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Fantasy & Science
Fiction Index
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1987
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Books to Look For
Fantasy & Science Fiction October 1989

By Orson Scott Card


The Best of the Nebulas, Ben Bova, ed. (TOR, cloth, 593 pp, $19.95).

You're teaching a course in science fiction. You want your students to read a lot of terrific stories that are representative of every significant tradition within the field. But you don't want your students to have to spend a hundred bucks on textbooks. What do you have them buy?

For years, the answer has been The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, the anthology that was created by polling members of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) to find out their favorite stories published before the Nebula Awards were instituted in 1965.

Many years have passed, but The SF Hall of Fame is not really out of date -- the sf traditions represented within it are still alive and well today. However, there are new voices and new traditions that have emerged in the decades since 1965 -- The SF Hall of Fame isn't out of date, but is also isn't complete.

How do you create an anthology of stories since 1965 that has equal validity with the Hall of Fame? Obviously, you poll the writers again. This time, though, you have all those Nebula Awards that have been given out from 1965 to 1986. Sixty-three short-fiction awards, to be exact. Far too many for a single anthology.

So Ben Bova, with the consent of SFWA, polled the members again. The results of the poll -- along with some interesting analyses of the data -- are published in The Best of the Nebulas. Some great stories from the period are missing -- that can't be helped -- but you can't go wrong with a list that includes award-winning stories by Zalazny, Ellison, Delany, Silverberg, Moorcock, Russ, Leiber, McCaffrey, Tiptree, Le Guin, Sturgeon, McIntyre, Varley, Simak, and Martin.

A note in passing. Some of us thought SFWA should never have authorized this book. Giving out a "best of the Nebulas" implies that the unincluded works are the worst of the Nebulas. It's a slap in the face, almost as bad as taking back half the Nebulas ever given. I felt -- and feel -- that SFWA officers had no business undercutting the awards given out in the past.

Foolish and hurtful as it might be, however, they did authorize this book -- and, given that is exists at all, editor Ben Bova has done an excellent job. The book is worth buying, it's worth giving to your students, or to friends who want an introduction to the best science fiction has to offer.

At the same time, I hope you'll remember that just as good an anthology could have been put together out of the other Nebula winners, with stories by such brilliant and well-known writers as Aldiss, Vance, Dickson, Wilhelm, Anderson, Clarke, Wolfe, Benford, Reamy, Asimov, Bryant, Longyear, Bishop, Kessel, Willis, Bear, Dozois, Butler, Kress, and Shepard -- as well as a few stories by more obscure but no less interesting writers. The list of the "best" and the "worst" of the Nebulas, combined, are a pretty fair testament to the good judgment of SFWA members over the years. Awards may miss some of the best stories -- but they miss damn few of the best writers.


The Nemesis From Terra, Leigh Brackett / Battle for the Stars, Edmond Hamilton (TOR Double Novel #8, paper, $2.95)

Enemy Mine, Barry B. Longyear / Another Orphan, John Kessel (TOR Double Novel #6, paper, $2.95)

A few things about the TOR Double Novel series.

First thing is: It's really fun to flip a book over and find a whole new front cover upside down on the other side. The compulsion to open the book up and find the place in the middle where the type turns over is irresistible.

Second thing: Some of the best science fiction ever written is novella length. But those great novellas are hard to keep in print. Most of the time they're too long to put into anthologies, and yet they're too short to fill a book. paired up like this, though, they make a respectable-sized paperback.

Third: TOR is doing a good job of pairing up these stories. Husband-and-wife team Hamilton and Brackett is obvious enough, but heck, it gives us a chance to sample the work of two of the best of the oldtimers. And linking John Kessel's and Barry Longyear's Nebula-winning novellas is inspired. A powerful melodrama on the one side, a nasty dream comedy on the other. And when you look at their careers, it's hard to imagine two more opposite writers within the field of science fiction.

Conclusion: This series is worth owning for its own sake. It's also an ideal way to introduce new readers to sf -- stories long enough to make an impact, and yet short enough not to be intimidating. A series so good that I'm trying to wheedle my way into the list myself. I've got this novella, see, and I want to put it into the same book with Lloyd Biggle's "Tunesmith," the story that got me into science fiction as a kid. Wish me luck.


The World Treasury of Science Fiction, David G. Hartwell (Little Brown, cloth, 1083 pp, $22.95).

How do you create a "world" anthology of an overwhelmingly American/English genre, spanning sixty years and a dozen nationalities? And then how do you shape such an anthology so that it will be palatable to an audience of non-science fiction readers?

On the one hand, only David Hartwell is insane enough to think that such an anthology could possibly have anything to do with what science fiction actually is or should be. On the other hand, if anybody on the planet has the knowledge and understanding of the field to put together such an anthology, it's David Hartwell.

The wrong-headedness of the project shows up in Hartwell's propensity to choose some of the flattest, least dangerous or demanding stories by certain writers: John Varley's relatively tame "The Phantom of Kansas," for instance; Bradbury's vanilla "Zero Hour"; and, most puzzling of all, Heinlein's sentimental "The Green Hills of Earth" instead of "All You Zombies" or any of the other stories that blew the field open when they first appeared.

Even more galling is his inclusion of John Updike, an author who has not only contributed less than nothing to the science fiction tradition, but also is the epitome of the language-first school of writing that squats like a fat sterile hen on the empty nest of contemporary American letters, squawking often but producing nothing that is capable of life.

However, if you kind of squint as you skim past the familiar names in the table of contents, you'll find some real prizes here: the stories by authors you've never heard of, with foreign-sounding names. Though many of them suffer the woes of translation, with cultural and linguistic stumblingblocks galore, they are vastly rewarding. While these foreign-language authors have had little significant influence on science fiction as it is, they reveal many possibilities in the genre that we American and English writers have so far not found on our own, in part because we are creatures of Anglo-American culture, and in part because our very closeness to science fiction as it has been often blinds us to science fiction as it could be.


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