Isaac Asimov’s Wonderful World of Science Fiction – Intergalactic Empires, Edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenburg, and Charles G. Waugh (1983)
“We have nine stories by nine authors illustrating nine different versions of Galactic Imperial history…” Isaac Asimov
Although this anthology was published in the eighties, it contains stories from the science fiction masters of the fifties. Some of them are dated, but most of them are simply well-written, exciting tales of man against the universe.
Chalice of Death by Robert Silverberg – Earth and its empire is just a fond memory, destroyed by its neighbors when they overreached themselves. Thousands of years later, humans are advisors to the new rulers of the galaxy, servants giving their rulers added prestige. An Earthling is shocked when his alien king sends him on a mission to find the Chalice of eternal life, supposedly still on Earth. Tracking legends (some say Earth never existed), he and his comrades discover their mother planet and a cave of ten thousand Sleepers ready to come forth and return Earth to its former glory. It’s the Chalice of Life, but his king won’t like the contents. Lively characters and an interesting adventure.
Space Orphan by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. – An unlikely anti-hero and spaceman is disturbed by a strange song that compels him to “go home,” but since he was adopted, he has no idea where he’s from. When he hooks up with the creator of the song and a young woman from the same world he’s searching for, he discovers the horrible truth that he and thousands of “savage” children were torn from their families. Excellently written and reminds me of the Indian and Aboriginal children taken from their homes to “civilize” them.
Down to the World of Men by Alexi Panshin – Not my favorite story. A 14-year-old space station girl is sent, with her age group, to a rustic colonial planet to see if she can survive for a month. Once there, she’s mugged, saved by an old man, rescues her not-boyfriend from local jail, and watches as her mentor is killed. She manages to last the month but seems completely unchanged by her experience.
Ministery of Disturbance by H. Beam Piper – Well written story of how the Emperor of the Known Galaxy keeps his power and his realm thriving. My only problem was the flamboyant ambassador. Times have changed since gays were depicted as limp-wristed drama queens.
Blind Alley by Isaac Asimov – Who really is in power when the well-being of a race of non-humans is in question? Is it the press who want them studied for their philosophy, the military who want them dissected for science, or the quiet administrator who agrees with everyone? Sometimes heroes aren’t the broad-shouldered, square-jawed leading men. Sometimes they are the quiet little men in the corner suggesting that the backward aliens might be more comfortable with their own spaceships. Just for study purposes, of course.
A Planet Named Shayol by Cordwainer Smith – I’ve read this story countless times in Cordwainer Smith collections, and it never ceases to amaze me. A young man is sentenced to a planet where he and the other prisoners are organ donor factories. Given a drug to survive the multiple heads and faceful of ears he’s growing, he wishes he’d taken the doctor’s offer of removing his brain before beginning his sentence. Where did this author get his ideas?
Diabologic by Eric Frank Russell – A cheeky human pilot – alone and defenseless – causes a race of aliens to doubt their supremacy when he begins playing logic games with them during his interrogation. The guy seems a bit of an ass until you discover what he’s really doing.
Fighting Philosopher by E. B. Cole – A great story about preventing future civilations from becoming a threat to the Empire. No Prime Directive here. Originally, carefully trained agents slipped onto planets and removed Empirical criminals hiding there. After a new commander takes over the Criminal Apprehension Corps, he decides to stop future threats by inserting his agents into developing planets and “directing” them in the paths of righteousness.
Honorable Enemies by Poul Anderson – When a spy and his lovely companion come to a conference to convince a group of aliens to join them against their reptilian enemies, they discover their enemies already way ahead of them and orchestrating their own treaty – and one of them can read minds!