Card (Shadow of the Hegemon, 2000, etc.), science fiction’s popular neo-pastoral writer, picks his 27 favorites of the century—most of which are undisputed classics, even if Poul Anderson’s “Call Me Joe,” Brian Aldiss’s “Who Can Replace Man?” and Arthur C. Clarke’s “Nine Billion Names of God” have been included in so many best-of and college textbook collections that they are almost canonical. Others are good, but not necessarily representative of their authors’ finest work. Card reaches back to the 1930s with Edmund Hamilton’s silly alien-encounter story, “Devolution,” ignoring the author’s more significant space-opera stories. He includes a charmingly sentimental Isaac Asimov robot tale, “Robot Dreams,” instead of the immortal “Nightfall.” Robert Heinlein’s gimmicky time-travel paradox “All You Zombies” gets in instead of his tear-jerking “The Green Hills of Earth.” Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas” pales beside the blinding eccentricity of R.A. Lafferty in “Eurema’s Dam,” though Card leaves out anything by other paradigm-shifting iconoclasts like Avram Davidson, Samuel Delany, Roger Zelazny, and Gene Wolfe. He nods at major trends: Harlan Ellison’s rebel-without-a-clue experimentalism (“ ‘Repent Harlequin!’ said the Ticktockman”), cyberpunk (“Dogfight,” from William Gibson and Michael Swanwick), neo-pastoralism (Terry Bisson’s sly “Bears Discover Fire”), and alternate-history (Harry Turtledove’s “The Road Not Taken”), ending with George Alec Effinger’s comforting, mystical twist on the search for intelligent life (“One”).
In his introduction, Card explains that, rather than mulling over what best represents the authors, what stories were most influential in the field, or what might be the criteria of a masterpiece, he merely picked stories he liked when he first read them and liked again when he thought about collecting them. Duh?