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The Good Old Stuff
edited by Gardner Dozois
St. Martin's Press, 435 pages

Art: Ed Emshwiller
The Good Old Stuff
Gardner Dozois
Gardner Dozois has been the editor of Asimov's SF Magazine since 1986, and has received the Hugo Award in that capacity 9 times. His own short fiction has won 2 Nebula Awards, and he is the author of 2 novels: Nightmare Blue (with George Alec Effinger) and Strangers. He is an editor of the multi-volume Magic Tales fantasy series with Jack Dann and the Isaac Asimov's... series with Sheila Williams, both from Ace Books. With St. Martin's Press he has presented over a dozen volumes of The Year's Best SF

Asimov's SF Magazine
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Year's Best SF: 14th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: The Year's Best SF: 15th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Roads Not Taken
SF Site Review: Isaac Asimov's Detectives
SF Site Review: Nanotech

Past Feature Reviews
A review by John O'Neill


Way back in the mid-August issue, I sat down with over three dozen new advance proofs and galleys and selected -- on a very subjective basis, mind you -- my top choices for Fall reading. The results went up in a Books in Your Future piece... and the book that ended up lingering on my desk long after the others had gone was The Good Old Stuff, a fascinating artifact with the promising subtitle "Adventure SF in the Grand Tradition." A glance at the contents page, and a flip through Dozois' lengthy intro, was all that was necessary to conjure up images of purposeful men in cast iron spaceships, shouting orders to each other across a steamy engine room as mighty stellar drives propelled them into the dark void. Cool.

Well there aren't any steamy engine rooms in The Good Old Stuff. But in the ships contained herein, the cold echo of footsteps could well come from iron walls, and the void of space is often very dark indeed. The wonderful and vigourous tales in this book feature everything that made early SF as rich as it was: decadent alien civilizations, ancient and mysterious artifacts, alien invasions, timeless mysteries hidden on the surface of uncharted worlds -- and the resourceful men and women (yes, women -- more than a few of the protagonists are female) of Earth, facing each challenge with style. In short, this is one of the best collections I've read in some time, and my choice for one of the best books of 1998.

The Good Old Stuff is the opening volume in a two-part set (the second, appropriately entitled The Good New Stuff, spans the period 1977-98 -- containing such authors as John Varley, Stephen Baxter, R. Garcia y Robertson and Peter F. Hamilton -- and will arrive in stores in mid-January). Frankly, I expected any anthology entitled "The Good Old Stuff" to include at least one or two tales from the great era of the pulp adventure tale, roughly 1920-1945. And I certainly expected to see Edmond Hamilton, and perhaps Stanley G. Weinbaum or P. Schuyler Miller, whose heyday was the 30s. But the earliest tale collected here is A.E. van Vogt's "The Rull," from the May 1948 Astounding SF, and the rest, presented chronologically, span the years 1950-71. (Oh dear. 1971 is Old Stuff? I have cheese in the back of my 'fridge almost that old.)

Still, I suppose the lines had to be drawn somewhere, and I won't argue the point. Besides, the true criterion for inclusion isn't chronological anyway -- it's thematic. "Old Stuff" refers here to the spirit of early SF -- the grand Space Opera, the planetary romance, what Dozois calls "the lush sword-and-planet" tale. Collected here are a fine assortment of short stories and novellas which celebrated that tradition, and in some cases took it in significant new directions.

There are tales of far exploration into the vastness of the galaxy in the face of hostile opposition (A.E. van Vogt's "The Rull"), unknowable ancient alien civilizations ("The Last Days of Shandaker," by Leigh Brackett), mysterious and deadly inter-dimensional invaders (James H. Schmitz's superb, and oddly pastoral, "The Second Night of Summer"), rites of succession for a Galactic Empire (Jack Vance's "The New Prime"), and brave men and women faced with terrible peril (just about any of them, really, but most especially Poul Anderson's swashbuckling novella of intrepid explorers on a post-apocalyptic Earth coming face-to-face with strangely advanced barbarians from the far continent of Nor-Merika, "The Sky People.")

Dozois' motive with this collection is obvious almost immediately. If you've read any of his commentary elsewhere (in his lengthy and excellent Year's Best SF summations, for example), you're well aware of Dozois' complaint that SF as a genre has a brittle sense of history -- or to be more accurate, that what tremendous literary history it does possess has a half-life of roughly a generation at best. The realities of modern publishing being what they are, older work -- and especially older short work -- is almost completely overlooked in the market, where even modern novelists struggle mightily for shelf space with a seemingly ever-growing horde of media tie-ins, gaming novels, and Star Trek cookbooks. Those few quality reprints that do get published come from specialty imprints such as Tom Doherty's Orb line, and far more marginal operations such as the wonderful NESFA Press and the enduring Arkham House.

No real surprise here, then. Dozois is arguably the most accomplished editor in the field of modern genre short fiction, and here he does his own bit for the cause with a fine sampling of terrific -- and in most cases long-neglected -- work. But there's more going on here. A big clue rests in the fact that no author is represented more than once, even such recognized masters of the form as Jack Vance and H. Beam Piper. Every tale is prefaced with a lengthy (2-3 page) overview of the author, and a largely subjective report on his or her finest work -- from Leigh Brackett's "autumnal vision of a decadent, dying Mars" to Vance's "immense gulfs of space, [where] vast powers are manipulated and the universe is full to bursting with strange alien races."

It's a teaser book, and a shameless one at that. And the thing of it is, it really works. More than once I found myself rising from my chair to check the bookshelves for a copy of "a landmark volume that was one of the chief inspirations for the original Star Trek and was a seminal influence on the movie Alien," (van Vogt's Voyage of the Space Beagle), or combing the local used bookstores for a copy of "a book that delivers as pure a jolt of widescreen Space Opera sense of wonder as can be found anywhere" (James H. Schmitz's Agent of Vega).

I'm glad Dozois is concerned about our field's limited memory, but frankly I'm having difficulty getting worked up about it at the moment. Today I have The Good Old Stuff, and the three collections I just ordered from NESFA Press (and Orb, and a small handful of dedicated small presses). And to my mind, that ain't bad.

Not by a long shot.

Table of Contents
A.E. van Vogt The Rull
James H. Schmitz The Second Night of Summer
L. Sprague de Camp The Galton Whistle
Jack Vance The New Prime
C. M. Cornbluth That Share of Glory
Leigh Brackett The Last Days of Shandaker
Murray Leinster Exploration Team
Poul Anderson The Sky People
Gordon R. Dickson The Man in the Mailbag
Cordwainer Smith Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons
Brian W. Aldiss A Kind of Artistry
H. Beam Piper Gunpowder God
Ursula K. Le Guin Semley's Necklace
Fritz Leiber Moon Duel
Roger Zelazny The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth
James Tiptree, Jr. Mother in the Sky With Diamonds
Recommended Reading The Editor

Copyright © 1999 by John O'Neill

John O'Neill is the founder of the SF Site.

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