Visions of Paradise

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Great Science Fiction Short Novels, part 1

Groff Conklin was one of the finest and most important anthologizers of pre-1960 science fiction, and it is unfortunate that he has been mostly forgotten since his death. Starting with The Best of Science Fiction in 1946, through The Classic Book of Science Fiction in 1982, he edited or co-edited more than 45 reprint anthologies, the majority of which were science fiction. A contemporary reader could not do better discovering the history of the sf genre than by reading a selection of Conklin’s anthologies, such as Six Great Science Fiction Short Novels, which was originally published in 1960.

The opening story is Isaac Asimov’s “Galley Slave,” one of his robot stories which, as usual, explores the ramifications of the Three Laws of Robotics. This story is primarily a courtroom mystery about a university professor suing U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men Inc. since one of its robots allegedly destroyed his career by deliberately changing his career-defining paper during the editing process. As usual, this was a clever, although not particularly deep, story that was fun reading.

Judith Merrill’s “Project Nursemaid” is the longest story in the book, at nearly 35,000 words. Although it was originally published in F&SF in 1955, it is a definite precursor of the 1960s New Wave since it is primarily a character study of several people seen through the eyes of the narrator, who also develops as a person during the long novella. The story is only borderline science fiction, since it is concerned with a project which is selecting babies to be raised in space under lesser-gravity conditions, as well as women to serve as their nursemaids. But other than this premise, the story could easily have been revised to be a mainstream story. In any case, it was very well done, and very enjoyable reading, one of the highlights of the book.

Of my very favorite writers–Silverberg, Bishop, Robinson, Simak, Zelazny, Cherryh–the one who speaks to me most personally is Simak. Very frequently while reading one of his stories I find myself nodding in agreement, thinking about how what he says relates to my own life. Such is true in “The Final Gentleman.” It is the story of a famous writer who decides he cannot write any longer, and almost immediately afterwards all he recalls about his past life is turning out to be false. This is reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode, except Simak resolves the whole situation in a very sfnal manner. Not top-notch Simak, but even mid-level Simak is better than most other writers.

To be continued...


  • We must have had a similar history in reading SF. Groff Conklin was one of my favorite library finds in my early days. You are right that he seems to have been forgotten. Thank you for reminding me of this great anthologist. I will have to search out some of his anthologies to review.

    Every time I read your list of favorite authors, you make me rearrange my TBR stacks.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 9:11 AM  

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