Review: Classic Science Fiction, Volume 2

Classic Science Fiction, Volume 2Classic Science Fiction, Volume 2

I picked up several of these Classic Science Fiction collections at Audible when they were on sale. Since I’m very busy this month, I thought it would be a good time for some short listens and short reviews.  Each of the collections I purchased consists of three short stories:

Proof by Hal Clement (1946) — Two beings that live on the surface of stars argue about the possibility of elements such as iron and calcium existing as solid matter. The story should win some sort of infodump award: it starts off with an infodump, before proceeding to more infodumps only slightly disguised as dialogue.

The thing about solid matter would have made a cool one-liner, but it goes on and on, and I’m guessing most readers are already aware of the existence of solid matter.  The idea of living ecosystems on stellar surfaces is interesting, but this story could put you to sleep.  I’m thinking of reading a more modern take on the concept, Sundiver.

Mimic by Donald Wollheim (1942) — This was the only story I enjoyed from the collection (I also think I read it before, when I was a child).  I suspect it may have inspired some Hollywood movies, such as this one. I haven’t seen the film; let me know if you have.

The story talks about army ants in Africa. Since they are the most dangerous thing around, other insects mimic them to stay safe. Then, the reader discovers that the mysterious man in a trenchcoat who never talks is actually a giant insect mimicking a human. The trenchcoat is actually a pair of wings. There’s another twist at the end, with an additional freaky creature.

I like the story’s idea, but if I re-wrote it, I’d have the mimic wear discarded human clothing, because it would be hard for natural selection to keep up with fashion. Also, I might make the mimic a mammal. Just as the example mimics were mimicking other insects, a mammal mimic might have a better chance to go unnoticed among humans. Of course, the creepiness factor is increased with an insect.

Pilgrimage by Nelson Bond (1939) — A young woman goes on a voyage across America, long after an apocalypse. She is amazed when she learns that words can be written down on paper. She scoffs at the idea that men were once the dominant gender on the planet. (This is one of the things that bores me when I read historical fiction: when characters are awed by or refuse to believe things that are already common knowledge to the reader.)

The story is also full of cutesy corruptions of geographical names, like Sippi for Mississippi. Given the early date of the story, it’s possible the author was the first to do a lot of these things. Maybe this story was groundbreaking and was lauded for being inventive at the time, but for the modern reader, there’s not much to enjoy.

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4 comments

  1. I often have a hard time reading science fiction from the 40’s and 50’s. The stories just seem really predictable to me. I can never tell if its because the author is too heavy handed with foreshadowing or if it’s just that these classic stories have been imitated so many times over the decades that their once groundbreaking ideas are now common Sci-Fi tropes.

    1. I’ve found some better stories in the other volumes of this collection, which I’ll review soon. Maybe some of these were the first of their kind, but paradoxically seem uninventive to us.

  2. […] enjoyed this collection far more than Volume 2, even though both collections are from roughly the same time period, and each has a story about […]

  3. […] up volume 2, volume 3, volume 4, and volume 5 during a sale, so I decided to complete the series by going back […]

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