My Favorite Anthology

by Dylan
(Chicago, Illinois, USA)

There is one anthology I love above all others, although its influence on me began fairly recently.

Moving to Chicago allowed me to cultivate my reading habit, as books of the sort I enjoy are easy to find here in the city. Early on, before I had discovered any used bookstores, I made frequent stops at a local Barnes and Noble. I worked my way through all of the Asimov books I had not read, as well as making a start on Heinlein and Clarke, when a book in the “New Science Fiction and Fantasy” section caught my eye. It was called “OLD MARS”, with the title in blazing red on the cover beside a gleaming silver rocket.

Now, despite my love of Mars, ordinarily I would have examined the book as a curiosity and moved on: I had a limited budget, and was wary of blowing it on a bad read. However, I noticed that it was edited by George R.R. Martin, who of course I recognized, and my attention was turned to interest.

As I stated above, I love Mars. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with the Spirit and Opportunity rovers and my childhood hope that NASA would find Martians. Even when they turned up nothing but rocks, the dream remained alive in my mind, helped along by LEGO sets featuring Martians and an early introduction to the War of the Worlds radio play. The possibility for colonization also excited me, and I remember voluntarily doing all the work for what was meant to be a group project on the planet in Elementary School - still one of my fondest memories. One summer day, I used money gifted me by my grandmother to buy a copy of “The Martian Chronicles”, and I was entranced, terrified, enraged and moved over the course of the following week. I was left with a powerful impression of Mars as an enigmatic and dangerous beauty, bigger than we are and yet fragile as a butterfly, which remains with me to this day.

But adventuring on Mars grew more difficult as I grew older, as new books and movies largely ignored the fourth planet. In most works of fiction, Mars was little more than a space rock that happened to be big and red. I didn’t realize it, but like a long forgotten friend, I missed Mars. I missed Martians.

So, you can imagine how I felt when I opened “Old Mars” and read this:

“Purists and fans of ‘hard SF’ and other people with sticks up their butts may howl that these stories are not ‘real science fiction.’ So be it. Call them ‘space opera’ or ‘space fantasy’ or ‘retro-sf’ or ‘skiffy,’ any term you like. Me, I call them them ‘stories,’ and like all stories, they are rooted in the imagination. I don’t think ‘real’ matters nearly as much as ‘cool.’
Mariner could not find Old Mars. But you can.
Just turn the page.’

-George R. R. Martin, August 2012, “Introduction: Red Planet Blues”, “Old Mars”

I felt a shiver go down my spine. I devoured that anthology, and then, I devoured it again, and every few months I open it up for another banquet.

After I finished it, I wanted to visit “Old Venus” as well, but at the time no such anthology yet existed. So I turned to the internet, and there found dozens of books about Mars, Venus, Mercury, and eventually Valeddom and this site. So I have “Old Mars” to thank for that as well!

As far as I’m concerned, it’s an anthology full of winners, “Shoals” being the only story I occasionally skip. All the rest, from “Martian Blood” to “Queen of the Night’s Aria” all fill me with new delight each time I begin them!

I especially love “Martian Blood” for its portrayal of Martians as foreign yet familiar, powerful and mysterious, and not to be taken lightly despite appearances. Considering it now, it seems the most Bradburian in tone to me, both for its underestimated Martians and oblivious colonists. Perhaps that’s why it I enjoyed it so.

(It is my intention to eventually do a more detailed analysis of “Old Mars”, unless, of course, Zendexor does one. I’d rather read his thoughts on it, and post my comments, than write my own page. That way, I can finally finish my Europa story.)

{Zendexor replies: I realize you're busy with many things, Dylan, but really you're the man to do a detailed analysis of "Old Mars", in my opinion. At any rate I'd rather read yours than do mine - and I say that not out of laziness.

Regarding this "My Favorite Anthology" article, it strikes me as valuable for linking literary appreciation and autobiography, and I hope others will follow this example. Critical studies of books should not just be an exercise in objective analysis of the text but should include the personal element, the book/reader's-life interaction, which is part of the story.

I used to think I might write an autobiographically-slanted book about my sf collection - a kind of spiritual odyssey through the ideas it has given me and the shape it has given to my mind. A sort of sf-oriented Apologia Pro Vita Sua. A tall order. It will probably never get done, but you never know.}

Comments for My Favorite Anthology

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Sep 14, 2016
by: Dylan

Anthologies are rather a win-lose situation. On the one hand, they are safe bets, as there is likely to be at least one story you like should you purchase one. On the other hand, a collection of short stories means that you don't get to spend much time in a world you like before moving on to the next. Nevertheless, I'm generally confident in buying them.

There are two I'd like: "Farewell, Fantastic Venus" and "The Prince of Mars Returns". I view them as the grandparents of "Old Mars" and "Old Venus", anthologies full of the original stories that the newer books are descended from. A sort of pairing of the old and the new-old, if you like.

Would that there was a Mercury anthology of some sort!

Very well, I will analyze the Old Mars and Venus collections, although my curiosity at your opinions persists! It may be a while, I'd like to reread them first, then sit down and spend a day looking over the stories. How you handle so many books, Zendexor, is beyond me!

{Zendexor replies: It comes of being venerable and wise. Just wait till you're in your sixties, Dylan - that'll be in the 2050s, I suppose. Perhaps you'll be in my shoes by then - someone will have to be Z. when I retire, after all. Of course there might be a savage solar-system-wide power-struggle before the next leader emerges...

I don't think I have either of the two anthologies you mention, though I have seen "Farewell, Fantastic Venus".

As you say, would that there were a Mercury anthology. Although there aren't so many Mercury as Venus or Mars stories, there are easily enough to fill one book, at least. And it would have a splendidly unifying theme - the good old Twilight Belt. George R R Martin please take note!

Then next there could be an Asteroid anthology, a native-lunarian anthology...and so on.}

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to join the conversation.