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Isaac Asimov Presents the Best Science…

Isaac Asimov Presents the Best Science Fiction of the 19th Century (1981)

by Isaac Asimov (Editor), Martin H. Greenberg (Editor), Charles G. Waugh (Editor)

Other authors: Grant Allen (Contributor), Edward Bellamy (Contributor), C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne (Contributor), Guy de Maupassant (Contributor), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Contributor)10 more, Nathaniel Hawthorne (Contributor), E. T. A. Hoffmann (Contributor), Jack London (Contributor), Robert Duncan Milne (Contributor), Edward Page Mitchell (Contributor), Edgar Allan Poe (Contributor), J.-H. aîné Rosny (Contributor), Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Contributor), Frank R. Stockton (Contributor), H.G. Wells (Contributor)

Series: Isaac Asimov Presents the Best of the 19th Century (Book 1), Super Ficción (78) (79)

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This little book collects fifteen short stories from across the 19th century, most of them being more science fiction than not. They originate from Britain, the United States, Germany, and France, though Britain and America dominate the book. Only four of the stories are pre-1850, since short sf really took off in the 1880s in the popular periodicals.

My favorite was probably the first, E. T. A. Hoffman's "The Sandman" (1817), about a boy who sees his father die working on an automaton, and grows up to be menaced by his co-inventor. It's dark and creepy, even now, in terms of what it postulates at the end. The funnest story is definitely Frank R. Stockton's "A Tale of Negative Gravity" (1884). Stockton also wrote some racist future-war fiction, but this a screwy comedy about a guy who can fly, and it's nice and fun. Guy de Maupassant's "The Horla" (1887) is another creepy tale, about an ancient race that might out-evolve humanity. (This was definitely a thing 19th-century folks were really worried about, between this and The Coming Race and Dracula and The War of the Worlds. I think it's all about imperialism.) Oh, and let's not forget Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" (1844). That ending gets me every time.

Some of the stories are more noteworthy for what they do than how they do it. Not that they do it bad, but it will be done better later, and these versions only stand out because they did it first. Edward Page Mitchell's "The Clock That Went Backward" (1881) gives us a time travel story that features not only the first time machine (contrary to the British Library, who give that honor to an 1887 story), but also a predestination paradox. Wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey and all that! J.-H. Rosny aîné's "The Shapes" (1887) has some fantastic inorganic aliens that make the story alone. And Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Great Keinplatz Experiment" (1894) is a fair-to-middling body swap comedy.

Then, of course, there's the blight of all science fiction: coming up with a good idea but not a good story: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's "The Mortal Immortal" (1834), featuring immortality, Edward Bellamy's "To Whom This May Come" (1888), featuring telepathy, H. G. Wells's "Into the Abyss" (1896), featuring an underwater civilization, and C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne's "The Lizard" (1898), featuring a man fighting a dinosaur, are all guilty of this to differing degrees, though most have a great "sense of wonder" moment regardless.

But even the not-so-great stories are still interesting reads. Good stuff if you're remotely interested in the history of sf-- early material like this isn't often reprinted. This is a genre being born, and everyone here is a visionary in their own right.
1 vote Stevil2001 | May 16, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Asimov, IsaacEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Greenberg, Martin H.Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Waugh, Charles G.Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Allen, GrantContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bellamy, EdwardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cutcliffe Hyne, C.J.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
de Maupassant, GuyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Doyle, Sir Arthur ConanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hawthorne, NathanielContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hoffmann, E. T. A.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
London, JackContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Milne, Robert DuncanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, Edward PageContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Poe, Edgar AllanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rosny, J.-H. aînéContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Shelley, Mary WollstonecraftContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stockton, Frank R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wells, H.G.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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