Science Fiction Hall of Fame, The by Silverberg, Robert, ed., 1934

Science Fiction Hall of Fame, The by Silverberg, Robert, ed. - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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In the 1960's the Science Fiction Writers Association formed as a professional and fraternal organization for writers. The group shortly thereafter started awarding the Nebula Award yearly for superlative writing efforts in a variety of categories. Realizing at that time that unless some fast action was taken, thousands of tales and perhaps hundreds of writers would fall into obscurity, the SFWA began to award retro-active prizes for works published before the SFWA's creation. Other award granting bodies today do this, and I personally am torn by the practice. On one hand the passage of years and decades cause us to over-glamorize some pretty mediocre stories that find their way onto yearly ballots and, God forbid, win the prize. But at the same time I realize that there is a lot to lose as more and more of the truly "pulp" magazines that these stories were originally published in disintegrate into dust.

Regardless of what is happening now, the SFWA took a pretty serious shot at awarding the twenty-six best short stories of the era before the Nebula was created (there is another volume of this series for novellas, which I will eventually review here). This anthology reprints the twenty-six stories and contains an introductory blurb by Silverberg about the selection process, but unfortunately fails to give any biographical information about any of the stories or authors themselves. Since the initial goal was preservation of information I am somewhat confused as to why the editor missed this pretty important job. For example, The author who wrote the story that received the most votes, Stanley G. Weinbaum, died early at the age of 33 in 1935. Since it is pretty unlikely that the average reader of today even knows who Weinbaum is I would think that some introductory text to inform the reader of this, and to discuss the importance of his story would be critical. Perhaps I should tell you that John Clute, one of our genre's greatest encyclopediests, feels that Weinbaum's first collection called Dawn of the Flame, and Other Stories, is the very first important SF short story collection. It sure would have been nice knowing that going into that story, which was pretty damn good on its own. In short the anthology greatly lacks for this oversight, but the stories themselves are pretty much top notch. Four out of five stars. Here is a summary of the stories in the book:

Martian Odyssey, by Stanley G. Weinbaum, (1934): This is a Golden Age tale of the first journey to Mars. Its told in hindsight and is basically a report of one explorer's crash-landing on the red planet and his journey back to home base on foot across hundreds of miles of Martian terrain. On the way back the explorer, Dick Jarvis, encountered an intelligent creature named Tweel. Tweel was an odd creature that resembles an ostrich. Jarvis rescued Tweel from a near deadly encounter with an animal and the two became fast friends. Tweel helped Jarvis return to base. This story got the most votes from the SFWA member's votes, as it revolutionized the genre's take on aliens. These are the kinds of stories that John W. Campbell would later further change the genre with. It showed aliens that were as non-human as possible but still intelligent and with whom a reader could identify and sympathize. But in addition to Tweel, Weinbaum gave readers other Martian beings that could not have cared less that humans were present. Some were engaged in odd tasks that absolutely defied description of purpose. These kinds of thing may not seem revolutionary to today's reader, but when Weimbaum published all of the other authors were using aliens like Ming the Merciless, who just stood in for an evil human, had human motivations, and reacted in human ways. This story is also one of the most important stories in the entire genre according to Isaac Asimov, as it changed the kind of submissions that Campbell got after he published it. On the other hand, this is still a Golden Age tale that centers around adventure and is filled with loose understanding of scientific principles, testosterone driven action, and flat characters that do no wrong.

Twilight, by Don A. Stuart, a.k.a. John W. Campbell, (1934): Somewhat lyrical story, told in a distant voice, about a time traveler from the year 3059 who is stuck in the 1930's. Ares Sen Kenlan, the traveler, is the first of the next generation of homo sapiens as designed by his father, a geneticist in the future. Kenlan had overshot his return from a trip to seven million years in the future where he witnessed the last heaving breaths of mankind on Earth. Campbell imagines a world where every competitor, threat, and in fact every other living thing on Earth had been destroyed by man in his quest to dominate the face of planet. Mankind had also developed machines and artificial intelligences to serve every whim of the species, and had created an artificial food industry to replace what was lost in the elimination of every other animal and plant. After the total domination of everything in the solar system, mankind had lost all its curiosity and drive, and was slowly dying out, leaving behind in perfect condition their cities and machines. The story reads like a lament for the soul of mankind, and is one of the finest short-form dying Earth stories I have ever encountered.

