by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer



1216pp/$25.00/July 2016

The Big Book of Science Fiction
Cover by Bruce Pennington

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Over the past several years, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have quietly built a reputation for their anthologies, both original, such as The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, and retrospective, like their massive The Time Traveler's Almanac. Their latest endeavour, the aptly named The Big Book of Science Fiction, eclipses all of their previous successful anthologies. This massive book includes 105 short stories, ranging from H.G. Wells's 1897 "The Star" to Johanna Sinisalo's 2002 story "Baby Doll."

The VanderMeers include several expected authors and short stories. The book contains the requisite Bradbury, Clarke, and Asimov, as well as Hugo and Nebula Award winners and nominees. In truth, these selections are relatively familiar friends, available in numerous other readily available anthologies and collections. The real strength of the anthology is when the editors have strayed from the established path, whether with lesser known American and English authors or with authors whose first language is not English.

In The Big Book of Science Fiction, they define and argue for an inclusive view of science fiction as a genre which can include not only the space opera of Edmond Hamilton's "The Star Stealers," but also the existential isolationist "Darkness," by Brazilian André Carneiro and the satirical "Let Us Save the Universe," by Stanislaw Lem, here presented in a new translation by Joel Stern and Maria Switcicja-Ziemianek, rather than Lem's traditional translator, Michael Kandel. In fact, most of the numerous translated stories in The Big Book of Science Fiction are presented in new translati10:07 PM 7/7/2016on.

Theme isn't the only sign of inclusivity. Clare Winger Harris, represented by "The Fate of the Poseidonia," is the first modern female science fiction author to publish under her own name. The story is typical of her work, in that it is more descriptive than narrative. and the VanderMeers have also included numerous authors in translation from countries including China, represented by Cixin Liu's "The Poetry Cloud," Germany with Paul Scheerbart's "The New Overworld," and the Soviet Union with Valentina Zhuravlyova's story "The Astronaut." All of these stories, and more, stand on their own. For all that science fiction has been called an "American artform," the VanderMeers successfully demonstate that from its earliest days, authors around the world have used the tropes of science fiction to explore the world around them.

While the stories speak for themselves, The Big Book of Science Fiction sets out to do more than just give the reader numerous stories to enjoy and think about. Each story includes a brief introduction, which not only places the story within the context of the author's career, but also discusses the author's place in the world. These introductions don't shy away from controversy, discussing Karl Hans Strobl's descent into Nazism, even as it presents his "The Triumph of Mechanics." It does lead to the question of how easy it is to separate an artist from his work. Can a modern reader enjoy Strobl's pre-World War I writings knowing that in World War II he was a member of the Nazi party who wrote propaganda?

Readers who have prescribed views of what science fiction is...whether it needs to include spaceships or aliens or laser guns, will have their eyes opened by the breadth of stories included within The Big Book of Science Fiction, and may even feel the need to debate whether a specific story is science fiction, but in their introduction, the VanderMeers provide clear guidance as to their definition of what science fiction encompasses, which the rest of the book supports.

The book is only available in electronic and paperback formats, which is a shame. Given its size, the electronic format is certainly easier (and lighter) to read, allowing the reader to flip between the stories without worrying about breaking the book's spine of their own wrists. However, a book like this offers a certain amount of heft and permanence, which is more assured with an hardcover edition, but this is a minor quibble for a book with such fantastic and broad contents.

There are also a handful of familiar authors whose stories don't grace the pages of this massive book. If no Heinlein story appears (VanderMeer has stated there was a rights issue), it isn't really necessary, his works are available elsewhere. and the lack of another Heinlein reprint means that the VanderMeers were able to include lesser known authors such as Will Worthington or Juan José Arreola, whose work is not well known to the majority of The Big Book of Science Fiction's audience.

Over the years, science fiction has seen numerous general surveys, from Ursula K.Le Guin's The Norton Book of Science Fiction to James Gunn's six-volume The Road to Science Fiction to David Hartwell's Science Fiction Century. The VanderMeers have added a useful and welcome addition to that category, offering a depth and breadth vision of the field which has rarely been seen.

