We're about two-thirds of the way through the book. Did the editors front-load the good stuff, or save the best for a boffo finish? Let's find out.
Asylum, by A.E. Van Vogt: Space vampires! One of the first discussions of what SETI researchers call the "Zoo hypothesis!" Identity games worthy of Philip K. Dick! Unconvincing tough-guy dialog! Also a slightly creepy future Earth society in which the use of "mechanical psychology" in schools has eliminated "murder, theft, war, and all unsocial perversions." In the past I've noted how obsessed mid-century science fiction writers were with the notion of psychology as an exact science and a reliable technology. Given how many writers and fans may have had at least a toe on "the spectrum," so to speak, I think they found the idea of an algorithm which can explain human behavior to be very appealing. Anyway, the story gets three stars.
Quietus, by Ross Rocklynne: A very short, melancholy story about alien explorers on Earth and the last surviving human. Four stars.
The Twonky, by Lewis Padgett/Kuttner and Moore: A bit of far-future technology lands in a contemporary middle-class home, in the form of a console radio with its own agenda. Still a lot of drinking used as a placeholder for comedy. This story was adapted into a Twilight Zone episode, but I've never seen it. Three stars.
Time-Travel Happens! by A.M. Phillips: A very odd bit of quasi-Forteana which seems very out of place in this collection (although Astounding did run Charles Fort's book Lo! as a serial in 1934). The article is supposedly nonfiction, about the once celebrated case of Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, two British academics who claimed to have slipped back in time to pre-Revolutionary France during a visit to Versailles in 1901. You can read their 1911 account here, and an analysis by Brian Dunning here. While I enjoy a little Forteana, I'm not particularly impressed by stale, reheated Forteana. One star.
Robot's Return, by Robert Moore Williams: A crew of robots come to a dead Earth in the distant future, searching for clues about their origin. Then they find them and the story ends. If you're keeping score, this is the sixth story out of twenty-five (so far) about the death of the human race. Two stars.
The Blue Giraffe, by L. Sprague De Camp: An entertaining story about mutations in an African wilderness preserve, which kind of dodges its proper ending. Bonus points to Mr. De Camp for actually knowing something about Africa when writing a story set there. Three stars.
Flight Into Darkness, by Webb Marlowe/J. Francis McComas: This may be the first Nazis in Space! story ever, as it beat Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo by nearly a year. Notably, one half-crippled German scientist is able to build an interplanetary rocketship in a basement, which makes Von Braun and Dornberger seem like slackers by comparison. Two stars.
The Weapons Shop, by A.E. Van Vogt: A classic, though I found it a bit unsatisfying. The story takes the robustly libertarian position that "the right to buy weapons is the right to be free" and then completely dodges the issue by making them magic superscience weapons which can't be used for "aggression or murder." As if the Founders had written the Second Amendment with a codocil limiting it to water pistols. And again with the psychobabble! Two stars.
Farewell to the Master, by Harry Bates: I only just learned that Harry Bates was the original editor of Astounding, and continued to sell stories to his successors after moving on in 1933. This story was the genesis of the great 1951 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still. I have to say that the moviemakers improved on Bates's original considerably — although they did have to sacrifice Bates's scene in which the robot Gnut (Gort in the film) wrestles a gorilla, and the absolute killer of a final line. Four stars.
Within the Pyramid, by R. DeWitt Miller: A very unremarkable "ancient astronauts" story, which may have inspired Erich von Daniken to begin promoting the notion as "fact" twenty years later. This is barely a story at all; more like an essay. One star.
He Who Shrank, by Henry Hasse: This is another utterly gonzo story, riffing on what was already an established sub-genre of science fiction — stories about people shrinking and their adventures in the microverse. Hasse cleaned up the table with this one, in which his hero continues to shrink, entering universe after universe nested within each other at the atomic level, like so many Russian dolls. Bonus points for having our Earth be one of the later places the hero shrinks into. Four stars.
This part of the book is a mixed bag: three top-notch stories, five lackluster or bad ones, so that the average for these eleven is between two and three stars.
(to be continued . . . )
If you want science fiction which is all top-notch, buy my ebook Outlaws and Aliens!