Helen O'Loy, by Lester del Rey, (1938): An endocrinologist and a robotics engineer tinker with their household service mech and figure out how to give it emotions, but they soon run into limitations due to its small memory capacity. They go to Dillards and buy a top-of-the-line model, a stunningly beautiful female mech called Helen of Alloy, whose name they shorten. They build her up in the hopes of creating an actual artificial person, but before they can turn her on the endocrinologist is called away on business for a few weeks. When he returns he learns that the roboticist has powered Helen up and made the mistake of educating her by allowing her to watch daytime soap operas and read juvenile romance novels. Now Helen wants only to serve the engineer as June Cleaver to his Ward, and the engineer has been driven nuts by her constant and loving attentions. The engineer flees to a farm his parents left him, but shortly realizes that he loves Helen too. The two are reunited and marry and live a long life together. As the engineer ages Helen is artificially aged to keep up appearances, and to keep her true nature a secret from their neighbors. When the engineer died in Helen's arms, Helen asked that they both be cremated to preserve their secret. After the denouement the endocrinologist, who is telling the story, reveals that he has been in love with Helen all along and has never married for that love. This is a very bittersweet and tender love story that really opened up many possibilities, as robots and androids prior to this had pretty much all been copies of Robbie the Robot.

The Roads Must Roll, by Robert Heinlein, (1940): A very early and very passable attempt at incorporating social concepts directly into SF. This is also one of the very first social science fiction stories I had ever read, and prior to finding it in this anthology I had for years been trying to remember who wrote it. A guild of mechanics charged with keeping an intricate and vitally important set of self-mobile roads moving is meeting to discuss the possibility of a general strike. The mechanics want the right to choose their own leaders/engineers. The government agency that runs the roads needs to run the upper echelons of road management as a para-military force because should discipline fade they fear that the roads will stop. That will cripple the nation, which has become entirely dependent on them for all forms of transportation, save for that of military vehicles. During the meeting an engineer who was a former technician named Van Kleek, applies principles of an invented philosophy called functionalism and stirs the worker's passions up by convincing them that even though they are in the lower social echelons they deserve all the power because they control the one mode of transportation that keeps the nation rolling. In a show of force the workers shut down the fast moving 100 mph road, which harms the entire system and kills a great many people. The roads superintendent, Gaines, forms a military force that advances and takes the roads back, then in a one-on-one showdown defeats Van Kleek and restores the roads to full function. In addition to being an example of one of the many deviations that Heinlein took from his (usually) espoused libertarian stance, though an easily explainable one, this story is first and foremost an early example of the relevance of SF to social engineering issues.

Microcosmic God, by Theodore Sturgeon, (1941): Kidder, a reclusive hermit biochemist builds a laboratory on an island in New England where he eventually amasses a fortune inventing consumer goods. As his wealth increases Kidder constructs a special lab where he breeds a new form of life which he calls Neoterics. The Neoterics evolve to a highly advanced form, but were designed to live very quick lives, so that Kidder could evolve them to different ends with haste. Kidder created them to be highly allergic to oxygen, so they stay in the confines of the buildings he made for them. Kidder also creates a religious awe in the Neoterics who worship him as a God and submit to his every demand. The Neoterics are eventually used by Kidder to create more and more advanced products, which Kidder markets through his banker. The banker is an inhumane megalomaniac, who asks Kidder to invent a cheap form of energy, which the Neoterics do in short order. The machine they invent is a beamed power device that requires no fuel. The generator is set up on the island, and the banker builds receivers all over the country. Once the banker has the secret to the power source he weaponizes it, stages a coup in the United States and sets out to bomb the island and kill Kidder. Kidder learns of the banker's plan by means of a spy machine, and orders the Neoterics to erect an impenetrable shield over the entire island. They do so and the bombs are stopped, but the opaque shield also prevents the beamed power from getting out, so the banker's plot is foiled and he is assassinated by government officials. The ending of the story is ambiguous, as the shield is still standing and presumably the Neoterics are plotting a take-over underneath it. This story is not so well written, as were many of Sturgeon's short stories, and though while I am not certain that it blazed any new ground in the genre, it is a jaw dropper otherwise. I see a lot of this story in George R.R. Martin's novella Sandkings

Nightfall, by Isaac Asimov, (1941): Lagash is a planet with six suns, the last of which is due to set in four hours. It will be the first time in 2,049 years that all six suns have been below the horizon. A group of scientists are convinced that once the last sun sets people will go insane and tear civilization apart. A cult agrees with the scientists, but for religious reasons, and thus the two groups are at odds with each other. A muckraking journalist whose usual target is the scientists has managed to sneak into the viewing chamber where the scientists are gathered and has offered to help soften the blow to their reputations that he has foreseen will happen when they are proven wrong by ridiculing them in the media so as to get the public laughing. The scientists are not amused by the offer, but allow him to remain. As the hours tick on a cultist is found in their ranks and the various sides debate their points as the last sun fades away. Honestly, I don't even remember being excited about this story when I first read it, and I am so sick of hearing about it at this point that it made me put off buying this anthology for years. I will be a happy man if I never hear of it again.

