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Originally published in 1970 and edited by Robert Silverberg, this Anthology represents the best Short Stories and Novelettes of Science Fiction below 15,000 words first printed between 1929 and 1964. It is Volume One in a series commissioned by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). The organization is made of hundreds of authors, and is dedicated to the legal promotion and defense of Science Fiction. This book represents twenty-six stories that would be ineligible for the annual Nebula Award because they predate the award's creation.

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Members of the SFWA voted on 132 short stories, and fifteen of the top sixteen stories were selected for inclusion. Two of the sixteen were both written by Arthur C. Clarke, so "The Star" was removed on the principle of writers would only be represented once in the collection. Silverberg made use of his status as editor to review the total votes and select eleven additional stories to represent the definitive collection of Golden Age Science Fiction.


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Examples of Tropes from the collection:

  • Anthology: The Science Fiction Writers of America (later changed to Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) is an organization of published authors in the Speculative Fiction field. From amoung their stories, twenty-six were chosen to represent the best stories they had to offer.
  • Audio Adaptation: Blackstone Audio created an unabridged audiobook adaptation in 2017, using a cast of eighteen narrators.
  • "Best Of" Anthology: Robert Silverberg, representing the Science Fiction Writers of America and their votes, edited an anthology of the best Short Stories and Novelettes of Science Fiction below 15,000 words first printed between 1929 and 1964.
  • Combat by Champion: In "Arena", by Fredric Brown, a super-advanced race picks a random individual from humanity and a race they are fighting to the death. The super-intelligence says that in an all-out war one will win, but both will be destroyed, so it will be decided by single combat.
  • Framing Device: "Twilight", by John W. Campbell, has a hitchhiker who claims to have visited the distant future telling a story to an audience.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: "Microcosmic God", by Theodore Sturgeon, in which a scientist creates hyper-accelerated intelligent creatures, who regard him as a god. They surpass human technology, and the scientist passes off their inventions as his... for a while.
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Mimsy Were The Borogoves", by Lewis Padgett, is a title taken from a the first verse of the surreal poem "Jabberwocky", the secret meaning of which is a plot point in the story.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: In "Born Of Man And Woman", by Richard Matheson, a deformed child is kept chained in the basement by its parents. From the fragmentary descriptions we get, "deformed" is a severe understatement: "I will screech and laugh loud. I will run on the walls. Last I will hang head down by all my legs and laugh and drip green [from earlier context, this appears to mean "bleed"] all over until they are sorry they didn't be nice to me."
  • Mechanical Horse: "The Quest For Saint Aquin", by Anthony Boucher, had the priest protagonist using an artificially intelligent "robass", whose atheism was an important plot element.
  • Multi-Volume Work: Shortly after the Nebula Award was created, the Science Fiction Writers of America wanted to honour the stories and authors from before its inception. The members nominated and voted on stories that had been printed before 1 January 1965, the first year stories became candidates for Nebulas. The stories with the most votes would be republished in a multi-volume anthology of stories.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: In "Coming Attraction", by Fritz Leiber, being topless is fine for a woman... so long as she wears a mask.
  • Peaceful in Death: In "The Roads Must Roll", by Robert A. Heinlein, a man is murdered while trying to negotiate with the striking workers. The main character is struck by the nobility of his expression, seeing him dead.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: In "Arena", by Fredric Brown, the characters are in conflict with another race of spacefaring intelligents, and it is predicted that all-out war would result in the losing side being eliminated and the "winners" being reduced to pre-technological barbarism. Combat by Champion is offered as an alternative.
  • Pygmalion Plot: In "Helen O'Loy", by Lester del Rey, an endocrinologist and a roboticist have a bet as to whether a robot could be made to act like a real woman. The endocrinologist insists no robot could duplicate the complex biological system that created emotions, the roboticist insists it could. The roboticist wins, when the endocrinologist not only has to admit that Helen has human-like emotions, but eventually marries her. (The roboticist, who narrates the story, eventually admits to the audience that he fell in love with her as well.)
  • Rebellious Rebel: In "The Roads Must Roll", by Robert A. Heinlein, when the workers are organizing their strike on the grounds that transportion being so necessary, they should use their clout for extortion, one worker objects that the terms of their employment are not actually oppressive; when the strike actually occurs, he goes to the boss to offer his help. The strikers murder him in a parlay.
  • Religious Robot: "The Quest For Saint Aquin", by Anthony Boucher, is a 1951 novelette set in a post-nuclear world where Christians are persecuted. A priest sets forth on an artificially created and intelligent "robass" (which happens to be an atheist) searching for the legendary Saint Aquin, who turns out to be an android who is a perfect theologian, able to convert unbelievers with his flawless proofs for the Faith.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: The whole point of "Helen O'Loy", by Lester del Rey, is an attempt to make a robot indistinguishable from a human woman. It succeeds.
  • Robotic Spouse: In "Helen O'Loy", by Lester del Rey, a medical student (Phil) and a mechanic (Dave) modify a household robot to have emotions. While Phil is away Dave activates Helen, who learns about love (from watching soap operas!) When Phil comes back home Dave has already fled from her affections, but changes his mind and marries her. On his death Helen requests that Phil shut her down and bury her with Dave.
  • Square-Cube Law: "Surface Tension", by James Blish, part of the The Seedling Stars series, deals with a race of microscopic humanoids, and does a good job of showing physics on such a scale — for example, the surface of the pond they live in is an impenetrable barrier.
  • Tagline: "The greatest Science Fiction stories of all time, chosen by the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America"
  • Terminally Dependent Society: In "The Roads Must Roll", by Robert A. Heinlein, America has replaced all their roads with massive moving walkways, which have to be maintained by teams of engineers and mechanics for the country's economy to function. Then one of the engineers attempts to use his control over the roads to effect a coup.
  • Title 1: Members of the Science Fiction Writers of America decided to create a multi-volume anthology of stories that had been first printed before 1 January 1965, the first year stories became candidates for the Nebula Award. This first volume contains Short Story and Novelette formats, all stories under 15,000 words. The following volumes would contain larger format stories.
  • Undefeatable Little Village: The story "Microcosmic God", by Theodore Sturgeon, posits a scientist living on an island creating a population of small, intelligent creatures that live short lives in an ammonia environment in tanks in his lab. He communicates with them through a teletype connection (it's an old story). They make many great inventions for him because their generations are short in time, so many generations can work on a problem. The outside world wants them, so the navy is poised to attack him. He requires his creatures to build a completely impregnable shield around the island, which they do. The navy spends the rest of time bombarding the grey sphere, and he spends the rest of his days with his creatures.

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