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My Favorite Science Fiction Story
edited by Martin H. Greenberg
DAW Books, 372 pages

Angus McKie
My Favorite Science Fiction Story
Martin H. Greenberg
Martin H. Greenberg is the most prolific anthologist in publishing history. He has won the Milford Award for Lifetime Achievement in Science Fiction Editing and was Editor Guest of Honour at the 1992 World Science Fiction Convention. He lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

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Martin H. Greenberg anthologies - 1st of 4 pages

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

In this new anthology, Martin H. Greenberg uses a gimmick that I've seen before, but one which still has legs. He has selected several prominent SF writers of the present day, and asked them to choose one favorite SF story. Their choices form this anthology.

Ideally, an anthology of this nature should have two aims: 1) simply to present a collection of outstanding stories, to participate, if you will, in the process of SF canon-forming; and 2) to throw light on the influences on the selecting writers. It might suggest what stories appeal to writers, as possibly opposed to readers (something in the way that the Nebula Awards do), and it might illustrate the development process of the field. It doesn't really appear that Greenberg had any special intent to reinforce this secondary aim, however.

For one thing, the authors chosen to select stories are not a particularly homogeneous group, either in age or in being members of any identifiable "school" or "movement." In addition, the stories chosen seem for the most part to be chosen as favorite reads, not so much as influences. This is not really a complaint, just an observation: what we are left with, thus, is mostly an anthology of the first type, a canon-building anthology.

The authors selecting stories are Arthur C. Clarke, Anne McCaffrey, Joe Haldeman, Frederik Pohl, Mike Resnick, Andre Norton, Alan Dean Foster, Poul Anderson, Harry Turtledove, Greg Bear, Connie Willis, Lois McMaster Bujold, L. Sprague de Camp, Robert Silverberg, Gregory Benford, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and David Drake. A varied lot, including writers who emerged during Campbell's "Golden Age," such as de Camp and Pohl, some who emerged slightly later, as with Clarke and Anderson, and continuing to such comparatively recent stars as Bear, Willis and Bujold.

I've been reading SF for quite some time now, and I've always liked short fiction, so the bulk of these stories are familiar to me. I was pleased to reread Theodore Sturgeon's "The Man Who Lost the Sea" for the umpteenth time: this story, Clarke's selection, may well have been mine if I were eligible to choose a story for a similar anthology. This is one of the most moving of all SF stories, and its theme lies at the heart of SF: the desire to keep exploring, the value of exploration for its own sake.

Other prominent selections include Frederik Pohl's brilliant story of what humans might become in the very far future, "Day Million" (chosen by Haldeman); C.M. Kornbluth's mordant SF Hall of Fame tale, "The Little Black Bag" (Pohl's choice), about a present day doctor discovering medical tools from the future, and the bitter misuse to which they are put; and Howard Waldrop's Nebula-winning tale of the fate of the last dodos, "The Ugly Chickens" (chosen by Turtledove). Also from the SF Hall of Fame are Lester del Rey's "Nerves," "A Martian Odyssey" by Stanley Weinbaum, and "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" by Cordwainer Smith. Each of these stories is famous, thus familiar. But at the same time each is famous for good reason, and I was happy to reread them. Certainly there is no harm in reprinting them again.

But any anthology will hopefully also include some surprises. I had never before read Ward Moore's "Lot, " for example. This is a story of the first day of a Nuclear Holocaust, and as such it has a bit of a dated feel. But it's really a depiction of a character, the markedly unpleasant man who is, he believes, fully prepared for this disaster. We follow his actions, filtered through his self-satisfaction, as he brings his family towards "safety" in the back country. The protagonist bears a striking resemblance, in more than one way, to another unpleasant SF survivor of a Nuclear War, Hugh Farnham of Heinlein's Farnham's Freehold. "Lot" in itself is chilling enough, though no real plot resolution is reached. I don't think the story requires one, but I understand there are sequels. At any rate, thanks to Connie Willis for selecting it (and, I wonder, meditating upon influence, how much this story affected her "A Letter From the Clearys").

Another story that I hadn't encountered before, and which I really enjoyed, was Poul Anderson's choice, "Black Charlie" by Gordon R. Dickson. This is a story about the nature of art, a difficult but worthwhile subject. Dickson's protagonist is an experienced art buyer, and he is approached by a man on a backwoods planet, who has some sculptures by a member of that planet's indigenous alien race. The sculptures are worthless, in objective terms, but at long last the art buyer is pushed into understanding the history behind the sculptures, and the character of the alien who produced them. Does this knowledge in the viewer make them art? I don't know, but the story is indeed art.

The other selections are by and large fine stories as well. I felt that the second Kornbluth story ("The Only Thing We Learn," chosen by David Drake) was a bit obvious, and nowhere near the quality of his best work, and the pieces by Eric Frank Russell ("Diabologic") and Robert Sheckley ("Untouched by Human Hands") were also somewhat slight, to my taste. Again, both writers have certainly produced stories that belong in anthologies like this. And Norman Kagan's "The Mathenauts" (Greg Bear's choice), while full of fascinating ideas, doesn't really work as a story. But four merely minor stories out of a collection like this is no great weakness, especially as I'm sure the next reader will feel differently than I do.

One other quibble concerns the book's production values, in particular the copyediting. The book is riddled with typographical errors, most of the sort where the correct word is replaced by another word, such that a simple spellcheck won't catch the error. This is becoming sadly common these days, but even so there were far too many in this book.

These quibbles aside, any collection that includes the stories I've mentioned -- as well as "Common Time" by James Blish, Keith Laumer's early Bolo story "The Last Command," Barry Malzberg's meta-fictional "A Galaxy Called Rome," and Roger Zelazny's moving "The Engine at Heartspring's Center" -- is well worth the price.

Copyright © 1999 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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