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A Ton of Science Fiction!

Summary: There are at least six fairly massive surveys of 20th century science fiction covering the stories and the history. I am not sure I’m prepared to say which is the “best”. They all have pros and cons. I will “compare and contrast” the six I am aware of, and offer my thoughts on why you might prefer any of them. This was an interesting exercise, and I’m glad I did it.

The Story: I’ve been reading speculative fiction for over 50 years, and own more than a few anthologies and have read many more.

Back in 2016, I read and enjoyed the newly issued “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection” (BBOSF), edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (2016, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard/Vintage Books). This was a massive survey of science fiction, with 1,178 pages. I checked this out of my regional library consortium. My overall response was “Well done, amazing breadth (gender, country/language), depth, but not all to my liking”. I gave it a “Superlative” rating overall, partly for contents and partly for ambition. See below for my further thoughts on that and an updated rating.

As a speculative fan and father, I have been giving my daughter science fiction and fantasy to read since she started to read. She seemed to enjoy a lot of it. These had mostly been novels, and a few collections.

In 2020, I changed focus a bit and gave her an e-book version of Leigh Grossman’s “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction” (Wildside Press, 2011), thinking that she would enjoy reading some shorter science fiction. In looking backwards, I selected “Sense of Wonder” because it was the anthology with the most stories in it from “Classics of Science Fiction” list of the time. It had 34 out of 101 of these stories in it; I scanned the Table of Contents, and thought it was pretty damn good. It’s a huge book also, at 992 pages, and it was available in e-book format.

I don’t know if my daughter ever finished reading “Sense of Wonder”; she is a busy working person and may not have had the time. However, after a month or two and some discussions with her about how great the stories were, I decided to take the plunge and bought the e-book version for myself. By September 2021, I had finished reading it. I also enjoyed a helpful email conversation with Leigh Grossman on several issues, as I had needed some help in putting “Sense of Wonder” into the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB).

I had rated “Sense of Wonder” as “Great”, and was very happy I had read it. The overlap with BBOSF was only 8 stories. When I posted about “Sense of Wonder” in September 2021, one of my statements was, “When I am done with reading 1 or 2 more of these giant surveys of 20th century SF, I will compare them.”

Time went on. Upon poking and prodding at ISFDB and elsewhere and asking for help, I discovered that there are at least six of these giant volumes that survey 20th century science fiction in one way or another. All but one attempted to get at both the history of the field and a broad range of speculative fiction to support that. In chronological order, they are:

  1. The Science Fiction Century“, 1997, David G. Hartwell, Tor, 1,005 pages
  2. The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy“, 2000, Garyn G. Roberts, Prentice Hall, 1,166 pages
  3. Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts“, 2008, Heather Masri, Bedford Books of St. Martins Press, 1,242 pages
  4. The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction“, 2010, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Arthur B. Evans, Joan Gordon, Veronica Hollinger, Rob Latham and Carol McGuirk, 688 pages hb
  5. “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction”, 2011, Leigh Grossman, Wildside Press, 992 pages
  6. “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection”, 2016, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard/Vintage Books, 1,178 pages

I would not be surprised if there were others out there that I missed. Feel free to let me know if you think there are anthologies I have missed that cover the 20th century of SF.

I omitted substantive discussion on volumes that only cover a modest portion of the 20th century. One was “The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction“, Robert Silverberg & Martin H. Greenberg editors, 1980, covering 1946 to 1976, with their hope to provide readers in the 1980s with the same kind of impact that “Adventures in Time and Space” (Raymond J. Healy, J. Francis McComas, Random House) and “The Best of Science Fiction” (Groff Conklin editor, Crown) delivered in 1946. The other was “The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990” (Brian Attebery, Ursula K. Le Guin (Karen Joy Fowler is credited on the title page as “Consultant”, 1993). Here is my review of “The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction” and here is my review of the “The Norton Book of Science Fiction“. I liked both of them and felt they were worthwhile to read.

I read these six major surveys of 20th century science fiction between March 2021 and November 2022. Most of them came from my regional library consortium, with “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts” delayed for a year while I was waiting for Interlibrary Loan to come back into service. I purchased “Sense of Wonder”.

