- A collection of 28 short stories, each with an author’s introduction
- Published by Grafton in 1987
- All manner of subgenres
- 320 pages
I have read a lot of Isaac Asimov. In fact, I have a whole bookcase dedicated to him. He is one of those rare writers who managed a long career of both quantity and quality. I love both his novels and his shorter work equally, and ever since I first discovered Foundation I’ve been hunting down his work. The only work of Asimov fiction I know I’m missing is The Return of the Black Widowers, and even that one features other authors. It’s taken me many years, but I’m on the cusp of completing my journey through the Good Doctor’s fiction. Which is what makes this collection so remarkable. Asimov wrote dozens of collections, and I’ve got them all. Or, I thought I did. Because this best of collection contained something very rare. A story with which I was unfamiliar. Now, I haven’t done a full check of my shelves. It’s possible I have read these stories before. If so, I don’t recall. And a book you don’t remember reading is as good as a book you haven’t read.
As the cover tells us, these are essentially Isaac Asimov’s favourite stories from his own writing. The ultimate best of. Some of the stories are obvious choices, while others come as a surprise. My personal favourite story is in here. ‘The Last Question’ is an epoch-spanning, idea-focused story that tells the story of the entire future. It’s as close to perfect as any short story I’ve read, equal parts scientific and philosophical. One choice that does surprise me is ‘The Ugly Little Boy.’ Whatever Asimov may say, I’ve always found this story one of his weakest. Yes, there’s a good idea behind it (as if there would be anything else!) but it hinges on sentimentality. It wouldn’t be in my best of collection, but I’m sure there are people who like it just as much as the author.
Those are both fairly lengthy, but there are a lot of much shorter works too. ‘A Loint of Paw’ is the first of four double-page stories that all hinge on a pun or piece of wordplay. These are clever little stories that you can read in a minute or two, which makes sense when you consider their magazine origins. But they do get more of a groan than a laugh. I suppose it all depends on your sense of humour. I’m fairly in tune with Asimov’s comedy most of the time, but some of it hasn’t aged well, especially some of the cultural references that fly straight past me.
Then there are the two stories with unfamiliar titles. ‘My Son the Physicist’ is the first of these, and the one I’m sure I must have read before. Why? Because it’s a Multivac story. One of many to find their way onto these pages. Honestly it’s quite forgettable, but the completionist in me is glad to have found it. The second new (to me) story is ‘Obituary,’ and this one came out of nowhere. Nothing about it rings even the faintest bells, so I’m glad I can say I’ve read it. Maybe it is just the novelty of a new Asimov, but it’s a really good story, tightly told and with a satisfying, and quite dark, conclusion.
If you’re at all familiar with Asimov, you’ll know what to expect from this collection. It covers the full spectrum of his storytelling genius, from technological visions of the future and exploration of space, to mysteries and jokes. Asimov had a broader output than anyone else I can think of, and that’s on full display here. Sure, not all of the stories are what I would call highlights. But even the worst of Asimov is a strong story. I don’t think the man wrote a bad story in his career. A collection of fine stories like this is a great place to start with the Grand Master of SF. Or, like me, to refresh your memory of what a genius he was.