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REVIEW: An ABC of Science Fiction

REVIEW SUMMARY: A decent collection with some real gems.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A science fiction anthology with 26 stories – with authors from A to Z.

PROS: A good mix of stories covering a variety of sf themes.
CONS: Some real stinkers were lurking in here.
BOTTOM LINE: A decent collection.

OK, I’ll admit, it’s a gimmicky idea for an anthology: compile a collection of twenty-six stories, each one authored by someone whose surname begins with a different letter of the alphabet. The upside is that you get a title like An ABC of Science Fiction (edited by Tom Boardman, Jr.). The downside is that you have to choose between two or more excellent authors whose surnames happen to start with the same letter. And don’t forget filling the Q and X slots! (Frank Quattrocchi and the unidentified pseudonym B.T.H. Xerces).

However, gimmicks aside, this 1966 collection offers a wide array of now-well-known authors. I’ve heard of twenty – all but E, I, Q, U, “X” and Y – of the twenty six. Four of the stories are classified as vignettes (under 1000 words). Since an average short story is 4000 words, I’ll count all four vignettes as 1 SF-POINT©. And the “X” entry is a trio of limericks – yeah, I’ll count that as 0. Total points for this collection: 22.

Lot’s of different sf themes are represented here. Most of the stories were good, but there were 4 standout stories here by Arthur Clarke, Harry Harrison, John Wyndham and Robert F. Young. I’ve read the others, but Young is new to me and someone who I will definitely look for on the bookstore shelves.

Reviewlettes follow?


  1. Let’s Be Frank by Brian W. Aldiss [1957 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/01/04]

    • A man named Frank shares consciousness with all of his descendants. Many generations later, Earth is populated by people who share this single consciousness (except for the Americas, which is populated by people who share a second consciousness that is an early offshoot of Frank)

    • Intriguing idea that explores what would happen to society if everyone shared the same thoughts (government abolished; inevitable, ever-increasing desire to control; eventual desire of world domination). Disappointing unresolved ending, though.

  2. Pattern by Fredric Brown [1954 vignette] (Rating: ) [Read 02/01/04]

    • Mile-high, ethereal aliens land on Earth and are seemingly harmless.

    • Cool diversion with a “gotcha” ending.

  3. The Awakening by Arthur C. Clarke [1952 ss revised from 1942 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/01/04]

    • Disgusted with the decline of exploration in a Utopian future, one man orbits the solar system in suspended animation so that he may learn the ultimate fate of mankind.

    • Cool story written with Clarke’s usual clarity and sense of wonder.

  4. I Do Not Hear You, Sir by Avram Davidson [1958 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/01/04]

    • Concerns a device that enables the user to talk with people in the past.

    • So-so story. The thief who steals the device talks with George Washington (who, thinking he is talking with his dentist, espouses the negative side of wooden teeth) and other historical figures.

  5. Day at the Beach by Carol Emshwiller [1959 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/01/04]

    • A depressing post-apocalyptic tale about a family consisting of two completely hairless parents and their hairy “Littleboy”.

    • Another so-so story. I’m not sure, but I think Littleboy was an animal of some kind. This story lacked a Twilight Zone feel which all tales up until now have had.

  6. The King of the Beasts by Philip Jos? Farmer [1964 vignette] (Rating: ) [Read 02/XX/04]

    • A biologist of the future re-creates extinct species.

    • Interesting premise but a way-too-predictable ending.

  7. Homey Atmosphere by Daniel F. Galouye [1961 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/01/04]

    • A faulty ship with a two-man crew and a handful of human-like AI’s randomly transports further and further away from Earth.

    • Good story with a satisfying ending. A bit longer than it had to be, but otherwise very good.

  8. Mute Milton by Harry Harrison [1966 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/04/04]

    • In the racially charged south, a black man invents a way yo generate electricity from gravity.

    • And excellent story that shows the loss of progress due to bigotry (the title referring to a genius that goes unnoticed).

  9. The Conquest of the Moon by Washington Irving [1809 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/04/04]

    • No story here. Philosophical discussion of the conquest of America extrapolated to the “moon men” conquering the Earth.

    • Just couldn’t get in to this 200 year old (almost) piece.

  10. In the Bag by Laurence M. Janifer [1964 vignette] (Rating: ) [Read 02/01/04]

    • An alien, outwardly appearing human, is discovered by a human while doing his laundry.

    • Played for laughs and entertaining. I liked the spunky writing style.

