18 January 2013

Review: Tales from Super-Science Fiction edited by Robert Silverberg

Trade paperback, 393 pages
Published 2012 (contents: 1955-59) 

Acquired April 2012
Read January 2013
Tales from Super-Science Fiction
edited by Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg fixates a lot on the idea of "fun" in his introduction to this anthology, but I sense that he perhaps had more fun writing for Super-Science Fiction when it was published 1955-59 than I am having reading what got written. After all, who wouldn't like being able to sell three stories a month to a magazine that paid the best in the business?  Not Silverberg (and not Harlan EllisonTM, none of whose stories are in this volume, unfortunately).

But with fourteen stories, this book has enough room to be good and be bad, and thankfully the good makes the bad worth it.  James Gunn turns in an almost prescient critique of a consumer economy gone mad (and how fortunate that I read this book at Christmastime, even if the story was set in the summer) in "Every Day is Christmas," with a suitably dark ending. I also enjoyed "Song of the Axe" by Don Berry: I didn't always get what had happened or why, but the details were intriguing enough that I didn't care; it's definitely the best fleshing out of an alien culture in this collection (where aliens are often just foils for Our Brave White Spacemen).

Robert Moore Williams's "I Want to Go Home" was maybe my favorite story in the collection: short and creepy, but seemingly universal. A great idea I wouldn't want to spoil one jot by explaining it.  Alan E. Nourse's "The Gift of Numbers," about a criminal who transfers his mathematical abilities to someone else, was also a delightful and clever idea. And big kudos to Tom Godwin for writing "A Place Beyond the Stars" and Silverberg for including the story: a very cool idea from a guy who deserves to be remembered for something other than "The Cold Equations."

Jack Vance's "World of Origin" was one of the worst ideas for a murder mystery I ever read-- it basically tromps all over Asimov's rules for sf mysteries, and not to good effect. A guy tries to solve a crime based on what planets the suspects come from, applying what he knows of the planets' cultures (a Space Father Brown, maybe?), but it turns out that this is very easy because in the future, every planet will have one easily-defined characteristic that tells you exactly how its citizens murder people. (On Planet Sprocket, you can only murder a man when riding a bicycle. On Planet Academia, you can only murder someone if you publish a monograph on it. On Planet Cricket, you can only murder someone with a cricket bat used to win the Ashes. These aren't real examples... but they could be.)

"The Tool of Creation" by J. F. Bone is boring because it sets up a nonsensical sf problem (why are all the planets formed like this?) and then answers it via coincidence. I don't care about the problem or the solution. And can we call for a retroactive moratorium on all sf stories that involve "twist" endings? Except for the good ones, of course.

I found Silverberg's own two contribution ("Catch 'Em All Alive" and "The Loathsome Beasts") dull and flat, typical sf tropes played out uninterestingly, but his introduction is great, and he even provides individual introductions to each story/writer, an anthology practice that I always enjoy, and am disappointed we don't see more often. This is a well-planned packaging of some forgotten sf, and while the stories might not be a fun to read as they were to write, they're fun enough to pick up and look through at the least.

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