Worlds to Come: Science Fiction Adventure Classics by Damon Knight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A collection of classic SF from some of the great authors.
We open with "The Sentinel" by Arthur C. Clarke, the seed from which 2001 grew, and an example of Clarke's ability to make a story out of "here is this great thing I witnessed, without really affecting the outcome; isn't that amazing?"
"Moonwalk" by H. B. Fyfe is a survival story which reminded me of Andy Weir's The Martian, though of course it's much shorter and more concentrated (and the protagonist isn't a smartass). The tension is well sustained.
"Mars is Heaven" by Ray Bradbury is an example of Bradbury's trademark bizarre imagination and ability to tie science fiction and American small-town life together in a way that works.
"The Edge of the Sea" by Algis Budrys tells of a not-quite-first-contact scenario through a Hemingwayesque character who discovers a spaceship about to be washed away by the tide and is determined to keep it in case there's some kind of reward - and he has nothing better to do, anyway, so he'll risk his life and put out immense effort, giving meaning to the struggle by the fact that he engages in it.
"The Martian Way" by Isaac Asimov continues a kind of working-class hero vibe that's developing in the collection, as Martian colonists bravely obtain water from one of the moons of Saturn and show up a populist Earth politician for the fool he is.
"The Big Contest" by John D. MacDonald is another blue-collar first contact story, involving a spitting contest.
"Ordeal in Space" by Robert A. Heinlein shows us a spacer with what we would now call PTSD, able to overcome his fears when he needs to help a fellow creature. I had forgotten how fond Heinlein was of cats, and this story endears him to me more than most of his others.
"That Share of Glory" by C.M. Kornbluth shows us a member of a monastic guild of translators whose mission is to spread utilitarian civilisation. He learns some lessons about life in the field on his first assignment that he wasn't taught in the Order.
Finally, "Sunken Universe" by James Blish gives us one of those "bizarre milieu" stories that affirm the human spirit in any kind of situation.
Overall, indeed, this is a collection all about the human spirit, the spirit of ordinary people (or rather ordinary men, given the time period) in extraordinary situations, mostly exploratory ones. There's some fine writing in it, and some fine thinking too.
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