Where Do We Go From Here?
2016 Book Challenge: a book of short stories
edited by Isaac Asimov
(science fiction, short stories)
This is a book of short stories that I have been familiar with for a very long time. When I first started to get into science fiction, my dad recommended a couple of the stories here for me to read. (Those stories still number among my favorite short stories of all time.) However, until now, I had never read the complete collection of stories in this volume. Having finished them all, I can see why my dad chose those few stories for me to read – but I can also see merit in the other stories, as well. My favorite of the new-to-me stories (I’ll go into detail on some individual stories in a moment) is one that probably resonates more with me than it ever has with my dad. I also have to say, I do love the way that Asimov comments on each story after it’s over, putting it in context of what was known at the time it was written, and asking you to think about some of the more scientific parts of the story.
I’ll start with the favorite of the new-to-me stories. It’s Omnilingual by H. Beam Piper, and it focuses on archeologists on Mars who are excavating a ruin several thousands of years old. The focus of this story is on one particular archaeologist who is trying to find a way to read the Martian language. The science of life on Mars is obviously far from the truth, but I loved the way the language study was approached. Since I studied linguistics a bit in college, I particularly enjoyed this story.
One of the stories that my dad suggested I read way back when was Surface Tension by James Blish. I still really enjoy this one, though for me part of the magic of this story was not knowing what was going on. I still enjoyed it during this read, but I don’t think I will ever recapture the magic of that first reading of it.
The Big Bounce by Walter S. Tevis is one of the stories that struck me this time around as the most grounded in science. Yes, it does violate one of the scientific laws, but only one. The first time I read the story, I remember thinking how it was a serious version of Flubber, but this time I focused more on the science aspects. It is a great example of the kind of good sic fi Asimov mentioned in his quote:
“It is sometimes said that a good science fiction writer makes one assumption – even if an impossible one – to start his story and then, no more.” – Isaac Asimov
However, even with all these great stories in the collection, my favorite is still –And He Built a Crooked House– by Robert A. Heinlein. (Given the author, I’m not surprised that it’s my favorite. He’s a great author.) It essentially deals with what might happen if you could build a tesseract house. (If you don’t know what a tesseract is, read about it here on Wikipedia. I, on the other hand, have known what a tesseract is for ages because of this short story and A Wrinkle In Time, both of which described them for the young me.) I love this story because of the way it is executed, the basic idea, and the fact that the house as described reminds me of the “House of the Future” that used to be in Disneyland.
I’m glad that I picked this collection as the book of short stories to read for this book challenge. Yes, I’d read some of the stories before. And yes, these older, classic science fiction stories take me longer to read than modern fantasy stories. However, this was an immensely satisfying collection to read, and made me think a lot more than a different collection probably would have.