Saturday, August 17, 2013

Great Science Fiction Stories (book)

Selected and Edited by Cordelia Titcomb Smith

Great SF storiesIn 1964, I went off to Camp Wawokiye on Nassau Point on Long Island.* We were only allowed to bring one book with us for the entire summer.  For someone who had turned into a voracious reader, that was an agonizing lack of material.  My choice was a new anthology of stories of the favorite type of reading, Great Science Fiction Stories.
The editor, Cordelia Titcomb Smith is something of a mystery.  Her biographical blurb indicates that she was a librarian at the Lucas County Library  in Maumee, Ohio, in a role that nowadays would be called a specialist in YA fiction.   She had never been connected with any other SF book.** 
The publisher, Dell Books, was a major paperback house in its day, but which rarely published science fiction.  This was part of their Laurel Leaf Library, which fits in the the YA feel.
But whatever the origins, the book took some of the best stories and authors from early SF and put them into paperback.  The table of contents reads:
  • Introduction -- Cordelia Titcomb Smith
  • Vital Factor -- Nelson S. Bond
  • Pottage -- Zenna Henderson
  • The Roads Must Roll -- Robert A. Heinlein
  • The Stolen Bacillus -- H. G. Wells
  • The Star -- H. G. Wells
  • Nightfall -- Isaac Asimov
  • History Lesson -- Arthur C. Clarke
  • In Hiding -- Wilmar H. Shiras
  • The Martian Crown Jewels -- Poul Anderson
  • The Sands of Time -- P. Schuyler Miller
  • Into Space (Excerpt from Round the Moon, the sequel to From the Earth to the Moon) -- Jules Verne
If you know anything about science fiction at all, you know half these writers:  Asimov, Heinlein, Wells, Clarke, Verne.  Poul Anderson is also a great one, though less know to the public at large.  Zenna Henderson made a reputation for her “People” stories (of which this is one) about aliens stranded on Earth.  Nelson Bond is successful but underrated.***  P. Schuyler Miller was book reviewer for Analog for years; this is the only example of his fiction I’ve come across.
And the stories!
  • “Vital Factor” shows exactly what you need to actually go to the stars, with a clever twist ending.
  • “The Roads Must Roll” is one of Heinlein’s best stories, about the use of immense conveyor belts for commuting traffic.  The engineering is fascinating, but it a slam-bang adventure, too.
  • “History Lesson” is one of the great works of the genre, with a Twilight Zone ending years before The Twilight Zone.
  • “The Star” by H.G. Wells is also a cynical look at disaster, completely different in tone from the famous Arthur C. Clarke story of the same name. 
And then there’s “Nightfall,” certainly one of the top ten stories of the Golden Age, and one that packs a punch even now.
I read these stories over and over that summer, in among the swimming and Nok Hockey games.  I was a fan of SF already, but the book made me a fan for life.
*Located in the hamlet of Peconic.  Its most famous resident was Albert Einstein, who spend the summer of 1939 there.
**Other than the UK version of this one, entitled The Best Science Fiction Stories 3.  It also looks like she co-wrote something in 1947 called Paul Bunyan in Geauga County, which seemed to be self-published.
***As I write this, I’m reading Bud Webster’s Past Masters and other Bookish Natterings about forgotten SF writers (highly recommended).  He covers Bond and I couldn’t recall ever having read him until I started on this entry.

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