This collection of the best science fiction stories between 1929 and 1964 was assembled by the Science Fiction Writers of America and has the high quality that results from an expert-driven selection process. The twenty-six stories are all good and all by name authors, although they weren't all "names" when they wrote them.
My favorite six--and this wasn't easy--are:
Frederic Brown's "Arena" was made into a Star Trek episode which pitted William Shatner against an unknown stunt man in a rubber reptile suit. This original story of a human versus a well-rounded alien in a fight to the death is better.
Murray Leinster's "First Contact" named an entire SF sub-genre. The aliens and humans meet, learn to communicate, and then need to figure out a way to get home without endangering both of their worlds.
C. M. Kornbluth's "The Little Black Bag" hints at a future where many people aren't too bright. One of them loses a bag of medical instruments all the way into the past. And somebody finds it.
Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" illustrates the danger of taking along just enough of everything--air, fuel, mass--on a space trip. There is always the unexpected.
Damon Knight's "The Country of the Kind" examines the life of a lonely man who keeps reaching out for others. Something always gets in the way. This story may have influenced Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange.
Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon" introduces Charlie Gordon, a mentally handicapped man whose life changes when he participates in a surgical experiment designed to improve intelligence. The experiment succeeds, and Charlie quickly develops first ordinary, and then extraordinary intelligence. This short story was later expanded into the novel Flowers for Algernon.
Some of the science in these stories is dated, but that doesn't make them harder to read than stories set in unfamiliar cultures or in the past. Some plots have become cliché, but it is still worthwhile to read the originals. Whether your reading voyage is one of discovery or rediscovery, it is worth taking. Highly recommended.
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