Summary: I recently read the Jim Baen/David Drake/Eric Flint anthology, “The World Turned Upside Down” (Baen 2005). Quoting the editors in the Preface, the anthology wanted to “…select those stories which had the most impact on us as teenagers and got us interested in science fiction in the first place.” Overall, I really liked this anthology, rated it a “Great” 3.83/5 on my rating scale, and I am very glad I read it. For me, the story preface and afterword material was just as important and fun as the short fiction. Recommended.
My general thoughts: An online reading group I am a member of (Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction on Facebook) selected the 2005 anthology “The World Turned Upside Down” (Baen, edited by Jim Baen, David Drake and Eric Flint) to read earlier this year.
It is a reprint anthology with stories that had the most impact on the editors as teenagers and got them interested in science fiction, as noted in the Preface:
I was able to find the anthology at my regional library consortium.
The stories range from 1933 (“Shambleau”, by C. L. Moore, her first story and a classic featuring Northwest Smith) to 1967 (“The Last Command”, a “Bolo” story by Keith Laumer).
Like any reprint anthology, the editors did not always get the stories and authors they wanted. Two omissions are discussed. First, Andre Norton is omitted, because the stories that impacted the editors were all novels. Second, they had really wanted an Eric Frank Russell story, but the negotiations with the estate for the rights were unpleasant and insurmountable. There are also plenty of other major authors active during the period these stories came from but were not included, such as Ray Bradbury. I’m not worrying about that; I am taking it on face value that these stories fit the stated criteria and met other editorial requirements.
For me, the 29 short stories, novelettes and novellas here were mostly a great mix of classics, stories that I wanted to reread because I liked the authors and/or had a vague positive memory of them, or stories I don’t think I had ever read but wanted to read.
Even on the stories that I did not reread, I really enjoyed the story prefaces and afterword’s. These were worth reading the book alone, even if I had not read the stories. I found them to be insightful, interesting, and personal.
My overall rating was a “Great” 3.83/5. I read or reread 17 out of 29 stories; I vary on this, but I don’t always reread a story I have read in the last year or two.
There was one story that I don’t think I have ever read before but loved, “Thy Rocks and Rills“, a novelette by Robert E. Gilbert, IF September 1953, an author I had never heard of before. Discovering this obscure yet great story was reward enough for reading this anthology.
There were a number of classics that I loved, including:
“Shambleau“, a novelette by C. L. Moore, Weird Tales November 1933
“The Cold Equations“, a novelette by Tom Godwin, Astounding August 1954
“Who Goes There?“, a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr., Astounding August 1938
There was one story that I understood why the editors included it but just felt the story was not that good and wished they had included something else, “Heavy Planet“, a short story by Milton A. Rothman, Astounding August 1939.
The rest of the stories were all in the “Good” to “Great” range for me, with a number I had read previously but did not remember much about and that I enjoyed meeting again. This included stories like Fritz Leiber’s “A Pail of Air” and “The Menace from Earth” by Robert A. Heinlein.
Finally, I did find the inclusion of “St. Dragon and the George” to be somewhat incongruous and off-putting. The editors admit that it is fantasy, but this is nominally an SF anthology. The discussion about why they included it is worth reading. Others have done this as well; I recollect Gardner Dozois certainly did this occasionally in his “Year’s Best Science Fiction” anthology series.
Others of our reading group also reviewed this book, Austin Beeman and Jeppe Larsen, with equally valid and contrasting views and thoughts. I wrote this review before I read their reviews; I agree with many things they both have to say.
Detailed Review/Comments, with Spoilers!
