With a name like Masterpieces, this large science fiction anthology
makes a promise to the reader. With the sub-title The Best Science Fiction
of the Century, it issues a dare to itself, and unfortunately, leaves editor
Card with his tongue stuck to the proverbial flagpole.
At least, in some respects, he did the presentation up right. The book is broken
into three distinct ages: The Golden Age, the New Wave, and the Media Generation.
He also provides pointed, informative introductions to each author that are
perfect for newbies or nice reminders for old fans who maybe have forgotten
that science fiction didn't begin with Neuromancer.
There's no arguing the list of people included:
Asimov, Clarke, Gibson, Ellison, Heinlein, le Guin,
Pohl, Sturgeon, Bradbury, and Aldiss are the
luminaries that immediately jump out at the reader.
Even though the stories for these people aren't
necessarily the ones I would have included, I won't
begrudge the choice too much because the author is
represented. That's the point, I think, of these
kinds of projects.
Where Card damns himself is in the omissions. Where,
for example, is J. G. Ballard? Wither Frederic Brown?
Alfred Bester? Phillip K. Dick? Cordwainer Smith?
H. Beam Piper? Eric Frank Russell? E. E. Smith?
John W. Campbell?
Here's my specific gripe. When I think of the best
science fiction of the century, it brings to mind the
things that were the first of its kind to come out.
The first stories about a future that could very well
happen if we keep on doing what we're doing. The
stories that got authors in trouble. The stories that
caused an uproar when they came out. The stories that
influenced people, changed the way they thought.
For every author that Card includes, he excludes two of the people above. Why,
for example, isn't "Who Goes There?" in the book? It's the one that's
an allegory for the Red Scare of the 1950s. Glancing through the table of contents,
I was stunned to find it missing. I'm sure you can think of a dozen others on
your own. Whatever just came into your head, don't worry, it's probably not
in there, either.
Such a book would have been easy to assemble. Enough
scholarship has been generated, both pop cultural and
non-, to generate a list as long as my arm. And,
while I mean no disrespect to the work of Lloyd
Biggle, "Tunesmith" wouldn't be on the list, at all.
So, where did Card get his material? This passage is
from his introduction to the book:
These are the stories that I loved when I first read them and that, upon
rereading, I still love and admire. They are stories that I think appeal to
a wide audience of readers, and not just a small group. They are by writers
who have mattered in the field, influencing other writers and, more importantly,
changing the lived of their readers. I tried to avoid duplications--stories
that did the same kind of thing as others in the collection, though of course
such stories are completely subjective. Above all, these are stories that I cannot forget.
Ah, now it all makes
sense! These aren't the best science fiction stories ever, these are the stories
that really turned Orson Scott Card's crank! Well, hell, why didn't they say
that in the first place? I'd like to suggest another title for the second edition:
My Personal Favorites: the Science Fiction Stories That Made Me Want to go
Write Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. With that minor change in place,
I'd have no trouble with this collection, as is. But with a name like Masterpieces,
the contents run a little light to me.
That's not to say it's a bad collection. Just don't
believe the hype on the cover or the inside flap and
you'll have some nice stories that are all terrific
examples of each author's work. Even Lloyd Biggle.