Leigh Ronald Grossman taught college-level science fiction courses for many years. He faced the recurring challenge of selecting fiction and nonfiction reading material each year. Grossman finally decided to assemble his own collection with stories and essays ordered to trace the historical development of the field. This book is the result: it is just under a thousand pages of excellent reading.
The book does not claim complete coverage, like that attempted by John Clute's The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Instead it samples, including stories representing different historical periods, important authors, and selected science fiction subgenres and related topics. The book is noteworthy for its treatment of early science fiction, including stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelly, Jules Verne, and others who wrote before the genre had a name. I read through 10% of the book before the stories began to look like my conception of science fiction. This historical perspective was enlightening.
The editor includes many classic stories. My favorites, with painfully brief descriptions, are:
--"Who Goes There?" by John Campbell is the original alien-goes-bump-in-the-night story.
--"Arena" by Fredric Brown pits a human against an alien in hand-to-tentacle combat.
--"Grotto of the Dancing Deer" by Clifford Simak introduces a very old man.
--"The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin is a cautionary tale for stowaways.
--"The Little Black Bag" by C. M. Kornbluth traces a lost doctor bag from the future.
--"First Contact" by Murray Leinster faces the challenges of meeting friendly aliens.
--"Think Like a Dinosaur" by James Patrick Kelly proves we can think in new patterns.
Some stories show the range of emotions science fiction can evoke. They introduce readers to the different tones and textures of well-written science fiction. Five examples:
--"The Country of the Kind" by Damon Knight shows how hard it is for a sociopath to empathize.
--"Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" by James Tiptree, Jr. is about the immortality of pain.
--"Bicycle Repairman" by Bruce Sterling introduces the fast-paced complexity of cyberpunk.
--"A Letter From the Clearys" by Connie Willis draws forth a future nostalgia for things past.
--"Bears Discover Fire" by Terry Bisson takes a whimsical view of increasing intelligence.
Nonfiction articles and author profiles are placed at chronologically appropriate intervals among the stories. There is good coverage of many areas, including my favorites: Space opera, first contact, post-apocalyptic societies, and time travel. Articles about early science fiction editors Hugo Gernsback and John Campbell describe their relationships with their writers and the tremendous impact they had on the field's development. The authors' bios are well-written, including a sample of their short stories and longer works and occasional oddities from their personal lives. (Such as the author whose aunt was his mother's identical twin--and frequently masqueraded as his mother.) There is even some advice for would-be science fiction writers, such as Terry Bisson's "Sixty Rules for Short SF."
This is a great collection! Serious fans should read it thoroughly, taking time to track down the additional stories, novels and authors it recommends. Those not ready for such a commitment can place it on their shelves and read from it occasionally and selectively. Readers who enjoy nonfiction may want to pick up The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction or Science Fiction: A Very Short Introduction. They can continue tracking leading science fiction stories each year in Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction or David Hartwell's Year's Best SF annual collections.