Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Treasury Of Great Science Fiction, Vol 2, Anthony Boucher

Title: A Treasury Of Great Science Fiction, Vol 2
Editor: Anthony Boucher
Rating: Neutral

Well, I didn't actually expect to get to this right away, but they way things fell out, it happened. As with volume one, this is a collection of SF from the 1940s and 1950s. It was only slightly better than the first volume, sadly. Read on for the details about the specific contents:
  • Brain Wave by Poul Anderson. A short novel about an odd change in the way people think - actually in the physics of the world causing people to think more clearly and rapidly. I found this rather painful reading. Predictable as well.

  • Bullard Reflects by Malcom Jameson. A short story that left me entirely cold. I suspect it was supposed to be humorous but it was just pathetic.

  • The Lost Years by Oscar Lewis. This isn't SF, it's alternate history, though I suspect that category didn't exist when this collection was assembled. It's a short story describing what might have happened had Abraham Lincoln survived the assassination. I found it interesting reading.

  • Dead Center by Judith Merril. A hard SF short story about early rocket flight and moon exploration. Sadly it just doesn't hold up to reality in hindsight.

  • Lost Art by George O. Smith. A hard SF story full of improbable jargon about human engineers attempting to understand and reverse-engineer a Martian electrical device. Implausible in the extreme, sadly.

  • The Other Side Of The Sky by Arthur C. Clark. A short story presenting the memories and tales of someone working on an early space station. Clark writes hard SF here, and much of what he writes is close enough to reality to give it a pass even now, but he can't tell a story about people well at all. A shame, really.

  • The Man Who Sold The Moon by Robert A. Heinlein. A bad novella by a supposed master - one I can rarely read. This one describes early moon exploration assuming that it was driven by companies rather than governments. Among the vast number of irritating things about this story was the implicit claim that one person could design an entire moon transport vehicle. I don't know why I finished this one... I certainly kept hoping it would end.

  • Magic City by Nelson S. Bond. A post apocalyptic tale in which the survivors start down the path to regaining some of the lost knowledge of their forbears. Predictable and pedantic.

  • The Morning Of The Day They Did It by E. B. White. An end-of-civilization short story of no merit at all. It was supposed to be hard SF at the time, but in reality it got things so wrong - even then - that I can't imagine why it was reprinted here.

  • Piggy Bank by Henry Kuttner. Another short story that would have been better left un-reprinted. This one documents the downfall of a wealthy man as a result of his own greed. The entire thing can only be described as silly.

  • Letters From Laura by Mildred Clingerman. A bad short story about time travel. Pointless.

  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. A novel, bridging the SF/fantasy gap in my mind. I'm of mixed opinions about this one. Early on I hated it, and hoped it would end, but it grew on me for some reason. It's frankly not believable, and the main character goes through too much change to be realistic, but somehow the story kept it together. I haven't read anything else by Bester, so I don't know what else he's written, but this one at least wound up interesting in the end.
As with the first volume, many of the giants of SF are represented here, and nearly all fail to produce what I would call good work.

I have no other comments except this: in both of these volumes I kept running into characters who smoke. The action of smoking appears in probably 80% of the items included in both volumes. Why? I know smoking was cool in the 50's, but was it really that entwined with our culture? I shudder to think about it.