Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

Book Review: Major Ingredients

Today's book review is Major Ingredients: The Selected Short Stories of Eric Frank Russel, edited by Rick Katze.

This book is part of the NESFA Press series of significant works of science fiction that have fallen out of print.  I believe it's a worthy part.  Russel's name is a slightly familiar one, but prior to this book I don't believe I had read any of his work.  These stories date from the 1940s and 1950s, and show their age somewhat in unquestioned assumptions of the time about technology and about society.  The stories are well written.  Their greatest weakness is that the characterization is weak; it is difficult to identify emotionally with anyone in these stories.  Their strength is the ideas.  Although these stories take place in various futures with various technological marvels, physical science and technology are not the important parts of these stories.  The technology exists only to make the situations where the stories take place possible, and Russel does not belabor explaining the details of imagined technology.  If he had, these stories would probably be unreadable, but he keeps things vague enough to not get in the way.  The stories are mostly about ideas of social psychology and political economy, and the virtues that ultimately lead to success in Russel's universe.

Taken together, these stories make a good book, one that a serious study of SF should not skip.  Individually, most of the stories are fun, and since the stories are completely independent, there is no need to read the whole rather hefty tome at once.  In his afterword, Mike Resnick argues that the reason Russel is mostly forgotten while Asimov is beatified is that Russel's stories that got the most attention were some of his least worthy, so when someone 20 years ago, or today, becomes curious about him, the work that he finds is not the best recommendation.  I would agree with that; I find the strengths and weaknesses of the two similar.

8 out of 10.
Tags: book review, eric frank russell, sf
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