The Weapons Shop, by A. E. van Vogt, (1942): I have heard it said that if SF is ever going to become a genre worthy of scholarly criticism it is going to have to deal with the legacy left by van Vogt, and I agree with that sentiment completely. van Vogt in my opinion defies criticism because there are so many things both right and wrong with what he managed to do. This story is no exception. Its a frenetic hodge-podge that only manages to come together in the end by the barest of margins, but in hindsight tells a wonderful story that is absolutely full of social commentary.

One evening in a quiet town a pre-fab weapons shop is opened up. The villagers are shocked the next morning to find the shop in their quiet town, but only Fala is motivated to do something about it. Fala considers himself a devoted subject of the benevolent Empress of Isher, whom he is aware frowns upon the weapons shops as unnecessary and scandalous. He enters the store the next day and under the pretense of buying a hunting weapon, attempts to take the clerk hostage. He is easily defeated, and is then cast out from the store and ridiculed before the rest of the village. Shortly thereafter Fala begins to experience one shocking loss after another. He loses his business, his fortune, the respect of the community, and almost his life and the love of his wife. Fala is convinced that the gun shop is getting its revenge on him, but he is eventually beaten down so far that he goes to the shop to buy a gun to kill himself with. The story happily sells him a weapon, but when he leaves the clerk puts him through a portal that transports him to the Gun Shop Court System, where he pleads his case for restitution and is awarded all the money he lost. It seems that it was never the weapons shop that was kicking him while he was down, but instead the agents of the Empress of Isher, who seek nothing but financial gain on behalf of the Empress. Fala is shocked to learn that the weapons shop is more than a retailer, but is actually the manifestation of a political movement dedicated to peacefully reversing and overturning the inequities of the absolute rule that the Emperess enjoys, and ending the effects of the carelessness that she shows to her subjects. Fala departs the weapons shop, admonished that they have done all that they can for him. They also tell him that in order to get back the rest of what he lost, he must use his gun and a threat of force, but never coercion. van Vogt manages simultaneously in a subtle and an in-your-face manner to use the right to bear arms, personal responsibility, urban planning and gun safety to craft this incredible story in a way that I find totally defies deconstruction or even categorization. The fact is, this story is awesome, but come on? Gun shop courts? Like I said, we are going to have to wrap our heads around this giant before we can move on.

Mimsy were the Borogoves, by Lewis Padgett, a.k.a. Henry Kuttner & his C.L. Moore, (1943): Unthahorsten, a scientist from one million years in the future, sends two boxes back in time. Each contain some of his son's old toys. One box is found by a seven-and-a-half year old boy named Scott, who drags it to his closet and hides it from his parents. Scott's father later finds the toys and is told that the kid's uncle, who will be out of town for a few months, gave them to the kids. Soon Scott and his two year sister Emma are playing with the toys. Once Scott's father finds the toys he became very confused by their complexity, so he calls a child psychologist whom he knows for an opinion on the toys. Holloway, the psychologist, theorizes that they toys were made by someone who had a different understanding of mathematics, so some of the things that they can do seem impossible to us. As the children play with the toys they become inculcated with the mathematical views of the creators. Scott is too old for the changes to replace his understanding of, for example, Eucledian geometry, but Emma at two years old is substantially changed. At two she was not much of a talker yet, but after the children's father took the toys back out of fear, Emma started writing notes to Scott in an unintelligible script. These notes were directions for Scott to build an artifact like a miniature Stonehenge out of common household items. Although Scott was not as changed, he did become wiser and in the evenings would have mature discussions with his father about linguistics and time. Unbeknownst to the father, Emma was getting more and more sophisticated in her communication with Scott. As a reader you are not sure what Emma is working on, but she eventually manages to transliterate a line from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass into the new language. The effect, to put it simply, is personally devastating. If you have not read this story before, then I think you have missed the best SF story of the entire era.

