Science fiction was born in Britain - and in the nineteen-seventies British SF offers the very best and most imaginative in modern writing.Now Mike Ashley has compiled, in two volumes, a mammoth collection of classic stories presenting the history of British science fiction from H.G. Wells to Michael Moorcock.Volume Two takes up where Volume One left off, with the beginninScience fiction was born in Britain - and in the nineteen-seventies British SF offers the very best and most imaginative in modern writing.Now Mike Ashley has compiled, in two volumes, a mammoth collection of classic stories presenting the history of British science fiction from H.G. Wells to Michael Moorcock.Volume Two takes up where Volume One left off, with the beginnings of the 'new wave', and shows how, in the 'sixties, experimental and traditional SF existed side by side – in what was a new Golden Age for British SF. Writers include Bob Shaw, John Wyndham, Arthur C. Clarke, Kingsley Amis, Brian Aldiss, Fred Hoyle, J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock and Keith Roberts.The Best of British SF 1 ...
|Title||:||The Best of British SF 2|
|Number of Pages||:||378 Pages|
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The Best of British SF 2 Reviews
Having read and enjoyed the first volume of Mike Ashley's history of British SF anthology, The Best of British SF 1, many moons ago, I wanted to complete the set and managed to track down a copy of volume two, The Best of British SF 2. Again, Ashley does a good job of editing the collection. Providing a good introduction to the history, and problems, of the short story SF form in Britain, as well as a brief introduction to each story explaining its relevance to the genre and why he's included it. As with any collection that purports to represent a genre, even at a moment in time or within a single country, the list of authors that you'll leave out is likely to far outweigh the list of authors that you're including and Ashley uses his introduction to mention the nearly-men of the collection. Of course, "men" is the key word here. There are no women in the collection, and Ashley is at pains to point out that he wishes there had been, and that there were more British women writing SF in general. The stories themselves though are a mixed bunch, some I liked more than others, some were welcome introductions to authors I'd never heard of before, and others were a disappointment for established names. They all felt a bit dated, although that's probably because they are...James White's Tableau kicks the collection off with an overtly anti-war story. Humans are at war with the Orligs, a war we can't hope to win, and a war based on a historical misunderstanding (view spoiler)[they look like teddy bears and we look like a carnivorous sub-species on their planet, an over-eager hug during the first contact scared them witless (hide spoiler)]. The misunderstanding premise seems a little dated and clichéd these days and the convenient appearance of the (view spoiler)[telepathy machine (hide spoiler)] to resolve the whole issue seemed far too convenient. This story, probably more than any of the others felt like a product of its time. I did, however, enjoy the twist with the readers understanding as to what the war memorial actually was.Arthur Sellings' Starting Course follows with the excellent story of Eddie the android, first of the factory line he's embedded into an ordinary family in order to finesse his social skills before he is sent off-world as part of the workforce of humanity's expansion into space. Each family member has a very different reaction to him: fear, mistrust, a desire to 'free' him from his perceived bondage, and even jealousy of his future off-world. As the family change Eddie for the better, so he also changes them. And as was revealed to him once he's ready to go off world, maybe that was always the point.Kenneth Bulmer's Advertise Your Cyanide is a brash language overload of a story. An interesting structure, the science fiction elements are almost incidental to the onslaught of advertising jingles being pushed directly into the mind of our main character – a government agent protecting an alien diplomat – as he drinks, takes drugs and considers his weapon etc. they all push their own brand and jingle to him all the time. An interesting idea as to what continual targeted advertising could really be like. (By complete chance I noticed a copy of Bulmer's On the Symb-Socket Circuit in a second-hand bookshop soon after finishing this collection, so I picked that up to see what his longer fiction is like).Bob Shaw's A Full Member of the Club is as much a mystery as a SF story. The super-rich are invited to join a special club, where they have access to a special supply of obscenely expensive, veblen, goods. All are just slightly above our current technological level and all are embossed with the single letter 'P' – for perfect. These items aren't available to the non-super-rich and even break when used by 'normal' people so the super-rich have to repurchase them. Where are they all coming from? An enjoyable story, the scam felt like something that Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat might have cooked up.Philip E. High's The Jackson Killer describes the final job for an Why them? What do they have in common? Why have they been put in all together and where are they going? empire hitman. Assigned to a department that eliminates paranoid super mutants before they begin trying to overthrow the empire, he arrives on the planet knowing that they couldn't possibly have any technology that could prevent him completing his mission – he just has to find the guy and kill him. The story is used as a means of asking what the effect of a job like that might be for a person; how does the killing change their own personality and what is the retirement plan for an empire hitman?John Wyndham's The Emptiness of Space probably makes more sense if you're already familiar with the Troon family saga. Ashley's introduction suggests that the family feature in a number of other Wyndham stories. This story, short though it is, tells two parallel narratives. The