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Tales of Science Fiction (SF) - Brian Ball (Ed.) *****

This short story collection from the 1960s, mostly featuring 1940s and 1950s stories, looks unpromising. It was published by Penguin's defunct young adult imprint Peacock, and with its clunky title and unimpressive cover it looks like a waste of space on the bookshelf. But it contains what are simply some of the best science fiction short stories ever written - for any age of reader.

Although inevitably one or two feel a touch old-fashioned, on the whole they've aged incredibly well and have very little to suggest just what classics they are. Stories include Arthur C. Clarke's Hide and Seek, in which a spy in Mars orbit in a spacesuit attempts to evade a battle cruiser, Robert Heinlein's Life-Line, exploring the impact on society of a device that uses the concept of the block universe to predict an individual's precise time of death, Paul Ernst's invisible attacker in Nothing Happens on the Moon, John Christopher's poignant Mr Kowtshook about an alien attempting to evade capture by hiding in a circus on Earth, John Wyndham's Meteor, where a difference in viewpoint between an alien ship and humans has disastrous consequences and Brian Aldiss's But Who Can Replace Man? portraying a future where artificial intelligence is commonplace and struggling to know what to do when humans go extinct.

There are several other stories, including my absolute favourite in the collection, which is Eric Frank Russell's, Allamagoosa, a humorous tale of how an attempt to overcome a bureaucratic confusion in the space navy has unexpected consequences.

I first read these stories when I was about 15 and some of them (notably Allamagoosa) have stuck with me ever since. It's a pleasure to revisit them.

As you might imagine, this book is long out of print, but secondhand copies are available.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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