Huddling Place, by Clifford Simak, (1944): In a world where cities are gone a rich man in a manor house contemplates existence after he buries his father in a family crypt. After the funeral his son announces that he has been awarded an important contract on Mars. Shortly before the son leaves a Martian named Juwan stops by the manor house and informs the man that his son is on the cusp of discovering something big. Atypical for Simak this is a very, very odd tale about the cost of loss of cities and over-identification with home. The man suffers from agoraphobia and is called out of the house when Juwan is struck sick. It is revealed that the house robots have been conditioning him to be afraid of leaving. It ends without resolution, but its still quite good.

Arena, by Frederic Brown, (1944): Incredibly good story of single combat. A human, Carson, is taken from his singleship outside the orbit of Pluto as he prepares to skirmish against an advancing column of invaders called the Outsiders. He wakes up under a huge dome, and is told by a member of a more highly advanced race that he must fight one Outsider to the death. Whomever the winner is, their race will be the victor in the coming battle which is very evenly matched. This is a good vs. evil story in a setting that has become classic since this story.

First Contact, by Murray Leinster, (1945): Seminal first contact story in the genre. I'm not such a fan.

That Only a Mother, by Judith Merril, (1948): A couple live at "Oak Ridge," a nuclear weapons test facility, during a nuclear war. The wife is pregnant, and the husband is TDY. They exchange letters and telegrams with each other about the coming baby. Newspaper articles make clear that most babies are born these days with horrible deformities because of fall-out poisoning. The wife gives birth while the husband is away, and sends a message that all is well. But of course it isn't. This may have been one of the first post-war atomic-fear stories. It was written at a time when the world was just freshly aware not of what the risk of the atomic blast is, but of radiation sickness. It is doubly noteworthy because it was written by a woman and told from a woman's point of view.

Scanners Live in Vain, by Cordwainer Smith, (1948): This is one of Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind stories, about the the future of mankind in our galaxy. Its one of Smith's early stories both in-universe and chronologically. Its about how advancing technology can make redundant overnight even the most critical job held by a human. Scanners are vitally important space-farers who have been altered to become cyborgs. Their job is to pilot ships through hyperspace to other worlds while normal humans sleep through the trip. Their job is so important because ordinary humans go completely insane while traveling faster than light. The scanners have been altered so that they have no sensory input save for sight, and no emotions or fears. Because of the importance of their positions scanners wield enormous political powers anytime off planet. In this story an emergency is called while Martel, a scanner, is "cranching" at home. Martel is married to a normal woman, and cranching is what it is called when a scanner allows other sensory input. While cranching Scanners are capable of talking, feeling, hearing and tasting. Martel is experiencing sensory stimulus such as food and music with his wife at home when the call came. It takes scanners some time to stop cranching, so Martel reports for duty while cranching, which is a serious social faux paus to other scanners. When he reports for duty he and the other scanners are told that a normal human has devised a way for ordinary humans to navigate hyperspace and avoid "the pain of space." The scanners, who are ordinarily a calm and rational bunch, try the scientist in absentia and sentence him to death the next time he sets foot off Earth. The story is about how that conflict is resolved. Smith's Instrumentality stories are incredibly well written, and are just all around great yarns. This one may be one of the best. It certainly is one of the earliest modern cyborg tales. Smith's style takes some getting used to though, but his work is very much worth the effort. It is included here because it is one of the best ever cyborg stories, and was the first story to take a serious look at what being a cyborg meant. In that regard it is also about what it means to be a human being.

Mars is Heaven, by Ray Bradbury, (1948): This is one of the stories from The Martain Chronicles. This is the one where the ship lands on Mars and encounters a village from Wisconsin. Its more of a SF/horror tale.

The Little Black Bag, by C. M. Cornbluth, (1950): I wish that this story had not been included, because you really need to have read Cornbluth's companion story, The Marching Morons to get this one. The set up is that there are two groups of people in the future. There are the "smarts," who are really stupid, and their handlers who control them from behind the scenes and tell them that they are intelligent. In this story one of the handlers gives a physicist the instructions for a time machine. The physicist builds it and sends an auto-doc type device to the past, where it causes all kinds of trouble. This is a pretty gritty story with a lot of noir elements to it.

Born of Man and Woman, by Richard Matheson, (1950): God, they could have picked a better Matheson story. This one is pretty gritty though. Its about child abuse of a powerful mutant who plots his revenge against his parents.

