Friday, March 11, 2016

FFB: (Selections from) Science Fiction Thinking Machines -- Groff Conklin, editor

This kind of thing used to happen all the time.  An anthology with a good number of stories would be seriously abridged for its paperback appearance.  Sometimes a second volume of stories would be published, sometimes not.  In this case, the original volume had 22 stories.  The paperback has 12.  All the introductory material has also been cut.

I'll just give a brief idea of what each story in this abbreviated collection is about."Robbie" is the story of a girl and her robot.  Gloria, the girl, becomes attached to Robbie, and her parents, especially her mother, think it's unhealthy.  They get rid of Robbie, with predicable results.  In "Virtuoso" a robot plays a piano. Perfectly.  Eric Frank Russell gives his killer robot in "Boomerang" rules for behavior that aren't like Asimov's rules.  That causes a problem for the robot and its creators.  "The Jester" reminded me a lot of Robert Silverberg's "The Iron Chancellor," which was in the collection I mentioned last week.  Another robot-gone-wrong story that's well written and funny but which is hardly remarkable.  "Skirmish" seemed atypical of Simak to me, although the style is unmistakable.  Joe Crane, a reporter, realizes that machine-like aliens have come to earth and that some of the machines, like his typewriter, are becoming sentient. What's a guy to do?  Allen Bloch's "Men Are Different" is a short-short, and it proves its point.  "Letter to Ellen" by Chan Davis is another story about how people might feel about androids.   Theodore Sturgeon's "The Golden Egg" uses an alien to speculate on what it means to be human.  I had a few words to say about Pohl Anderson's "Sam Hall" last year.  The story is as relevant as ever.   In "Dead End," Wallace Macfarlane shows that while eternal life (sort of) is possible, there are certain side effects.  I like the idea behind "Dumb Waiter" by Walter M. Miller, Jr.  What happens if after the war is over, the machines keep right on going after the ammo runs out?   Repair the central computer or destroy it?  Robert Sherman Townes' "Problem for Emmy" presents the problem of computer consciousness with the kicker in the final line.

Overall an entertaining collection of the Good Old Stuff that might not seem so good now if you can't put yourself back into the frame of mind that existed when the stories were written.  I can see why younger readers might not care for most of them.  As for me, I can remember reading the digests of the '50s that were crammed with stories like this and loving very minute of it.  Nostalgia helps.

Table of Contents from ISFDB.

5 comments:

George said...

I love these Groff Conklin anthologies! I pick them up whenever I find them. But you don't see them in thrift stories any more.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

No, you just don't see them the way you did 30 years ago. It was weird trolling for mysteries in England in the summer to often run across old American paperbacks, mystery and science fiction. I'd always pick them up when I saw one. I wish I'd kept more of them.

In this one, I know I've read the Asimov and Sturgeon titles.

Rick Robinson said...

I've read a lot of these, but not this book, so I assume they have been anthologized elsewhere, perhaps often. I read the Simak story last year and liked it as much as 20 or more years ago when I reread it.

Todd Mason said...

http://hermiene.net/short-stories/men_are_different.html even though I doubt Bloch authorized this. His only? sf story...

Don Coffin said...

You'd think there's be a market for someone to e-book these...although there would doubtless be copyright issues...