Best of Harry Harrison: 29
Harry Harrison's _The Best of Harry Harrison_ (1976) is a collection of twenty tales by Harrison published between 1962 and 1974, with a good introduction by Barry Malzberg. The publication dates are about right; his journeyman work from the fifties has been excluded. And many of the selections do indeed strike me as some of Harrison's better pieces from the sixties and early seventies. In this sense, the stories are the "best" of Harry Harrison.
But are the stories great? I must reluctantly answer, "no". They are certainly well-crafted. They are frequently entertaining. They are often provocative and pointed. They are good stories. But (with three exceptions), they are not terribly profound or complex. When you compare Harrison's best short stories with the better tales of writers like Theodore Stugeon, Ray Bradbury, Alfred Bester, Damon Knight, Brian W. Aldiss, William Tenn, Ursula K. leGuin, Robert Sheckley, and Algis Budrys, his tales look rather thin.
The stories are: "The Streets of Ashkelon" (_New Worlds_, 1962), "Captain Honario Harpplayer, R.N." (_Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1963), "Rescue Operation" (_Analog_, 1967), "At Last, the True Story of Frankenstein" (_F&SF_, 1963), "I Always do What Teddy Says" (_Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine_, 1965), "Portrait of the Artist" (_F&SF_, 1964), "Not Me, Not Amos Cabot!" (_New Worlds_, 1965) "Mute Milton" (_Amazing, 1966), "A Criminal Act" (_Analog_, 1967), "Waiting Place" (_Galaxy_, 1968), "If" (aka, "Praisworthy Saur," _If_, 1968), "I Have My Vigil," (_F&SF_, 1968), "From Fanaticism, or Reward" (_Analog_, 1969), "By the Falls" (_If_, 1970), "The Ever-Branching Tree" (_Science Against Man_, 1970), "Brave Newer World" (_Four Futures_, 1971), "Roommates" (New Book Publication, 1971), "The Mothballed Spaceship," (_Astounding Memorial Anthology_, 1973), "An Honest Day's Work" (_New Writings in Science Fiction_, 1973), and "Space Rats of the C.C.C." (_Final Stage_, 1974).* Harrison writes that the book version of "I Always Do What Teddy Says" differs in its ending from the original EQMM version.
"The Streets of Ashkelon," "The Mothballed Spaceship," and "Space Rats of C.C.C." are all space operas. And nobody writes space opera better than Harry Harrison. "The Streets of Ashkelon" was written as a taboo-breaker in the sixties ; though truth to tell, it seems pretty tame by today's standards. It's the one about the missionary on the alien planet and the aliens who took his message a bit too literally. "The Mothballed Spaceship" was written for a memorial anthology in honor of John W. Campbell, Jr . It is a Jason dinAlt story. Jason and the Pyrrans must match wits with a killer derelict battleship in order to salvage it within a deadline. It is the best of the space operas in the collection. "The Space Rats of C.C.C." is a piece of slangy, disreputable space opera spoofery of the sort that we don't hardly see no more: "Here's to your health and may your tubeliners never fail you when the _kpnnz_ hordes are on your tail" (289). The writing reminds me of letters columns that ran for a while in _Startling_ and _Thrilling Wonder_ that were answered by "Sergeant Saturn". I would not dream of revealing what the C.C.C. stands for.
"Portrait of the Artist," "Mute Milton," and "A Criminal Act" are all social problem stories. The first is the one about the comic book artist displaced by an impersonal computer that can do the job faster and better. "Mute Milton" is about the black man who comes up with the working model of a fabulous invention made out of a cigar box-- only to have it destroyed by a hick southern sheriff. For readers who believe that Harrison's portrait of the lawmen is stereotypical, I can only say that as late as the seventies I had run-ins with just these types of characters in Alabama. The hapless victims of "A Criminal Act" are guilty of "the act of criminal birth". Harrison writes that these laws in particular might not be passed. But inevitably, some set of irrational laws will be.
"From Fanaticism, or For Reward" has the trappings of space opera, but it is fundamentally a much more serious piece. A human hired killer is tracked down by a Follower-- and then taken down a peg or three. It reminds me of some other political tales by Harrison like "The K-Factor" (_Analog_, 1960) and "You Men of Violence" (_Galaxy_, 1967).
"Captain Honario Harpplayer, R.N." is a spoof of Horatio Hornblower and is the funniest tale in the book. It's not really a classic, but by damne, sir, I liked it, and I wish that there were one or two others like it as well.
"Rescue Operation" is really the same plot as "Honario Harpplayer"-- but moved up into modern times and given less of a comic spin. It is set in Yugoslavia, a country that harrison knew well. Perhaps I should mention at this point that Harrison, like Mack reynolds, was a global traveler. His stories set in foreign countries were usually authentic.
"By the Falls" is a story that Harrison says was based on a vision (though not a religious one). It is a semi-surrealistic story that is oddly powerful and is one of Harrison's very best tales. it was a Nebula nominee.
"Roommates" was a novelette written in conjunction with Harrison's overpopulation novel, _Make Room! Make Room!_ (1966). It is another excellent tale in its own right, not simply a "rough draft" for a good novel.
"Roommates" is set in a dystopia. "Brave newer World" is set in a utopia-- or, to be more precise, what Ursula K. leGuin would call an "ambivalent utopia". It is a society where medical malpractice has run amok. It is the third great tale in the anthology.
"At Last, the True Story of Frankenstein," "I Always Do What Teddy Says," "Waiting Place," and "I Have My Vigil" are horror stories of various kinds, all pretty minor.