Travel through space and time on a sensational tour of the solar system in the dazzling company of
A superb story for every planet
Buoyed by the success of Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 1, 1939 and its siblings, Asimov and Greenberg embarked on another series of anthologies, usually with Charles G. Waugh—a series of “theme” anthologies, where all the stories have been selected because of their treatment of a particular idea or concept. (Tomorrow’s Children fifteen years earlier was another example of this.)
It’s a hard row to hoe. On the one hand, if you define the theme too broadly, the anthology lacks cohesion. On the other, if you define it too narrowly, it’s hard to find appropriate stories. If you include only famous stories, your readers will get jaded and tired of seeing the same stories over and over and over. On the other hand, the famous stories are usually famous because they’re a lot better than the not-so-famous stories, so including too few famous stories leaves you with a weak anthology.
Unfortunately, with the incredible mass production involved in these anthologies—one every couple of months at best—the results are not always felicitous. In particular, Asimov, Greenberg, and Waugh tend to pick one or two stories in each anthology deliberately because they think attention needs to be drawn to it (that is, it’s possibly notable but not necessarily good) and very often the story they provide which the reader may not have seen before is one by the Good Doctor himself—meaning we get to see more of Asimov’s substandard work than we would like.
This is the first of these theme anthologies.
The schtick with this anthology is its inclusion of one (or two) stories about all the major members of the solar system: the sun, the asteroids, the (then) nine planets, and comets.
Overall, the stories are quite good. Mercury, for example, is represented by Alan E. Nourse’s “Brightside Crossing” (out-of-date astronomy, but a good story anyway). The asteroids get “Barnacle Bull” by Poul Anderson, Jupiter gets James Blish’s “Bridge.” Larry Niven’s “Wait It Out” is one of two stories for Pluto. And so on.
The selection for Mars is Terry Carr’s “Hop-friends,” which I would not by any stretch of the imagination consider the quintessential Mars story. Even if we eliminate Bradbury, whose beautiful tales about Mars have little to do with the real planet, there’s Stanley G. Weinbaum’s “A Martian Odyssey,” one of the all-time great classics of sf. Still, the Carr piece is not an altogether bad choice.
The major disappointment here is actually the story about the Earth—Asimov’s own “Waterclap.” Given the fact that the man produced an entire anthology of Earth-based science fiction (you remember Earth is Room Enough, don’t you?), why the heck did Asimov, Greenberg, and Waugh pick this one? Oh, well. Fortunately, it isn’t truly awful, and the rest of the anthology is good enough that one can live with it.