One point here is that all of these six major anthologies were reviewed in various professional and semi-professional publications and websites. You might find more insightful comments on them and whether the reviewers felt they succeeded or not there.

None of these anthologies had all of the stories by all of the authors that I thought should have been included. This is inevitable and expected for a number of reasons, including page count limits, personal tastes, rights acquisition challenges, historical and thematic coverage needs, etc. Taken together, I read 434 unique stories from these six volumes.

I had a lot of fun reading these giant volumes. There were a few stories I did not finish, that just did not keep my interest. There is some duplication between these various volumes. I did not typically reread stories that I had read in the last two years, but sometimes I did.

All of the editor(s) of these volumes had different goals and philosophies, and included very different material accordingly. Aside from the Prentice Hall volume, many of these include at least one or two stories that I consider to be fantasy or horror. Some of them cover more of the 19th century, and one or two extend into the early 21st century.

Thinking about how to write about these six volumes, I had two thoughts. First, I need to tell readers how I feel about them, and why. Second, the phrase “compare and contrast” echoes at me from high school, especially high school English. My writing about these 6 volumes certainly needs to communicate how the volumes compare, both factually and in my subjective opinion.

I summarized a lot of information about the six giant anthologies in a Google sheets worksheet, “20th century SF Comparison“. Some of this is useful, and some is just part of my sausage making.

Commonalities:

  1. All of these anthologies cover science fiction between 1897 to 1991.
  2. Although they are not all in print, they are all available new or used in paper editions somewhere.
  3. They are all in English.
  4. They all include author introduction/bio information for each author, often conveying why a story or author is included or important.
  5. To my knowledge, none of them are available in audio book format. I was somewhat disappointed, as I had thought the BBOSF had the best chance for this of any of these volumes, but I did not find one.

Differentiating factors:

“Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction” and “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection” are the only ones available in e-book format (and I’m only sure of that for the US).

“The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy” is the only one of these that explicitly addresses fantasy. This could be either good or bad, depending upon your interests. Many of the others carry a few stories which might be either SF, fantasy, horror or a mix.

“Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts”, “The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction” and “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction”, were all designed to be used as textbooks. Although I did not read or review it, there is also a 2015 “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts (Compact Edition)” as was requested by some teachers.

For fans of poetry, “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction” is the only one to include speculative fiction poems.

All of these anthologies include translations. However, the BBOSF includes far more than any other volume, with 28 translated works including new translations and original translations. This volume includes a broad and focused effort to include diversity of stories and authors from many countries and written in many languages, and a broad consideration of what could be SF. I admired their ambition, although I did end up giving a personal average story rating that was lower because they included a number of stories I either did not like or could not finish. I think my idea of what an SF story that I would want to read is narrower than some of their choices, especially in the post-modern or surreal styles.

They also included a dramatically varying amount of essay material. David G. Hartwell’s extensive introduction to “The Science Fiction Century”) was the only essay there. “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Speculative Fiction” had by far the most essays (not including author introductions), at 72 – 74 (I counted them twice and got different answers, and twice is enough!). I also generally found them very interesting, written by a broad range of academics and others.

“Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts” and “The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy” were next, at 15 and 14 essays respectively. I had a mixed reaction to the essays in “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts” especially. Many of them were chapter excerpts from academic or similar books, and many of them were very very technical and veering into critical theory. Some I found fascinating but a number I just did not want to read.

For the number of fiction titles, “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction” has by far the most, at 156 novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, poems, and excerpts. “Sense of Wonder” also has the most short stories, novelettes, novellas, novels, excerpts and poems of these six volumes. Although it’s the second shortest of these six volumes at 992 pages, having the most of the various fiction lengths and categories suggests to me that it does have the greatest wordcount.

Four of these anthologies included excerpts of novels or longer stories, including “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts” (five), “The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction” (one), “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction” (five) and BBOSF (two). I have very mixed feelings about excerpts. I do understand why the editors chose to include them, as there are authors whose work is mostly at novel length or whose work that the editors feel needs to be included is longer than desired. However, I felt that it was very hard to get a sense of how well some of these novels worked or why they mattered from the excerpts.

Although this may not matter to all, these are typically physically large and heavy books. The largest and heaviest is “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction”, at 4.84 pounds and 8.5″ W x 11″ H x 1.91″ D. This large size for “Sense of Wonder” may help ameliorate the font size issue caused by the large number of stories in a shorter page count.

