Book Review: 13 Great Stories of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin

It’s a rare occasion when I enjoy every story in an anthology almost equally. This is one of those times. All 13 tales in this collection are, as the title boasts, great.  I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise given the talent involved including Arthur C. Clarke, Ted Sturgeon, Poul Anderson, Damon Knight, and others. However, were I forced to choose favorites, those would be…

“The War is Over” by Algis Budrys – Years after an Earth ship carrying an urgent message crash lands on an alien world, the inhabitants construct a vessel to return the message to Earth, though they’re not entirely certain why or even how they learned to build such a craft…

In “Allegory,” William T. Powers offers an entertaining yet frightening glimpse into a humanity controlled by computers and where independent thinking is considered a mental aberration.

In John Wyndham’s “Compassion Circuit,” Janet Shand, a fragile and fretful housewife, is forced to come to terms with Hester, an android servant programmed with emotions. It isn’t long before Janet begins to rely on Hester for her daily care—until she becomes convinced that there is a better way to live through robotics.

Arthur C. Clarke delivers a brilliant send up of corporate guile in “Silence, Please!” To get even with unscrupulous businessman Sir Roderick Fenton, a professor invents a portable sound-cancelling device and sells the patent to Fenton. The professor’s associates are mystified by his decision, until they observe how the devices are used when sold to the public, putting Fenton in the government’s crosshairs.

In Wyman Guin’s “Volpla,” a scientist creates a new, highly intelligent biological species with the ability to fly, speak, adapt, and reproduce. He fabricates a backstory that they had originated on another world and only recently came to Earth. Surely, this gag will spark the intended panic in the zoological community once the creatures are released into the wild. Unfortunately, the biologist’s plan backfires when the Volpla’s take a drastic course of action to preserve their race…

Alan Nelson’s lighthearted “Soap Opera” delivers the hysterical tale of a hapless young member of a soap manufacturer’s advertising team who experiments with skywriting as a marketing tool. “The words vanish too quickly!” cries the company’s owner, sending Everett Mordecai on a quest to find a more permanent solution—one that covers the entire city of San Francisco…

What happens when the government implants a second personality into its citizens, one that forces them to be docile, to be behave contrary to their natural tendencies? In “Analogues,” Damon Knight deftly presents us with this disturbing possibility…

When a homeless man named Ollie swallows what he think is a nut, he suddenly finds his appetite insatiable, no matter how much he eats. After winning an egg-eating competition by consuming over 100 eggs, Ollie is taken to the hospital to be examined. Shortly after, strange foreign objects materialize in Ollie’s stomach, causing intense pain and swelling. At the same time, two aliens arrive after realizing that their matter transfer device is inside poor Ollie. The question is… now what? We find out in William Morrison’s “Shipping Clerk.”

G.C. Edmondon’s “Technological Retreat” brings us the story of extraterrestrial technology run amuck when humans trade simple Earth goods for a device that can instantly repair damage to any surface by making it malleable enough to reshape. It isn’t long before the aliens begin disseminating the device across the planet, with devastating effects on human evolution.

In Ted Sturgeon’s “The Skills of Xanadu,” a haughty scout sent by an advanced alien race lands on the bucolic world of Xanadu. While reluctantly spending time among the primitive “barbarians” of this world, Bril marks them as ripe for conquest. Yet, he finds their manufacturing abilities beyond comprehension. When Bril finally discovers the source of their power in the form of polished stones worn as part of their clothing, he takes one back to his homeworld—where the true conquest begins.

13 Great SF Stories

 

 

 

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