At the price of one American dollar, this rather voluminous collection represents a lot of entertainment at a very small price. Its contents cover the previous 50 years of science fiction back at least to the 20s which is to say, the majority of the known history of the genre at the time. Admittedly, a short perusal of the introduction leads us to believe that some of the reprinted material may not actually be legitimately reproduced since the editor “seeks forgiveness in advance for any reprint permissions which might have been inadvertently omitted.” Nonetheless, the tome has much to offer in interesting ideas for the time. Admittedly, the actual execution of the storytelling may at times be found wanting but this does little to diminish the value of what is to be found therein. In an attempt to bring you, my assiduous reader, the best of the book, I’ll summarize each story below.
Part I: Wonders of Earth and of Man
John Thomas’s Cube – John Leimert 
Some science fiction is wrought stiff and metallic from alien attacks or rocket ships to the moon but the more subtle are drawn slowly and quietly from the imaginations of the young. John Thomas, while playing in the yard, finds a large metal cube that he reports, simply, “is too heavy to lift.” His parents attempt to move it, and even dig a hole under it to find that it is absolutely fixed in space despite the fact that it’s no longer supported from beneath. The mystery deeps as scientists come from all around to puzzle out the oddity and can make nothing of it except a few desperate theories. Eventually the cube vanishes suddenly when John Thomas tires of it, the fancied whimsy of a boy who has an imagination too vivid even for those around him to resist.
This story I’d categorize simply as one of many examples of a simple character with an extraordinary ability. John conjures up this cube simply as a way to evade his forgotten homework. It does make one wonder why such stories appeal to us. Is it the inherent fear that others around us may have some hidden and dangerous power over us or the giddy hope that we ourselves might develop something similar? I’m sure the psychological threads of superhero worship are long and tangled ones but I shall leave those to a post of their own.
Hyperpilosity – L. Sprague de Camp 
In the year 1971, a pandemic of flu sweeps the world and leaves in its wake a rather strange side effect. In much of science fiction, as in this story, the narrative is really secondary. In Hyperpilosity the main thrust is really the impact that would be brought upon the human species if it found itself suddenly covered head to toe in a hairy pelt. As our author would have it, reaction is at first briskly negative with all manner of attempts to reverse the process. Depilatory creams and painful processes for elimination of the unwanted addition to our bodies sweep the nation but eventually acceptance sets in. When everyone has the same hirsute dysfunction, we all begin to admire one another, much to the chagrin of clothing and cosmetics manufacturers.
The Thing in the Woods – Fletcher Pratt & B.F. Ruby 
Pratt and Ruby’s 1935 short story is an example around a very standard theme. Two scientists create a carnivorous, mutant fungus that finds its way out of the laboratory and into the larger world. After noshing delightedly on a few animals it very nearly has a little girl for dessert before the typical deus ex machina saves the world from this new and terrifying menace that’s achingly similar to several dozen other new and terrifying menaces. This story is certainly in abundant, if not good, company.
And be Merry… – Katherine MacLean 
On the surface, “And be Merry” is a very standard fiction offering. An overly-enthusiastic doctor is in search of some way to reverse the aging process so she uses herself as a guinea pig to test her theories. Various complications ensue and things go madly awry but eventually things turn out fairly reasonably. What sets this story apart is the depth to which this is all enacted. Firstly, it’s notable that this ground-breaking physician is a woman. Certainly in today’s world this would be nothing to wonder at but 60 years ago we still lived in a time when male and female roles in the world were much different. MacLean’s heroin is bold, intelligent and even lies to her husband so that he will allow her the time and space she needs to carry out her experiments. Further, her husband is not the dictatorial ass that is so often portrayed in this time period but instead a supportive and caring man who rescues her with no questions asked when she’s at her lowest ebb. Scientifically, of course, the story is dodgy as anything this long in the tooth must be. The premise our protagonist is testing is that if cellular structures are destroyed selectively and in a specific manner that the body will regenerate them “as good as new.” Through progressive application of this theory she is able to regrow her entire body in a much younger state. The only apparent down side of this seems to be that she lacks mental stability afterwards and has to be extracted from a mental institution by her beloved.
The Bees from Borneo – Will H. Gray 
Silas was just a normal run of the mill beekeeper until he received a queen bee from the wilds of Borneo. Upon introducing it to his hives, the production of honey was prodigious, but unfortunately the bees were aggressive not just in their honey-gathering ability. Silas marketed the resulting bees far and wide and soon an epidemic arose. The country was besieged by the aggressive and deadly bees to the point that people couldn’t even safely go outside. Silas, by this time locked away in an asylum as a scourge on humanity, hatches a plot to save the world from his own plague. He breeds a line of bees superior and equally aggressive as those which roam the countryside but introduces the Achilles heel that they cannot survive a North American winter. These new drones are duly distributed and the bee apocalypse is averted one frosty November morning.
This plot line is, of course, an old standard. Man tampers with nature, nature gets pissed off and man barely manages to reel in the situation before all hell breaks loose. This bit of narrative is no different and has little to recommend it except to those who are followers of the apicultural arts. The most notable bit is that it predates the accidental introduction of the Africanized honey bee to Brazil in 1957 by 26 years.
The Rag Thing – David Grinnell 
It all started when Mrs. Larch, an most unpleasant woman (doubtless someone of similar description was known personally to the author) left a filthy rag, soaked in furniture polish behind the radiator in one of her tenant’s rooms. All was apparently well as long as the radiators were on but when the weather broke in March, the radiators were turned off and as a result a man was dead. It seems that rag had come to life, and not in a happy Frosty the Snowman sort of way either. In the same way that life had evolved all those eons ago in a chemical soup, Mrs. Larch’s dust cloth had crept its way into the realm of the living. Finding no heat behind the radiator, our new life form felt the need to smother the boarders to death. Unluckily, it chose to smother one victim while he happened to be smoking in bed and the resulting conflagration was too much even for the constitution of the Dustrag From Hell. This particularly odd story is mercifully short and, I suspect, intended primarily to wreak revenge on a rather ponderous former landlady to Mr. Grinnell.
The Conqueror – Mark Clifton 
Conquerors come in many shapes and sizes in the science fiction realm. From green insidious Martians to terrible skin-peeling microbes, humanity has been receiving end of a multitude of destructive forces. Clifton’s conqueror, however, is of an entirely different nature. In a remote mountain village, a young boy finds the simplest of things: a simple dahlia. In general, dahlias are far from edible but this particular specimen is a mutant. It’s not only tasty but nutritious and grows abundantly. Taking his discovery to the village, soon the strange new flower is grown far and wide. No longer fighting for daily survival, the world changes. Full bellies lead to open minds and peace reigns. Like Hyperpilosity, The Conqueror doesn’t so much tell a story as it does simply speculate about a world with just one tiny adjustment.