The Golden Age of Science Fiction, edited by Groff Conklin, is a fascinating collection of stories which originally appeared in the pulp science fiction magazines of the 1920's 30's, and 40's. It contains forty stories divided into five sections: The Atom, The Wonders of Earth, The Superscience of Man, Dangerous Inventions, Adventures in Dimension, and From Outer Space. There is also an interesting essay by John Campbell (editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine) entitled "Concerning Science Fiction."

Conklin writes that he culled through six thousand short stories in assembling the collection. He consulted eighteen science fiction magazines (all the major players of the era) whose collections are housed in the Cellar Reserve of the Library of Congress. I've read a fair number of science fiction anthologies over the years and this may well be the best collection I've encountered.

A few favorites: "Killdozer!" by Theodore Sturgeon, about a bulldozer with a mind of its own; "First Contact," by Murray Leinster, about a meeting between two alien races, each realizing that because it cannot risk the other learning the location of its home planet, one of them must be destroyed; and "Jackdaw," by Ross Rocklynne, told by visitors from a far-away planet who come upon the last man alive on Earth (they kill him).

I've always enjoyed reading science fiction from long ago. It's fascinating to see what they got right and what they got wrong, but even more, I enjoy the sheer exuberance which so many of these stories entail. So much science fiction nowadays seems to be, well, down-right depressing. A sign of the times, I suppose.

Some of the stories are chilling: "Solution Unsatisfactory," by Anson MacDonald, deals with the consequences of the atom bomb in the days before there was an atom bomb and "Deadline," by Cleve Cartmill, describes the inner workings of such a device so accurately it brought government agents to the author's door demanding to know how he'd infiltrated the Manhattan Project!

Another benefit of these collections of works from yesteryear is discovering authors I've never heard of--there are several I'll being looking up (most notably Ross Rocklynne)--as well as getting to read the very early work of such well-known writers as Asimov ("Blind Alley") and Heinlein ("Universe"). The Asimov story takes place on Trantor--where his famous Foundation series took root two decades later.

Great stuff!