Small but perfectly performed

The best of John Wyndham : 1939-1942 is a fascinating collection of six early John Wyndham short stories, originally published in science fiction or fantasy magazines. They range from pure science fiction - nearer to the work of Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury - to classic early Wyndham stories of fantasy, humour, and even horror.

The first of the stories The lost machine published in 1932 was published when Wyndham won a writing competition. It's a cracking little ET type tale of an alien machine divorced from its natural environment. The astonishing Man from beyond is in some ways a weird pre-echo of Planet of the Apes, although Apes itself was not published until 1963. There are also elements of the classic "In space no-one can hear you scream" type story in this. The perfect creature is a gloriously funny, eccentric and slightly misogynistic take on a tale of unrequited love. The Trojan beam was my least favourite, a strange tale of a very dirty war, which has some elements in it which would be adapted for The day of the Triffids. Vengeance by proxy was one of my favourite tales, an unexpectedly different story from the kind you would expect from the pen of Wyndham. It's an out-and-out horror story, and brilliantly written. If Wyndham hadn't settled into the science fiction field, I suspect he could have been a very good horror story writer. The final story Adaptation is a rather unsettling and very clever tale of interplanetary travel, and the demands it might make upon life forms.

Any John Wyndham fan will thoroughly enjoy these stories. For non-science fiction fans, they're a pretty good introduction to the sorts of directions in which the genre can go. Not every one of these tales is brilliant, there are some that work less well, some have become dated, but at their best they are hugely enjoyable. Any collection of short stories that can make you laugh, shiver, and think can't be bad.


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