest there is a reason these works were overlooked.

As a sociological study, however, there is a tiny bit of interest here. Female characters are scarce and female leads are even less common, everyone smokes, and the predictions for the future are mostly lame. None of those is a good reason to read this volume - or these works in other locations - but if you were making a study of just how far wrong SF can go, this might be an interesting place to start.