Friday, June 28, 2013

Two Anthologies from Damon Knight

A Century of Science FictionA Century of Science Fiction 
edited by Damon Knight

"Science fiction is distinguished by its implicit assumption that man can change himself and his environment. This alone sets it apart from all other literary forms. This is the message that came out of the Intellectual Revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and that has survived in no other kind of fiction." - Damon Knight

This is a good introduction to the Science Fiction genre. Damon Knight, the editor, has selected stories from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and grouped them thematically. Thus there are sections for "Robots", "Time Travel", "Space", "Other Worlds and People", "Aliens among Us", "Superman"(not the 'Man of Steel'), and "Marvelous Inventions". Most of the selections are short stories from classic SF authors like Alfred Bester, Philip Jose Farmer, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Poul Anderson. However there are some excerpts that highlight great novels including Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, Odd John by Olaf Stapledon, and The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. The result of these selections and others is a satisfying anthology of the most imaginative fiction offered over the century ending in the 1960s. A special plus is the inclusion of an introduction by the editor and a bibliography of selected readings for readers who are inspired to seek out more science fiction.

A Century of Great Short Science Fiction NovelsA Century of Great Short Science Fiction Novels 
edited by Damon Knight

“We live on a minute island of known things. Our undiminished wonder at the mystery which surrounds us is what makes us human. In science fiction we can approach that mystery, not in small, everyday symbols, but in bigger ones of space and time.”  ― Damon Knight

In 1962 Damon Knight edited a collection of Science Fiction short stories and excerpts titled A Century of Science Fiction. He followed that with this collection in 1964 that six Science Fiction novellas. They include a couple of my favorites: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells. These novellas share in common the depiction of scientific experiments gone awry. Dr. Jekyll creates an alter ego in Mr. Hyde who represents his private evil side. As an allegory about the nature of good and evil it has continued, even in the age of Freud, to haunt readers and raise questions for thought. Likewise, Well's Invisible Man's experiment goes awry with unintended consequences that drive the scientist mad. Not that the scientist who became invisible wasn't somewhat demented before he attempted his experiment in invisibility. Both tales are examples of imagining the darker side of humanity. As a result they both haunt and fascinate the reader.
The other tales include in this anthology are no less imaginative and represent writers of renown like Karel Capek and Robert Heinlein. Themes include humor, the possibility of a superman, and the potential nature of future cultures. The collection covers a breadth of SF that provides both an introduction and a depiction of the possibilities of speculation on a grand scale.

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