Isaac Asimov Presents the Great Science Fiction Stories. Volume 6: 1944 – Review

Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review, No. 4, May 1982, p. 21.

Asimov, Isaac and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. Isaac Asimov Presents the Great Science Fiction Stories. Volume 6: 1944. DAW, NY. December 1981. $2.95, paper. ISBN 0-87997-670-5.

The editors are engaged in an ambitious effort: the creation of a series of retrospective “best of year” anthologies. Starting with volume 1, covering 1939 (DAW, 1979), they’ve tried to collect the beat stories from SF’s early years, with outstanding success. Volume 6 brings together thirteen “great” stories, with useful prefaces. Simak’s City (1953 International Fantasy Award winner) can trace its roots back to 1944, and three of the original stories are here. Also included are “Arena” by Fredric Brown, “Far Centaurus” by van Vogt, “When the Bough Breaks” by Lewis Padgett, and one of the best short stories ever written, Catherine Moore’s “No Woman Born.” If you can overlook the small distraction of World War II, 1944 was a good year.

To those born after the Golden Age, the volume’s major contribution may be Cleve Cartmill’s “Deadline.” Legend holds that a story, published during the war, predicted the construction and use of the atomic bomb, creating panic among security agencies. “Deadline” is that story. Though none of the story details are at all historical, nearly 40 years later “Deadline” can cause even the most jaded to feel empathy for those long-forgotten intelligence agents. If this wasn’t enough to recommend it, it’s also an excellent story.

Aside from being burdened with an awkward title, Isaac Asimov Presents the Great Science Fiction Stories suffers from publishing constraints. Asimov and Greenberg have hinted that they intend to carry the series through to the modern era, but at the current rate they will not reach 1965 (the first Nebula year) until June 1993. The impatient among us may not be able to stand the wait, and DAW’s paperback editions will probably not survive the wear. — Lawrence I. Charters

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