Edited by Frederik Pohl



432pp/$25.95/February 2000

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Every few years, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) name a new Grand Master.  The award is given for a lifetime of work rather than a single story or novel and the recipient must be alive when the award is announced.  In 1999, Frederik Pohl edited an anthology spotlighting the first five Grand Masters.  The SFWA Grand Masters, Volume II covers the careers of the first woman and next four men to win the Grand Master Award.

Since all of the authors whose works are included in The SFWA Grand Masters have been recognized to have had a major influence on the field of science fiction, Pohl, naturally, has a large selection of high quality and influential stories to draw from when choosing pieces to represent their works.  Unfortunately, he fails to explain why he chose one piece over another for any given author.  Is Pohl looking at the authors' best works or their most influential or simply the ones which Pohl likes best.  It would have been nice for him to indicate his criteria.

Andre Norton (1912-) was the first woman to be named a Grand Master.  In his introduction to the section about her, Pohl notes that much of her writing was fantasy rather than science fiction.  While this may have been more important in 1984, when Norton was named a Grand Master, the organization has since changed its name to The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  

Pohl eschewed selecting one of Arthur C. Clarke's (1917-) most famous stories, "The Sentinal," but did elect to include "The Star," in the anthology as well as "Rescue Party," Clarke's first short story.  While Norton may represent the wing of SFWA which writes both fantasy and science fiction, Clarke is firmly in the SF camp.  

A year after Clarke was named Grand Master, his friend and rival, Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), received the accolade.  While Asimov frequently crowed that his short story "Nightfall" was widely considered to be the best science fiction short story ever published, Pohl chose not to include the story.  Instead, "The Last Question," which Asimov claims was the story people most frequently forgot, was chosen for inclusion.

Alfred Bester (1913-1987) holds the distinction of being the only SFWA Grand Master who was not alive when the honor was bestowed.  According to the charter, the Grand Master Award may only be conferred upon a living recipient.  Bester was alive when he was chosen to receive the award, but had died prior to the ceremony.  Perhaps best known for writing two seminal novels, The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man, Bester's short fiction is currently undergoing a rebirth, and Pohl has chosen some good stories to demonstrate why.

Just as this volume begins with an author who tended not to focus on the science aspect of science fiction, it also ends with an author whose work tended to only be peripherally science fiction even when set in alien worlds.  Some of Ray Bradbury's (1920-) greatest works are dark fantasy set in a very realistic middle American environment.

The SFWA Grand Masters, Volume Two, provides a rudimentary introduction to all of these writers' careers, and Pohl offers a short list of recommended readings for each author to supplement the material he has selected.  While some of the authors are well known and widely read, others have undeservedly fallen by the wayside and this series of books offers a chance for a new generation of fan to get to know their works.

Andre Norton (1984) Mousetrap
  All Cats Are Gray
  Serpent's Tooth
Arthur C. Clarke (1986) Rescue Party
  The Secret
  The Star
  A Meeting With Medusa
Isaac Asimov (1987) The Last Question
  It's Such a Beautiful Day
  The Martian Way
Alfred Bester (1988) Disappearing Act
  Fondly Fahrenheit
  Four-Hour Fugue
  Hobson's Choice
Ray Bradbury (1989) The City
  The Million-Year Picnic
  All Summer in a Day
  There Will Come Soft Rains
  The Affluence of Despair

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