  11. Maid to Measure by Damon Knight [1964 vignette] (Rating: ) [Read 02/01/04]

    • A witch’s daughter catches her boyfriend cheating.

    • So-so story. The ending felt unfinished.

  12. X Marks the Pedwalk by Fritz Leiber [1963 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/04/04]

    • Bizarre tale of a war between the Peds (pedestrians) and the Wheels (people who drive cars due to their underdeveloped legs).

    • Weird. And interesting idea. But weird.

  13. No Moon for Me by Walter M. Miller, Jr. [1952 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/04/04]

    • A “voice” is transmitted from the moon prompting the first manned rocket to discover the source and, if necessary, destroy it.

    • Good story. A little intrigue thrown in. It’s always interesting to see pre-moon-landing fiction describe space travel.

  14. Family Resemblance by Alan E. Nourse [1953 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/05/04]

    • An oppressed scientist makes the case that man evolved from pigs instead of apes.

    • An OK story.

  15. Final Exam by Chad Oliver [1952 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/06/04]

    • A group of students visit Mars when, supposedly, the Martians are few in number.

    • Eh. Mediocre story.

  16. The Bitterest Pill by Frederik Pohl [1959 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/10/04]

    • A couple who recently inherited a fortune are approached by the wife’s ex-husband with a proposition. Lend him some money and he will use his invention (pills that allow total recall since birth) to conquer the world.

    • Fun, light-hearted story with a somewhat-predictable ending.

  17. He Had a Big Heart by Frank Quattrocchi [1955 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/10/04]

    • A man receives a mechanical heart after being shot, but only on temporary loan.

    • Good story. Somewhat lame ending.

  18. Love Story by Eric Frank Russell [1957 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/10/04]

    • A philosophical discussion between to future military men about how love has interfered with the military’s effectiveness

    • An okay story, but not great.

  19. The Fence by Clifford Simak [1952 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/11/04]

    • Concerns a place where everything is free and prestige is tied to a personal satisfaction index.

    • Good portrayal of fictional society.

  20. Project Hush by William Tenn [1954 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/12/04]

    • A super-secret team land on the moon with the intent of establishing the first military moon base. But they find that they are not the first ones there.

    • Good story with a dash of national paranoia.

  21. The Finer Breed by Helen M. Urban [1956 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/12/04]

    • Shows what happens when society is policed by TV stations.

    • Interesting use of language and syntax. Everything is evaluated in comparison to something else (“better”, “more”, “longer”, “shorter”). One man goes into psychosis when he mistakenly refers to something in the superlative (absolutely the best). Ultimately a mediocre story, though.

  22. Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. [1961 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/18/04]

    • A man rebels in a world where it is unlawful to be better than anyone else.

    • Interesting premise. Well-told

  23. Close Behind Him by John Wyndham [1953 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/18/04]

    • In the midst of a home robbery, a burglar is attacked by, and kills, the owner who appears animalistic. The burglar is then followed by a set of bloody footprints, first following 5 feet behind him, then getting closer.

    • Was more horror than sf but still an excellent, excellent story. Great storytelling.

  24. Three Limericks by B. T. H. Xerxes [poem] (Rating: ) [Read 02/01/04]

    • 3 sf-themed limericks

    • Lame. Obvious filler to complete the anthology’s ABC theme. Or, put another way:

    An anthology named ABC

    Had fairly good stories, you see

    Up until the X

    Which surely did vex

    This letter was better left empty

  25. Thirty Days Had September by Robert F. Young [1957 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/19/04]

    • In a society where education is provided through TV via virtual teachers, a man buys an antique android schoolteacher for his family.

    • Excellent story with a classic feel. Reads like a Twilight Zone episode. Well-written.

  26. The Great Slow Kings by Roger Zelazny [1963 ss] (Rating: ) [Read 02/19/04]

    • Two competing long-life-span beings rule over a planet occupied by one robot.

    • An OK story. Their discussions take millennia and so their plans to build up their kingdom are moot as alien civilizations die off. Needed a better ending, though.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

4 Comments on REVIEW: An ABC of Science Fiction

  1. Gimmicky it may be, but it did allow you to rack up those points!

    And did you actually use the word ‘spunky’?

  2. Yes, it was a bit of a point spree. The stories averaged less than 10 pages each.

    I thought “spunky” was better than “perky”.

  3. I realise this is over 10 years old now but…
    Any way to get access to this anthology?

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