A Spectrum Of Worlds edited with notes by Thomas D. Clareson (book review).

I think I’ve commented in the past that Thomas Clareson discussing the subject with SF authors and formed the basis of a trio of books called ‘Voices For The Future’ which is worth reading if you can lay your hands on copies if you want to read interviews with Golden Age SF authors.

With ‘A Spectrum Of Worlds’, we get more from himself. Clareson (1926-1993) was a Professor of English at the University Of Wooster, Ohio. His introduction recounts the history of fiction and into Science Fiction pointing out some were done, like Jack London, you would least expect before leading into fourteen SF stories. I should point out that the majority of the stories are by SF authors with Clareson doing an afterward on each one on the story’s importance.

The stories in order are: ‘The Damned Thing’ by Ambrose Bierce; ‘The Sea Raiders’ (1932) by HG Wells; ‘The Red One’ (1918) by Jack London; ‘The Metal Man’ (1928) by Jack Williamson; ‘By The Waters Of Babylon’ (1937) by Stephen Vincent Benét; ‘Trends’ (1939) by Issac Asimov; ‘Far Centaurus’ (1943) by AE Van Vogt; ‘If I Forget Thee, O Earth’ (1951) by Arthur C Clarke; ‘Desertion’ (1952) by Clifford D Simak; ‘Thirteen For Centaurus’ (1962) by JG Ballard; ‘Captain Bonario Harpplayer, RN’ (1963) by Harry Harrison; ‘Driftglass’ (1967) by Samuel R Delany; ‘Still Trajectories’ (1967) by Brian W Aldiss and ‘Sundance’ (1969) by Robert Silverberg. Before you ask, I suspect the reason why there is no copyright for the Bierce story is, even back then, it was originally out in the 1890s.

A lot of the choices end up being uncommon stories. Take ‘By The Waters Of Babylon’ by Stephen Vincent Benét, an author I hadn’t heard of but looking him up, seemed active across the board, including poetry. It reads like a fantasy plot until you realise its after a future apocalypse and the place this son of a priest is visiting is a derelict New York. Hardly a new plot but his might have been one of the first on the subject.

Asimov’s ‘Trends’ was also his third story and shows the problem of self-investment in building a rocket and public reaction long before the real thing. A good thing that would never happen today or is reality now matching fiction.

I’m glad Clareson included something from Van Vogt. ‘Far Centaurus’ is a classic in the sense that no matter how fast you can send a spacecraft to another star, advances after you left means the people you meet at the other end could ultimately be your own species, only a lot more advanced. The crew are hardly normal neither, individually revived from an eternity drug every 50 or so years to check the course. In real time, only three days had really passed for them but a couple centuries en flight time.

Centaurus crops up again in ‘Thirteen For Centaurus’ by JG Ballard, although not in the way you expect, which is spoiler. I have read this story before and Ballard’s attention to detail makes me wonder why I haven’t read more of his books.

Equally, ‘Captain Bonario Harpplayer, RN’ by Harry Harrison is obviously a humorous take on ‘Hornblower’ but you wouldn’t want to be crew on his ship.

‘Sundance’ by Robert Silverberg shows humans on an alien planet exterminating many of the local non-sentient species and one of humans realising they were sentient, proving it to himself and feeling helpless in stopping this extinction. Any more is spoiler but things are not quite what they seem and is worth seeking out. If you can’t get this book, look for it in collection, ‘Sundance And Other Science Fiction Stories’. Plenty of editions of that one is out there and planning to look at it myself.

As with all anthologies, not every story is going to be personal taste. Clareson did like variety although his notes didn’t really sink in too much, largely because I like to make up my own mind about the stories I read. As it is, ‘A Spectrum Of Worlds’ might give you a taster of authors you wouldn’t have tried otherwise so might give you something to read on a rainy day.

GF Willmetts

June 2022

(pub: Doubleday & Company, 1972. 311 page hardback. Price. I pulled my copy for £ 5.00 (UK). ISBN: 75-76139)


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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