Bruce's Reviews > The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume 2A

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame by Ben Bova
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Jan 03, 14

Read in April, 2012

So far:

"Call Me Joe" by Poul Anderson -- excellent

"Who's Out There?" by John W. Campbell -- Good page turner, interesting premise of a chameleon-like alien (the alien in Howard Hawks' classic horror film based on this story, The Thing, did not have this power), but a little too rushed and slapdash to be wholly convincing.

"Nerves" by Lester del Rey -- There's a good story here, but, as told, is rather a mess -- verbose, unorganized, with the technical aspects of the story (involving a Chernobyl-like disaster) not very adroitly handled. The main characters are, however, well-developed, and I did want to know how it all came out. Del Rey edited it for book publication, so perhaps the later version is better.

"Universe" by Robert A. Heinlein -- [spoiler alert] Intriguing story where the perceived good guys and bad guys are really the reverse. Heinlein's narrative voice is, as usual, very attractive, if somewhat too "pulpish" (i.e. redolent of pulp fiction).

I notice that many science-fiction stories seem too tied to the trappings of the genre. Their value as literature would expand, I believe, if the authors wrote them as straight-forward literature, and took time to develop the serious themes often touched upon. An example of such a work is 1984. I recognize that 1) this was often probably not possible given that they were slated for science-fiction magazines, and 2) some elements of the genre that fans love would be lost. Heinlein's "Universe," for instance, has a very appealing off-the-cuff quality which does reflect the personalities of its characters. This quality might be stifled by ponderous reflections on the need for freedom and independence in a successful society. I would still hope, however, that such thematic concerns could be integrated into the fabric of the story without didacticism.

"The Marching Morons" by C. M. Kornbluth -- Contains a good idea illustrated by a clever, but too far-fetched plot. Interestingly (apropos my comment above) Kornbluth makes sure the significance of his story hits home by stating the story's theme very succinctly and poetically at the end. It's the best thing in the story.

"Vintage Season" by Lawrence O'Donnell -- [spoiler alert] Fascinating -- until it all tumbles into a welter of pessimistic determinism. I wish O'Donnell had seen the potential in his characters to jump off the track of their disastrous fate.

"And Then There Were None . . ." by Eric Frank Russell -- My favorite in the collection so far, though a bit too leisurely and long-winded in the telling. Like Van Vogt's "The Weapons Shop," a paean to individualism and the natural benevolence of people.

"The Time Machine" by H.G. Wells -- I read this in my huge tome of Wells' Seven Famous Novels, and am now determined to read the other six this year. Wells is a born story-teller, with the knack for a relaxed, smoothly flowing and utterly captivating narrative. I see his influence on C. S. Lewis. In his preface, Wells emphasizes the importance of the verisimilitude of small details for fantasy and science-fiction, and he is clearly a master at making the unbelievable believable. The fact that the story is unrelentingly pessimistic almost seems beside the point given the sheer virtuosity of the story.
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01/03 marked as: read

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message 1: by Werner (new)

Werner Bruce, I don't know if the novel is an improvement, since I haven't read it, but I agree with your comments about "Nerves." The thing that struck me about it was its extreme, uncritically technophilic message: nuclear technology is wonderful, completely benign (the threat of a "Chernobyl-like disaster" is averted --and the supposed moral of the story is that of course such threats will always be averted!), and something we just HAVE to have, or be consigned to primitivism and darkness. Of course, del Ray can't think of a convincing reason WHY we have to it --in his scenario, its primary use is for killing boll weevils in the cotton crop, a technology that, in reality, we've somehow managed to survive without! :-)-- we just HAVE to, because... well, it's Science, and science just HAS to march on to keep the universe bright and shiny! But that view of technology was the regnant gospel in the SF pulp ghetto in which del Rey wrote.

Bruce Werner, Yes, the story does clearly imply that technology is wonderful and necessary, but I'm not sure about "completely benign." After all, the impending disaster is due to only two people knowing enough to do anything about it. That fact alone would suggest nuclear technology was not ready for practical use. But del Rey does effectively overshadow this fact with the elan of the young hero who has the last-minute inspiration.

I completely agree with your criticism of the uncritical equating of science with progress. Of course, it depends on what one means by progress!

Thanks for your comment.

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