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Classic Science Fiction Stories by Tig Thomas
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's review
Jun 05, 2012

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bookshelves: fiction, science-fiction
Read from January 30 to June 05, 2012

This book (the actual title on the cover is Classic Science Fiction Stories) is a collection of about 30 ancient SF short stories and novel excerpts, mostly from the nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries. There are some very big name authors represented here; Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Jack London, Voltaire and H.G. Wells to name but five.

By and large they look like they have been taken from the popular press and pulp magazines of that era, although there are no accompanying notes or acknowledgements to verify this. The stories are pretty simplistic and generally the reader will not require a large vocabulary to read them, although perhaps an understanding of the culture back then might be useful, to put them in context.

I started reading this with a sinking feeling, as compared with their modern equivalents these stories really aren’t that sophisticated, either in literary terms or SF terms. Gentlemen of leisure while away their time, brilliantly inventing new contraptions (the details of which are conveniently ignored), or exploring unknown worlds, rescuing dubiously young ladies who they instantly fall for (and vice versa), and generally behaving with the appropriate stiff upper lip. A little later on they might have been referred to as ‘Boys Own’ stories.

However, however; the book grew on me as I read through it. Here are some of the stories that either kickstarted whole subgenres, or whose authors had an incredible imagination and often a good grasp of the latest scientific knowledge of their time. There was some interesting social commentary too.

Stand out stories? Well ‘Sultana’s Dream’ by Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein is pleasantly unexpected – a female Muslim author writing a feminist alternate Earth and polemic against the Arabic custom of making women stay out of sight. The issues it discusses seem strikingly modern, and yet was written in 1904! ‘The Worlds of If’ by Stanley G Weinbaum (from 1935) is a well-written time travel story, with a good twist at the end that seems to show that SF had evolved to encompass a few more literary devices by that time. Mark Twain invented the Internet in 1898 with ‘London Times 1904’! ‘Armageddon 2419 AD’ by Philip Frances Nowlan was an exciting military SF story, although its ending was poor (in fact a lot of these stories just seem to stop rather than finish). The Nowlan story rang a bell and I looked it up – it was in fact the embryonic precursor to the popular Buck Rogers comic strip.

Incongruously, there are a couple of stories from 2011 too, by an author called Stephen James, who I cynically presume is the editor’s nephew. ☺ These aren’t bad, but it is unlikely they would trouble the pages of current SF magazines such as Interzone.

There are some pretty awful stories here too, mind you, and the excerpts chosen from H.G. Wells really aren’t that well chosen. Overall I would only recommend this to those who are interested in the history of SF. It is interesting to see how the genre has evolved over the years. I was going to give this two stars, but actually the illustrations throughout give it an extra star, as they really help to give a feeling of time and place.
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Reading Progress

01/30/2012 "Actually called 'Classic Science Fiction Stories' on the cover. When they say 'classic' they mean 'old', but that is not necessarily a bad thing!"
30.0% "So far the stories have ranged from appalling to mediocre."
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Rowena (new)

Rowena Hi, thanks for such a good review. I have this book, but haven't read it yet. My 8-yr old son wants to read it. Would you recommend it, or is it more tailored for adults? Would appreciate your views. Many thanks.

message 2: by Andrew (last edited Apr 04, 2014 04:25AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Andrew Rowena wrote: "Hi, thanks for such a good review. I have this book, but haven't read it yet. My 8-yr old son wants to read it. Would you recommend it, or is it more tailored for adults? Would appreciate your view..."

Hi Rowena. As far as I remember there is nothing that you would not want a child to read in there - in UK cinema terms they are U and PG stories! Most of the stories were written to appeal to a populist adult market so it is fairly simple to read, although I'd say that you need the reading skills of an average 11/12 year old to get the most out it, and of course the stories with satirical or political themes might go over his head a bit. The language might appear quite old-fashioned to a 21st century boy, but that is part of the charm of the stories!

Hope that helps!

message 3: by Rowena (new)

Rowena Thanks Andrew. He's quite an advanced reader for his age, so I might let him read this book without having any qualms about it!

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