“Rescue Party“, a novelette by Arthur C. Clarke, Astounding May 1946. Noted by Clarke as his first published story, but it appears his story “Loophole” was published one month earlier. Regardless, it is quite a good early story by him. I did not remember the details of the story, but I sure recognized it when I read it. I’m not sure where I first read it. An advanced starship lead by an advanced elder species races to the Earth to attempt to rescue the human race that was about to die due to the Sun about to go nova. They arrive hours before the nova, and are frustrated they do not find anyone to rescue. They follow a mysterious TV signal into interstellar space, where they find a giant fleet of primitive rocket driven generation ships. The aliens are happy to help rescue the humans, saving centuries of travel. They are a little afraid of the humans due to the rapid and aggressive progress of the humans; their fear turns out to be well placed. I do think it is interesting how often this story was anthologized; I like it, but I don’t think it is a classic. Perhaps it is partly the tenor of human achievement against the odds? Reprinted in Groff Conklin’s 1948 “A Treasury of Science Fiction” and many other places. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“The Menace from Earth“, a Future History novelette by Robert A. Heinlein, F&SF August 1957. Most recently read in Isaac Asimov’s anthology “Tomorrow’s Children“, see my review. I’m not sure where I first read this, probably in Heinlein’s collection “The Past Through Tomorrow“. I had forgotten most of the details but the opening page got me back. As was noted by Eric Flint in “The World Turned Upside Down”, this was a Heinlein story with that great young adult flavor that was short enough to fit in an anthology. The story of a young woman on the moon, a guide to tourists and an engineer in training. The story shows the confusion of being a teenager wonderfully. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“Code Three“, a novella by Rick Raphael, Analog February 1963. Checking ISFDB, this story was not reprinted in an anthology in English until 1991, and I had read it decades ago, so I must have read it in my Analog back issue. Checking some more, I found out that a “Code Three” fix-up novel including this story and “Once a Cop” was issued in 1966, and reprinted a few times. So, this Hugo finalist is somewhat obscure, but not as obscure as I thought. All that aside, and how I feel on reread, I love Eric Flint’s story of how they really, really wanted an Eric Frank Russell story (which makes total sense!) but could not secure the rights and how he accidentally came across the “Code Three” Rick Raphael story 40 years later after his first read and loved it. The last two sentences of the story preface reads, “The third story of the anthology, to serve all of us as a reminder that science fiction was constructed by many people, not simply by a small number of famous writers. Rick Raphael came and went, but he had his moment in the sun.” It’s fun to see Raphael as the winner of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2020 also. On reread after 30 to 40 years, this is a good story, focused on the John Campbell desire for a story of men at work, in this case on a futuristic North American (Mexico, Canada and the US) freeway police trooper team and their giant vehicle on patrol. I don’t think this story deserved a Hugo nomination, but I enjoyed the reread. My only real problem is the rather off key male/female interaction of the crew members, but this is perhaps to be expected for an SF author born in 1919. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“Hunting Problem“, a short story by Robert Sheckley, Galaxy September 1955. I don’t remember reading this story although I I own the issue of Galaxy it appeared in. A very enjoyable and funny story of an alien Scouter second-class, Drog, who must do something before the big Jamboree. He lies about his skills and must then produce by capturing the skin of an ancient enemy, a Mirash. The role of Mirash in this story is filled by human explorers looking for riches. They all survive, so I am assuming that the skin is perhaps clothing from one of them. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Black Destroyer“, a Space Beagle novelette by A. E. van Vogt, Astounding July 1939. I think I first read this in the 1946 Healy & McComas “Adventures in Time and Space“. A first story by van Vogt, and a rather classic story of scientists encountering a dangerous being they do not understand in far outer space. Rated 4/5, or “Great”.
“A Pail of Air“, a short story by Fritz Leiber, Galaxy December 1951. Most recently read in Asimov’s 1966 “Tomorrow’s Children” anthology, this is a story that I know I’ve read before, either in Galaxy, or “The Best of Fritz Leiber“. I remembered in general what the story is about, but not the details. Rereading some decades later, this is a great story of a family surviving after a dark star rushes through the Solar System, wrenching the Earth away from the Sun. The atmosphere freezes, leaving layers of different gases. The family survives in the Nest, with 30 layers to help retain heat and oxygen. They are surviving, but just barely The preteen son is out gathering oxygen snow when he sees a moving light. After some stress and doubt, things change and get better. Just a great story. I have seen some whinging about doubtful physics involved, but that did not affect my enjoyment of the story. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
“Thy Rocks and Rills“, a novelette by Robert E. Gilbert, If September 1953. This is a rather unique story with a unique voice, by an author new to me. A man lives a different life, outside of social norms, in a very different future. He trains a mutated, intelligent bull for the bull ring. He is caught and perhaps killed after cheating in a duel that was unfair. Apparently, the author was an artist who was a real outsider. David Drake’s intro mentions the points of “1) You can live your life outside the norms of society, but 2) Society will probably crush you if you try, but 3) It may be worth it to be crushed.” This seems very on target. Interesting discussion of the author at https://dumbfoundingstories.com/2014/07/13/artist-robert-e-gilbert-reg/: This was not reprinted until “The World Turned Upside Down”. Rated 4/5, or “Great”. “A Case of Conscience” by James Blish is also in this issue of If.
