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Sci-Fi Collection Spans and Expounds the Literary Form


THE WORLD TREASURY OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by David G. Hartwell, introduction by Clifton Fadiman,

Boston: Little, Brown, 1,083 pp., $29.95

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`THE WORLD TREASURY OF SCIENCE FICTION'' contains 52 stories by some of the best-known, least known, and unknown writers of science fiction: from the familiar, like Isaac Asimov and Larry Niven, to the unfamiliar, like Soviet writer Kirill Bulychev and Dutch author Manuel Van Loggem, to writers who are complete surprises in an anthology of science fiction - John Updike, Anthony Burgess, Boris Vian, and Italo Calvino.

This collection enables readers to begin where they are most comfortable. One may select from personal favorites, from writers whose work is essentially literary, or from early stories that appeared in American pulp magazines.

John Berryman's ``Special Flight,'' for example, describes the terror of a spaceship crew's harrowing encounter with a deadly meteor storm. The detail and setting have a realism that is both convincing and suspenseful. ``Public Hating,'' by Steve Allen, is a chilling portrayal of a public execution in the not-too-distant future. ``Triceratops,'' by the Japanese writer Kono Tensei, takes place in an evening during which a father and son encounter what they believe to be a rhinoceros, but which is in fact a ``triceratops'' - a three-horned dinosaur. But the story's real concern is about how this discovery deepens their relationship. John Updike's ``Chaste Planet'' is a satire on alien life forms, human values, and culture.

If this were all ``The World Treasury'' had to offer, one might as well read any of the numerous collections. But the editors have provided a foreword and introduction outlining the history and influences of science fiction. They start from its definition by Hugo Gernsback in ``Amazing Stories'' (April 1926) as ``a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision'' to its present status as an international literary form.

Editor David G. Hartwell ably illustrates the relationship between intellectual quality and entertainment. His selections demonstrate the pulp and scientific roots of the genre and the literature that has evolved.

Although ``The World Treasury'' omits some writers of historical interest and importance - for example, Frederick Brown, Clifford Simak, and Murray Leinster - space considerations and achieving a balance of style provide the reader with an overview of the science fiction genre.

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