This anthology published by Baen and edited by Jim Baen, David Drake and Eric Flint collects 29 short stories from “the Golden Age” – mainly from the 40s and 50s. What makes this retrospective anthology unique is the selection criteria used by the editors. They haven’t set out to pick the best of the best stories from that era, though they stand by every story as great, but their choices are based on stories that made a big impression on them at a young age.
While I have reviewed a couple of the stories here, I don’t think the stories here are what makes this anthology interesting. I greatly appreciate when editors have forewords and/or afterwords to each story, since an anthology is more than just a bunch a stories. I want to hear about why the an editor has chosen a specific story and on what criteria. The three editors are very open and honest about why each an every story is in here. Some stories they have all agreed upon, others are stories that one of the editors really wanted to include for personal reasons. Most of the stories are there because it is a great story that made an impression when they first read it, while some are there because the editors wanted a specific type of story from a certain author represented and couldn’t include a whole novel, even though it was actually the authors novels that they have read as a teenager. Heinlein for example and his story The Menace from Earth are included as an example of his juveniles novels.
While I admire the editors for making an anthology with this very personal criteria, I am not so sure it makes for a great anthology when it comes to the actual stories. There is no false advertisement on this book – they are very honest about why this book is made, so it might not be a fair criticism. Still, most of the stories just made me think that I can see how that could have impressed me as a teenager as well. It has some nostalgic value, even though this is not close to the era of science fiction I grew up with. In certain places, some stories halfway recreates that feeling of being awestruck by simply imagining a whole galaxy filled with alien life.
There are still some great stories that are worth reading by any science fiction fan. Like Omnilingual, Rescue Party, The Aliens or Thunder and Roses. Nevertheless, reading this anthology was mostly a meta-exercise for me. Meaning it was interesting to read stories that clearly have influenced these editors, and probably other writers and editors from the same generation. As well as reading lesser known stories from the Golden Age of science fiction. But it was also mostly a detached intellectual reading. Only a few stories made me forget the premise of the anthology, where I could just enjoy the story on its own.
This anthology is clearly not for everybody. If one wants to read a great selection of amazing stories from that period in time, my recommendation would be The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One and Two. If you are already well read in the science fiction short story classics, then this anthology will likely give something a bit different.