Friday, November 11, 2005

Booknote: The SFWA Masters, vol.1

Title: The SFWA Masters, vol.1
Editor: Frederick Pohl
Publication Information: New York: TOR Books, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-86880-4
Genre: Science Fiction
Subgenre: Short story collection, with some nonfiction
Pages: 384

This book is part of a multiple volume set, and based on this one, I will definitely be reading the other volumes. Readers can look to future posts on the other volumes down the road. The books collect selected writings of science fiction writers who have been recognized as Grand Masters by the Science Fiction Writers of America (Now Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). The SFWA is also known as the organization that awards the annual Nebula Awards. The Nebula is one of the two major literary awards for science fiction and fantasy; the other is the Hugo Award, given by the World Science Fiction Society. SFWA's Grand Master Award, officially named the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, "is given to a living author for a lifetime's achievement in science fiction and/or fantasy. Nominations for the Grand Master award are made by the president of SFWA; the award is given upon approval of a majority of the SFWA® officers." This volume collects the work of the five first Grand Masters: Robert A. Heinlein, Jack Williamson, Clifford D. Simak, L. Sprague de Camp, and Fritz Leiber. It is edited by Frederick Pohl, who actually knew these writers, and it shows in his introductions and careful selection of stories. What makes this volume unique from other collections is the editing by Pohl, but it is also distinguished by selections of nonfiction by the writers. At the end of each section, there is a small list of recommended works for readers who may want to read more by a particular writer.

The volume offers a good selection of classics. This is what readers who have read science fiction for a long time mean when they say they read science fiction. This volume is highly recommended for any reader wanting to read science fiction for the first time; it is an excellent introduction to the genre and its major figures, and I can only imagine it gets better with the other volumes. Even though some of the stories today may seem "dated," I think they are actually quite timeless in terms of the characters and the narratives. These stories are as good today as they were when they were first published, and in some cases, looking at them now gives a nice glimpse at how people saw things back in the middle of the 20th century. I did not find a "bad" story in this anthology, and this is something rare in many other anthologies. There is a bit of everything for every reader.

Heinlein explores politics and the future in a story about highways in "The Roads Must Roll." Some readers may find it interesting given the current awareness over gasoline costs and transportation. Williamson takes a very interesting look at what can happen when man suddenly has nothing to do in "With Folded Hands." Williamson also recalls his days meeting and hanging out with other literary figures in his essay selection. Simak looks at the story of a very lonely man in "Grotto of the Dancing Deer." Sprague de Camp takes us on a dinosaur hunt in "A Gun For Dinosaur." It is a bit of an adventure and a bit of what happens when you try to mess with time travel for revenge. If you read Jurassic Park, or you saw the movie, leave your misconceptions from that work at the door. For fans of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Leiber has a story of them. This was the least I liked; I am not a big fan of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, but the story will satisfy readers of fantasy. Leiber's best story in this selection for me was "A Bad Day for Sales." It reminded me of Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains." For me, it had that feel to it once I got to the end of the story. Some readers may have read these and the other stories already. I know I read some, and it was great rediscovering them. I also found a good number, most of them, I had not read before. I had read the authors, but not these particular selections. For instance, I have read some of Heinlein's novels, but I had not read Fritz Leiber before. So whether you have read the stories or not, this is a great book for some good reading. This definitely belongs on the shelf of every science fiction reader, and I think it would make a good gift for someone you want to introduce to the genre.

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