Friday, December 06, 2013

Forgotten Books: 12 Great Classics of Science Fiction, Groff Conklin, Editor

Let's start by looking at the covers.  Done that?  Okay, here's what bothers me. Why would anybody write cover copy that says, "12 masterful tales of science fiction that have -- incredibly -- been lost or overlooked since their original publication" for a book that says it contains 12 "classics"?  Wouldn't classics sort of imply that they hadn't been overlooked?  And another thing.  The book was published in 1963.  One of the stories is from that very year.  Four are from 1960.  Two are from 1962.  One had been reprinted in 1962.  One is from 1961.  They sure hadn't been overlooked for very long.  And did anybody "overlook" "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" when it was published in 1962?  I had the impression that it was acclaimed when it was published, but I could be wrong about that.  At any rate, nowhere in his introduction does Groff Conklin mention that these stories are "undiscovered."  But maybe I'm just being cranky.  

Here's the table of contents:
Groff Conklin--Introduction

Algis Budrys—Due Process
Fredric Brown—Earthmen Bearing Gifts
Zenna Henderson—Things
George Sumner Albee—The Top
Poul Anderson—My Object All Sublime

Robert Sheckley—Human Man's Burden
J. F. Bone—On the Fourth Planet

Cordwainer Smith—Ballad of Lost C'Mell
Robert F. Young—Thirty Days Had September
Bertram Chandler—The Cage
William W. Stuart—Star-Crossed Lover

J. T. McIntosh—Immortality...For Some

I've been rereading some of these, and the Smith strikes me as violating just about all the rules about showing instead of telling, but that doesn't matter at all.  Telling is often a fine thing, as it is here.  The Sheckley is hilarious and subversive.  Anderson's story is entertaining even if you know where it's going, but it's a minor work, I think.  Brown's short-short has one of those snapper endings, but it, too, has lost some of its impact.  Chandler's ending still works, but the build-up is a little bit '50s.  Besides the Smith story, the one I remember best is Young's.  Here's something you didn't know about me: As a youngster, I was afflicted with premature nostalgia.  A story like Young's had a powerful effect on me then, even more powerful than it does now that I'm an old guy.  I still like it a lot, and now I find it remarkable prescient.  

Overall, this is a swell collection.  If you want an idea of what SF was like when I was growing up, this book would be a find place to start.


George said...

I read this wonderful Groff Conklin collection way back when. Great stories!

Anonymous said...

And stay off your lawn!


Unknown said...

Durn tootin'!

Todd Mason said...

I think "Smith" was still an emerging figure for the larger readership...but Pohl was very protective of his ability to get first look at Linebarger's work.

And, Go to bed, Old Man!

Anonymous said...

Hey Bill,
Thanks for posting about this. True story. I found a copy of this book by the railroad tracks when I was in elementary school. Maybe 1971. The cover was torn and part of the Henderson story was missing, but I read everything else and loved the book. At some point I got rid of it and from time-to-time have tried to remember the title so I can buy it read it again.

Unknown said...

Cool story. I'm sure cheap copies abound on the 'net.