Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century

edited by Orson Scott Card
Reviewed date: 2006 Apr 24
422 pages
cover art

This is a better-than-average anthology that showcases some of the most important short stories in science fiction, as chosen by Orson Scott Card. I had read many of the Golden Age stories, and most of the "New Wave" stories too, but none of the "Media Generation" stories. And it may be my prejudices showing, but most of the Media Generation stories are not up to the standard set by the stories of the previous eras. Of the Media Generation stories, only George R. R. Martin's Sandkings and Karen Joy Fowler's Face Value are even arguably great (and Sandkings is rather predictable, I'm afraid.)

I particularly enjoyed Inconstant Moon, by Larry Niven, and I consider it the finest work in the collection--with the exception of Harlan Ellison's 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman.

This is a good collection of short stories for anyone. A casual SF reader will find some great stories, a committed fan will find a few new gems among a sea of old favorites, and a neophyte will see a great range of stories and be sure to find at least one he likes.

  • Call Me Joe, by Poul Anderson - A crippled scientist uses an esprojector to mentally inhabit a native Jovian.
  • "All You Zombies--", by Robert A. Heinlein - A Temporal Bureau operative recruits a new operative.
  • Tunesmith, by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. - Erlin Baque, a tunesmith and natural musician, fights the monopolistic Guilds that sucked the musical life out of all aspects of society.
  • A Saucer of Loneliness, by Theodore Sturgeon - A tiny flying saucer gives a message to a young woman, and she resists the efforts of the police and FBI to force her to reveal what she heard.
  • Robot Dreams, by Isaac Asimov - Susan Calvin interrogates a robot who claims to have had a dream in which the First and Second Laws do not exist.
  • Devolution, by Edmond Hamilton - Two biologists and a surveyor in North Quebec meet protoplasmic alien creatures from the galaxy of Arctar.
  • The Nine Billion Names of God, by Arthur C. Clarke - A Mark V Automatic Sequence Computer allows Tibetan monks to finish in three months what would otherwise take thousands of years: compile a list of all the possible names of God.
  • A Work of Art, by James Blish - Composer Richard Strauss's reconstructed personality and memories are brought back to life in a new body.
  • Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed, by Ray Bradbury - Mars changes the human colonists.
  • "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman, by Harlan Ellison - An exquisite story of a society slavishly devoted to their clocks.
  • Eurema's Dam, by R. A. Lafferty - Albert is the last of the dolts: too stupid to make it on his own, he is forced to invent clever machines that help him get by.
  • Passengers, by Robert Silverberg - Otherworldly spirits have taken to inhabit the bodies of humans from time to time.
  • The Tunnel Under the World, by Frederik Pohl - A man relives June 15th day after day after day, with strange advertising permeating the world.
  • Who Can Replace a Man?, by Brian W. Aldiss - Men go extinct and the robots have to cope and form a new society.
  • The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, by Ursula K. Le Guin - The paradisiacal city of Omelas is owed to the utter degradation of one young child.
  • Inconstant Moon, by Larry Niven - An unusually bright moon tips off a man that something is wrong with the sun, and there will be no tomorrow.
  • Sandkings, by George R. R. Martin - Simon Kress has a new pet: sandkings, miniature hive mind creatures that build castles and fight wars amongst themselves.
  • The Road Not Taken, by Harry Turtledove - Aliens with hyperdrive and antigravity invade Earth, but discover that human weapons offer no small resistance.
  • Dogfight, by William Gibson and Michael Swanwick - Cyberpunk story about a dogfighting game: Spads and Fokkers.
  • Face Value, by Karen Joy Fowler - A man and woman science team study a planet peopled by humanoid beings with vestigial moth-like wings.
  • Pots, by C. J. Cherryh - A research team studies Earth to figure out what happened to the civilization that once lived there.
  • Snow, by John Crowley - A "wasp" records 8000 hours of a woman's life, and the data is put on file for her husband to watch after her death.
  • Rat, by James Patrick Kelly - A rat smuggles drugs.
  • Bears Discover Fire, by Terry Bisson - Bears discover fire, and instead of hibernating all winter they build fires and live in the median of the highway.
  • A Clean Escape, by John Kessel - A doctor interviews a man who can remember nothing after 1984 and can make no new memories.
  • Tourists, by Lisa Goldstein - A man is on a vacation but can't remember what country he's in, he's lost his passport, and his traveling companion has disappeared.
  • One, by George Alec Effinger - Leslie Gillette and his wife take a life-long trip cataloguing new planets and searching in vain for signs of life.

Archive | Search