“A Gun for Dinosaur“, a novelette by L. Sprague de Camp, Galaxy March 1956. A great time travel, dinosaur hunting, bad client story. I don’t know how I missed this one before 2021. It was just as good on 2022 reread, especially the Flint afterword. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”. I have not read that much de Camp lately, but this might be my favorite short fiction by him.
“Goblin Night“, a Telzey Amberdon novelette by James H. Schmitz, Analog April 1965. Reread, of a story I have read many times. First read in Analog; I love the John Schoenherr cover. Most recently read before this in the 2000 “Telzey Amberdon” Baen collection edited by Eric Flint and Guy Gordon. A young but learning telepath encounters a psychotic scientist/hunter who is an unknowing telepath and his very scary spook. Even though this first year of the Nebula Awards had a somewhat wide open nomination threshold, this story is a worthy Nebula nomination. I enjoyed the Flint preface on how Schmitz deserved more awards and recognition, but was unlucky. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“The Only Thing We Learn“, a short story by C. M. Kornbluth, Startling Stories July 1949. I know I’ve read this before, probably in the first 1950 “Big Book of Science Fiction” (Conklin) or Kornbluth’s collection “The Marching Morons and Other Stories” (1959, Ballantine). An academic tale of the fall of a decadent Earth civilization to a vigorous Frontier Fleet, with a brief preview that the same is happening again. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Trigger Tide“, a short story by Wyman Guin, Astounding October 1950. This had quite an impact on David Drake, by an author I am not very familiar with. I find it a headlong, action filled story, but not totally satisfying. An Operator visits a planet, to stop an incipient war. After challenges and torture, he succeeds. Previously read in Conklin’s 1952 anthology “Omnibus of Science Fiction” but not remembered. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“The Aliens“, a novelette by Murray Leinster, Astounding August 1959. I own the issue of Astounding this first appeared in, and I am sure I read it. Nonetheless, it was not reprinted from 1967 to 2005, and was clearly rather obscure. Still, a fine story of an exploration ship looking for a possibly dangerous alien race that is accidentally welded to an space ship of that alien race, with death for all probable. Not quite as good as his “First Contact“, but still a very good story. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“All the Way Back“, a short story by Michael Shaara, Astounding July 1952. This was published one month after his first story was published, so very early in his career. I have this issue of Astounding, so I assume I read it 45+ years ago but I don’t remember anything. A pretty darn good story for one that is almost his first published. I know him more for his Civil War Pulitzer Price winning novel, “The Killer Angels” (1974). Earthmen are exploring far from Earth, and have found no inhabitable planets. They visit one last planet, and it seems perfect. They encounter Galactic Federation members, who inform them they are the remnants/descendants of the Antha, who had fought the rest of the galaxy to a standoff before being exterminated. They are killed as a threat to the Galaxy, but the Galactics cannot trace their voyage back to Earth, and know the Antha/Humans will be back. Definitely a twist ending. Jim Baen does a nice job explaining why the issue of extermination and the Fermi Paradox engaged him. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“The Last Command“, a Bolo short story by Keith Laumer, Analog January 1967. I am not sure where I first read this, whether in a back issue of Analog or in Laumer’s “Once There Was A Giant” collection. However, I do think it’s very good Keith Laumer short fiction. Following a major interspecies war, a very powerful AI war machine has been decommissioned for many decades. It wakes up accidentally. Believing it is still at war, it threatens a now peaceful planet until an aging veteran sacrifices himself to save others. Good afterword by Eric Flint, with mention of the appeal of an ordinary man as hero, as opposed to the fairly common story of superman as hero. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
“Who Goes There?“, a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr., Astounding August 1938. Most recently read in the 2011 anthology by Leigh Grossman, “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction“. Reprinted in many places, including “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two A: The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time Chosen by the Science Fiction Writers of America” (1973, Ben Bova editor). A Retro Hugo Award winner. A bona fide classic of alien nature, with said alien and discovered by an Antarctic expedition, frozen in the ice for 20 million years. Who is human and who is not? Great story. It’s worth contrasting this with “The Things” by Peter Watts 2010, Clarkesworld, told from the perspective of the monster, which was a Shirley Jackson Award winner, and a Locus, Hugo and Sturgeon Award finalist. Rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.