The font size on these volumes varies a lot, from my recollection. I regret that I did not keep a photocopy of any of the paper books here to confirm which has which size. However, I suspect that several of the paper versions have small font, and I know I noted this for the Prentice Hall Volume. One online review at Amazon confirms that the font for the paper version is of “Sense of Wonder” is small, which makes sense. This is one reason I chose the e-book version. Other than for the two e-book options, others might want to consider the size, weight and font size for any of these. It did not bother me, but it might be an issue for some.

Many of the stories in these volumes are stories that are well known, remembered widely, and celebrated. I was curious about how many of the stories in any one of these volumes were duplicated in any one of the others. On a percentage basis, “The Science Fiction Century” had the lowest rate of duplication versus the contents of the other five, at 7% (three stories) overlapping with any of the others. “The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction” had the greatest rate of duplication, at 50% (26 stories) overlapping with any of the others.

“The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction” also had my highest average story rating of these six volumes, at 4.02/5 (just at the bottom end of “Superlative” overall). This might have a relationship with the large 50% overlap noted above, as perhaps the ones that were most well known, celebrated or remembered might the most likely to appear in multiple volumes.

In November 2021, I developed a Recommended Reading List for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction reading group on Facebook. This was based upon inclusion in four major short science fiction lists, including 1) The 2012 Locus List, 2) the Mark R. Kelly SFADB List, 3) the SciFi Short Fiction List by Peter Sykes, and 4) the Classics of Science Fiction list by James Harris and company. This is an attempt not to define which stories are “best” or “greatest”, but to use “most remembered” as a surrogate for that.

“The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction” had the highest percentage of stories on the Recommended Reading List, at 71%. This makes sense, as the editors note that it included “…150 years’ worth of the best science fiction ever collected in a single volume.”

The lowest percentage of stories on the Recommended Reading List was 27%, by BBOSF. In reviewing the very extensive introduction essay, it was clear that the goal by the VanderMeers was to include a broad and focused effort to include diversity of stories and authors from many countries and written in many languages, and a broad consideration of what could be SF. This leads to broad inclusion of “new” stories and away from those that are most remembered.

David G. Hartwell’s “The Science Fiction Century” was the only one of these with no discernable scheme of organization. The other five all had a clear pattern evident in the table of contents and how the stories were grouped and ordered. I’m sure Hartwell had a reason for how he organized the stories, but it was not obvious to me. It almost felt like he was applying his sense of how stories should be placed from an aesthetic sense, perhaps as he and others might do for a “Best of the Year” anthology. I am hoping someone will read this and let me know what it is, either due to hearing what Hartwell was thinking of somewhere or being able to explain it by inspection. This did not ruin my reading of “The Science Fiction Century”, but it was helpful to be able to see how the organizational scheme for all the other anthologies here worked with the goals of the books.

The range of years covered varied quite a bit here. At the low end, “The Science Fiction Century” included fiction from 1895 to 1991. At the high end, “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts” covered from 1816 to 2004. This could matter to some. I assume this generally related to both the editors goals and thoughts about what was important and to what kind of budget and page count was available.

Anthology specific observations and information:

“The Science Fiction Century”, 1997, David G. Hartwell, Tor, 1,005 pages

Philosophy/Goals/etc. – Hartwell said in the Introduction, “…this anthology is a collection of attempts to get at the truth of the human condition during the twentieth century, so contoured and conditioned by science and technology….”.

Organization – As noted above, I was unable to discern any definite organization scheme. I assume Hartwell arranged stories as his experience and aesthetic desires dictated.