Coming Attraction, by Fritz Leiber, (1950): Another noir type story, this one with strong sexual overtones and ingenious subtext that runs through it like a river at flood stage. I HATED that this one was only ten pages. In a post apocalyptic America a foreign dignitary is approached and asked for help getting a woman out of the country. The U.S. has become as religiously repressive as any country in the middle east. Women are chattel and are required to wear burkhas in public, but are sexually objectified and used only for release in private. A woman who has somehow managed to hold on to a little bit of wealth tries to use her sexuality to bribe the diplomat to help her, but ordinary male citizens, angered over any public contact between a man and a woman, intervene and take action again and again. Leiber often wrote of strong, emancipated women. In this story the culture will not allow its females to achieve their best, though they do strive intellectually to reach that goal.

The Quest for Saint Aquin, by Anthony Boucher, (1951): Another post apocalyptic story, and another excellent one. Centuries after a nuclear war the Pope, whose base is the East Bay area of San Francisco, dispatches a priest to search for the body of Saint Aquin, who is rumored to be "beyond corruption," or incapable of rotting. In this place and time Catholics are persecuted and killed on sight. The priest rides off on his "robass," or robotic donkey, which is AI. The two debate the reality of the post apocalyptic world as well as theology, and together quest through one peril after another. When the body of Saint Aquin is found, the priest comes to a startling realization about the nature and future of humanity. The robass character is very well drawn. It goads the priest with sophistries, and tells him that the corpse is free from corruption because it is a robot too. When the priest discovers that this is true he debates the wisdom of reinvigorating belief in the church with false "proof" of the existence of God. This is probably Boucher's only great SF story, the rest being fantasy.

Surface Tension, by James Blish, (1952): A team that has been sent to a very watery planet to terraform it crashes on the one island above water. They realize that they are going to die shortly as the ship is totally destroyed and their food stores are running out. In an odd attempt to survive, the humans design a microbial form of human, that is fully sentient and intelligent, and seed deep pools of water on the island with them. They do so, and die right off. Generations and generations later the humans in one particular pool have tamed their environment by befriending an intelligent form of protozoa and eliminating an aggressive non-sentient form of rotifer. In this pool the rotifers had built a "castle" that served as the humans new city. As time wears on, the humans in the pool begin to stagnate intellectually, until one of them starts to wonder what is beyond the roof of the world. He believes that there is another form of universe out there, but the tension of the water on top is too great for him to penetrate on his own. He invents a ship, and takes a mission to another nearby puddle. This one is a bit hard to swallow, but its a great story nonetheless. As usual with Blish religion, creation, genetics and expansion are the central themes. In my opinion though he manages to keep the navel-gazing to a minimum, which is something he was not able to do in some of his other works. I could not get this story out of my head for several days, and I mean that in a good way.

The Nine Billion Names of God, by Arthur C. Clarke, (1953): Is there anyone who has not read this story before? Including this one was as bad as including Nightfall. At this point, they are both just filler.

Its a Good Life, by Jerome Bixby, (1953): Another very worthy story. This one is about a young boy in a small town who has the power to do anything at all that he wishes. As a matter of fact, he has already destroyed the rest of Earth and the rest of the universe, leaving just a small scrap of land with this town and its citizens on it. The boy is not only quick to anger and quick to kill, but he also does great damage out of altruistic motives. The title comes from the sarcastic things that the townsfolk always say and think, no matter what, because if they complain then the boy is likely to kill someone either out of anger or a desire to help. In other words, its best not to upset the boy, no matter what. The townsfolk are way past trying to fix things, and are at this point just trying to see how long they will live. Its a great story.

The Cold Equations, by Tom Godwin, (1954): On the frontier of human exploration in space an emergency has happened. To help the exploration team on a planet a singleship with limited fuel is dispatched with medicine. Unfortunately the young sister of one of the explorers has stowed away on the ship. The pilot finds her and reveals to her that she must be jettisoned into space because there in exactly enough fuel for the ship to land, and her mass will cause the ship to crash. The pilot slows the ship to lengthen the amount of time before he has to air-lock her, and talks to her about her regrets and the joys of her short life. This is a very, very good hard SF story.