H. G. WellsThe Star
Rokheya Shekhawat HossainSultana's Dream
Karl Hans StroblThe Triumph of Mechanics
Paul ScheerbartThe New Overworld
Alfred JarryElements of Pataphysics
Miguel de UnamunoMechanopolis
Yefim ZozulyaThe Doom of Principal City
W.E.B. DuBoisThe Comet
Clare Winger HarrisThe Fate of the Poseidonia
Edmond HamiltonThe Star Stealers
Leslie F. StoneThe Conquest of Gola
Stanley G. WeinbaumA Martian Odyssey
A. MerrittThe Last Poet and the Robots
Paul ErnstThe Microscopic Giants
Jorge Luis BorgesTlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius Retro Hugo Nominee
Clifford D. SimakDesertion
Ray BradburySeptember 2005: The Martian
Juan José ArreolaBaby HP
James BlishSurface Tension
Philip K. DickBeyond Lies the Wub
Katherine MacLeanThe Snowball Effect
Margaret St. ClairPrott
William TennThe Liberation of Earth
Chad OliverLet Me Live in a House
Arthur C. ClarkeThe Star Hugo Nominee
James H. SchmitzGrandpa
Cordwainer SmithThe Game of Rat and Dragon
Isaac AsimovThe Last Question
Damon KnightStranger Station
James WhiteSector General
Arkady & Boris StrugatskyThe Visitors
Carol EmshwillerPelt
Gérard KleinThe Monster
Theodore SturgeonThe Man Who Lost the Sea Hugo Nominee
Silvina OcampoThe Waves
Will WorthingtonPlenitude
J.G. BallardThe Voices of Time
Valentina ZhuravlyovaThe Astronaut
Adolfo Bioy CasaresThe Squid Chooses Its Own Ink
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.2 B R O 2 B
Vadim ShefnerA Modest Game
Sever GansovskyDay of Wrath
John BaxterThe Hands
André CarneiroDarkness
Harlan Ellison"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Tocktockman Hugo WinnerNebula Winner
R. A. LaffertyNine Hundred Grandmothers
Frederik PohlDay Million
F. L. WallaceStudent Body
Samuel R. DelanyAye, and Gomorrah Hugo NomineeNebula Winner
Langdon JonesThe Hall of Machines
Yoshio AramakiSoft Clocks
David R. BunchThree from Moderan
Stanislaw LemLet Us Save the Universe
Ursula K. Le GuinVaster Than Empires and More Slow Hugo Nominee
Robert SilverbergGood News from the Vatican Nebula Winner
Joanna RussWhen It Changed Hugo NomineeNebula Winner
James Tiptree, Jr.And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side Hugo NomineeNebula Nominee
Dmitri BilenkinWhere Two Paths Cross
Yasutaka TsutsuiStanding Woman
Alicia Yánez CossioThe IWM 1000
Michael BishopThe House of Compassionate Sharers
Barrington J. BayleySporting with the Child
George R. R. MartinSandkings Hugo WinnerNebula Winner
Lisa TuttleWives
Josephine SextonThe Snake Who Had Read Chomsky
Kajio ShinjiReiko's Universe Box
Bruce SterlingSwarm Hugo NomineeNebula Nominee
Jacques BarbériMondocane
Greg BearBlood Music Hugo WinnerNebula Winner
Octavia E. ButlerBloodchild Hugo WinnerNebula Winner
Pat CadiganVariation on a Man
S. N. DyerPassing as a Flower in the City of the Dead
William GibsonNew Rose Hotel
C. J. CherryhPots
John CrowleySnow Hugo NomineeNebula Nominee
Karen Joy FowlerThe Lake Was Full of Artificial Things
Angélica GorodischerThe Unmistakable Smell of Wood Violets
Jon BingThe Owl of Bear Island
Élisabeth VonarburgReaders of the Lost Art
Iain M. BanksA Gift from the Culture
Jean-Claude DunyachParanamanco
Tanith LeeCrying in the Rain
Michael MoorcockThe Frozen Cardinal
Pat MurphyRachel in Love Hugo NomineeNebula Winner
Manjula PadmanabhanSharing Air
Connie WillisSchwarzschild Radius Nebula Nominee
Gene WolfeAll the Hues of Hell
Geoffrey A. LandisVacuum States
Han SongTwo Small Brids
Rachel PollackBurning Sky
Kim Stanley RobinsonBefore I Wake Nebula Nominee
Misha NoghaDeath is Static Death is Movement
Michael BlumleinThe Brains of Rats
Leona KrohnGorgonoids
Kojo LaingVacancy for the Post of Jesus Christ
Gwyneth JonesThe Universe of Things
Robert ReedThe Remoras
William TennThe Ghost Standard
Geoffrey MaloneyRemnants of the Virago Crypto-System
Stepan ChapmanHow Alex Became a Machine
Cixin LiuThe Poetry Cloud
Ted ChiangStory of Your Life Hugo NomineeNebula Winner
Cory DoctorowCraphound
Tatyana TolstayaThe Slynx
Johanna SinisaloBaby Doll Nebula Nominee

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