All-stars selected from a larger squad of all-stars, it is perhaps inevitable that The Best of Analog is filled with high-caliber stories. Alfred Bester, Roger Zelazny, George R.R. Martin, Vonda McIntyre, Gene Wolfe, and on and on roll the big names. Published in 1978, the book contains three novellas, ten shorts, and one poem—pieces that have by and large stood the test of time on both feet. Several of the stories winning awards, it is indeed a collection of bright, interesting sci-fi shorts. The following is a brief breakdown of those selected by editor Ben Bova:
Opening the collection is the intriguing “Perseophone and Hades” by Scott W. Schumack. A classic premise—last man and woman on Earth—is followed by an unpredictable story. Detailing not only how they came to be in such a situation, but what became of it—if ever the man can catch the woman, that is.
Though a very masculine story, David Lewis’s novella Common Denominator does have the softer side of being human at heart. The story of the elite fighter pilot Smith, his irascible wingman Richards, and their fight against the alien Starii, it is a classic space fight with a deeper purpose.
A bizarrely unique story by any account, Alfred Bester’s “The Four-Hour Fugue” is perhaps the author’s best known work of short fiction. Twisting science to the point of fantasy, Bester brings his comic book background to full bear on this murder mystery of the olfactory. Set in a dystopian east coast America (that Gibson would perhaps later expand into the Sprawl series), the story requires ever larger allowances for plausibility to keep pace with this briskly plotted tale.
“How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion” by Gene Wolfe is a tongue-in-cheek look at an alternate post-WWII. Nothing like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, Wolfe’s story looks at industry, economics, and politics of the Allied and Axis leaders, all with an abstract eye for humor.
While George R.R. Martin’s legacy will undoubtedly be the hugely popular A Song of Ice and Fire series, few know that the man is also a fine writer of short fiction. A Songfor Lya certainly one of his best, the novella describes the difficulties a telepath encounters coming to a planet where a mysterious cult is slowly spreading from the locals to the human colonists. A tale that resonates emotionally and philosophically, Martin proves he’s not all knights and dragons. A more in depth review on this blog can be found here.
“Unlimited Warfare” by Hayford Peirce is another humorous piece. Privy to the back rooms of the Houses of Parliament in both Britain and France, each plot to take over the other with bizarre schemes involving sabotaging the other's beverage of choice. The scenario that results, well, that’s what science fiction is for.
Joe Haldeman’s most successful work of short fiction, “Tricentennial” is the story of humanity’s response to the discovery of our sun’s twin and the communications which emanate from said black dwarf. Structured a-linearly in highly successful fashion, the tale which follows this discovery is one of truly human proportion.
“The Present State of Igneos Research” by Gordon R. Dickson is a meta-textual monograph on the existence of dragons. Anymore need be said?
In a “Child of All Ages” by P.J. Plauger, a young girl surprises her school guidance counselor with knowledge and presence no child her age should have. But when taken home to talk with the woman’s husband, real trouble begins. A somewhat interesting look at the advantages and disadvantages of being a child.
Larry Niven’s “The Hole Man” is a hard science story that starts with a group of scientists making their first landing on Mars. Encountering an abandoned alien base, the group throw themselves into the Herculean task of quantifying the plethora of foreign technology left behind. Finding a quantum black hole, however, is when things truly get interesting—at least from a scientific point of view, story elements sorely lacking.
“Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand” Vonda D. McIntyre – A tale that burns with dark emotion and tension, this story of a healer and her snakes draws empathy with its protagonist and interest in the story being told. Perhaps the best piece in the collection, McIntyre effectively balances mood, character, and plot in this superb selection.
In “A Thing of Beauty” by Norman Spinrad, a Japanese billionaire surveys a post-apocalyptic New York looking to buy an artifact his wife’s family can be proud of him for. The Statue of Liberty, Yankee Stadium, and other points of interest reviewed like race horse, the story is a pointed one.
Something along the lines of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, “When I Was in Your Mind” by Joe Allred is the story of a psionic surgeon who physically and mentally goes inside the mind of a patient to excise a micro-tumor.
“Unified Field Theory” is a poem by Tim Joseph which relates the evolution of man’s metaphysical understanding of the world around him.
Twisting AI into psychological shape, Home is the Hangman is Roger Zelazny’s take on the classic Frankenstein tale and a high note on which to close the collection. The 1975 novella never once dipping into imitation, it is the story of a man tasked with tracking down a rogue AI built by scientists. Building suspense admirably, this is one of Zelazny’s better short works. A more complete review on this blog can be found here.
In the end, The Best of Analog is a high quality, interestingly variegated collection of short stories and novellas (and one poem!) that proves why Bova won so many best editor awards. Something for everybody—humor, hard science fiction, adventure, thought piece, coming of age, etc., even the pieces that don’t click with certain readers will at least be well-written and engaging enough to finish. I suppose when you have the cream of the crop to choose from, it’s inevitable quality will follow.