“Great Work of Time” first appeared here
“Consider Her Ways” first appeared here

My personal reaction – My Facebook post stated, “THE SCIENCE FICTION CENTURY (1997, David G. Hartwell, Tor) is a very good, huge anthology aiming at covering 20th century SF. My average rating for the stories included was a very healthy 3.83/5, with only one story that I could not finish. It is unfortunate that neither it nor the 2006 truncated re-issue (“Mammoth book of 20th Century SF V1 & V1) are available in an e-book version, but it is readily available in print versions. Even after previously reading the BBOSF, the “Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction”, and “Sense of Wonder (A Century of SF)”, I found many stories here that I had not read that I just loved. New favorites for me from this book included “Great Work of Time” (John Crowley) and “Consider Her Ways” (John Wyndham). There were a few inclusions that I wondered “why that story by that author”, and some authors that I wondered why they were not included; I have concluded that is just what you get on these kinds of volumes. My only real disappointment is the apparent lack of any intent or scheme on how it is organized; I assume that Hartwell had reasons for how the stories are placed, but it’s not stated and it sure was not apparent to me. This is a relatively minor failing. RECOMMENDED.” My 3.83/5 rating overall is at the bottom end of “Great”.

“The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy”, 2000, Garyn G. Roberts, Prentice Hall, 1,166 pages

Philosophy/goals/etc. – Designed as a textbook, for both SF and fantasy. The Introduction (all quotes here are from it) notes that the book includes “a range of ethnicities, mythologies, religions and perspectives”. “Women writers, women’s writing and women story figures” are found throughout. “Factors for story inclusion were:
1) The readability and fun of each story
2) Expert opinion of professional authors of F&SF.
3) Hardcore fan enthusiasms for each story
4) Authors’ favorites of their own stories
5) Story length
6) Story completeness (as single-standing works)
7) Unique and important contribution of each story to larger topic(s)
8) Each story’s ability to represent the larger body of work by the author.”

It goes on to say, “…one primary goal of the total story and content selection is to provide an effective mix of both ‘popular’ and ‘canonical’ stories, familiar/traditional tales, and once-popular but now ‘lost’ classics.”

Organization – Organized in sections with internal chronological order for each, with sections for “Two Archetypal Stories”, “Fantasy”, “Science Fiction”, “An Historical Perspective”, and “Lists and Bibliographies”.

“The Lovers” first appeared here
“Remaking History” first appeared here

My personal reaction – My Facebook post noted, “I finished “The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy” (2000, edited by Garyn G. Roberts) a few days ago. To summarize, I loved parts of it but you’d better really like both fantasy (including horror and ghost stories) and SF. Also, the font is rather small and there is no e-book version.” New favorites of mine that I don’t remember reading before include “The Lovers” by Philip Jose Farmer, “Remaking History” by Kim Stanley Robinson and “Friend Island” by Francis Stevens. My overall average rating is a “Very good” 3.74/5. Here is a link to my blog post.

“Friend Island” first appeared here

“Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts”, 2008, Heather Masri, Bedford Books of St. Martins Press, 1,242 pages

Philosophy/goals/etc. – Another book designed to be a textbook. A review by Lee Mandelo of the Compact Edition on Tor.com notes, “The guiding principal behind Heather Masri’s Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts … is to offer not only a collection of significant short fiction—a sort of retrospective of the genre—but to simultaneously gather critical materials that are relevant to those stories. Each thematic section of the book, like ‘Alien Encounters’ or ‘Artificial Life,’ collects essays and material from theory and scholarship alongside the fiction itself to give a better idea of the surrounding cultural contexts.” Although these comments are specifically about the Compact Edition, I find them just as on target here.

Organization – Lee Mandelo’s review also notes that it is organized in “thematic chunks.” These chunks start with Alien Encounters and end with Evolutions. Masri also provides two alternate Table of Contents, one of which is Chronological. The other alternate TOC is Alternate Thematic, starting with Gender and ending with Psychology.

“Start the Clock” first appeared here
“Second Variety” first appeared here

My personal reaction – My Facebook post noted, “I recently finished reading Heather Masri’s “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts” (2008, Bedford Books of St. Martins Press), another massive survey of substantially 20th century SF. At 1, 242 pages, it is the largest of the 6 comparable volumes I found that survey 20th century SF. It contains 54 stories, including 5 in translation, and 15 essays. Masri’s goal was to produce a textbook of the genre, and she succeeded. The stories range from E. T. A. Hoffman’s 1816 “The Sandman” to Benjamin Rosenbaum’s 2004 “Start the Clock”. I really doubt it is in print, although used or new copies are available from $6 up to $340. No ebook or audio book version exists. I had to go to Interlibrary Loan to find a copy to borrow. There is a compact version which omits some of the fiction and essays. I liked some of the essays, but many of them were just too academic and veering into critical theory, and I just skipped most of those. My overall rating for the fiction was a ‘Great’ 3.96/5. There were two stories I just could not finish. It is organized in ‘thematic chunks’ to quote one reviewer, but chronologically within each chunk. I was pleased that I found a number of stories here that I had been thinking about reading, among them Phillip K. Dick’s ‘Second Variety’. I was also happy to encounter a different excerpt of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1921 ‘We’, which made more sense and gave me a better feel for why it is important than the excerpt from Grossman’s ‘Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction’. All in all, I’m glad I read it.” My overall average rating was 3.96/5, at the top end of “Great”.

