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Buy Jupiter and Other Stories, by Isaac Asimov.

When I was a kid, I read science fiction voraciously, and at the top of my list were the Big Three: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein. Even saying their names together has a rhythm that evokes not only science fiction itself, but the vast pleasures I took reading it when young.

Asimov as always listed first, which I would sure would please him were he still extant on our little blue world. My main memories are of Nightfall, I, Robot, Fantastic Voyage and the Foundation series. The first two books are wonderful, the third a decent movie novelization, and the last are justly hailed as classics but were tough going (not much space opera for my young mind, alas).

This book collects some of Asimov's lesser-known, little-anthologized stories, and I was unfamiliar with all of them. When I remember Asimov's work, I have a certain sense of sober, “problem” stories that consist largely of conversations. Lots of the works here are just like that, but there are some surprises: “Rain, Rain, Go Away” for example is a true oddity, a work that would not be out of place in a Ray Bradbury collection. Why? Well, like many of Bradbury's works, it isn't science fiction at all, but a kind of Real-World Fantasy. And it's something I wouldn't expect from Asimov's pen. (To say more would ruin the story for someone who hasn't read it. Many of Asimov's works depend on the “twist” ending for their impact, which leads to a couple of difficulties. First, speaking of myself, when I feel a “twist” is in the offing, I try to see if I can out-guess the author. It is, alas, a little too much like Hitchcock's cameos—you stop paying attention to the important part of a scene to look for the incidental parts. Secondly, since I know you, dear reader, are just like me, you probably try to guess the twist as well. And if I give you enough of the plot-line, you'll guess the ending without having to read the story. And reading a good Asimov story is a pleasure I wouldn't want to deny anyone. Clear?)

None of these stories are what I would call top-rank Asimov—you won't find the likes of “Nightfall,” “Green Patches,” “Hostess” or “Lenny” here. And there are a couple of definite clunkers: “Silly Asses,” “Thiotimoline to the Stars” and “Exile to Hell” come to mind, and there are some Big Point stories where Asimov apparently started with an idea and wanted to write an illustration: “2340 AD,” “The Greatest Asset,” and “Key Item.” Some nice though inconsequential atmospheric efforts: “Does a Bee Care?” or “Take a Match” (though the latter is a good read).

But even the least of these stories offers the pleasure that only an Asimov story can offer. And some, like “Rain, Rain, Go Away,” “Light Verse” (the only robot story in the collection), “Each an Explorer” and “The Pause” deserve to be far better known.

For the Asimov fan, this is certainly worth seeking out; for the casual science fiction fan, or someone who's unfamiliar with Asimov, I'd recommend Nightfall or I, Robot first. But, if you find yourself intrigued, this might make a good follow-up.