Decades of Science Fiction is a compendium of short sci-fi story’s illustrating the development of the genre from the late 1800s, with Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, through the golden era of Pulps, to the 90’s with the wonderful Arthur C. Clarke. And of course Asimov makes an appearance no sci-fi collection could be complete without him.
The book is divided into eras with each prefaced by significant events, historical context and developments in sci-fi. The individual story’s are also introduced with a short biography of the author.
I found this additional information fascinating. It really adds a depth to book preventing it from becoming purely a collection of disparate story’s, allowing you to see the changes in the genre. Interestingly the book is intended both for a general audience and for serious academic studies.
The academic aspect shows itself in a series of essay questions and topics for discussion following each story. However a large number of these seem unnecessary and only have value as busy work, or perhaps to remind the reader of the works value as a learning source.
In addition to the big names of sci-fi this book offers a number of gems not often reprinted, short stories in general tend not to get reprinted except in the cases of the very well-known authors. It provides a good opportunity to read less well-known authors of sci-fi.
Some of my favourites from the collection include:
The Electric Ant: This is classic Phillip K. Dick full of existential angst over not being who you think you are, about preconceptions being torn apart and the possibility of living in a manipulated reality.
The Sliced-Crosswise Only-On-Tuesday World: In which massive overpopulation has led to an ingenious system of time-sharing, where individuals are held in stasis 6 out of 7 days a week. The story is essentially a star-crossed love kind of thing, doomed never to meet the one he loves because she lives on Wednesdays and he on Tuesdays.
The Ship Who Sang: The brains of disabled babies are placed in machines and used as living processors in ships. Fascinating for the possibility of human/ machine hybrids, but disturbing for the initial view of the disables as worthless without the augmentation.
Overall the book offers a good range of sci-fi, the selection being limited only by the length of the works included.
Verdict: Read it, it’s well worth it. Unless of course you hate sci-fi then it’s probably not for you.
Incidentally if your interested in pulp era sci-fi, or pulps in general, there’s a large collection of scans available here: https://archive.org/details/pulpmagazinearchive The quality can be poor but the chance to read original pulps is not to be missed.