“The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction”, 2010, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Arthur B. Evans, Joan Gordon, Veronica Hollinger, Rob Latham and Carol McGuirk, 688 pages hb

Philosophy/goals/etc. – From the Introduction, “We hope that the Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction will serve as a bridge not only to some of the best SF works ever written but also to the world of SF scholarship”. The Amazon website says,

“The best single-volume anthology of science fiction available—includes online teacher’s guide.

The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction features over a 150 years’ worth of the best science fiction ever collected in a single volume. The fifty-two stories and critical introductions are organized chronologically as well as thematically for classroom use. Filled with luminous ideas, otherworldly adventures, and startling futuristic speculations, these stories will appeal to all readers as they chart the emergence and evolution of science fiction as a modern literary genre. They also provide a fascinating look at how our Western technoculture has imaginatively expressed its hopes and fears from the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century to the digital age of today. A free online teacher’s guide at http://sfanthology.site.wesleyan.edu/ accompanies the anthology and offers access to a host of pedagogical aids for using this book in an academic setting.

The stories in this anthology have been selected
and introduced by the editors of Science Fiction Studies,
the world’s most respected journal for the critical study
of science fiction.”

Organization – Chronologic, although there is a thematic grouping at the end for curious readers.

“Forever Yours, Anna” first appeared here
“Abominable” first printed here

My personal reaction – My Facebook post notes, “I just finished reading The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction (2010, Wesleyan University Press), 52 stories between 1844 – 2008, about 760 pages. I have this as a very outstanding 4.02/5 rating overall, and I strongly recommend it for those with an interest in SF and it’s history and development. I really enjoyed the introductory essays for the authors/stories. This book was edited and published to be a textbook; there are a few stories that were clearly inserted to cover an era which I did not find engaging, such as the ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ (Verne) excerpt. The only downside is that I did not find an e-book or audible version of it, which is unfortunate. The TP version can be found new for $29 and used for $8.” “Forever Yours, Anna” by Kate Wilhelm and “Abominable” by Carol Emshwiller were stories new to me that I loved. The 4.02/5 rating above is at the bottom end for “Superlative” for me, and is the highest average story rating for any of these six survey anthologies I read here.

“Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction”, 2011, Leigh Grossman, Wildside Press, 992 pages

Philosophy/goals/etc. – This is certainly designed as a textbook. A number of online sales sites include an unattributed overview, which includes “Sense of Wonder is a broad, inexpensive, single-volume anthology designed to give students a sense both of literature and history; the book includes canonical works, stories written in response to those works, and essays on major themes and topics in the field.” In email conversation with Leigh Grossman, I got the sense that this is the single-volume source document he always wished he had available when teaching a college level SF course. His Introduction here states, “On the one hand, I love the idea of a single volume that includes most of the key writers in the field.” At the same time, Mr. Grossman said that he had an issue with these traditional anthologies, noting in the Introduction, “…It tends to depict the writers as if they were special creatures by the gods, distinct from the rest of humanity.” This anthology includes both SF poetry and an extensive and interesting series of essays pertinent to SF. The essays here were mostly written for this volume.

Organization – Organized in 7 era’s, without strict chronologic order within the era.

“The Firefly Tree” first printed here
“Good With Rice” first printed here

My personal reaction – “I just finished reading ‘Sense of Wonder’, and I really liked it. It is huge, at 992 pages, 156 stories, 16 poems, and 72 (!) essays not counting the author bios. It was designed as the single volume SF textbook Grossman always wished was available, with stories from 1826 to 2011. My overall rating of the fiction was a very outstanding 3.96/5 … It is available in TPB, and e-book in the US, Canada and the UK. RECOMMENDED.” “The Firefly Tree” by Jack Williamson and John Brunner’s “Good With Rice” were both great stories new to me. The 3.96/5 rating is at the top end of “Great” for me.

