February 21, 2020

Review: 50 Short Science Fiction Tales edited by Isaac Asimov & Groff Conklin.

Original 1963 cover.

Original 1963 cover.


   No story format is better suited to good science fiction than that of the short story. This allows the writer to present us with a glimpse of a unique and fresh universe, complete with the “hook” or novel idea that the Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling later made famous. A writer must build, adapt and maneuver in a tight literary space; lengthy expositions or side plots are not allowed. One of my favorite collections of Sci-Fi stories as a teenager was Isaac Asimov’s 101 Short Short Science Fiction Tales. No, Microsoft Word, that wasn’t a typo… the short-short tale distills the unique essence of Sci-Fi, sometimes down to only a page or two. Now known by the catchier moniker of flash fiction, this format seems ideally suited to our texting, language compressing culture. Which brings us to this week’s review; 50 Short Science Fiction Tales edited by Isaac Asimov and Groff Conklin. We dug up this gem some years ago in our favorite Tucson haunt; Bookman’s. Published in 1963, this compendium catches some greats in true literary form, as well as some excellent writers of the era that you probably never heard of. The early 60’s in general were a heady time for science fiction; although the genre was already in full swing from the 50’s and the earlier pulp movement, the Sci-Fi reality that we take for granted today was  just getting underway. Thus with events such as Sputnik, mainstream media was just beginning to take notice of science fiction and elevate it from pop comic book status. However, then, as now, if you wanted the best of the genre, you had to go to the books of the time to get it. Science fiction short stories seem to be a training ground of sorts for authors, a place they go to keep their chops up. Greats such as Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Theodore Sturgeon are all represented here, as well as equally unknown greats such as Marion Gross, Mack Reynolds, and Lion Miller. A quick pick of some of our favorites reads as follows:

The Mathematicians by Arthur Feldman: An alien invasion feel good bedtime story… told from the vantage point of the aliens!

The Haunted Space Suit by Arthur C. Clarke: A Clarke classic; Clarke captured the potential bleakness of space long before Hollywood.

Teething Ring by James Causey: An Intergalactic door-to-door salesman (remember when we needed encyclopedias?) deposits something prohibited…right here on Earth!  

Talent by Theodore Sturgeon: Be careful what you “wish” for… an innovative twist on the omnipotent child theme.

An Egg a Month from All Over: A unique mail order club that really means it when they say “From all over…”

Who’s Cribbing? By Jack Lewis: Is that a bad science fiction manuscript that just landed on the editors desk… or is it science fact?  

Two Weeks in August by Frank M. Robinson: Taking the “Keeping up with the Jones’” game to an interstellar level…

The Available Data on the Worp Reaction by Lion Miller: Be nice to toddlers; they just might grow up to be the masters of a universe that you inhabit!

The Martian and the Magician by Evelyn E. Smith: Very Lovecraftian in the way it casts the Martian Zoks (or do you say Zokks?) as the alien Others.

And topping off the book might be some of the oldest examples of science fiction haiku (or do you say Scifiku?) that this aspiring author has ever seen!

In short (bad pun intended!) Do hunt down 50 Short Science Fiction Tales for a glimpse at the golden age of the genre, or just a rousing good read from some of its greatest masters. We’ll continue our thrift store hunt for 101 Science Fiction Short Stories in a vain attempt to recapture our Sci-Fi angst ridden youth… in the meantime, enjoy a healthy dose of classic Sci-Fi shorts!

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