Group Read 27: The Big Book of Science Fiction
Story #55 of 107: “Let Us Save the Universe” by Stanislaw Lem
“Let Us Save the Universe” by Stanislaw Lem was first published in The New Yorker. That’s rather prestigious. It’s currently in print from MIT Press in the collection Memoirs of a Space Traveler. Strangely, the paperback at Amazon is cheaper than the $13.99 Kindle edition, and that seems rather steep for a small ebook.
“Let Us Save the Universe” is a bit of humor about human tourists trashing the galaxy. It is lightly clever, and a bit amusing, but I found it only mildly entertaining. More and more, as I go through these stories in The Big Book of Science Fiction, I realize there are all kinds of science fiction and all kinds of fans for each kind of science fiction. Probably, if I had read “Let Us Save the Universe” back in 1981 when it came out, I might have enjoyed it a lot more. I might have even praised it and recommended my friends read it. But now I’m old and crotchety and don’t have much patience for fluff.
At the Facebook group where we discuss these stories reaction to them is all over the place. We’ve read many anthologies and have discussed how well we like them. The evidence shows that it’s extremely difficult to assemble an anthology with a high hit rate for a majority of readers. Hell, it seems an impossible task to assemble an anthology that any two readers will agree on which are the best stories.
At this time in my life, I’m looking for great stories. I want to find the stories I love best, and then reread them. It’s beginning to annoy me to have to wade through so-so stories. But what I’m trying to say is “Let Us Save the Universe” didn’t push my buttons but it could push yours. It’s not a story I’ll add to my ultimate list of favorite SF stories.
I wish Amazon would offer a feature like playlists in Spotify where we could assemble our own anthology of favorite stories. I’d want mine to be both a Kindle and an Audible book. And I understand I could only add stories from books, magazines, and audiobooks I own or purchased separately. Although, wouldn’t it be neat if there was a Spotify for short stories? You pay one monthly price and could read/listen to any short story. I wonder if people realize how cool short stories work for smartphones? I like rereading my favorite stories in the same way I like replaying my favorite tunes.
Piet Nel in the group mentioned he’s has a list of 150 science fiction stories he loves most. This made me think I should assemble my own list of favorites. I have a couple of tall Billy bookcases from Ikea stuffed with anthologies. That’s a lot of short stories. However, I probably only love maybe 100-200 of them at most, maybe less.
When I was young I rarely re-read fiction. I’d say 100% of my input was new. But as I’ve aged, I tend to reread old favorites more often, and that’s especially true for short stories. Being in this short story Facebook group we’re reading many whole anthologies and quite often I’m rereading stories. This has turned out to be a good thing. I’m learning that rereading is often better than new reading. That the experience of getting deeper into a story is superior to the excitement of reading a new story — unless that new story is great. It’s always wonderful to discover something great. Of course, that doesn’t happen often.
But to the point, I feel like I’m wasting my time reading so-so stories, or even merely very good stories. When I was young and it was exciting to try a lot of different kinds of stories, “Let Us Save the Universe,” would have been fun. Now it’s mildly entertaining, but mostly a waste of my time. I’m jaded. I’ve developed a tolerance for certain kinds of fiction. I need the hardcore great stories, the really good stuff to get off.
That’s why I’d like an anthology of my favorite stories — more often than not, to get the most out of my reading time, it’s a bigger thrill to reread something I know.
James Wallace Harris, 12/5/21