Not quite chock full of a variety of the latest fiction: perhaps too much space - seemingly half the book - is taken up by opinions about that vaguest of subjects, "the nature and history of Science Fiction". The opinions are strongly worded and argued, at least. But how much does that-all matter when the end result is only the question, "Yes, but is the actual written stuff worth reading?" SF, like music, is an art that thrives by performance rather than by theory.
The stories aren't bad, despite one ('Winter Fire') being essentially a newspaper rehash of the type Isaac Asimov (in 'Nightfall And Other Stories') called Tomorrow Fiction, "as new as tomorrow's headlines." Convincingly written though. It does take skill to write well, even when all you're handling is the stuff found in newspapers. Newsmen are writers too....
( ...I didn't read 'Lethe'... tell me what you think of it. If your comments are good enough, I'll include them in a future version of this page.)
Out of the ones included, my picks as the best are two stories: the first is 'The Mercy Gate' by Mark J. McGarry . . . he's a writer on the staff of the Washington Post... but this story's better than the best copy, to me. Brings back the old enthusiasm and atmosphere, a classic (by plot elements) in the vein of John W. Campbell's school and perhaps Poul Anderson's Polesotechnic League series. (And not just from having an emotionally intense Scandinavian in it! but lacking Anderson's bardic tendency, so it's not a mere derivational...) On the old line, before the New Age, where heroism was genuine, and all alien races of interest and a formidability that could be matched by a brave and determined human . . . but just read it! A classic also by including the epic 'descent into Hades' that is a classic standard in ancient Greek literature.
...My second pick is 'Uncommon Sense' by Hal Clement. An older author, and this story, a "problem" tale involving hero-vs.-villains and alien life, could also have been written back in the best of the pre-'68 times.
...Or maybe my tastes are too old-fashioned. But if you stick to the stories, this book's worth the price.
( Includes, also, Nebula winners - rather deservedly - 'Reading the Bones' and 'Lost Girls'. Respectively an "alien primitives" adventure by Sheila Finch, and Jane Yolen's (possibly hilarious) pastiche takeoff from Barrie's 'Peter Pan'. )
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