Fondly Farenheit, by Alfred Bester, (1954): A trust fund baby, Vanderleer, who has gone broke is fleeing the authorities with his sole asset, a highly complex and valuable android. The android has started killing people for no reason. Vanderleer does not want to give up the android, because he hires it out and lives off the income from it. After the latest murder he fled to a new planet and fell in with a nymphomaniac jeweler who learns his secret, just in time to be killed herself by the robot. Vanderleer again flees, and in his travels with the robot learns that the thing goes insane in high temperatures only. He resolves only to live on cold worlds, and as he plans their next move, the robot begins to project its consciousness into him. At this point the narrative becomes quite confusing. It was done in first person, but who exactly the "I" is becomes very muddied. This is of course a tale of projection, and the implication is that even thought the android has been stopped, the killings may go on.

The Country of the Kind, by Damon Knight, (1955): Odd story about a mutant that is punished for anti-social acts in varying degrees. I was not a fan, though I otherwise love Knight's writing. Knight was a very important scholar, anthologist and educator as well, and was the husband of Kate Wilhelm who wrote Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, one of my top five genre books ever.

Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, (1959): When people say that SF is a gloomy body of literature, I think that they have stories like this week's in mind. Flowers for Algernon is not a tale of the failure of science to make people's lives better. The operation that was performed in this story was expected to fail, so what it really is about is how science and scientists treat other humans like lab rats, and the effect that experiments that are not wisely performed can wreck havoc on the lives of the participants.

Flowers for Algernon is about a medical experiment, a surgery really, that was designed to make the subject more intelligent. Algernon was a mouse who has been put to the knife, and whose intelligence tripled because of it. Charley was a good natured retarded man with an intelligence of 68. He was so good natured because he was too simple to know that his "friends" spent most of their time making fun of him with idiotic jokes about his mental capacity. The team that operated on Algernon wanted to operate on a human being to see if they could achieve the same effects. Charley was chosen because he was willing to work with the team, and was not angry at the world. The team performed the operation, even though they knew that the boost in intelligence was only going to last for a very short time. That is to say, none of the animal subject to date which had undergone the procedure had retained the intelligence gains past a certain point in time, and nobody expected Charlie to be any different. They just wanted to produce some amazing results so that they could write a paper and become famous.

The story is told in diary format from Charlie’s diary, which at first is called his "progris riprot." Charlie is sweet, kind and very optimistic about the surgery he has been given.

I asked Dr Strauss if Ill beat Algernon in the race after the operashun and he said maybe. If the operashun works Ill show that mouse I can be as smart as he is. maybe smarter. Then Ill be abel to read better and spell the words good and know lots of things and be like other people. I want to be smart like other people. If it works perminint they will make everybody smart all over the wurld.

But as Charlie gets smarter, he realized that for all of his life he actually had been the butt of jokes at the hands of those whom he thought loved him, especially his coworkers. He was a janitor at a mill, and the other employees were always smiling and patting Charlie on the back, so he thought that they were being kind to him. What they were really doing was saying things like "you just pulled a Charlie Gordon," whenever someone screwed up. Charlie just did not understand that they were calling him foolish and stupid. Unfortunately for Charlie, he made this realization just in time to also realize that if they teased in the past him for being stupid, they now feared him for being smart. Some fools even likened his place in the world to that of Eve's, who sinned by eating from the tree of knowledge, and brought sickness, death and pain to the world. Charley developed a strong sense of pride, driven by what he saw as his own foolishness before, laughing with those who laughed at him.

Eventually Charlie became a hermit who just got smarter and smarter. He became so smart that he sometimes lost the ability to communicate the complex concepts he came up with because of the limits of all the languages he had taught himself. Sitting alone all day Charlie became nasty and spiteful, and when his intelligence started to fail, just as Algernon's had, he reverted to his former level of intellect, but kept all the hate and anger in his heart.

I have read this story I don't know how many times in the past; twice this year alone, and it never fails to strike me as one of the most unfair things I have ever experienced. Not only to be given that much intellect, but to have it taken away, with no say or control, and to be left with the core realization that the world is against you, just pounds me in the heart every time. I don't have any trouble seeing how Charlie lost out completely on this one. I do think that sometimes ignorance is bliss, and Charlie had that taken away from him, all for an "experiment" that everyone knew would fail. Science ruined a beautiful soul here, so if you are of the ilk that things SF is all about doom and gloom, this one should be your rallying cry.

A Rose for Ecclesiastes, by Roger Zelazney, (1963): A human linguist is allowed access to the Martian's sacred temple where he is taught the high form of their language. As he learns he uncovers the truth of their sad existence. Zelazney does a wonderful job with the linguistics issue, though not as good as Tony Chiang did in Story of Your Life.

Copyright © 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)

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