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Possible Worlds of Science Fiction by Groff…
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Possible Worlds of Science Fiction

by Groff Conklin (Editor)

Other authors: Poul Anderson (Author), Isaac Asimov (Author), John Berryman (Author), Ray Bradbury (Author), H. B. Fyte (Author)5 more, Malcolm Jameson (Author), Murray Leinster (Author), Clifford D. Simak (Author), Margaret St. Clair (Author), A. E. van Vogt (Author)

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This anthology was first collected and published in 1951 gathering stories for my paperback edition from a variety of science fiction magazines from as early as the October 1939 issue of "Astounding Science Fiction" to the November 1950 issue of the same. Many of the authors are among the "giants" of the genre in the Golden Age. The stories and essays are:

• 5 • Part One: The Solar System • essay by Groff Conklin
• 7 • Enchanted Village • (1950) • shortstory by A. E. van Vogt
• 23 • Lilies of Life • (1945) • novelette by Malcolm Jameson
• 45 • Asleep in Armageddon • (1948) • shortstory by Ray Bradbury (variant of Perchance to Dream)
• 60 • Not Final! • (1941) • shortstory by Isaac Asimov
• 78 • The Pillows • (1950) • shortstory by Margaret St. Clair
• 91 • Part Two: The Galaxy • essay by Groff Conklin
• 93 • Propagandist • (1947) • shortstory by Murray Leinster
• 114 • In Value Deceived • (1950) • shortstory by H. B. Fyfe
• 126 • Space Rating • (1939) • shortstory by John Berryman
• 147 • Limiting Factor • (1949) • shortstory by Clifford D. Simak
• 163 • The Helping Hand • (1950) • novelette by Poul Anderson

The paperback version I read has ten stories extracted from the hardback edition which contains twenty-two stories. I don't think I've read any of these stories before. The cool cover art on my copy does not have the artist identified but it resembles the work of Richard Powers, an artist of the time that I like. There's a theme to the stories - the first five are planetary exploration type stories of our solar system and the second five are galactic tales. I thought this was a good collection for the time period.

Old science fiction stories just loved to end with a surprise twist. Enchanted Village got real twisted. Bill Jenner has been stranded on Mars, the pilot and sole survivor of the rocket that crashed into a Martian desert. As the ship came down he thought he had seen a shallow polar sea about 300 miles from where he landed. He sets out with his minimal food and water on a trek. This however is nothing like Andy Weir's recent "The Martian." Jenner treks and as his water supply is close to being out he climbs a peak and discovers a hidden valley within and what appears to be a small village. This strange irritating sound is in the air, coming and going. He explores the village and finds a sort of food but it burns his mouth and causes him to vomit. The liquid burns his skin. Clearly not meant for humans. The story progresses and he tries to adapt the mechanisms to provide something fit for humans. What happens is clearly a twisty ending (and a little silly) but unforgettable. Very fun old-time science fiction.

The second story, Malcolm Jameson's "Lilies of Life" was first published shortly before the author's death in 1945. This story is about Venus, and a viral plague of sorts from the planet has taken hold on earth and scientists try desperately to find a cure. The native inhabitants of Venus seemed mostly unaffected by the disease and the scientists wanted to know why. As they themselves fight the affliction from the virus, the scientists do find a cure, a most unusual symbiotic one, and this tale tells us how it was done. Very old-fashioned story straight out of the tradition of the first half of the twentieth century but done quite well. I enjoyed this.

I thought Bradbury's "Asleep in Armageddon" was a real dud. The asteroid belt is supposedly haunted by the ghosts of a greek or roman-type civilization that was destroyed long ago. I'd rate this a stinker. Asimov's "Not Final!" was better, but not by much. Published in 1941 it is quite dated. Earthmen have colonized Ganymede and have been in contact with Jovians and slowly established communications between the two. Suddenly the Jovians realized that the Earthmen are not Jovians also. They end communication with a threat. The bulk of the story concerns whether the Jovians could make good on their threat. The scientists on Ganymede believe the threat is very real but conclude it is not possible for the Jovians to leave their planet. We see that possibly this may not be true. The dated elements (growing tobacco on Ganymede for example) detract from the overall story. The characters are rather laughable as is the pseudo-scientific technobabble.

Margaret St. Clair's "The Pillows" wraps up the planetary tales. I've read a few of her stories in collections before and she is generally very good. Also largely forgotten as an author. She veers a little towards the creepy/horror side of things. This story is OK - it is dated in numerous ways like the others, but also has elements to it that redeem it. Aliens who are alien, this is set on Triton (a moon of Neptune). The ship's crew is there to mine for an artifact, the pillows. One crew member discovers, or surmises may be a better way to describe it, that the pillows are alive and intelligent and things will soon be going very badly for the Earth.

The clunky titled "Propagandist" by Leinster begins the far space stories. Man goes into space with his faithful companion, and the dog wags the tale. "Buck" prevents a war, more or less because he's a dog. Leinster wrote a lot of stories. Most of the ones I've read are pretty good and this one is too, if a bit cutesy.

Of the remaining stories, each was an enjoyable read. Fyfe's story was a funny trader story where each side of the exchange couldn't believe they got such a deal. Berryman's "Space Rating" involved an instructor/pilot and student/co-pilot evaluating and testing the skills of each other. Simak's "Limiting Factor" was about the discovery of a planet that was a computer. Lots of speculation and it got a little boring since nothing really happens. Poul Anderson's "The Helping Hand" was a longer one, a look at the effects in the far future of "foreign aid" where Earth helps or doesn't help other planetary cultures after a war. Anderson was a young new writer when this story was published.

Some people like to praise science fiction writers for their great vision and predicting the future. Reading these old stories would rather quickly make one aware of how much they got wrong. ( )
  RBeffa | Sep 8, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Conklin, GroffEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Anderson, PoulAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Asimov, IsaacAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Berryman, JohnAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bradbury, RayAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fyte, H. B.Authorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jameson, MalcolmAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Leinster, MurrayAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Simak, Clifford D.Authorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
St. Clair, MargaretAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
van Vogt, A. E.Authorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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He got all the way through the guard lines, and that must have taken some fancy figuring, or else it was just kid luck.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The paperbook version contains 10 of the 22 stories that appeared in the hardbound edition.
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