Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Book Review Tales from Super-Science Fiction by Robert Silverberg (Editor)

Tales from Super-Science Fiction
Robert Silverberg (Editor)
Haffner Press
Publication Date: May 28, 2012
Trade Paperback (ARC)
400 pages
ISBN13: 978-1893887480
Cover art by Frank Kelly Freas and Ed Emshwiller


     Tales From Super-Science Fiction was a short-lived popular men’s magazine published between December 1955 and October 1959 and featured stories written by some of the most well-known names in Science Fiction, including Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, James E. Gunn, Robert Silverberg, Jack Vance, and Donald Westlake, among others. It’s short life, only 18 issues, reflected the changing trends in pulp literature during a period when no less than fifty different men’s magazines published stories from genres as diverse as adventure, noir, mystery, sex, horror, fantasy, and science fiction. With names like Men’s Life, Stag, True War, and Real Men the Science Fiction pulps, like Tales From Super-Science Fiction, were created to cater to the tastes of men who enjoyed stories about space exploration, strange new worlds, ray-guns, and alien monsters.

     One of the difficulties reviewing and rating an anthology of fifty-year-old stories is that there are a number of stumbling blocks that need to be overcome to provide a meaningful review. The fourteen stories collected from Tales From Super-Science Fiction provide an eclectic representation of the pulp Science Fiction short-stories written during the late-fifties, so there’s really nothing new here. However, it should be noted that, at the time, similar stories were in high demand and many Science Fiction, Horror, Adventure, and Western pulps were published to fill a niche for men’s fiction. This anthology contains stories by known and established Science Fiction authors, many of whom have, sadly, passed. It is important to remember that several of these same authors wrote some of the most entertaining Science Fiction novels of the sixties and seventies (Asimov’s Foundation Series (1966 Hugo Winner) and Fantastic Voyage; Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog; Vance’s The Dragon Masters (1963 Hugo Winner); and Silverberg’s Thorns (1967 Hugo and 1968 Nebula nominated), to name a few.) Tales From Super-Science Fiction was not the most popular Science Fiction magazine of the times and the majority of the author’s represented here admit to cranking out voluminous stacks of short fiction simply to pay the bills. And, Tales From Super-Science Fiction paid double (2 cents per word!) the average going rate at that time. These early practitioners obviously loved writing their stories and they’d be the first tell you today that they had a great deal of fun exploring the genre and submitting their stories for publication while getting paid so handsomely. The Introduction by Robert Silverberg is an important, historic snap-shot of the mentality and publishing accounts of the magazine and its editor, Scott Harlan, and is worth the cover price simply for its historical significance. In my opinion, it’s important that these stories were assembled and published in anthology format, if nothing more than for the sake of preservation. Obviously, fifty-year-old space-monster stories will not appeal to everyone but it should be known that they helped pave the way for many of the popular monster (read vampire/ werewolf/ supernatural) stories that are wildly popular today.

     So, how does one go about reviewing an omnibus of older stories? Should Tales of Super-Science Fiction be reviewed and rated individually by story or as a single anthology of short stories? Hard call, that. Should the book be rated by the significance of the stories in their respective place in history or by more contemporary standards? Should it be reviewed based on the quality (or lack thereof) of the stories which were admittedly written for the quick cash to meet the rent each month?

     In the end I decided to review the book as a single entity keeping in mind the times and circumstances in which the individual stories were written and published. To do otherwise would be unfair to the authors and to the genre as it existed then. Adventure, war, mystery, westerns, space exploration, monsters, and aliens were the subjects that interested men in the late-fifties and were tremendously popular. (Things really haven’t changed that much, have they?) Tales From Super-Science Fiction was published a decade after the Golden Age of Science Fiction and the close of the Second World War to fill the burgeoning need for stories of the fantastic. Technology was beginning to bloom in unexpected ways in the United States and newly imagined gadgets and the race for dominance in space began fueling many of the stories found within the pages of men’s magazines. That the themes and memes found in these stories were not new or inventive, even in the late-fifties, really doesn’t matter all that much. What’s meaningful is that the writers understood their audience and provided exactly what they asked for, frequently in record time. That the stories themselves were sometimes silly, occasionally illogical, and often far-fetched means very little. To me Tales From Super-Science Fiction and it’s stories represent a microcosm of the American Dream. The writers developed a product, marketed it, sold it, were asked for more, and delivered in kind.

Table of Contents

Introduction by Robert Silverberg

"Catch 'Em All Alive" by Robert Silverberg

"Who Am I?" by Henry Slesar

"Every Day is Christmas" by James E. Gunn

"I'll Take Over" by A.Bertram Chandler

"Song of the Axe" by Don Berry

"Broomstick Ride" by Robert Bloch

"Worlds of Origin" by Jack Vance

"The Tool of Creation" by J.F. Bone

"I Want to Go Home" by Robert Moore Williams

"Hostile Life-Form" by Daniel L. Galouye

"The Gift of Numbers" by Alan E. Nourse

"First Man in a Satellite" by Charles W. Runyon

"A Place Beyond the Stars" by Tom Godwin

"The Loathsome Beasts" by Dan Malcolm (aka Silverberg)

     File with: Classic Science Fiction, aliens, monsters, pulp fiction, adventure, and space exploration and exploitation.

3 ½ out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

 Tales From Super-Science Fiction Haffner Press Page

Tales From Super-Science Fiction Amazon Page

Quasi-Official Robert Silverberg Website

Robert Silverberg Wiki Page

Free (and Legal) Short Story Downloads from the Guttenberg Project:

Robert Silverberg

Henry Slesar

James E. Gunn

Don Berry

Robert Bloch

Jack Vance

J. F. Bone

Robert Moore Williams

Tom Godwin

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