Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1994). Cover by Kim Poor
When I talked about Gardner Dozois’ 1997 anthology Modern Classics of Fantasy a few years ago, I called it “a book that makes you yearn to be stranded on a desert island” (or anywhere you could read interrupted for a few days, really.) That description applies equally well to his 1994 volume Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction, a book that over the last few decades has become one of my favorite fall reads. It’s packed with a surprising assortment of 13 novellas from some of the greatest SF writers of the 20th Century.
I say surprising because the first time I opened it, I was a bit taken aback at Dozois’ selections. There’s no sign of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, or any of the usual suspects you might expect — no “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr., nor Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons,” or Kuttner and Moore’s “Vintage Season,” or Theodore Sturgeon’s “Baby Is Three” for that matter. No “Rogue Moon” by Algis Budrys, or “The Witches of Karres” by James H. Schmitz, or “The Big Front Yard” by Clifford D. Simak. Not even H.G. Well’s The Time Machine.
In fact, there’s not a single story overlap between this book and The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume II, which for many of us old timers is the gold standard of classic SF novella anthologies.
Avon paperback editions of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volumes I, IIA and IIB.
Edited by Robert Silverberg and Ben Bova (1971 and 1974)
Instead Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction contains a more eclectic and personal selection of long-form SF by Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Samuel R. Delany, Brian W. Aldiss, Frederik Pohl, Gene Wolfe, Joanna Russ, Lucius Shepard, Nancy Kress, and others. Gardner explains his selection process in his Preface.
These are the stories that spoke to me, as a reader, that touched me, that moved me, on a purely instinctive and emotional level — they are the stories that, when I read them again, sometimes after a lapse of many years, could still make me say “Wow!,” could make my pulse race faster, or the sweat start on my forehead, or totally absorb me, or scare me, or touch my heart. Stories that I enjoyed — uncritically, instinctively — as a reader. Stories that I would want to read again.
So, as I warned you, it all comes down to one person’s taste, my own. These are the novellas that I liked best… although that doesn’t look as good on the cover as the firmly authoritative Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction…
I also hope that, at the very least, this book serves to demonstrate some of the amazing range, diversity, and vitality of modern science fiction, as well as the durability of the best of its stories — the oldest story here will be thirty-six years old by the time you read these words, and it is still as fresh and vivid as it was on the day it was written. I like to think that thirty-six years from now, long after I’m dead, these stories will prove to be still as timeless as they are today, and it is my fond hope that this book will continue to provide enjoyment for generations of reader yet to come, far into the unknown and unknowable future.
Twenty-seven years after the book was published — and a mere three years after Gardner’s untimely death, at the age of 70 — I think time has shown that his taste served him very well indeed. Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction has held up at least as well as Gardner hoped, and remains a wonderful introduction to SF novellas even for todays’ readers.
Kim Poor’s wraparound cover for the St. Martin’s hardcover edition of Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction
Here’s the complete Table of Contents. Virtually every story within was in the running for at least one major award by the SF community; I’ve noted the most significant wins and nominations.
Preface by Gardner Dozois
“The Miracle Workers” by Jack Vance (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1958) — Hugo nominee
“The Longest Voyage” by Poul Anderson (Analog Science Fact & Fiction, December 1960) — Hugo winner
“On the Storm Planet” by Cordwainer Smith (Galaxy Magazine, February 1965) — Nebula nominee
“The Star Pit” by Samuel R. Delany (Worlds of Tomorrow, February 1967) — Hugo nominee
“Total Environment” by Brian W. Aldiss (Galaxy Magazine, February 1968) — Hugo and Nebula nominee
“The Merchants of Venus” by Frederik Pohl (Worlds of If, July-August 1972)
“The Death of Doctor Island” by Gene Wolfe (Universe 3. 1973) — Hugo nominee, Locus Award winner, Nebula Award winner
“Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang” by Kate Wilhelm (Orbit 15, 1974)
“Souls” by Joanna Russ (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 1982) — Nebula nominee, Locus Award winner, Hugo Award winner
“A Traveler’s Tale” by Lucius Shepard (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, July 1984) — Locus and Nebula nominee
“Sailing to Byzantium” by Robert Silverberg (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, February 1985) — Hugo and Locus nominee, Nebula Award winner
“Mr. Boy” by James Patrick Kelly (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, June 1990) — Locus and Nebula nominee
“And Wild for to Hold” by Nancy Kress (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, July 1991) — Hugo and Locus nominee
Here’s a few of the magazines these stories originally appeared in.
Some of the magazines that originally published the novellas in Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction (click for bigger versions)
Modern Classics of Fantasy is part of a series of anthologies edited by Gardner for St. Martin’s Press that also includes:
Modern Classics of Science Fiction (1992; original title The Legend Book of Science Fiction)
Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction (1994; also known as The Mammoth Book of Contemporary SF Masters)
Modern Classics of Fantasy (1997)
Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction was re-issued in trade paperback the same year it came out in hardcover. The first British edition was issued in hardcover by Robinson in July 1994, under the title The Mammoth Book of Contemporary SF Masters.
The Mammoth Book of Contemporary Science Fiction (Robinson 1994)
Note: the book is to be confused with The Mammoth Book of the Best Short SF Novels (2009), also edited by Dozois, which was a British reprint of The Best of the Best Volume 2: 20 Years of the Best Short Science Fiction Novels.
The Mammoth Book of the Best Short SF Novels (Robinson, 2009)
Modern Classic Short Novels of Science Fiction was published by St. Martin’s Press in February 1994. It is 657 pages, priced at $27.95 in hardcover, and $15.95 in trade paperback. An ebook version was released by St. Martin’s Press in 2014.
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