Monday, January 15, 2018

World's Best Science Fiction 1966: Review

The title of World's Best Science Fiction 1966 edited by Donald A Wollheim & Terry Carr is a bit misleading. These are actually the best SF stories from 1965--and the collection was published in 1966. As the cover photo indicates, it includes stories by such SF luminaries as Arthur C. Clarke, Fritz Leiber, Clifford D. Simak and also those not mentioned: Larry Niven, Harlan Ellison, and Fred Saberhagen. It also includes stories by authors unfamiliar to me: Jonathan Brand, Joseph Green, and David I Massan. There are tales about spaceships that can sail the solar winds, time travel, dystopian futures (see Ellison), mixtures of man and machine, intelligence agents who lose their memories, and robots that keep fighting long after their original enemies are gone. As with all collections (even those that claim to have only the best), the stories represent various levels of strength depending on your taste. My personal favorites are "Sunjammer" by Clarke (the solar wind spaceships), "'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman" by Ellison (a long-time favorite), "Over the River & Through the Woods" by Clifford D. Simak, "Planet of Forgetting" by James H. Schmitz, and "Vanishing Point" by Jonathan Brand. ★★

Here is a run-down of the stories:

"Sunjammer" by Arthur C. Clarke: John Merton becomes the first man to sail a solar ship solo in the race to the moon. It looks like he'll take home the honors...until the sun decides to misbehave.

"Calling Dr. Clockwork" by Ron Goulart: In a world where healthcare becomes automated, things can really go wrong quickly when they don't go like "clockwork."

"Becalmed in Hell" by Larry Niven: A man will be stranded on Venus if he can't convince his cyborg ship, Eric, that "he" really can feel his thrusters and can achieve lift-off. How do you psycho-analyze a ship with a man's brain?

"Apartness" by Vernor Vinge: Set in a post-apocalyptic world which saw the destruction of the northern hemisphere. A treasure hunt sponsored by the Southern American Empire discovers an isolated tribe of Afrikaners--the only white people to escape the purge in South Africa during/after the war.

"Over the River & Through the Woods" by Clifford D. Simak: Two children come to visit their grandmother--but they come from further away than just miles. They are her great-great-grandchildren and they may be staying longer than either she or they think.

"Planet of Forgetting" by James H. Schmitz: An intergalactic intelligence officer wakes up to find himself on a strange planet with no memory of how he got there or of the last several months. He's quite sure that his boss must have sent him on a mission--his memory stops just moments before entering the man's office. He'd better remember quick--or he's going to find himself in the hands of some very nasty enemies.

"'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman" by Harlan Ellison: One of Ellison's most famous stories about a dystopian world where time is regimented and if you waste it too much, you can find yourself quite literally "out of time" whenever the Ticktockman decides you've had your allotment. The Harlequin manages to disrupt the nice orderly society and Ellison uses him to make some very pointed social commentary.

"The Decision Makers" by Joseph Green: When mankind ventures out into the universe and encounters other lifeforms, who serves as his conscience? Who makes sure we don't run roughshod over potentially intelligent life? Green's story proposes the idea of the Practical Philosopher--and tells the story of one man's decision which affects an entire race of intelligent sea creatures.

"Traveler's Rest" by David I Masson: A war story about one soldier who is sent back to civilian life for a well-earned rest. But no one told him how brief that rest could be....

"Uncollected Works" by Lin Carter: A fairly mediocre tale about an aging literary critic who is interviewed by a young journalist. The critic name-drops all sorts of authors and then grows nostalgic over their future works of literary merit.

"Vanishing Point" by Jonathan Brand: A spaceman tells his kids a bedtime story about the time he and his shipmates went off to visit with the representatives of the Galactic Federation. The only person they meet is an old man on a bit of Eden-like ground. They make an odd discovery about the man and the place where they rendezvous.  Not high adventure--but a charming story.

"In Our Block" by R. A. Lafferty: There are some pretty unusual people living at the end of our dead-end block. They can manufacture whatever you want out of thin reasonable prices too. But one has to wonder why the two guys in the story don't take advantage of all the bargains....

"Masque of the Red Shift" by Fred Saberhagen: As the astute reader might guess, Saberhagen uses the Poe story as a bit of inspiration for his SF adventure. The Emperor of Esteel is hosting a party in honor of his "dead" brother Johann (a hero in the fight against the berserker robots) when a berserker is smuggled in under the guise of a captured anarchist. A little reanimation and a black hole is needed to get the survivors out of this mess.

"The Captive Djinn" by Christopher Anvil: A tale about an Earthman who uses a little Terran "magic" to escape his alien captors. Just remember what Arthur C. Clarke said--"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

"The Good New Days: by Fritz Leiber: About three brothers who live with their mother--who is described in ways that make her seem other than human. This is a breathless, fast-paced story which, I think is supposed to be social commentary, but which really didn't make sense to me at all.

[Finished on 1/9/18]

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