I just now finished writing an essay about older novels worth a read. Which led me to wonder: what older collections are worth a read? Fortunately my library is capacious, even if my memory sometimes fails. So, here are notes on five older collections that you might enjoy.
Do I own stock in a used bookstore? No, I have no financial incentive to recommend older works that might be out of print. In fact, I was surprised to discover (on searching) that some of these collections were still in print (if electronic versions can be considered print). The rest are all available through the wonders of online used book stores.
The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy by Katherine MacLean (1962)
I was introduced to the works of SFWA author emeritus Katherine MacLean through CBC Radio summer rebroadcasts of classic X Minus One episodes. Thanks to the CBC, I knew that I wanted this MacLean collection as soon as I saw it. It was a lucky find, because MacLean’s most productive period largely predated my birth.
Diploids contains eight MacLean stories drawn from the pages of Galaxy and Astounding. Of particular note: “And Be Merry,” which explores some untoward consequences of very long lives. “Pictures Don’t Lie” is a tale of first contact (also complicated by unforeseen factors). “The Snowball Effect” describes a sociological experiment that succeeds beyond researchers’ wildest nightmares. I think you will discern a theme here.…
The collection is a worthy introduction to MacLean’s fiction, and is available as an ebook.
Neutron Star by Larry Niven (1968)
I first encountered Larry Niven when as a nine-year-old I read his story “Leviathan” in the August 1970 issue of Playboy. However, what enticed me to purchase this volume wasn’t my encounter with “Leviathan” (which does not appear in this collection) but rather the eye-catching Rick Sternbach cover.
There is good reason to believe that if one wants to hook readers on Niven’s work, this is the collection with which to do it. The eight stories are all set in Niven’s Known Space setting. Most date from 1966 or 1967 (with one 1968 straggler), the period in which a then-young Niven was doing his worldbuilding. While some of the hard SF puzzle stories don’t hold up to close examination (I am afraid the protagonist of “Neutron Star” absolutely should have died), the stories evince a charming youthful exuberance.
Available as an ebook.
A Pride of Monsters by James H. Schmitz (1970)
I credit Arthur C. Clarke for drawing my attention to Schmitz by including Schmitz’ story “Grandpa” in the Clarke-edited anthology Time Probe. The story’s treatment of ecological themes ensured that I’d pick up any Schmitz books that crossed my path.
A Pride of Monsters draws exclusively from magazines edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. (Astounding, later renamed Analog, and Unknown Worlds). All of the stories on offer centre on some manner of monster, but they manage to be otherwise quite diverse. Readers unfamiliar with Schmitz should get a decent sense of his range.
Available as a used paperback.
Eyes of Amber and Other Stories by Joan D. Vinge
I believe I first encountered Vinge in the Ben Bova-edited June 1977 issue of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact. The June 1977 issue was a special women’s issue and its exemplary quality ensured I would snap up books by the contributors. Because it was the third issue of Analog I had ever read, the June 1977 issue set lofty expectations I am sad to say later issues failed to meet.
Although modern readers are most likely to have encountered Vinge’s novels, Vinge began her publishing career with memorable novellas and novelettes. It’s therefore quite frustrating that, to my knowledge, there are only three collections of her work, all out of print. Of the three, Eyes of Amber and Other Stories is by far the best. In addition to the title story, a tale of aristocratic ambition and rock & roll set on Titan, the collection provides tales that range from straight-up adventure to puzzle stories, from classic hard SF to a deep space murder thriller, all skillfully written.
Available as a used paperback.
Forests of the Night by Tanith Lee (1989)
I first encountered Lee with her classic Drinking Sapphire Wine. My taste for her fiction was solidified by her 1983 collection of re-imagined fairy tales, Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer, which was exactly the right book at the right time, for reasons explained here. Red as Blood remains my favourite Lee collection…but it only narrowly edges out my second favourite Lee collection. This one.
Forests of the Night focuses mainly on Lee’s 1980s output, an indication of how prolific she could be. While is there some overlap with other collections, it is minimal. In addition to the delightful assortment of Lee tales, the collection has something other Lee collections often lacked: introductions by the author. The only grounds upon which I could criticize the collection is no fault of the author’s: North American publishers lost their interest in Lee about 1990 and consequently there has never been a North American edition.
Available in ebook and hardcover… for British readers.
Of course, the advent of mass market paperbacks and the fact that many authors began their careers with shorter pieces means there is an abundance of diverting collections I could have mentioned, but did not. Perhaps your favourites were overlooked. Feel free to mention them in the comments, which are, as ever, below.
In the words of fanfiction author Musty181, four-time Hugo finalist, prolific book reviewer, and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll “looks like a default mii with glasses.” His work has appeared in Interzone, Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis) and the 2021 and 2022 Aurora Award finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by web person Adrienne L. Travis). His Patreon can be found here.