Review of ‘Classic Science Fiction Stories’ edited by Adam Roberts

Part of the Macmillan Collector’s Library series, this volume presents science fiction from before the ‘golden age’ and is a very respectable selection, bookended by stories from the great H G Wells. I had previously read 4 stories in this collection but they are good ones so I didn’t mind re-reading. My favourite of those I hadn’t read before turned out to be Arthur Conan Doyle’s, which surprised me as I’ve never enjoyed his detective stories. There is a detailed introduction which discusses the history of early science fiction and each piece has a very short introduction too.

I felt that Lovecraft’s story was kind of spoilt by a footnote from the editor which tells us that Lovecraft was a notorious racist. He was singled out, as two or three of the other stories contained racist references and were not given footnotes. Most authors of ‘classic’ works would have held views considered unacceptable today and if we are to continue enjoying these works, we need to separate the art from the artist. These authors lived a long time ago, those were the views they would have held, please allow us to enjoy their work.

Here are the stories included in the book:

‘The Star’ by H G Wells is a stunning and terrifying story – one of his best – about a new star threatening to collide with the Earth.

‘A Martian Odyssey’ by Stanley Weinbaum is an adventurous and action-packed story of alien encounters on Mars.

‘The Diamond Lens’ by FitzJames O’Brien is a strange obsessive tale of microbiology and spiritualism, from an author I hadn’t heard of before.

‘Micromégas’ by Voltaire is a philosophical journey, which I appreciated rather than enjoyed.

‘The Mortal Immortal’ by Mary Shelley is a sorrowful story of alchemy and immortality with tones of her novel The Last Man.

‘A Tale of the Rugged Mountains’ by Edgar Allan Poe is a story of psychics and time travel, quite frightening as you’d expect from Poe.

‘The Automaton Ear’ by Florence McLandburgh is a very unusual and dark story of scientific obsession and mental illness, from another author I hadn’t heard of before.

‘The Tachypomp’ by Edward Page Mitchell is a mathematics themed story which I didn’t enjoy, although it does have an amusing tone.

‘The Colour Out of Space’ by H P Lovecraft is one of his most disturbing tales, although not one of my favourites, as it becomes repetitive towards the end.

‘To Hermann Stoffkraft, Ph.D., A Paradoxical Ode (After Shelley)’ by James Clerk Maxwell is a poem, which I didn’t really get and wasn’t sure why it was included, as the only poem in a collection of ‘stories’.

‘The Horror of the Heights’ by Arthur Conan Doyle is an exciting and sinister tale about what awaits aviators who fly too high.

‘Sultana’s Dream’ by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain is an early feminist utopian story which has interesting ideas but not much plot.

‘A Psychological Shipwreck’ by Ambrose Bierce is more supernatural than sci-fi and I didn’t have much opinion on it.

‘The Door in the Wall’ by H G Wells is a cleverly symbolic story which will make you think.

Thank you to the publisher Pan Macmillan for the advance copy via NetGalley. The book will be published on 21st June.

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