The Best of Analog: A high-quality collection

The Best of Analog edited by Ben BovaThe Best of Analog edited by Ben BovaThe Best of Analog edited by Ben Bova

The Best of Analog is filled with high-caliber stories by all-star writers: Alfred BesterRoger ZelaznyGeorge R.R. MartinVonda McIntyreGene Wolfe, and more. Published in 1978, this anthology contains three novellas, ten shorts, and one poem — pieces that have by and large stood the test of time on both feet. It is a collection of bright, interesting sci-fi shorts, some of which won awards. The following is a brief breakdown of those selected by editor Ben Bova:

Opening the collection is the intriguing “Persephone and Hades” by Scott W. Schumack. It’s a classic premise — last man and woman on Earth — but an unpredictable story, detailing not only how they came to be in such a situation, but what became of it … if ever the man can catch the woman, that is.

Though a very masculine story, David Lewis’s novella “Common Denominator” has a softer side at heart. The story of the elite fighter pilot Smith, his irascible wingman Richards, and their fight against the alien Starii, it is a classic space fight with a deeper purpose.

A bizarrely unique story by any account, Alfred Bester’s “The Four-Hour Fugue” is perhaps the author’s best known work of short fiction. Twisting science to the point of fantasy, Bester brings his comic book background to full bear on this murder mystery of the olfactory. Set in a dystopian east coast America (that would perhaps later influence William Gibson in his SPRAWL series), the story requires suspension of belief to keep pace with its briskly plotted events.

“How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion” by Gene Wolfe is a tongue-in-cheek look at an alternate post-WWII. Nothing like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, Wolfe’s story looks at industry, economics, and politics of the Allied and Axis leaders, all with an abstract eye for humor.

While George R.R. Martin’s legacy will undoubtedly be the hugely popular A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series, Martin is also a fine writer of short fiction, and “A Song for Lya” is certainly one of his best. This Hugo-winning novella describes the difficulties a telepath encounters coming to a planet where a mysterious cult is slowly spreading from the locals to the human colonists. The tale resonates emotionally and philosophically, and Martin proves he’s not all knights and dragons.

“Unlimited Warfare” by Hayford Peirce is another humorous piece. The Houses of Parliament in Britain and France each plot to take over the other with bizarre schemes involving sabotaging the other’s beverage of choice. The scenario that results, well, that’s what science fiction is for.

Joe Haldeman’s Hugo-winning short story “Tricentennial” is the story of humanity’s response to the discovery of our sun’s twin and the communications which emanate from said black dwarf. Structured a-linearly in highly successful fashion, the tale which follows this discovery is one of truly human proportion.

“The Present State of Igneos Research” by Gordon R. Dickson is a meta-textual monograph on the existence of dragons. Need any more be said?

In a “Child of All Ages” by P.J. Plauger, a young girl surprises her school guidance counselor with knowledge and presence no child her age should have. But when the child is taken home to talk with the woman’s husband, real trouble begins. A somewhat interesting look at the advantages and disadvantages of being a child.

Larry Niven’s “The Hole Man” is a hard science story that starts with a group of scientists making their first landing on Mars. Encountering an abandoned alien base, the group throw themselves into the Herculean task of quantifying the plethora of foreign technology left behind. Things truly get interesting when they find a quantum black hole — at least from a scientific point of view, though the story elements are sorely lacking.

“Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand” by Vonda D. McIntyre is a tale that burns with dark emotion and tension. This story of a healer and her snakes draws empathy with its protagonist and interest in the story being told. This Nebula-winning novelette is perhaps the best piece in the collection; McIntyre effectively balances mood, character, and plot in this superb selection.

In “A Thing of Beauty” by Norman Spinrad, a Japanese billionaire surveys a post-apocalyptic New York looking to buy an artifact his wife’s family can be proud of him for. The Statue of Liberty, Yankee Stadium, and other points of interest are reviewed like race horses in this pointed story.

Something along the lines of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, “When I Was in Your Mind” by Joe Allred is the story of a psionic surgeon who physically and mentally goes inside the mind of a patient to excise a micro-tumor.

“Unified Field Theory” is a poem by Tim Joseph which relates the evolution of man’s metaphysical understanding of the world around him.

Twisting AI into psychological shape, “Home is the Hangman” is Roger Zelazny’s take on the classic Frankenstein tale and a high note on which to close the collection. The 1975 novella, which never once dips into imitation, is the story of a man tasked with tracking down a rogue AI built by scientists. This admirably suspenseful novella is one of Zelazny’s better short works and won both the Nebula and the Hugo.

In the end, The Best of Analog is a high-quality, interestingly variegated collection of short stories and novellas (and one poem!) that proves why Bova won so many best editor awards. It has something for everybody — humor, hard science fiction, adventure, thought piece, coming of age, etc.Even the pieces that don’t click with certain readers will at least be well-written and engaging enough to finish. I suppose when you have the cream of the crop to choose from, it’s inevitable that quality will follow.

Published in 1978. Fifteen stories from 1972-78. Favorites: “Child Of All Ages”-P.J.Plauger.-Melissa is twelve years old. She claims to be twenty-four hundred years old. “A Thing Of Beauty”-Norman Spinrad.- America has been destroyed by an insurrection. Mr.Ito of Japan wants to buy an artifact of historical interest to take back to his estate. He turns down a headless Statue of Liberty. His hunt continues. “Home Is The Hangman”-Roger Zelazny.-An A.I. robot named The Hangman is designed to explore other planets. It’s later thought his ship has come back to Earth empty. Then it looks like he’s back to kill the four who designed him. This story won the Hugo and Nebula awards. Other authors in the anthology are: Scott W. Schumack, David Lewis, Alfred Bester, Gene Wolf, George R.R. Martin, Hayford Peirce, Joe Haldeman, Gordon R. Dickson, Larry Niven, Vonda N. McIntyre, Joe Allred and Tim Joseph.

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JESSE HUDSON, one of our guest reviewers, reads in most fields. He lives in Poland where he works for a big corporation by day and escapes into reading by night. He posts a blog which acts as a healthy vent for not only his bibliophilia, but also his love of culture and travel: Speculiction.

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