The Best of Amazing Stories — The 1926 Anthology
It does exactly what it says on the tin!
Amazing Stories was the first dedicated SF magazine in America (probably the world), and 1926 was its first year of publication. This new(ish) imprint aims to print a best-of collection for each year of Amazing’s publication.
To be brutally honest, there were not that many great SF writers around in 1926, if this is any guide. Amazing’s editor, Hugo Gernsbeck, relied on reprints of old stories by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne to fill out his pages and give the magazine a bit of credibility. The only one of those represented here, however, is Wells with In the Abyss , which is obviously well written but a fairly pedestrian story, definitely not one of his greater works. The remaining seven stories here are Amazing originals, and range from decent to really bad.
Worst of the bunch is one of the longest, The Man Who Saved The Earth by Austin Hall. Its central idea isn’t a bad one, but Hall is a really awful writer. I mean, his prose is terrible, clumsy and amateurish, in the trying-to-be-clever way that amateur writers often have. It might use all the right words, but not necessarily in the right order. It really was a slog to get through.
Whispering Ether by Charles S. Wolfe is humorous and well written; The Eggs From Lake Tanganyika by Curt Sidomak is a mundane giant monster story with little real SF content; The Telepathic Pick-Up by Samuel M. Sargent, Jr. is a decent tale reminiscent of Poe; and Through The Crater’s Rim by A. Hyatt Verrill is like third-rate Rider Haggard.
So, on to the good stuff:
The Man From The Atom by G. Peyton Wertenbaker is considered a classic, though I’ve never read it before, and I can now see why. It’s got a interesting and original (though completely implausible) concept: an experiment expands a man to the size of the universe, and when he shrinks back down again he realises he will never find Earth again. The prose is competent, though obviously dated, but the cosmological ideas presented are really fascinating (though dated).
But the best thing here is The Runaway Skyscraper , by Murray Leinster—the only writer in this collection (other than Welles) whose work I knew beforehand, and from this, his first published story, it’s easy to see why he went on to become a giant of the field while the rest have faded into obscurity. The skyscraper of the title ‘falls’ through time and ends up in the distant past, leaving its occupants trying to survive in a hostile and primitive environment. You can see where Leinster borrows some ideas from H. G. Welles (his description of the sun flicking through the sky seems very familiar), but from that starting point he produces something quite unique. It’s a good idea, logically thought through, well written, and with very believable characters (though very much of their time).
One unfortunate point about the collection is that there are some shocking typographical errors. Possibly they existed in the original magazines, but they feel more like something introduced during the scanning of the source material. Either way, an editor should have caught them. It adds to the feeling that they whole project had been done on a budget (the paper stock isn’t great, and the cover is poorly printed). Which is a shame, because I would think that this is the kind of thing that collectors would be willing to pay more for to get decent quality.
Would I recommend this? For historical reasons, yes, if you’re a fan of old SF, because you’re not going to read these stories anywhere else. But if old SF doesn’t interest you, you’re not going to have your mind changed by the quality on display here.
Despite my reservations, though, I think the series is worth persevering with. 1927 might still be a bit ropey, but by 1928 there will be the first published story by some chap called Edmund Hamilton …