“The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection, 2016, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard/Vintage Books, 1,178 pages

Philosophy/goals/etc. – In the Introduction, the Vandermeers say, “The Big Book of Science Fiction covers the entire twentieth century, presenting, in chronological order, stories from more than twenty-five countries, from the pulp space opera of Edmond Hamilton to the literary speculations of Jose Luis Borges, from the pre-Afrofuturism of W. E. B. Dubois to the second-wave feminism, and beyond!”

This volume includes a broad and focused effort to include diversity of stories and authors from many countries and written in many languages, and a broad consideration of what could be SF. In the Introduction, the Vandermeers state:
“Particular guidelines or thought processes include:

  • Avoiding the Great Certainty (interrogate the classics/canon)
  • Meticulous testing of previous anthologies of this type
  • Identifying and rejecting pastiche previously identified as canon
  • Overthrowing the tyranny of typecasting (includes writers not known for their science fiction but who wrote superb science fiction stories)
  • Repairing the pointless rift (pay no attention to the genre-versus-literary origins of a story)
  • Repatriating the fringe with the core (acknowledge the role of cult authors and more experimental texts)
  • Crafting more complete genealogies (acknowledge the debt from surrealism and other sources outside of core genre)
  • Articulating the full expanse (as noted, explore permutations of science fiction from outside of the Anglo world, making works visible through translation) We have also wanted to represent as many different types of science fiction as possible, including hard science fiction, soft (social) science fiction, space opera, alternate history, apocalyptic stories, tales of alien encounters, near-future dystopia, satirical stories, and a host of other modes.”

Organization – Substantially chronologic, although by translation date and not original publication date when there is a translation.

“Plenitude” first printed here
“The Flesh Man from Far Wide Moderan” first printed here

My personal reaction – From my book database, my much briefer comment on the BBOSF from 2016 was, “Well done, amazing breadth (gender, country/language), depth, but not all to my liking”. I gave it a “Superlative” rating overall, partly for contents and partly for ambition. This book rating is definitely in conflict with the overall average rating I gave all of the stories of 3.68/5, or “Very good”, which is very definitely a result of the broad inclusion of stories that did not feel like SF or interest me. “Plenitude” by Will Mohler and “The Flesh Man from Far Wide Moderan” by David R. Bunch were both great stories new to me. I am not sorry I read this, but I am very glad I did not spend money to own it.

Other observations:

I assume the motivations and goals for these giant SF survey/history anthologies varies a lot by editor. One aspect of that is balancing known/celebrated/remembered stories with putting your own mark on it and addressing the themes and eras you deem important and not just printing the same set of stories. No story appeared in all six of these anthologies; Stanley G. Weinbaum’s 1934 novelette, “A Martian Odyssey” from Wonder Stories, is the only story to appear in five of them.

One interesting point was to look at the most recent story in the anthology versus the date of publication. I suspect there is a dynamic of wanting to allow for consideration of fiction in the fullness of time versus being current. In the 1997 “The Science Fiction Century”, the last published story was the 1991 “Beggars In Spain” by Nancy Kress. At the other end, the 2011 “Sense of Wonder” last fiction published was the 2011 poem “Shadow Catcher by Ayana R. Abdallah, which was original to “Sense of Wonder”.

Conclusions:

I really enjoyed and found the experience very informative and rewarding to read all six of these giant 20th century (and beyond) survey anthologies of SF literature and history. I am not sorry that I read any of them, but I am happy that I ended up owning only one of them, in e-book. Issued over a 19 year span and with a broad range of editorial philosophies and goals, there are similarities but also substantial differences. I don’t think I can unilaterally recommend any of them over the rest; that decision will rest on you and a broad range of factors such as price, availability, size, contents, etc. I hope this review and comparative information will be helpful to others.

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One response to “A Ton of Science Fiction!”

  1. […] I put this on the back burner until after Chicon 8 and my reading of the last of 6 giant doorstop books that survey 20th century SF, Heather Masri’s “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts”. I heartily recommend reading some or all of these; see my post “A Ton of Science Fiction!“. […]

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