A New Feature

Over at Strange Horizons, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is starting a project to read and review the twenty-five volumes of Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories, which reprint work published between 1939 and 1963. He’ll be tackling one volume every couple of months. Read on…

I’m approaching much of this work as a first-time reader, presumably like many of you. I’m sure that in the course of this ongoing project, in which I’d like to review all twenty-five volumes in the anthology series, I’ll find plenty of surprises. My intent with this review series is as much descriptive as it is analytic. There are more specialized works which deal full-on with the philosophical implications of specific stories or which dissect them academically. The idea here is to gain familiarity with the material and an appreciation for its continued relevance.

So, let us step back in time. 1939: a watershed year for SF. The World Science Fiction Convention was held for the first time, and the field saw the first published stories of Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, A. E. van Vogt, Robert A. Heinlein, Fritz Leiber, and Theodore Sturgeon. Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories: Volume 1, 1939 (IAPGSFS 1) collects twenty noteworthy fictions, including those firsts by van Vogt, Heinlein, and Sturgeon.

15 thoughts on “A New Feature

  1. As science fiction dwindles away, we like to look back in nostalgia at its golden years, reprint and reread its golden stories. I wonder what there will be to look back at when people consider the next decade from its future.

  2. Lois, interesting observation. You read and review A LOT of speculative short fiction — do you feel that science fiction is “dwindling away”?

    I don’t. I think the decade will be considered pretty strong in terms of its short fiction (with significant original anthologies etc). Of course, we’re too imprisoned by the present to predict the specific authors that will be remembered (or even possibly anticipate the wacky reasons why).

    Just to be clear, my motivation in working through the Asimov Great SF Stories anthology series isn’t nostalgia. If I were feeling nostalgic, I’d be re-reading New Wave stories from my own personal Golden Age :-)

  3. I have difficulty seeing any field in which Dozois can reliably put together his annual brick (which surely will be the go-to series for the hypothetical future version of this project?) as dwindling away, even if as a proportion of fantastic literature being published it might be smaller than it used to be.

  4. Yes, I’d say dwindling. Dwindling back, in some ways, to its origins as a marginal genre read mostly by an isolated group.

  5. That’s an odd attitude for a short story reviewer to take, Lois. And really, has science fiction ever been anything but a marginal genre read mostly by an isolated group?

  6. Clearly the digests have been crashing, and mass-market paperbacks have been crashing, for decades now. How far that can be extrapolated to a remarginalization of science fiction — or how far you can project backward from that to a less-marginal science fiction — is open for debate. It’s a shame nobody on line seems to have gathered together authoritative stats.

    I do think that as late as the 80s short SF was more important to the field as a whole than it is today — that novel readers were more likely to also read short SF — and certainly, within SF, science fiction qua science fiction has lost ground to fantasy since the era covered by the Asimov anthologies. But I’m not sure that situation is actually measurably worse than when people first started complaining about it thirty years ago.

    (But please, Lois. One quirky reviewer deciding to go back and survey a bunch of 50-to-70-year-old stories by reading a 20-to-30-year-old reprint series is hardly proof of general decadence.)

  7. “Dwindling” is a vector. There was a time when the genre was expanding, growing. Now I think the universe is in a slow collapse. I don’t expect, in 2020, to see more readership of SF short fiction.

  8. David, I too would like to see stats backing up one side or another of the argument. Locus, of course, publishes volume figures each year on number of stories, anthologies, original novels, first-time novels, reprints and all sorts of stuff.

    I wonder, though, even in principle, how one would go about measuring literary/genre “marginalization”? It would probably need to be a diverse set of metrics, including things like advertisements in non-genre designated markets, self-reported results on literary stigma, recognition of genre-specific awards in non-genre venues, number of references and inclusions of genre writers and works in “canonical” non-genre places, and so on. Sounds like quite a massive undertaking, so I can’t say I’m surprised no-one’s done the research.

    But much more importantly than all this, David, who you be calling “quirky”? :-)

  9. Such “dwindling” is hardly restricted to SF short fiction. Markets for ALL forms of short fiction and shrinking and disappearing. So I don’t think this is a criticism that can be particularly directed at SF, in this case.

    Indeed, in terms of a percentage of short fiction as a whole, I’d hazard that SF is actually a relatively healthy subset.

  10. (Certainly the magnitude of the short SF decline vector, as drawn from say 1950 to today, is considerably shorter than that of the short Western decline vector. I would prefer to see manifolds, though….)

  11. “Relative to other forms of short fiction, I think is what Nick meant.”

    Yes, this is correct. I’m a bit perplexed, to be honest; I’ve looked at my previous comment and can’t see any ambiguity there myself.

  12. I understood that was what Nick meant. What I meant is that the subject of the original post is reading “golden age” SF, and my original comment which, I believe, spawned this thread is about a perceived comparison between that older SF and that of the present day.

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