The third volume of stories by writers—according to editor Pohl’s introduction—officially designated grandmasters of SFWA. Though there are many more 20th-century SF authors worthy of being called grandmasters of the genre, the 15 featured here are unquestionably worthy of the designation, even if some of the 20 stories from the 5 grandmasters included this time seem a bit dusty. One can almost feel the pulp and smeary ink of the old magazines as A.E. Van Vogt (who, thanks to a good translator, was all the rage in France, Pohl says) begins his deathless “Vault of the Beast” with the three-word sentence “the creature crept.” The feverish cleverness, though, of Jack Vance’s “Miracle Workers,” a comic fantasy that lampoons WWII army movies with a battalion of spell-casting “jinxsters,” is more forced than funny. In “The Handler,” Damon Knight, known in the genre more as an editor than writer, spoofs a martini-swilling Sid Caesar–like TV star who, when thanking the little people made him successful, introduces one that is literally pulling his strings. Lester Del Rey asks if God might look after intelligent dogs in “The Faithful,” then fulminates about the hypocrisy of religious groups and their demagogic leaders in his scathing “For I Am a Jealous People.” Pohl’s work seems to have held up best, as seen in a story about a crew of space explorers who find that they must solve impossible problems, or perish, in the boldly imaginative but awkwardly titled “Gold at Starbow’s End.”
Creaky and squeaky though they may be, these tales, considered the crème de la crème in their day, retain their value as memorials to an earlier generation’s fears, hopes, and joys.