The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Edited by Robert Silverberg
In 1968 the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) polled their members to find the best short story published before the inception of SFWA’s Nebula Awards in 1966. This anthology contains the top fifteen stories from that poll, plus eleven more from the next fifteen, selected by editor Robert Silverberg. Only one story per author was allowed, leading to the twenty-six stories in this volume constituting a veritable who’s who of mid-twentieth century science fiction authors.
Topping the poll was ’Nightfall’ by Isaac Asimov, a story of the psychological breakdown of society when night falls on a planet for the first time in 2000 years. Also coming in near the top of the list is ‘Flowers for Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes, a poignant story of an experiment to increase the intelligence of a man with low IQ, which unfortunately turns out not to be permanent.
The superb ‘Cold Equations’ by Tom Godwin is included, which tells of a stowaway on board an emergency shuttle, delivering life-saving medicine to a colony planet. The ship can’t reach its destination with the extra weight of the stowaway (an innocent 18 year old girl) and she must accept her ultimate fate or condemn the colonists and herself to death.
Other highlights of the anthology include ‘The Nine Billion Names of God’ by Arthur C. Clarke, which has one of the best closing lines of any story, anywhere; ‘Arena’ by Fredric Brown, which was the basis for the Star Trek episode of the same name; ‘A Rose For Ecclesiastes’ by Roger Zelazny, which has been described as the best story of a declining Martian civilisation ever written; ‘Mars is Heaven’ by Ray Bradbury, which finds the crew of an expedition to Mars meeting their dead relatives and ‘That Only a Mother’ by Judith Merril, highlighting the 50s paranoia with mutations which may occur following an atomic war.
Some of the stories are ‘of their time’ and need to be read with this in mind, but none are unreadable.
All in all, this is a must-have collection for any reader interested in the development of science fiction from its pulp magazine roots.