Five Extraordinary Science Fiction Collections
Here are some wonderful collections of science fiction stories you may not have heard of by writers regarded as among the best in the field. They are all great reads and I highly recommend them. I know that there are many other great collections out there; I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments.
1. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr
James Tiptree Jr. was the pseudonym adopted by Alice B. Sheldon for her science fiction. A middle-aged ex-employee of the CIA, she took the science fiction world by storm when she began publishing her unique, well-crafted stories in the 1960s. She rapidly rose to prominence in the field and began winning award after award. This is her definitive collection, in which no less than four award-winning stories are included: "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death", The Screwfly Solution", "The Girl Who Was Plugged In", and "Houston, Houston, Can You Read?". Several other stories were award nominees or were at least award-worthy, in particular the seminal work "The Women Men Don't See". She wrote dark, pessimistic, elegantly crafted fiction often based on gender issues. This is not only one of the best science fiction short story collections ever published but one of the greatest story collections in any genre.
2. Tales of Old Earth by Michael Swanwick
This book is out of print, sad to say, but you can find used copies on Amazon by various sellers. It's another amazing collection full of award-winning fiction. Swanwick has won a multitude of awards, including the Nebula, the Hugo, and the World Fantasy Award for his tightly-plotted, elegantly worded fiction. Most of the stories in this collection were award nominees.
3. Geodesic Dreams by Gardner Dozois
This is another out-of-print book which is a real classic, full of sparkling gems of science fiction brilliance. Dozois is known to many as the magazine editor who won more awards for his editing than any other in the field ever, but he is also a first-class writer. He first became known when he appeared in several volumes of Damon Knight's anthology series "Orbit". Knight was looking for a more literary approach to science fiction, to break it out of the genre ghetto in which it had been relegated and bring it out into the literary mainstream. He had a keen grasp of talent, and published much in those days that other editors were too timid to touch. Dozois not only deals with wild, interesting science fictional concepts, but does it with exceptionally crafted prose. Two of the stories in this collection are Nebula Award winners, "The Peacemaker", and "Morning Child", and several others were award nominees.
4. Phases of the Moon: Six Decades of Masterpieces by Robert Silverberg
As the title says, this book is divided into decades, and each decade is represented by several stories. Each story also has an introduction by Silverberg, in which he details how it came to be written and anything else of interest which was happening at the time. The introductions themselves are worth the price of the book; they are an intimate look into how a writer lives and works. But the stories... The stories are superb. As you read through the sections, if you start from the beginning, you can see how Silverberg grew in his craft, and moved from writing fairly traditional science fiction to the highly literary experimental science fiction which garnered him so many awards and award nominations. It's a tremendous collection full of great fiction, which again is sadly out of print, but can be found through Amazon's independent sellers.
5. The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith by Cordwainer Smith
Cordwainer Smith was the pseudonym of Paul Linebarger, who was one of the most innovative and unusual writers in the science fiction field back in the 1950s and 60s. Most of his stories take place in a future history called "The Instrumentality of Mankind", a vast, complex universe encompassing many planets and star systems set tens of thousands of years in the future. He was an expert on the Far East and psychological warfare. Many of his stories have a more Chinese narrative style than western, and are full of complex and subtle nuances. He wrote of spacecraft which could move faster than light through a process called planoforming, of underpeople, which were animals converted into humanlike shape so they could be used as servants, of an immortality drug called stroon which many in the galaxy coveted, and of many other strange, enigmatic concepts. Many of the top writers in the science fiction field say that they were heavily influenced in their careers by the quality and originality of Cordwainer Smith's prose. If you give it a try you won't regret it.