Outer space! Endlessly fascinating and the subject of so many stories. I found this collection underwhelming, however. I was feeling cautious about the British Library Science Fiction Classics series since reading Beyond Time, but I thought this recently published one sounded exciting and decided to risk it. There was no list of contents anywhere online, so I also took a chance that I hadn’t already read them.
There are 9 stories in this collection, all originally published between 1940 – 1967 and set on space stations or spaceships. I really like this theme that unites them. Although they’re all products of the contemporary era – nearly all of the characters are tough males who smoke cigarettes (in space!), say ‘goddamn’ and are called Fred, Bob, Joe, Mike, etc – every story is amazingly prescient, having been written years before space stations happened for real. The publication dates being close together ensures the collection is more cohesive than Beyond Time was, but the downside is that a few of them seem too similar in style and content. I also thought that the stories were mostly too long. There could have been more stories included, shorter ones, to give more variety.
‘Umbrella in the Sky’ by E C Tubb. A sinister tale, with construction workers on a shield to protect the Earth placing bets on each other’s deaths.
‘Sail 25’ by Jack Vance. A good story about a group of cadets training on a solar-wind powered spaceship under a terrifying alcoholic instructor.
‘The Longest Voyage’ by Richard C Meredith. Nail-biting narrative of the last surviving crew member of a damaged spaceship.
‘The Ship Who Sang’ by Anne McCaffrey. The stand-out story in the collection and the only one which totally wowed me. I’ve read it before but I was happy to re-read.
‘O’Mara’s Orphan’ by James White. Lengthy story of a man, accused of causing the deaths of two aliens by negligence, ordered to take care of the aliens’ baby.
‘Ultima Thule’ by Eric Frank Russell. A crew are lost in empty space and are going crazy because they’ll have to stay there forever. Started off confusing but it became more interesting.
‘The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years’ by Don Wilcox. A miniature epic which explores what could happen on a generation starship over time. Great twist ending.
‘Survival Ship’ by Judith Merril. A fun, clever story addressing the gender balance on starships. I wish there had been more like this in the collection.
‘Lungfish’ by John Brunner. The weakest story in the book, with confusing plot and too many characters, but I’ll give the author credit for having a diverse crew, at odds with most of the other stories.
I don’t regret buying this book, as there are perhaps 3 stories I’d re-read and none I disliked. I’d recommend if you’re looking for more science fiction from the 1950s and 60s, as some of these are unavailable anywhere else, unless you have the original magazines.
Published in 2021 by the British Library.