first narrative is the rescue of George Troon, found drifting in space after 50 years in stasis, by his own grandson. The second narrative is a conversation with an older man who believes he has lost his soul and is trying to discover somebody who can help him get it back. Of course, we find out that the second story is George Troon too – and he believes that the 50 years in stasis have robbed him of more than just the missing years.Colin Kapp's The Teacher is a story of a first contract operative. The Gaffer is trying to balance the risks of first contact. On the one hand, he desperately wants to bring the local human species up to a technological level that will enable them to survive, and even win, their war with a much more voracious reptile species. On the other hand he must make sure that they don't become overly dependent on him, make sure that their existing culture survives as intact as possible, as well as trying to make sure that he doesn't end up revered as a god, or hated as a devil.Arthur C. Clarke's Transit of Earth was the most disappointing story in the collection. Once every hundred years the sun, Earth, the moon and Mars line up. An expedition is put together to Mars to observe. Half the group land on Mars, accepting that they will never return to Earth. Of this group, most suffer in an accident that leaves just one survivor to observe the transit. As he watches he contemplates his fate and weighs the options for ending his life on his own terms. Clarke at his best is excellent, this story just wasn't that.Fred Hoyle's Zoomen is the story of nine people captured, they assume, by aliens and being transported to some remote location. I think Hoyle is a generally underrated author, and The Black Cloud is heartily recommended. This story too allows Hoyle's analytical narration to try and work out what's going on just as we, the readers, are too – why them; what do they have in common; why have they been put in all together and where are they going? Excellent though the premise and story are, the slightly rushed ending is a little bit of a cop-out.Kingsley Amis' Something Strange blends some political intrigue in with the SF elements. Four scientists are living together in a space probe, taking measurements and passing the resulting data back to their base (presumably on Earth). Every day something strange happens outside the capsule – one day a jelly covers it; the next a man of bones beckons to them; and so on. They become increasingly curious about the phenomena, then suddenly they lose interest. One day their base announces that maintaining the probe stations is no longer economical, so they don't need to send the transmissions any more. Oh, but nobody's coming to direct them either – that would be far too expensive as well. Once contact is broken, then the strange occurrences start to appear inside the station.Brian W. Aldiss' Manuscript Found in a Police State suffers from a somewhat clichéd title, but that aside is one of my favourites in the collection. The story is the tale of a political prisoner, imprisoned in a vast prison system carved into a mountain. The cells are built into a central circle and each day the prisoners have to push the circle through a ten-year rotation in order to reach their release. At various points, the prisoner tries to make contact with the prisoner ahead of him in the rotation. I loved the uniqueness of the idea, but it did leave me wondering how the first prisoners got started, and more importantly, how would they free the last of the prisoners if the outside state was ever overthrown and they stopped putting new prisoners in?J.G. Ballard is another author that I haven't found anything I don't like yet, and Now: Zero is no exception. A man who hates his job begins to keep a diary in which he fictionalises the bullying he is subjected to. One day, on a whim, he writes about his boss's suicide and then the next day at work it happens. Exactly as he wrote it. How far does this new power allow him to go? Of course, Ballard has him experimenting with it, killing larger and larger groups of people in more and more specific circumstances, to discover his limitations. Eventually he falls under suspicion – we don't really know why – and he decides to confess in a very special way that will also protect him. (view spoiler)[Maybe you shouldn't read all the way to the end... (hide spoiler)]Michael Moorcock is touted as the destination for the anthology, yet his Pale Roses story is not quite the last in the volume for some reason. In the future, at the far end of time, a group of all-powerful people can do anything and live forever. With no real impact to their decisions, one of the group is unhappy and believes this is because there is no longer any concept of sin or guilt for him. Quite fortuitously, one day he discovers a young girl and adopts her, giving him the very real ability to mess things up, commit sins and feel guilt. Not strictly a SF story, more a moral tale set in the future. I did, however, guess who the girl was straight off the bat.Keith Roberts' The Signaller finishes the volume off. An alternate English history story, and obviously party of some larger world (and this story is clearly written to provide more depth to that existing universe), a young lad wants to join the signallers guild, the people who man the large towers that visually telegraph messages across the country. As a big step up socially for his family, we follow his apprenticeship through to his first official posting. Probably the least SF story in the collection, this is speculative fiction in the historical fantasy vein.
Yes, it's dated but worth it for Advertise your Cyanide by Kenneth Bulmer and The Emptiness of Space, a John Wyndham I hadn't come across before.
The problem with "old science fiction" is, most stories do not age well. When current technological advances and real science does not match the stories, every inconsistency distracts the reader from the story and kills the mood. The stories in this book manage well in that regard. They can be read easily and the reader finds herself easily captivated by the imaginations of the most powerful authors of the era.