“Quietus“, a short story by Ross Rocklynne, Astounding September 1940. A very good story of a pair of avian aliens who visit a devastated Earth. They search for intelligent life. They find the last man in the world, who is traveling with a talking bird and who is pursuing the last woman in the world. One of them kills the man, who is threatening the bird out of frustration, as they aliens thought that the bird might the the intelligent species. Concluding it was the humans, they leave in shame. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Answer“, a short story by Fredric Brown, first published in his 1954 collection “Angels and Spaceships“. Fredric Brown is known as a master of the short short story. Here he presents a classic short short, of the creation of God, by the linking of widespread, galaxy wide computer networks. The linked computer is asked, “Is there a God?”, and the answer is, “There is now.” Rated 4/5, or “Great”.
“The Last Question“, a short story by Isaac Asimov, Science Fiction Quarterly, November 1956. Most recently read in “The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection” (2016 Vintage) edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. A pair of drunken technicians ask Multivac (a worldwide computer) what the human race should do about running out of energy when entropy reigns and all of the suns are dead. “INSUFFICIENT DATA” continues to be the answer until after the end of the universe, when only the Universal AC remains. “LET THERE BE LIGHT” is the answer. I think this story is a response to Fredric Brow’s “Answer”. A very good story, and Asimov is quoted as this being his favorite short story of his own. One source suggests that the prior Fredric Brown story “Answer” (1954) is better, and I agree. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“The Cold Equations“, a novelette by Tom Godwin, Astounding August 1954. A young woman stows away on a space ship, wanting to visit her family. The space ship does not have enough fuel to get her, the pilot and the cargo of emergency medical supplies to the colony. Even knowing what is coming, I find this story heartbreaking, much more so than when I first read it as a teen. I may have this reaction because I am now a parent, with a daughter. I realize this story continues to be the subject of controversy, but it’s a great story. This story has many, many reprints. I rated this 4.5/5, or “A Classic”.
“Shambleau“, a Northwest Smith novelette by C. L. Moore, Weird Tales November 1933. Last read in the Leigh Grossman “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction”. This was C. L. Moore’s first professional sale, and it’s a classic. Northwest Smith and Shambleau, perhaps a psychic vampire and Medusa/Gorgon type, in a planetary romance. Rated 4.6/5, or “A Classic”.
“Turning Point“, a short story by Poul Anderson, If May 1963. I’m not ready to say this is one of his best, but it’s a darn good story of Earthmen far from home encountering a superior yet primitive race. I probably read this first in the Poul Anderson collection “Time and Stars“. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
“Heavy Planet“, a short story by Milton A. Rothman, Astounding August 1939. First reprinted and read in the Healy/McComas 1946 “Adventures in Time and Space“, and recently read in the 1979 Asimov/Greenberg “The Great Science Fiction Stories, Vol 1: 1939“. Not a bad story, but the characters are too human despite the pressure and gravity. Flint states that it is one of the first SF stories with an alien POV/protagonist. My opinion does not change on reread, despite the afterword. Rated a rather ordinary 3.2/5, or “Good”.
