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Time and Stars by Poul Andersonstory collection

Buy from Barnes & NobleBuy from IndieBoundBuy from PowellsA most worthy collection of short fiction from the early 1960s. Naturally some of these have appeared in other collections. If you can find it, snap it up, as most everything in it is of high caliber.

Very good novella about civil war in a future America that has resorted to feudalism in the years following nuclear holocaust; a Hugo and Nebula winner. This story left me wishing Anderson had turned it into a novel, particularly in respect to a subplot which felt really underdone involving a race of aliens who are manipulating the war behind the scenes. Strong characterization triumphs as well over Anderson’s occasional reliance on cliché (family members battling on opposing sides). Whether or not one agrees with Anderson’s apparent theme here — that a feudal system would be better for humanity recovering from nuclear war than the restoration of a centralized government, and you can chalk me up as a big “nope!” — is, I suppose, a matter of one’s own political temperament. In all, a story I admired enough to wish there were much more to it. Reappears in many collections, among them Winners; also published by Tor in the ’80s as a paperback flip-cover double with Fritz Leiber’s “Ship of Shadows”.

Easygoing little tale of an Earth vessel that lands on a distant world populated by scattered pre-technological communities, only to make the startling discovery that the natives are a lot more intelligent than one would expect and they are picking up human language, science, and technology with lightning speed. Ending gives you the warm fuzzies.

Solid character-driven story about three astronauts stranded in orbit around the moon, and a colleague of theirs back on Earth who tries to beat the clock to save their lives, while wrestling with his own guilt about being safe at home. The ending seems a bit too abrupt, and by today’s standards it’s the type of tale we’ve seen a million times. But for its day (1962) it was remarkably prescient, and decades later it comes off as impressively contemporary and un-dated. Also appears in the 1991 Tor collection Kinship with the Stars.

Pretty good Analog novella about astronauts shot forward in time by a few billion years, who return to Earth to find the place has been overtaken by sentient hunter/gatherer machines. A bit dated, and hampered by excess talk and an over-adherence to Analog “solve the problem” story formula, but the second half of the tale is reasonably suspenseful and exciting. Best parts of the story detail the machines’ attempts to figure out what the humans are. Scenes where the humans try to figure out the machines’ evolution are so much hard-science yak-yak.

When an “independently intelligent” robot designed for hazardous mining duty on Mercury decides it prefers to while away its time with pretentious novels and pompous critical journals, its designer launches a massive literary hoax in order to get the robot turned back to its originally intended duty. Hilarious, multi-layered satire of Asimov’s Robot stories, the act of writing and of criticism, and of literature’s impact on society and culture. Takes a couple of good potshots at the Beat Generation, too. Title is a pun on Kant’s most famous work. Also appears in the 1991 Tor collection Kinship with the Stars.

Very funny tall tale about four women shipwrecked on a remote planet with a cocksure and arrogant male pilot. Undermined only by its utterly predictable punch line; still has much entertainment value.