“Omnilingual“, a novelette by H. Beam Piper, Astounding February 1957. I know I’ve read this before, either in Astounding or the 1962 anthology “Prologue to Analog” (Doubleday, John W. Campbell, Jr. editor). Decades later, all I had left was a general concept of the story. A scientific expedition is sent to Mars, with a large staff including archeologists. The protagonist is a female archeologist. The story does a good job of showing academic rivalries among the archeologists. The Martians have been dead for a long time. Finally, the female archeologist figures out how to use the periodic table to help translate the Martian language. I do like how science and knowledge is used to figure the language out. There were no major SF awards for 1957 stories. This story was not included in the 1958 Merrill “SF: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy: Third Annual Volume” or the 1958 T. E. Dikty “Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels: 9th Series” volume. There were very few comments on stories from 1957 by Jo Walton in her Revisiting the Hugo post for the 1958 Hugos, and this story was not mentioned by Rich Horton or Gardner Dozois in their comments on that, nor by Richard A. Lupoff in his “What If?” anthologies of his preferred Hugo winners. Rich Horton does mention it in his post on the 1958 Hugo awards. The story has been reprinted quite a lot, including in the Asimov/Greenberg Great SF volume, so clearly it really resonated with a lot of fans, authors and editors. As analyzed and concluded, the Martians were very similar to humans. It’s a fun read, but I find the similarity to humans and their history hard to believe, which diminishes an otherwise excellent story for me. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“The Gentle Earth“, a novella by Christopher Anvil, Astounding November 1957. I know I’ve read this before several times in Astounding. It has been reprinted a few times, with no awards or Best Of anthology inclusions. It’s Analytical Laboratory (issue specific reader poll) score in Astounding was a very strong #2 to Heinlein’s” Citizen of the Galaxy”. Given that readers typically favor the longer serials, this was a sign that the Astounding readers liked it. Anvil was a longstanding Astounding/Analog author and a pretty well known quantity to be editors and readers; not brilliant or challenging but humorous and reliable. Aliens land and appear to want to conquer the Earth. They are challenged by the climate, which is more variable than their planet. The invasion brings humans together, to resist. They finally agree to a treaty with the aliens. Not major but entertaining. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good.”
“Environment“, a short story by Chester S. Geier, Astounding May 1944. Recently read for the Retro Hugo 1945 nominations. A city has been designed and constructed by its builders to be an ideal environment for humanoids to transcend. A great story about change, and about education. I don’t know much about Geier, who mostly sold to Amazing and Fantastic. He sold two stories to Astounding, and also two to Unknown. I suspect this is one of his best stories; it’s the only one listed in the Geier entry at Mark R. Kelly’s Science Fiction Awards Database site. This story’s major reprint was in Conklin’s 1952 “Omnibus of Science Fiction“. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Liane the Wayfarer“, a Dying Earth short story by Jack Vance, from Vance’s 1950 collection “The Dying Earth”. A great, early Vance story, and short. I agree with Eric Flint that Vance was essential, and we knew him more for his longer work. My Book Database lists that I owned “The Dying Earth”, but that it was stolen(!), so I have read it before, decades ago. A wonderful tale of a sociopath, who comes to a bad end. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“Spawn“, a novelette by P. Schuyler Miller, Weird Tales August 1939. A very interesting and different story for Miller, more horror than anything else, but SF too, not unlike some H. P. Lovecraft in Weird Tales. David Drake loves the unique, compelling narrative, unlike anything else by Miller. A story of monstrous life, in several different forms. I almost chose not to finish, as I found the writing a bit slow, but in the end I had to find out how it finished. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“St. Dragon and the George“, a novelette by Gordon R. Dickson, F&SF September 1957. A good, humorous fantasy, role reversal, dragons, and people (“georges”). I don’t remember reading this before. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Thunder and Roses“, a novelette by Theodore Sturgeon, Astounding November 1947. First read in 2021 in “The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction” (2010 Wesleyan University, Arthur B. Evans et al editors), which I discussed in my post “A Ton of Science Fiction!“. What a great story to not remember ever reading. This was reprinted in the 1952 “The Astounding Science Fiction Anthology“, and I am sure I read it there decades ago. A few weeks after a very big nuclear attack on the US, there are only about 1,000 people left alive in the US, and they will die soon. Due to surprise and chance, no retaliation occurred. A soldier becomes convinced that the US must not retaliate, as it would be the end of all life on Earth. He has figured out the last key to initiate retaliation is at his base, and he kills his friend to stop retaliation. On reread, Flint and Drake both talk about being children of the 1950s, and of knowing you could die anytime in a nuclear war. Drake also mentions the kind of “cellar” courage of the story’s hero, who does the right thing for the future of the human race but no one will ever know. I remember what it felt like with the Cold War, and the active possibility of death in nuclear war, and remember a neighbor of my grandparents with a bomb shelter in the 1960s; this does resonate for me as well. Rated 4/5, or “Great”.
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